Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Reading in the Sun

This is a long overdue update! What happened there? Almost three weeks went by..!

A lot of the time I’ve been working at the bottom of the garden in the sun for a while, and then in the shade. Bernard Socks has been helping out a bit. He scoots around all over the place now – quite used to his new surroundings. He’s got a cat flap and he’s quite happy coming and going any time of night or day. After that first occasion when he went off and spent a whole night on the tiles, slinking home again at 6am, we’ve learned to relax a little and let him go where he will. So very different to Fester, who was so much older, and content to live within the world of our wild and leafy back garden.

So what have I been reading through the middle of the summer?

I thought Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’ was very good, and so was Rachel Joyce’s ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.’ Both have an urgency to them, and a fluency. When reading you feel like these are stories that are needing to be told. ‘Room’ especially draws you into a viewpoint that takes over your life for a few days. ‘Harold Fry’ I liked because it was all about taking the humdrum and making it epic, and showing how important apparently ordinary lives are. It does the same with the landscape of the UK – making it a backdrop that an ad hoc pilgrimage could actually happen against.

I found ‘The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake’ a bit precious and obscure at the same time, I’m afraid. I liked some of the more magical touches at the end – especially when it came to the brother’s ability to apparently turn himself into items of furniture. But I felt it all was all a bit earnest. Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s ‘The Midnight Palace’ was the fifth book of his I’ve read and it’s official – I adore their first halves, and get impatient with the second, when everything tends towards being just another adventure story, racing towards a destructive climax.

My favourite novel of the past couple of weeks is Julian Clary’s ‘Briefs Encountered’, which is a proper ghostly, camp, time-twisty romp. There’s a contemporary narrative about actor Richard Stent buying Noel Coward’s old house from comedian, ‘Julian Clary’ – who wants the place off his hands. It’s a romantic and fairly light tale that darkens quickly as the book goes on and it finds echoes with the fictionalized account of Coward’s life that twines about it. Coward and the tale of his lost love, Jack, is particularly well done, I thought. It doesn’t feel too awkward or reverent or stiff. Coward just glides back into life and Clary makes him both sympathetic and dynamic. There’s an especially good scene when, in some kind of afterlife limbo, the two protagonists meet across time zones.

It’s a fabulously cross-genre novel, lifting elements from ghost tales and gothic thrillers, chick lit and celeb-exposing blockbusters. I loved the fact that it all turns very dark and violent indeed by the end. Sometimes I was worried it was all going to go too far – with the melodrama, the name-dropping, the occasional sentimental touch and the casual misogyny (ouch). But Clary manages to control the whole thing and give us a very generous, funny, frothy ghostly novel.

And after that I needed a week rereading Anne Tyler. Just for a bit of focus and steadiness. Just to remind myself to concentrate on the texture and dramatic ripples in mostly still lives. Her wonderful ‘Ladder of Years’ was the first reread of my summer, after weeks of constant novelty…

So, how about you?

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