There’ve been a few books that have stood out recently. My friend Matt made sure that I read ‘Blankets’, an earlier graphic novel by Craig Thompson, after I’d enjoyed ‘Space Dumplins’ so much last month. ‘Blankets’ is a very sweet, incredibly slow moving tale of first love and strange, ultra-religious families. His drawing is just beautiful and dreamlike, I think. The whole book feels a bit like being caught up in the fever dreams of late adolescence. It’s a huge book, but one that I read through a long November afternoon and enjoyed a lot. It’s a novel about being in love with drawing as much as any one person.
I enjoyed a few kids’ books recently, too. David Almond is always good value, and I’ve been falling behind with his novels. ‘Jackdaw Summer’ is as strange and moving as any of his previous books. This time it struck me how good he is at rendering sounds: particularly of the countryside. At the same time I was reading ‘In Darkling Wood’ and discovering Emma Carroll for the first time. This one’s a tale of dark woods and fairies that only certain people are able to see; and brothers in hospital and grouchy grandmas with long-held secrets. It was a short, intense read, steeped in gorgeous atmosphere.
Then I relished the giddy ‘Not Quite Nice’ by Celia Imrie: a silly comic novel about ex-pats in Nice. It reminded me quite a lot of the wonderful Lou Wakefield novels of a few years ago. It’s a fun read, but there were too many characters, I think, and I kept losing track of them.
Much darker and starker: Jane Shemilt’s ‘The Drowning Lesson.’ It’s a year since I was enthralled by her first, ‘Daughter’, and this novel employs the same shuttlecocking back-and-forth in time for its first half, which is at first disorienting and then satisfying in the reveal of the tragedy promised by the back cover blurb. Her books belong to that genre of the modern Domestic Gothic – in which very well off and successful professional people have their lives trashed for our entertainment. Shemilt has specialized in the missing-children corner of the genre and this one, with its African setting and rather morbid surgeon heroine, is gripping right up until the final page. Definitely recommended.
As is Rachel Joyce, whose first two novels I enjoyed a lot. Her Christmassy collection, ‘A Snow Garden’ is terrific, I think. These are mostly succinct and rewarding stories – her background in radio drama is apparent at every turn in the deft and concise way she brings characters and situations to life just enough to make the story sing, and no more. My favourites here involved a divorced father trying to entertain his dreadful sons, and a very smart airport story that makes you groan at first, when you realise where it’s going, but that wins you over with sheer charm by the end.
Added to all of this, I’ve just discovered Philippa Pearce’s ‘A Dog So Small’ and it made me weep with its beautiful final chapter. I think she writes wonderfully and so touchingly. However, I’m also at that point in the year – a year that’s been fraught with all kinds of stuff – and just about anything could set me off just now.
Right – maybe it’s time for some Christmas reading. What do you think..?