Me before you by Jojo Moyes – too too sad?

This was a world book night volume from last year passed on to me at book group. I read it quickly which is usually a good sign and I don’t think I have cried like that for a novel since reading of the death of Ginger in Black Beauty when I was seven but I am not sure what I feel about it. Partly it may be the subject matter, or maybe the subject matter is so dark for the style or that I feel somewhat manipulated. Ponders… I’ll get back to you..

Cocktail hour under the tree of forgetfulness – Alexandra Fuller

This is an “awful book”, not my judgement but that of it’s heroine, Nicola Fuller of Central Africa, the author’s mother.

Although born on the Isle of Skye, she is very much a daughter of the empire and a pukka pukka mem-sahib – she was the first child her mother was able to carry to term because of the quinine taken while living in Africa being an abortifacient (contrary to the old theories it seems it would be the tonic not the gin that might theoretically eradicate an unwanted pregnancy though an undrinkable quantity would be necessary).

I may have missed something by not having read the previous “awful” book (Don’t let go to the dogs tonight) but this is still an interesting read about people who seem slightly out of time, left behind in a colonial world but unable to readjust into the old country. They might seem slightly clicheed but the courage is undeniable, as is the unimaginable horror of some of their experiences. Fuller and her sister are the surviving siblings of five. None of the others made it out of babyhood. One dies in an accident having been left at home as the safer option, another dies of meningitis, a third has a cleft palate and dies before it can be treated.

Any or all of these deaths might have still occured in the UK but the remoteness of their situation increases the sense that life is fragile even before you factor in the threat from wildlife (the last book set in Africa I read was “I dreamed of Africa”) and the various uprising and rebellions they encounter. Maybe this is why they take risks, riding frankly dangerous horses, and drink like fish. You may be dead from any number of causes tomorrow so why play it safe? Despite the subject’c claim, this is an affectionate portrait of the courage and resilience and is quietly inspiring in way the author’s parents have created their latest farm in cooperation with the locals.

Here be dragons…

A Natural History of Dragons – Marie Brennan

It was the cover that caught my attention in the library – a Gray’s ananomy style sketch of a dragon. I grabbed the book and was gripped.

The narrator, Isabella (though not yet Lady Trent) is a fictional amalgam of those Georgian and Victorian ladies who were able to transcend the barriers of gender and sometimes even class to find adventure and make a real contribution to scholarship – Lady Hester Stanhope meets Mary Anning maybe. The style may be familiar but this is not our own world but one where dragons are as real as wolves or bears though understudied. A world where the lands have different names and shapes but is nevertheless not entirely disimilar from our own. Certainly the social history paralels.

Isabella develops a fascination for dragons aged seven when she finds a “sparkling” (believed then to be an insect it might be regarded as a “real” dragonfly!). She takes every opportunity to find out more about them while ostensibly observing the conventional standards of behaviour demanded of her until she is caught out when she is injured having joined, disguised as a boy, a hunting party in search of a wolfdrake.

Isabella manages to clean up her act for the sake of propriety (what she calls the grey years) until aided by her not unsympathetic father she finds a husband who shares her passion and her main adventure begins. I will not say much of it since it would be a spoiler and the great originality of the take is in the confident creation of an alternate universe which borrows enough from our own to amuse the readers who recognise the links but is different enough to make the stories work. It is rather like reading something from the Hogwarts library.

Not great literature maybe but great fun and I shall certainly look out for the sequel later in the summer.

18 weeks in..

And I have read 12 books and have three part done… not having the internet at home this week may be a factor in having read three books.. hasn’t helped writing them up though. I do have some notes to help. So I am catching up and some of the books are much longer than the anticipated 350 pages…  but I am hoping not to use the technicality. 


Middlesex ….

Well the rest of the Readers’ Group loved Middlesex barring one absentee who gave it a five based on the first fifty pages. I gave it a grudging three while apart from a seven the rest of them gave it a nine. Maybe if I had stopped at fifty pages I would have given in a five too…. maybe more since it got off to a good start … the opening is intriguing and the start of the grandparents tale I enjoyed but it started to go down hill for me as they approached America when I found my limited interest in the history of Detroit in the middle of the last century caused what hold the book had on me to wane quickly. It all seemed to be unnecessary padding to the central story and I didn’t engage with any of these earlier characters enough to care.

When the narrator said circa p 320 that he isn’t as far along with his story as he would like I agreed, and cursed him for not, going back and carrying out a thourough edit instead of inflicting a superfluous two hundred page upon the dogged reader. From that point all though he had finally rounded back to the central character and plot I found the book increasingly annoying. I found it superficial, contrived, and pretentious. I hated him referring to his micropenis as a crocus, I hated the narrator referring to himself in the third person, was annoyed that the brother was referred to as chapter eleven with no explanation and I felt short changed by the lack of character depth. Far too much history and too little psychology. This subject matter should make you care and I just didn’t give a toss.

But it has won the Pulitzer and has a squillion good reviews on Amazon so what do I know?