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.

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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.

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!

Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner

Hotel du Lac

Edith finds herself at the Hotel du Lac, on the shores of a Swiss lake, having been advised by her friends to go away and think about things for a while. The reasons she needs this break are revealed as the book progresses.

Edith is a serious, woman, not yet married, who find herself in a hotel with a cast of characters she enjoys watching. We have a mother and daughter, Mrs Pusey and Jennifer who are hopelessly devoted to each other, the charming Mr Neville, and Mme de Bonneuil and her little dog. Edith is a romantic novelist and decides to use her expulsion from her social circle to finish her next book, but the words won’t flow. Instead she starts to mope about, and so Mrs Pusey decides she needs taking out of herself.

The prose is wonderful, there are very sly observations on the characters and the small talk is painfully accurate. It isn’t a fast paced read, but then it doesn’t need to be. I found myself slowing the pace to reflect the setting, a slightly old fashioned and snooty family run hotel.

This book came in for a lot of criticism when it won the Booker Prize in 1984 when many thought that The Empire of the Sun should have won. I haven’t read The Empire of the Sun, so can’t comment. What I did like about this book is the theme that a solitary life, when chosen knowingly, is a fine life.

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

Here’s a turn up for the books*, I read a sort of chick lit type thing. I’m not, in general, a chick lit kind of girl. I gave up after all I found within these tales were useless lead female characters falling for the wrong man and having absolutely no common sense whatsoever**. I can’t say exactly what possessed me to pick this up in the library. Under normal circumstances I would have been a bit sniffy about the cover. Which just goes to show that you should never be sniffy about such things. You learned a valuable lesson there Helen, and don’t you forget it.

So, what’s Modern Lovers all about? We have two couples, both with teenage children, having known each other since college days and now living in the same neighbourhood. Elizabeth and Andrew have been married for years, and their son Harry is in love with Zoe and Jane’s daughter, Ruby. Still with me? 

Andrew is having some sort of midlife crisis. He joins a, well not quit a cult, but creepy new age, weird yoga and suspicious juice drinking bunch of people who want his money to open a healing centre. Meanwhile his wife is approached by a Hollywood agent who want to make a biopic about the band she, Andrew, and Zoe were in in college with another, now dead friend. Down the road, Zoe and Jane are having relationship difficulties too, and the stress of running their own restaurant is taking it’s toll. 

With their parents otherwise occupied, this leaves Harry and Ruby to their own devices, ending in a them being arrested for… well… I’ll let you find out. It’s very funny though. 

Yes, it’s about relationships, yes it’s quite suburban, and yes it’s a family tale, all things I generally find rather dull. These types of plots really don’t anything for me. If I may quote the Wee Free Men, it can all be a little bit “waily, waily, waily”. Modern Lovers has a lovely balance of really quite acute family problems against the absurdity of life which lifts it above other books I have read like this. It’s funny and thought provoking and I have made a mental note that as I get closer to fifty I will be wary of yoga instructors offering free cleansing juices. 

 

*Pun intended

** Susan Sto-Helit is my role model. 

I Need To Raid My Piggy Bank Again…

Yes, it’s that time of the year when the publisher’s put out all their books for Christmas, and I have to muster all the willpower I have in order not to spend every penny. It was a real struggle yesterday when The Folio Society sent me a list* of their 2016 Christmas Collection.  If you don’t want to end up spending all your money on books this month then I suggest you look away now…

Remember this?
Remember this?

If you like a bit of Shakespeare of an evening, then this edition of Twelfth Night looks gorgeous. If, on the other hand, the dark nights make you want to regress back to your childhood, we have Anne of Avonlea by LM Montgomery, it matches the Folio edition of Anne of Green Gables which has been on my list for a while. I adored Anne of Green Gables when I was little, and was glued to the BBC version which was broadcast over the summer holidays. 

There is nothing quite like a good thriller of an autumn evening, and The Folio Society are adding to their Ian Fleming collection with From Russia with Love

Moving on to SciFi, we have an Asimov classic – I, Robot, a favourite of The Delightful Mr F, and another which has been on my list to read. Staying with the SciFi, the Folio collection of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books by Douglas Adams is complete. I have the first three, so the final two will be winging their way to my bookshelves very soon indeed. 

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

The rest of the collection is also stunning, and includes Kim by Rudyard Kipling, Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, Winnie the Pooh and The Red House by AA Milne. That’s just  the fiction, the Non-fiction is equally as compelling, covering topics as diverse as the Bayeux Tapestry, Cleopatra and the history of China. 

With a collection like that, what is a reader to do? I could easily buy all of them, well, I say easily, I could if I had a smallish lottery win. Strike that, it would need to be a medium sized lottery win. Alternatively, The Delightful Mr F and I could live off bread and water for a few months. Who needs to pay the mortgage eh?

* As always, there are no hand outs here, I am on their list as a customer, not as a blogger.