Tag Archives: Jonathan Coe

More reading

24 Apr

I’ve been busy over the last few months, which is probably why I haven’t written much on here of late. But it’s not all been going out and having fun, or staying home and gardening. There’s been time for a bit of reading.. so here’s what I’ve read since Pigeon English (which seems oh so long ago now).

What a Carve Up! by Jonathan Coe

This was a book group book, and was one which I doubt I would have read if it wasn’t for book group… and it’s unlikely I would have finished it once I started if it wasn’t for that peer pressure. Having said that, once I had finally finished it I had no desire to discuss it and so never went to the book group meeting (which I know is naughty, but I’m a grown up and surely I’m allowed to not go to things if I don’t want to go to them?). The next book is Oliver Twist which I’m looking forward to, having never actually read any Dickens in my life. Oh the shame!

The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life by William Nicholson

I’d read a review of this book a while ago, over Christmas I think, and had made a note to read it at some point. I didn’t know much about it, except that it takes place in a small Sussex village and details the mundane minutiae of their day to day lives. The characters are so beautifully drawn, that you really get to feel what it might be like to be in their skin. There is the local vicar who is no longer sure of his christian faith, there is the woman of a certain age who is infatuated by her young neighbour, a schoolboy in thrall to the school bully, the single mother who can’t resist her ex, and a murdered poodle. The lives are entwined, overlapping and coming together, in the way real lives do butt up against one another and then continue on their way.

Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan

I heard Michael Pollan on Radio 4, on The Food Programme a few weeks ago. He was talking a lot of  sense about how we, in the west, no longer instinctively know what to eat. Food scientists or nutritionists tell us what the superfoods are and what foods have omega 3 or certain vitamins, or whatever the latest ‘good’ thing is. It used to be fibre, which at least was easier for an ordinary human to identify. He likened this to a religion – the food scientists are the High Priests who tell us the gospel; there is Good (omega 3 / vitamins) and Evil (fat / sugar).

Michael Pollan makes it much easier. His rule is

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

This book is a distilled version of his In Defence of Food (or so I’ve been told). It makes sense. It’s full of good advice. Now I need to follow it.
And the Land Lay Still by James Robertson
I’ve not finished this yet, so will write more on it at a later date. 
52 Small Changes: One Year to a Happier, Healthier You by Brett Blumenthal
Damn you kindle and your clever ways of making me buy more books!  This was suggested as a book I might like at the end of the Michael Pollan book. Well, I didn’t buy it immediately, but I read a few reviews and decided there could be no harm in buying it. Or reading it. 
So, here I am, each week reading one chapter of a self-help book. So far I have upped my intake of water each day, got more hours sleep each night and started taking a multi-vitamin again. All these are good. I’ve also attempted to be a bit more active, and kept a food diary for a week. 
The suggestions are good, and I like the idea of making a small change each week, and then once it feels like a habit (which it should after 7 days) you move onto the next small change. Sadly I’ve not been as brilliant at forming new habits as I’d like to be. Anyway, I’ll give a final review of this at the end of 52 weeks. And we’ll see if I really am healthier and happier. 
The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell
It was World Book Night last night (and more of that some other time), and Edinburgh Central Library hosted an event with Maggie O’Farrell, interviewed by the fabulous Jenny Brown. I’d only read one MO’F novel before: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. I hadn’t loved it. It had felt more ‘slight’ than I had expected, and so although I have a copy of My Lover’s Lover on my shelf I’d not been tempted to pick it up and read it. 
But I decided it would be worth reading her latest novel before the event last night so I downloaded The Hand That First Held Mine onto my kindle and started it. I LOVED it. It’s set in London, in the 1950s and in the present day, following two women: Lexie in the 1950s and Elina in the present day. I’m a little bit in love with Lexie, and the Soho of the 1950s which she inhabits. 
It was interesting to hear Maggie O’Farrell describe how she started this book with the character of Lexie, a character who had been swimming about in her head for awhile, and came into sharp focus when she went to the John Deakin photography exhibition a couple of years ago. Lexie superimposed herself into his black and white images of his friends and neighbours in Soho in the 50s. And as she was writing, Elina kept on interrupting her writing, like an old radio that keeps picking up a signal from another station (or the police or CB when I was wee). Thus the two stories intertwined into this great novel. 
After reading this I felt I just had to re-read Rebecca. Now, I pretty much never re-read books. Why read any again, when there are so many more un-read books still to read? But The Hand made me really want to re-visit Rebecca, and then Rebecca’s Tale. Was it the issues of identity, of searching for the truth of your childhood? 
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
I first read this many many years ago. I loved it. And I loved the Hitchcock movie. Has no-one else made the movie since? You’d think they would have. 
Re-reading Rebecca was comfortingly familiar, but also unfamiliar enough to feel new and exciting. I’d forgotten that we never know the second Mrs De Winter’s name. And I’d forgotten what a dreadful little mouse of a thing she is – she is no heroine, and Max De Winter is no hero. Rebecca is the star. Rebecca and Manderley. 
The version I read (on kindle) had a thought-provoking afterword by Sally Beauman, the writer of Rebecca’s Tale.  
Rebecca’s Tale by Sally Beauman
This is effectively the prequel to Rebecca. It’s a fascinating imagining of what Rebecca’s life was like, and I’m so glad that I read it back to back with Rebecca this time. It was definitely worth a re-read while the original story was fresh in my mind.  

What I’ve read this year – 2012

14 Jan

So, let’s see how I do against my targets for this year… Let the reading commence!

Oh, and in case you care, my links to buy the books are all for amazon.co.uk. If you don’t like amazon, other booksellers are available, just google.  


Stieg Larsson‘s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  The final book in his Millennium series, and yet again a book that could have done with a good edit. Having said that it was yet again a good thriller and a compulsive read, finished in about a week.

Carol Birch‘s Jamrach’s Menagerie.  Our book group’s first book of 2012, and a worthy book to discuss.  What started as a kids’ adventure story became a true horror story, full of gore, slime and grime. It will generate interesting discussion, of that there is no doubt.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson. A powerfully emotional book, the ‘true’ story behind her debut Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit.

Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson only came to my attention because it is in the Richard and Judy book group, and I saw Judy absolutely raving about it on telly one evening. It’s a quick read, and kept me guessing. The narrator of the book is a woman close to my age who wakes up each morning with no memory, but with a sense of horror that she’s in bed with a middle aged man – her initial thought is that she got wrecked the night before at a party and can’t remember who she came home with. It’s not a Groundhog Day book, and it’s not a love story – more a psychological thriller. And, as I said, a quick read.

I loved Resistance by Owen Sheers. And it brought my total for January to five books finished. Yay!


In Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman Harri searches for clues after the murder of a boy from his school. He hopes the clues will lead to the killer. Harri has an innocence, he is a boy about to become a man. But what sort of man can he possibly be, brought up in this violent, unkind environment? His mother has brought him from Ghana, in the hope of giving him a better future. Harri’s voice felt ‘true’ although I did find it vaguely annoying after a while.

I read What a Carve Up by Jonathan Coe as a book group book. And unusually I read it all the way through (not enjoying much of it at all) and then refused to go to book group to discuss it. I just felt I had nothing I wanted to say about it. And I found that after I’d finished I couldn’t even distinguish between the different hideous family members. Various friends have told me how much they loved this book. I didn’t. And I’m not sure it was helped by reading it in e-book form, so I couldn’t flip back easily and see who was who.

I read about The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life by William Nicolson in the Sunday Times one weekend. It wasn’t a review, but was in someone’s column, and I honestly can’t remember whose. I kinda wish I could, as I really enjoyed the book, which absolutely is described in the title. It focuses on a few days one early summer in a small village in commuter distance from London. The characters are well drawn, the situations perfectly described. It’s not a rip-roaring read, but thoroughly enjoyable.




My Lover’s Lover by Maggie O’Farrell had been on my shelf for years (I got it as a bookcrossing random act of book crossing kindness years ago, and really must pass it on now that I’ve actually read it). It had elements of Rebecca about it, and inspired me to re-read Rebecca and Rebecca’s Tale.

After my Maggie O’Farrell feast I turned to an author new to me, recommended by my good friend Salidatious: Anne Enright’s The Forgotten Waltz. Sal had read it quickly and loved it, and wanted someone else to read it so she could talk about it. I love that about her. And was so glad she’d recommended, and loaned, this book to me. A worthy shortlisted book for the Orange, a tale of an adulterous affair in Ireland. The backdrop to the tale is the arc of the Irish economy, from roaring tiger in the boom years, to the depression of the recession.

And so it seemed sensible to read another Orange shortlisted book immediately after I’d finished the Anne Enright. And as I’d bought Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder a couple of months earlier, now seemed like the time to start reading it. Some books nourish you, and stay with you long after you finished them. This is one such book.

Ewan Morrison’s Tales from the Mall has been in my subconscious for a few months, mainly on social media, but also in bookshops, and newspaper book reviews. It’s a fascinating read, especially for someone who doesn’t like either shopping malls, or short stories. It’s made up of perfect bitesized chunks of reading goodness, a mixture of fact and fiction, but all related in some way to shopping malls. You’ll learn all manner of things, like why cross dressers like malls, and why walking round a mall is considered a terrorist threat. Unsettling and fascinating (but not necessarily in that order).

After I’d whet my appetite with TFTM I chose Swung, also by Ewan Morrison. There’s a lot of media coverage of 50 Shades of Grey just now, but I suspect it isn’t nearly as interesting as Swung, the story of a Glasgow couple trying to make their relationship work.

%d bloggers like this: