Thursday 21 February 2019

The perks of insomnia

Not sleeping too well, what with all the house stress going round my head, so there has been quite a lot of middle-of-the-night reading over the last few weeks. The backlog has built so here is a brief snapshot of the books I have read, in no particular order of either reading or interest.
Sarah Winman's 'A Year of Marvellous Ways' is a lovely feel-good tale of an elderly woman taking care of a traumatised soldier. Over the course of the chapters we learn their life stories and watch the quiet unfolding of their friendship. A book to remind you of the essential goodness of people.

"That night an old woman at the end of her life, and three young people at the start of their lives lie in bed listening to the earth turn. It has a melody that only the gentle hear. They each lie thinking about love. Lost love and love to come. the old woman falls asleep first. She falls asleep with moonlight lips upon her lips and the sweet scent of china tea and gorse flower whispering tales from youth-drenched time. The young woman who smells of bread thinks love is like yeast. It needs time to prove. It is complex. She thinks she might get a dog instead. Along the coast in a cottage called Long Gone a young fisherman thinks only of her. He thinks love is like the sea, beautiful and dangerous but something he would like to know. And in the boathouse a young man lights a cigarette. He takes two puffs, one for sorrow tow for joy. He thinks about a woman called Missy Hall. for once it is a good memory. The moon falls behind the trees and the lights go out." (p.254)

My sister Claire bought me 'Small Wars' by Sadie Jones for Christmas. It is a wonderful period piece of a novel, set in Cyprus during the 1950s. It is a bit of British history I know very little about so the story itself was interesting. I enjoyed the well created atmosphere of the time and the situation and the strong character development, both of Clara and Hal, but then was utterly let down by the ending. Hal is a major in the army, and appears to have a crisis of confidence about what is happening in Cyprus and his role in it, then an actual breakdown, and the 'cover-up' of the situation by the army was perfectly handled, but then he just kind of pulls himself together at the end and everything is fine. It lacked any credibility, and that's not even mentioning flying his wife home from Cyprus in a military plane only days after major surgery. Endings matter, so I felt let down.

"Clara, in the garden, was enjoying herself. Hal may have had his first small triumph as a soldier, but she'd had her first triumph as a real army wife. She hadn't cried and clung to him and told him not to get blown up. She had spent the day having lunch with Deirdre Innes, taking the children to the beach, and when he'd come back she hadn't cried either, but laughed." (p.83)

'The Incendiaries' by R.O. Kwon; I thought it was on the Women's fiction longlist, but I was wrong, so I'm not sure where I read about it. It is a weird story about a young woman, Phoebe, who gets sucked into a religious cult, and about the young man, Will, who is enamoured with her. The chapters hop between their points of view, with a strange switch of style between first and third person. There are also brief chapters by John Leal who is the cult leader, they don't give you much insight into his thinking, I kept suspecting he was a fraud, if he is, he keeps up a very good front. It is more of a love story than anything else, I didn't learn much about the cult side of the story. Certainly if you are into experimental type fiction you would find it worth seeking out.

"I approached the dining hall. I'd been up since six, while she was in bed, idling. Lions in a cage. Had she petted them, and did she wake to find the tawny fur glinting on her skin? She might have rubbed the fur around as she slept. The coarse hairs strewn in Phoebe's sheets, bijou rays of gold. But my step felt light. If I could be anyone, I'd ask to be the Will rushing to see more, again, of Phoebe. In the distance, an advertisement painted on the side of a brick building showed a young girl, lips pursed as if to send a wish. The suck and howl of a siren pierced the cold, and the fall wind smelled of reasons to live." (p.20)

 I have read others by Rose Tremain, notably 'The Gustav Sonata' during the Readathon in 2017, so finding 'Trespass' on a charity shop trawl was a definite purchase. I disliked Anthony Verey right from the start, but am not sure he deserved his fate. I liked the dynamics of the two brother/sister relationships, it was an interesting way to frame the story, and a much neglected relationship in fiction. It is a story very much about belonging in a particular place, and feeling safe there, and how important home is for the human psyche. Here Anthony is house hunting in southern France:

"For a little while, he was able to distract himself from his feelings of collapse by imagining the Swiss couple who'd put this room together: lawyers or professors, educated people, a couple with a full address book which connected them, perhaps, to many different worlds. People on whom life had smiled. And yet they'd hung on to their souls. They weren't vulgar. They weren't afraid of silence.
But then, when a certain amount of time had passed, they'd understood what Anthony understood: that this house exposed them in too terrible a way. It sat too high on a pitiless plateau, unguarded, unprotected - with a precipice at its feet. The wind bent the pines planted to give it shade and shelter, bent them and bowed them." (p.292-3)

The girls and I read 'Unseen Academicals' by Terry Pratchett over a couple of weeks. Its about football, and the crazy levels of devotion that it seems to instil in people. I think I missed some bits by dozing off on the sofa, but Terry is always entertaining, without getting repetitive. His humour is strangely predictable but he always somehow puts unexpected twists on the things he chooses to mock. We don't have many evening when we are all around together at the moment so its nice to just hang out reading when we do.

I just realised I had forgotten all about Foucault's Pendulum ... I also have a couple of other books but they deserve a bit better treatment so will get their own posts. All my energy is now focussed on getting the house bought and us moved in as quickly as possible. See you on the other side.