Obsession and abuse – disturbing but unputdownable.

True Things About Me by Deborah Kay Davies

I didn’t like this book, but I did find it unputdownable!  It’s the story of a bad relationship seen through a young woman’s eyes. 

A man recently released from prison sits down at the desk of a young woman, a bored worker in a claimant’s office. She is seduced by his swagger and attitude, and later lets herself get picked up, submitting readily to a bout of dangerous sex in a car park. Over the next weeks and months, she wants more, and she gets it – but at a cost.  Apart from steadily alienating her friends, parents, boss and co-workers, she deludes herself that it’s the real thing, sacrificing more and more of her life in what will become abusive relationship.

Alison’s not my friend any more, I said out loud to the echoey loo. It’s official, I now have no friends. Even my parents hate me. I watched my silly smile fade in the mirror. As I combed my hair I thought maybe it was all part of the scheme of things. I had to grow up sometime. No one really understood. They all thought they knew what was best for me. I had started a new chapter. I was living with a man, for holy Saint Ikea’s sake. I was moving on. I was cooking stuff in my kitchen at last. Someone was occupying the empty side of my double bed. I felt equal to it all. But round the back of my little heart I could hear a lonely breeze whistling away everything I cared about.

Told by the un-named young woman, we really get into her mind. Outwardly she has all the trappings of a comfortable middle-class life; she loves her Mum and Dad, has her own flat, spends too much on her credit-card, and is slightly envious of her best friend Alison who is already married with a family. But emotionally, she’s not matured beyond adolescence, still likes to get ‘trollied’ at the weekends, and is unable to realise the consequences she’s set in motion until it’s too late. As for him – well he had ‘user’ tattooed on his forehead, but she couldn’t see it – while we may start off thinking silly cow, we do end up pitying her for her poor choices.

Written in short and punchy sentences in the first person, there is a good momentum, and the author has really given her protagonist a voice. While the plot may be slightly predictable, the way it is told made this novel an excellent read – we are emotionally manipulated all the way to the climax. A young author to look out for methinks.  While I didn’t like this book, I did read it in one unputdownable session. (7.5/10)

Pub July 1 by Canongate, 214 pages. I won this copy via a Librarything Earlybird Reviewers giveaway.

Gaskella’s Midweek Miscellany #13

Rather than give you a Midweek Miscellany about books today, I’d like to share with you a few of the things I’ve found while sorting through my late Mum’s stuff. Don’t worry, I’m not getting morbid, these are curiousities and things of happy memories.

Firstly, this is an unopened packet of sandwich mats!  Doilies shaped to fit those rectangular plates people used to have for presenting sandwiches on – quartered on the diagonals, crusts facing down, all regimented in a neat row on a special plate.

Does anyone apart from my mother-in-law, who has the appropriate crockery and cutlery for absolutely any need, still use a sandwich plate?  Can you still buy them even?  But most importantly, would you use a mat under the sandwiches?  I’ve not found a sandwich plate in my Mum’s cupboards, so maybe this is why this packet was found in the back of a wardrobe!

But now to turn to something that brings back many happy memories…

My Mum’s sewing box contains a cornucopia of riches.  For a start it’s one of those 1960s plastic coated paper woven boxes, with cushions inside the lid for needles and pins.  The contents are wonderful:

In the front of the photo are cards of thread for mending your nylons – from the days back when nylon stockings were luxury items and couldn’t just be thrown away.  The colours are more subtle than the later disposable tights – not a hint of ‘American Tan’ there! 

There are lots of packs of bias binding too.  The only place I’ve encountered it used lately is on the hems of my other half’s dress trousers.  Given the quantity of different shades and widths in her box, she used it rather more widely.  There are also cards of darning wool for socks, enough hooks and eyes and poppers (metal press studs) to last a lifetime.

Then there are the tins.  An elastoplast plasters tin full of pins, and oodles of buttons – in assorted old tins from car travel sweets, and strepsils for sore throats in the pic, plus there were more tins from the festival of Britain in 1951 and some Irish toffees full of buttons too.  I loved playing with all the buttons as a child.   There are also assorted needles, crochet hooks, unpickers, a few zips and lots of odds and ends that may or not be useful one day.  Add to that a another big box crammed with a rainbow of reels of Sylko thread, and I’m very well equipped for the future. 

By the way, I can sew – just in case you were wondering. Although I don’t do quilting or cross-stitch, I’m a whizz with blanket stitch, ribbons and beads. Before I started blogging, I made pocket-money crafting embroidered felt Christmas decorations (see right). However they’re too labour intensive to make any real money, so I gave up spending every evening sewing Christmas things in spring through to autumn to have enough stock for later in the year.  I still make them for presents, and on request though.

That’s it for today. I’ll be back with more curiousities from my Mum’s cupboards soon – she has some interesting kitchen gadgets.  Back to books next post!

Being in a band – a girl’s perspective

Different for Girls: A Girl’s Own True-life Adventures in Pop by Louise Wener.

While I never followed the band Sleeper, I was aware of them – their singles were fun and tuneful.  However their singer, Louise Wener, did stand out from the crowd with her big brown eyes, pouty lips and great haircut – there were few other girls involved in successful Britpop bands.  Reading her wonderful memoir of her life in Pop, I can say I bonded with her from the beginning, as she recounts sitting with microphone in hand taping the chart show (been there, done that), and also a shared love of David Cassidy – she’s only a few years younger than me, so musically I’m right at home with her all the way.

It also helps that Wener is an established novelist these days having swapped guitar for the pen some years ago. She can really write, and the result is a hugely entertaining memoir, full of wonderful stories, and self-deprecating wit – she’s not afraid to turn the spotlight on herself at all.

Born to a Jewish family in north London, Louise was the youngest by several years in her family. The first chapters recount teenaged years at school where she was geeky and introverted, and bullied by the girls with perfect skin.  A gap year followed sixth form; Wener went on a Kibbutz, and had a whale of a time, but was brought back down to earth arriving in Manchester to study English, but she did meet Jon Stewart and they started a band.  After uni they moved down to London and found a bass player and drummer Sleeper was born with her older brother as manager.  They got their break supporting Blur, and the big-time beckoned …

There’s something about a tour itinerary that lists Barcelona, Milan and Berlin in its dates that’s making me hysterically resistant to the lowest common denominator, herd mentality of rock  band touring: the endless communal meals where we have to find a cafe that serves egg and chips because half the crew is vegetarian and egg and chips is all they will eat. The living in each other’s pockets on the tour bus, smelling the tattooed roadie’s farts, listening to each other’s shitty music and filthy night-time snores.

This is my first time touring on a sleeper bus. A glorifed caravan with coffin-like compartments to sleep in and everyone huddled up on a banquette at the back, smoking and drinking and watching Spinal Tap for the 53rd time. There are rules on the tour bus. Don’t poo in the toilet; it can’t take it. Sleep with your feet facing forward, in case you crash like Bucks Fizz. Respect each other’s privacy and space. Difficult one, this: save for the sliver of curtain by your bunk there’s no real privacy to be had.

She makes it sound like so much fun!  She recounts the highs and lows: the pressure to keep the band together, to write new songs, always being considered the front of the band because she’s a woman, splitting up with Jon, then falling in love with drummer Andy. They had the sense to bow out on a relative high, before the singles failed to chart.  She obviously got a lot out of it even with all the stresses and strains. 

This is an intelligent and witty memoir which I would heartily recommend to anyone who enjoyed Britpop – I loved it. I’ll definitely check out some of her novels – if they’re anything like this book in style, they’ll be great fun too.  (9/10) Book chosen from a list supplied by the Amazon Vine programme.

Movie Roundup

I’ve seen a few movies lately on DVD and cinema, so here are a few thoughts on them …

First up, Up In The Air starring my favourite, George Clooney. This is a comedy drama based in the corporate world, in which Ryan Bingham is the Personnel man-for-hire that will let people go for you – why should bosses have to do their own dirty work! Bingham essentially lives out of a suitcase, flying from city to city, hotel to hotel, company to company, with his brochures and speeches letting people down gently – it’s an opportunity to do what you really want to do after all; he’s an motivational expert. During his travelling he crosses paths with Alex, a businesswoman, and they get together whenever they can. 

When his boss hires a sparky young business graduate who wows him with the idea of doing the firings remotely – George’s job is under threat, and he takes Natalie out on the road to prove to her that the personal touch makes a difference. Meanwhile, Mr No longterm-relationships is also beginning to fall for Alex, and when family life intrudes, he takes her to his little sister’s wedding as his date…

The first half of the film is light and fun, with plenty of good laughs. Anyone who has ever travelled on business will envy Ryan his frequent-flyer perks, but be thankful that they (hopefully) have more to come home to than the souless studio apartment that’s Ryan’s base. When Ryan is forced to realise that there is more to life than the job, the film takes a much darker tone, and we end up rather pitying him.  I won’t give away any more of the plot!

This is a thoughtful film, which doubtless some in the business world will wince through.  The acting from Clooney, Vera Famiga and Anna Kendricks as Alex and Natalie was excellent and I thoroughly recommend it.

Now on to Let The Right One In [2008]. I reviewed the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist here  last year during my season of vampire reading finding it a serious contemporary addition to the vampire oevre, (does that sound pompous? – apologies if it does!). I finally got around to watching the Swedish film, adapted by the author, and was equally impressed – it will become an arthouse classic.  The two young leads were utterly convincing as the bullied schoolboy and forever twelve-year old vampire, and it was almost exactly as I’d imagined it – totally atmospheric. Being visually-driven, the sub-titles were nearly superfluous, and it was very true to the book, although pared-down. For a 15 film, it can still shock, but you mostly see the after effects rather than having to read through the violence! Totally gripping.

* * * * *

Lastly, I went to see the ‘final’ Shrek movie – Shrek Forever After today.  In the scheme of things, I would order the films 2, 1, 4, 3 in decreasing quality, so this one wasn’t the worst, but the series has slightly run out of steam, and Donkey is still the most annoying sidekick since Jar Jar Binks.

However, we still enjoyed it hugely, and were overjoyed that Puss got all the best lines.  This chapter was still full of references and in-jokes to other movies. My favourite on first viewing was a wonderful moment where Fiona in ogre mode, as an outlaw warrior princess stands in her tartan kilt, with hair blowing, posed just like Chris Lambert in the Highlander posters (remember that – where is he now? I wonder). 

Toy Story 3 next week … can’t wait!

Of Gangsters and the Great Depression

The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers by Thomas Mullen

It’s the 1930s in the height of the great depression, millions are out of work and bands of bank-robbing outlaws are regarded as folk heroes in the USA. Former public enemy number one, John Dillinger, has recently been sent to his grave and stepping up to the top spot on the G-Men’s wanted list are the infamous Firefly Brothers.

As the book opens, Jason and Whit Fireson wake up to find themselves laid out on tables in the morgue. They’re both riddled with bulletholes, they should be dead but somehow they are inexplicably alive …

Jason stood, the tile cold on his feet, and stared wide-eyed at Whit. He reached forward and hesitantly touched his brother’s stubbly left cheek. It felt cold, but everything felt cold at that moment. He grabbed the sheet that lay up to his brother’s neck, waited a moment, and slowly began to pull it down. In the center of Whit’s chest, like a target, was what could only be a bullet wound.
As he took in this sight he breathed slowly – yes, he was breathing, despite all the metal he must be carrying inside, clanging about like a piggy bank – and leaned forward in grief, involuntarily putting his right hand on his brother’s biceps. It flexed into alertness, and Whit’s head turned toward Jason. Whit’s jaw was clenched and his brows quivered. Then his eyes darted down.
‘You’re naked,’ Whit said.
‘That hardly seems the most noteworthy thing here.’ Their voices were hoarse.
White sat up, still staring at Jason’s pockmarked chest. Eventually his eyes shifted down to his own body, and he lurched back as if shot again, nearly falling from his cooling board.
‘What …?’ His voice tailed off.
‘I don’t know.’
They stared at each other for a long while, each waiting for the other to explain the situation or to bust up at the practical joke.

So the Firefly brothers get a miraculous second chance. The next thing for them to do is to let their folks know they’re not dead – complicated, as they know their Ma, younger brother, and their lovers will be watched. Jason is desperate to get some money to his Ma and misses his heiress girlfriend Darcy terribly, but until they can work out what happened, who sold them out and get some more money it’s a problem – they’ll have to play dead for a while.

The one person missing here is the brothers’ Pop, who didn’t approve of the life Jason and Whit chose to live, yet ultimately ended up on the wrong side of the law himself. He was however a profound influence on both of them, and Mullen tells his story and how the boys became bank-robbers in between the current day episodes as the Firefly brothers try to sort things out and carry on with their ‘endeavours’ as they call the heists, and the all too real possibilities of getting shot again.

This is much more than just a gangster novel, although there are some great set-pieces involving typical gangster types with appropriate nicknames such as ‘Brickbat Saunders’, and Darcy as the rich girl who likes a bit of rough was great value. Beyond the fun, Mullen explores the hard times that punctured the American Dream and produced the bad boy heroes. The Fireson family dynamics and the sibling rivalry between the three brothers features strongly, giving the novel that epic generational feel, dare I say it, akin to The Godfather, (although Pop is no Don Corleone). Jason is a real charmer and a thinking-man’s hoodlum; he justly takes the starring role, and gave this period-thriller solid substance which made it a pleasure to read. (8/10)

Pub 2010 by 4th Estate. 397 pages.  Book supplied by the publisher after sounding me out. Thank you.

An extraordinary look at two ordinary lives

Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris: Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton

This book deserves to win prizes for its concept which is totally unlike anything I’ve ever seen (or read) before.  It’s the story of a relationship from start to finish, but presented in the form of an auction catalogue of the couple’s ‘stuff’ – so original, so clever, but does it work?

Lenore is a food writer for a New York newspaper, Harold is a photographer. They meet at a Halloween party, fall in and ultimately, out of love.  They’re the sort of couple who are always taking photos of themselves, individually or setting the timer and posing.  They write notes too – from post-it reminders on the fridge, to endearments tucked into things, to letters expressing love, frustration, anger …

Their life together is represented by 325 lots, comprising many of their photos, notes, and other ephemera (I love that word!), as well as books, knick-knacks and household items. Most are illustrated; the accompanying text gives the physical details of the lots including condition reports plus an estimate – just like in a real auction catalogue, there is no further elaboration.

It was fascinating to see what was going to come up next, but I found this book so frustrating. I mean, who (except the owner’s mother), would ever consider bidding for a lot of three oven gloves, two of which were well worn, estimate $20-$45, unless they were from the top celebrity chef du jour?  This couple may have been well-known within their professional circles, but outside that, who would go to an auction of their cast-offs?  It was this juxtaposition of fantasy versus reality that partially put me off.  It also smacks of doing one’s dirty washing in public – we can celebrate the couple’s initial euphoria of being in love with them without being too voyeuristic, but by the time their relationship started to fade, my interest did rather too as I didn’t want to intrude.

I may have been underwhelmed by this unusual romance, but that’s just me.  Simon at Savidge Reads loved it and you may do too… Has anyone else ‘read’ it? I bought this book (6/10).

You’ll never look at your neighbours in the same way again!

The Radleys by Matt Haig

Don’t let the next sentences turn you off this book, for I thought it was brilliantly original and I loved it.   It is being given the full crossover novel treatment with a young adult edition, however I firmly believe that it is an adult book (pictured) that teens will enjoy rather than the other way around.  It also features vampires

Matt Haig is an expert at subverting normal family life in his novels. His tragicomedy The Last Family in England, (published as ‘The Labrador pact’ in the US), told the story of a family in freefall from the PoV of the family dog – who sees everything and understands more (and less) than you’d expect, and is in turns very funny and terribly sad.

In The Radleys he takes another very different look at family life. Peter, a rather world-weary doctor, and his frustrated artist wife Helen, live in a Yorkshire town with their teenaged children, Clara and Rowan. To all outward purposes they are a totally normal dysfunctional family, but Peter and Helen have a big secret – they’re vampires, and what’s more, their children don’t know!  However the Radleys are ‘abstainers’ – non-practising vampires; since their children were born, they’ve been models of restraint, relying on a diet full of red meat, but now they’re up against teenagers with hormones, and Clara is trying to become a Vegan…

‘I’m worried about Clara,’ Helen says, handing Peter his lunchbox. ‘She’s only been vegan a week and she’s clearly getting ill. What if it triggers something?’
He has hardly heard her. He is just staring downwards, contemplating the dark chaos inside his briefcase. ‘There’s so much flaming crap in here.’
‘Peter, I’m worried about Clara.’
Peter puts two pens in the bin. ‘I’m worried about her. I’m very worried about her. But it’s not like I’m allowed to offer a solution, is it?’
Helen shakes her head. ‘Not this, Peter. Not now. This is serious. I just wish we could try and be adult about this. I want to know what you think we should do.’
He sighs. ‘I think we should tell her the truth.’
He takes a deep breath of the stifling kitchen air. ‘I think it is the right time to tell the children.’

However before they get round to it, something happens that will rock this family to the bottom of its foundations and everything changes.

While there is plenty of dark comedy in this novel, there is also blood – gallons of it. At the heart of the story however is the family, with the parents in the grip of mid-life crises and the children coming of age, tricky at the best of times, and not helped by the arrival of Will, Peter’s vampire brother. Also running throughout the book are extracts from the non-practising vampire self-help manual ‘The Abstainer’s Handbook’, which is like a twelve-step programme for bloodsuckers. Blood is the drug, and this makes the vampire hunters the equivalent of the drug squad and junkies’ families.

This book is a brilliant take on all the pressures upon modern suburban families. It’s dark, it’s funny, it’s wildly original; it was also easy to read and I loved it. If you’ve been suffering from vampire fatigue, this could be the antidote, and you’ll always wonder what your neighbours are up to! (9/10) I requested this book from the publisher – thank you to Canongate.

Family in crisis! Will quirkiness pull them through?

The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno.

This is a tale of a dysfunctional American family – an academic couple and their two daughters, they are four very different characters… 

Let’s meet the Casper family:  Father – Jonathan, who has epilepsy provoked by seeing clouds, and is searching for the giant squid; Mother – Madeline keeps the family together and researches violence among pigeon flocks; older daughter Amelia – a teenaged rebel who edits the school paper and wants to make a bomb; and finally fourteen year old Thisbe who spends much time praying and talking to God, and lastly Jonathan’s father, Henry, who is fading away in an care home.

The Caspers are having a hard time living with each other.  Jonathan is consumed with his studies at the University of Chicago, and forgets to take his epilepsy medication. Madeline suffers in silence, but is seething inside. Meanwhile, Amelia writes one too many inflammatory articles in the school paper and gets suspended, and Thisbe prays for everyone. Henry has decided to utter one less word per day in his personal prison. This family is in severe danger of falling apart.

The chapters alternate between the characters voices, and they are quite distinct, especially Madeline, who thinks in extended bullet points, lettered from A to Z.  Jonathan is rather laissez-faire about everything except his envy of his French rival in the squid hunt.  Amelia is just bolshy and an irritant, whereas Thisbe is lovely and caring and wishes she could sing. Madeline, in direct contrast to Jonathan’s weird allergy, also finds herself obsessed by a man-shaped cloud which seems to always be there. The Caspers are all scared of talking to each other, so much so that things will come to a head and I did find myself wanting to read on and find out whether they made it to the end of the book as a family unit. I particularly enjoyed Jonathan and Thisbe, finding Madeline too uptight and confused, and Amelia just needed bringing back into the real world from her revolutionary imagined one.

If you enjoy reading campus novels, and can put up with a dysfunctional family with a high quirk quotient, this tragicomedy may be your thing. I enjoyed it a lot. (7.5/10) I was given this book.

For other reviews read href=”http://justwilliamsluck.blogspot.com/2010/05/both-astonishing-and-quite-ordinary.html/”>Just William’s Luck and Farm Lane Books

I’m back!

Hello. I’m back.

Thank you so much to everyone who has commented here, on Facebook, or sent me e-mails after my Mum’s death, I really appreciated your kindness. Thank you once again. Now the funeral is done, I can breathe for now, although sorting out her affairs will be a priority over the summer. Luckily school broke up for both my daughter and me this week, and we have a couple of quieter weeks before the state schools break up and our holiday in Cornwall to get back to some normality.

I have been reading though. At first I couldn’t read novels as every book I was tempted by seemed to be one I would have passed on to Mum to read. A week on and I changed my plan – to only read novels she wouldn’t have liked (mega-quirky, vampires, bad language, rock ‘n’ roll – you get the picture!). That’s worked – so you can expect an eclectic mix of reviews soon!

I was idly looking through her cookery books the other day though, and I found these from the mid-60s by one of the first British TV chefs – Fanny Craddock.

It’s not the recipes that tickled me – they’re standard fare with nods towards classic French cuisine mostly – it’s the notes on techniques for presentation and garnishing.  Now I know how to fold a water-lily napkin, make a savory swan with a hard-boiled egg, and, should I wish to give it a go, create a butter pagoda; all delivered in her clipped, bossy, schoolmarm style.  

Not surprisingly with my Mum, on opening the books, aged newspaper clippings fall out – so I also have the 1966 Radio Times pull out supplement of Fanny Craddock’s guide to your Christmas table – including homemade decorations for your table, and a plan to make the most of your cooker and worktops so everything will go smoothly. Priceless!