Guardian Review links

I’ve really enjoyed the few Maggie O’Farrell books that I’ve read fairly recently, so I was interested in reading her article My working day ‘A book has its own engine that is always running somewhere at the back of your mind’ You can read the article here.

There’s an article by A.S. Byatt which you can read here.

There’s a new TV drama about the Bronte sisters coming on soon and Sally Wainwright talks to Tracy Chevalier about the siblings here.

If you can stand to read anything about politics you might find this article interesting. Siri Hustvedt is writing about feminism, the arts-science divide and misogyny in the presidential election.

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

 Instructions for a Heatwave cover

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell was published in 2013 but the setting is that hot summer of 1976, mainly Highbury in London although the action does switch to Ireland near the end of the book. If you aren’t old enough to remember 1976 you might not know that there was a drought in the whole of the UK, the heat was incredible and the lack of rain meant that there were rules about how much water could be used, hosepipes were of course banned and gardeners emptied their bathwater onto their precious plants to try to keep them alive. Government posters encouraged couples to share baths and showers, that seemed very risque at the time.

Gretta Riordan’s husband Robert has gone missing, it seems he has just walked out and Gretta needs the help of her adult children to track him down. Monica, Michael Francis and Aoife aren’t exactly close, in fact the two sisters haven’t spoken to each other for three years and they all have their own problems but drop everything and make their way to London to find out what has happened to Robert.

Gretta is one of those very annoying women who conduct a constant running commentary on everything, has a conversation with her shoes as she tries to get them on. Basically if it comes into her head it finds its way out through her mouth. Her children have been a disappointment to her, despite her giving them a traditional Catholic upbringing they’ve all lapsed, got divorced or married non-Catholics. Her children eventually discover though that nothing is as it seems in Gretta’s own life.

This is just the second book by Maggie O’Farrell that I’ve read but I do like her writing style. However as a nit picker I was really annoyed that she has one of her characters going into a phone box a couple of times and phoning New York, from London once, and then again from Ireland. O’Farrell was born in 1972 so she may not realise that that sort of thing was just an impossibility back then.

When I lived close to London in 1978-80 I had to use a phone box to phone ‘home’ to Scotland and of course they only had slots for 2p or 10p. By the time you got your 10p in and it dropped into the money box you only had a matter of seconds before having to put the next 10p in. If you wanted to phone abroad in those days, even if you had a phone in your home you often couldn’t pick up the phone and dial, you had to book the call through an operator, and make sure you were at the phone at the correct time otherwise your line was used for the next person in the queue. If you didn’t have a phone you had to go to the Post Office HQ and phone from there. It was all very complicated compared with nowadays.

So I had to suspend my disbelief when one character phoned the US and I found that very annoying, I do like things in fiction to be possible, it’s just bad research really.

Mind you people can’t believe whenever I tell them that when I got married in 1976 there was a two year waiting list to get a phone line into your house and even then it was a ‘party’ line, which meant it was shared with other people in the same town, and if you lifted the receiver and they were already on their phone you could hear their conversation and had to wait for them to be finished. It was very frustrating.

Anyway, I’ve gone way off the subject. Instructions for a Heatwave is an enjoyable read, apart from that glaring impossibility in the storyline and I’ll definitely read more of Maggie O’Farrell’s books in the future.

Books and such

I hardly dare say it, but today it didn’t rain and there was this strange yellow orb hanging in the sky. No doubt it was just an aberration and normal services will return soon – rain and storms are forecast for later in the week again. Very depressing, but I mustn’t grumble as at least we aren’t living in any of the many flooded areas of Scotland and northern England. You can read about storm Desmond here. We had intended going down to Dumfries and Carlisle for a few days before Christmas too, thank goodness I suffer from terminal procrastination otherwise we would probably have been caught up in it all. At least I’ve been getting plenty of reading done.

In the Guardian Review section this week there’s an article you might be interested in if you are into Jane Austen. Is anyone not a fan? – I ask myself. You can read How Jane Austen’s Emma changed the shape of fiction by John Mullan here.

Meanwhile, back at the library I’ve been borrowing these:

Borrowed Library Books

the distance between us by Maggie O’Farrell
A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
The Lonely Skier by Hammond Innes
Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid
Whay Matters in Jane Austen? by John Mullan

I’ve finished Go Set a Watchman which I swithered about reading but I really enjoyed and have plenty to say about it, soon I hope.

I’m annoyed about the Louise Penny book because it’s one which I somehow missed when I was working my way through the Three Pines series, so it’ll be all out of whack!

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox cover

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell was first published in 2006. I bought it in Linlithgow in what I think was a temporary bookshop near the palace, and it’s one of those books which was originally given away free for World Book Night 2012.

I hadn’t read anything by the author before but I really liked this one so I’ll definitely be seeking out her other books. In fact I don’t even remember reading about her books on any other book blogs, maybe I’ve just been missing the posts, but the author is obviously well known by others. The blurb on the front says: ‘Almost ridiculously pleasurable…. shocking, heartbreaking and fascinating’ The Times.

This book isn’t a rewrite of The Secret Garden, where I’m sure you’ll remember that the main character is a young girl called Mary Lennox, but it does have many of the same elements. Children brought up in India and sent ‘home’, to a lifestyle which is completely alien to them. In this book it’s Edinburgh which the sisters are sent to. I do love an Edinburgh setting but I think I would have loved this book, no matter where it was set.

Esme is the youngest of two sisters and she just doesn’t fit into her Edwardian family. Her older sister conforms to expectations but Esme has ideas of her own, which are seen as being outrageous. This eventually leads her parents to get rid of their difficult child as best they can, which in those days meant sticking her in an asylum, where she can’t be a social embarrassment to them – out of sight, out of mind. But of course Esme isn’t out of her mind.

I can’t wait to read more by Maggie O’ Farrell, I hope her other books are as good as this one.

So far this Book Night book hasn’t travelled very far, I wonder if anyone does check up to see how far their books reach?

I think I can say that I read this one for the Read Scotland 2015 Challenge as although O’Farrell was born in Northern Ireland she apparently grew up in Wales and Scotland, and of course the setting is mainly Edinburgh.

Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns

Our Spoons came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns was first published in 1950 and it’s very much autobiographical. The setting is 1930s London which has always been a grim place if you don’t have money.

The tale is told by Sophia who is about to get married to a young artist called Charles who is fairly feckless. His whole family seems to be against the marriage, apart from his father who is happy to go against his ex-wife’s feelings any time he’s given the chance.

Sophia is very immature for a 21 year old and Charles is completely self obsessed meaning that Sophia has all the worry of finding money for them to live on, but she is a really likeable character and the wonder is that she managed to put up with her husband for as long as she did.

What is it they say? – when poverty comes in the door love flies out the window – something like that anyway, and when you don’t even have money for milk or baby clothes then the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

In some ways this is a sad read with Sophia pushed to the limit with a husband who isn’t even interested in his child but on the other hand Sophia manages to be so stoical in awful circumstances and being quite matter of fact in the face of tragedy, she has a knack of getting on with all sorts of people, in the end I was really happy that she fell on her feet.

Maggie O’Farrell comments on the back page: I defy anyone to read the opening pages and not be drawn in, as I was… Sophia is a heroine in every sense – and one you will never forget.’