Q. Where's that Joanne Fox gone? Has she deserted her blog again?
A. No! I've been reading and writing lots, yesterday attended a hundredth birthday party (not mine, obviously) and today a writing workshop with Sue Johnson, who always fills me with inspiration.
I've read so many good books this spring that I wanted to mention a few of my favourites. Firstly 'The Fantastic Book of Everybody's Secrets' by Sophie Hannah. This is a collection of short stories, opening with 'The Octopus Nest' which won the Daphne du Maurier Festival Short Story Competition in 2004. Although I'd read 'The Octopus Nest' before, I still admired the way Sophie Hannah drew me in and led me down a path I thought I knew, until she hit me with the ending. Every story in this collection focuses on a character who is obsessed with something. And though they may behave bizarrely, I like that I always understand why.
For some reason I'd put off reading Rose Tremain's 'The Road Home' because I thought I wouldn't enjoy it. This was despite already being seriously impressed by her previous novels, and her wonderful short story collection 'The Darkness of Wallis Simpson'. But at long last I borrowed 'The Road Home' from the library and absolutely loved it.
As you may be sick of hearing, I am a big fan of Helen Dunmore. However I'd put off reading one of her books too - 'Mourning Ruby'. It centres on the death of a child and I thought it would be too depressing. But d'you know what? When I finally read it I loved this one as well!
Another book I borrowed from the library recently (thank God libraries still exist because I couldn't afford to buy all these) was 'Dead Ernest' by fellow blogger Frances Garrood. I could really identify with all three of the main characters and so wanted them to have a happy ending, especially the central one, Annie. As the truth about Annie's life with her late husband (Ernest) is revealed, there are many reminders that in the not-too-distant past both men and women were more constrained by social attitudes than they are in the present day, and often shockingly ignorant about sex besides. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it made me very glad to be living in the here and now. Modern life may not be perfect but generally we do benefit from freedoms and opportunities that previous generations did not have. I look forward to reading more of Frances's work.
Finally (and to prove I do read books by male authors) I must mention Patrick Gale's 'Notes from an Exhibition'. I read this book a couple of years ago, but I knew it was one that deserved a second reading. I don't always take to books that have unusual structures. Sometimes the structure dominates the story rather than complementing it. However I do love this one, in which each chapter begins with notes on an object that might appear in a posthumous exhibition from the life of the central character. This character was an artist, so many of the notes describe pieces of her work. There are also notes about her fisherman's smock, her nightdress and a hair clasp. The story unfolds around these objects, not chronologically, but in a way that makes me feel I am delving through layers of a family, learning a bit here, a bit there. I find this book really interesting on the subject of the relationship between art and mental health. I learnt a lot about the Quakers too.
So that's my round-up. Now I have to get back to reading, writing, and catching up with everyone else's blogs.
Read any good books lately?