Letters from Klara by Tove Jansson

Jansson - Letters from KlaraRemember the Moomin stories? They were written by Tove Jansson, who also wrote for adults. This collection of short stories has been published in English for the first time. They are very different from traditional short stories, in that whilst perfectly crafted they hint at ideas and themes through the characters, and the situations they find themselves in.

The title story was may favourite. It is told through a series of one sided letters, we only get to see what Klara writes, to a range of friends and acquaintances. She hands out advice, spiked comments and thoughts on life to her correspondents. Only having one half of the conversation is interesting, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks.

There is little in the way of a theme running through this collection, but each story will make you think and consider what is happening. I loved this as Jansson assumes her readers are intelligent and can layer their own experiences and understanding of character on her own very sparse, but perfectly crafted words.

Exposure by Helen Dunmore

This is the first novel by Helen Dunmore that I have read, and I loved it, so much so, I hot footed it to the library to pick up some more of her work.

Exposure by Helen Dunmore
Exposure by Helen Dunmore
The premise is espionage, but if you are expecting a Le Carre type plot, this is going to disappoint you. Set in 1960s London, the Second World War is still an open wound, and now The Cold War is ramping up paranoia. Lily, is happily married to Simon and they live with their three children in Muswell Hill. One day, Simon receives a plea from an old friend, Giles, and against his better judgement he helps. His friend is a spy, and it leads to Simon being arrested for espionage. Lily and the children flee to a lonely coastal town to escape the gossip whilst Simon languishes in prison.

There is a whole load of back story to Lily, Simon and Giles which adds a wonderful layer of complexity to the narrative. Dunmore is brilliant in capturing the time, place and attitudes of the 1960s.

The characters are wonderfully human. There are no James Bond escapades here, just people trying to cope with their past which is now has the potential to wreck their future. The ending I have to say is wonderful. It is dynamic, claustrophobic and perfectly pitched.

Photography Again…

Well, I have decided to separate out my photography from my book blogging and have started a new photography blog which you can find over at www.helenfennell.com. It’s a place for me to display my portfolio as well as ramble on about my photography. Please do feel free to pop over and take a look. I will of course still be book blogging here 🙂

 

 

The Girls by Emma Cline

Cline - The Girls
The Girls by Emma Cline

This was another impulse purchase, I was waiting for the delayed 1027 and had nothing to do but browse the bookshop at the train station. Thank goodness for train station book shops. Anyway, it is set in the US during the summer of ’69*. Evie’s parents are divorcing, and she is killing time during the summer holiday, waiting to go off to boarding school. Whilst hanging around town she meets Suzanne and “the girls”, and is immediately entranced by their lifestyle. They are followers of a man called Russell and are living at a makeshift commune in the countryside. They come to town to search for food in bins or steal it if they can.

According to the girls, Russell is showing them the way to live a selfless life, full of love and freedom. What it really amounts to is a scary and controlling cult. I didn’t realise when I bought the book, but the story is based on the Mason murders. Having realised this, around a third of the way through, the whole narrative became suffocating as I edged ever closer to the violent end.

Despite be based on one of the most notorious crimes in US history, the book has more depth than that. Evie’s innocence, and desperation to be an adult, are a potent mix when combined with a group of people totally under the spell of a very wicked mind.

 

*I know you are all singing Bryan Adams tracks now, don’t deny it!

Hello?

Well hello! Yes, it has been some time since the last blog post, and the more observant of you will have noticed that I am no longer with Squarespace. I have transferred all the blog post across from there, to the WordPress Platform, but I know full well there are lots of broken links and odd bits of code floating around. I am going to slowly work through and fix it all, but it will take some time.

So where have I been? Well, working, pottering, reading, taking photos and getting cross at the amount of money my blog was costing, and the unreliability of Squarespace is where I have been.

I am hoping now that blogging will recommence a couple of times per week. I have a nice stack of books to review, and lots of photography news to report on too. You remember the course I was doing? It transpired it wasn’t right for me at all, and so I don’t attend anymore, which is a shame.  It has, however, released some time for me to do more of my own photography, and it has gone through my mind to start a separate photography blog. What do you think?

So, what have you all been reading of late? Update me with your summer reads!

 

Photography Sunday #7: Where I Get a Severe Bout of Gear Acquisition Syndrome

IMG_0578It is quite possible that I had a slip of the credit card back in January and pre-ordered the new Fuji X100F camera. It finally arrived on Friday, and oh, it is beautiful. It’s a gorgeous camera, the fourth incarnation of the X100 launched some years ago. Those who have used one of the previous versions have raved about it, and I got all caught up in the hype and bought one.  It reminds me very much of my Nikon FM2 film camera. If feels sturdy, but not too heavy and has all the traditional dials of a film SLR. The Delightful Mr F and I went out and about in Bath to try it out yesterday. It was fantastic to use, and I can see this becoming a real workhorse for me.

It would be fair to say that I am now suffering severely from Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS*), which is a lot like Book Acquisition Syndrome (BAS) but manifests itself in the buying of photography equipment instead of literary material. There is method in my madness though. 2017 is a year for me to concentrate on my photography and a bit of kit here and there is reasonable I think. TheDelightful Mr F says that without trying things, how will I know if they work for me? I like his logic. He is a good egg, no doubt about it.

BathIt turns out that my credit card is really quite slippery as it slipped again and I also bought a stack of photography books and some Folio Society books too this month. The Folio ones were on sale, so they don’t count do they?

*What and unfortunate acronym

A Mind Worth Having?

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A place to develop your mind…

It’s been a funny start to 2017, that is to say odd rather than hilarious. Last week I met my pals, C and S for luncheon at a local eatery. C had bought her very photogenic son, T, who was as good as gold and after a suitable amount of cute baby noise generation, and batting off dotty old ladies* who wanted to play with T, we settled down for a natter.

I have, dear readers, recently been accused of being weird because I don’t have an in depth knowledge of the goings on in the Kardashian family and would rather read a book instead. I announced this to C and S with some sadness. We then pooled our collective knowledge. All we knew was that Kim was robbed recently, and that there were several of them, all having names beginning with K. We ran rather dry on facts after that. I did consider Googling, but frankly couldn’t be bothered and didn’t think it would much enhance our lunch.

I know the Kardashians are very popular, and not having watched the programme, I could be accused of not being in a position to comment. However, I do feel calling someone odd for reading rather than watching reality TV is a little bit rude. It made me wonder dear readers whether you have ever been insulted because you like a good book. I am sure the Kardashians are excellent entertainment, but better than a Pratchett, Austen, Ishiguro Wodhouse or Christie**? For some yes, but not for me.

The whole “odd” accusation had me feeling very down, until I heard Sam Harris on one of his podcasts say that in order to have a mind worth having, then you need to understand science, the arts and the humanities. I paraphrased there, but I did like the idea of “a mind worth having”. So, what would you read to help you develop a mind worth having? For me it would be a mixture of fiction and non-fiction:

  • PG Wodhouse – for the laughs
  • Agatha Christie – for the social observations
  • Terry Pratchett – for wry observations on life, the universe and everything
  • Richard Dawkins – for the rigorous biological science
  • AC Grayling – for the philosophy and to make me think
  • Christopher Hitchens – for the awe of his thought processes and writing
  • Kazuo Ishiguro – for the beauty and sheer range of his writing
  • Peter Ackroyd – for scandalous history
  • The Encyclopædia Britannica – for the joy of opening it randomly and learning something obscure yet interesting (if you have never done this, then I urge you to. You will be enthralled and unbeatable in a pub quiz).
  • Sam Harris – for the marvellous way he can deconstruct a problem and then construct an argument from the facts in front of him***.

What would be on your list dear readers?

*By the way, if you want to scare old ladies, look after someone else’s child while they order food at a counter. When aforementioned dotty old lady comes to coo over the baby and asks how old they are, answer with “I don’t know, he isn’t my baby”. The look of horror as they automatically assume you have kidnapped the child is brilliant. I should say that it is best to clarify that he belongs to your friend who is less than ten feet away otherwise you may have some explaining to do to the local constabulary. 

** Insert your favourite author here

*** I really hope he isn’t a fan of the Kardashians…