Saturday, 7 May 2011

Some books

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?

19 comments:

Frances Garrood said...

Thanks very much for the mention, Joanne! I'm so glad you enjoyed Dead Ernest.

I LOVED The Road Home, and if you liked Mourning Ruby, do try Dumore's latest, The Betrayal I(if you haven't already). It's a stunning novel - the best I read last year.

Laraine Eddington said...

Your book recommendations are a gift, Joanne. Thank you so much. I recently enjoyed "The Lonely Man" by Henning Mankell. I started reading his books after watching them in movie form on PBS' Masterpiece Theater.

joanne fox said...

Frances, you're welcome. I will look out for The Betrayal - thanks.

Laraine I've been meaning to try Henning Mankell for ages. We had a TV adaptation of Wallender which I really enjoyed. Very atmospheric. Thank you for reminding me.

Old Kitty said...

Yay for libraries!! And Yay for using them!!!!

Wow - such fab book recommendations!!Thank you!! Take care
x

Dream it, then do it said...

I'm going to try and get hold of a copy of 'Dead Earnest'. I've just reviewed Frances' other book 'The Birds, The Bees and Other Secrets' on my own blog. Thanks for these recommendations.

MorningAJ said...

Oh dear - I'm a bit worried that an unusual structure might put you off - because my first novel is rather like that, with chapter headings that describe objects that belonged to the main character's (now dead) father. Oh well.....

I like the sound of Dead Ernest. Must try to track that one down.

joanne fox said...

AJ, I suppose what I don't like is writing that tries to be too clever in a self-consciously clever-clever kind of way. I think what matters above everything is story. Sometimes I read books where I feel the writer has had a clever idea for a structure, and then fitted the story into it. Whereas personally I feel the story should be the start of everything, and then through the writing process the right structure becomes clear. I don't know if that makes sense. But I know what I mean.

Anyway, no it wouldn't put me off reading your novel, because I know you (in a virtual way!) which already gives you an advantage! (And it sounds great, from looking at the info on Lulu)

Ellie said...

Wow. Some great reading choices!

Madeleine said...

Thanks for the suggested reads. Always great to add to my TBR list :O)

Joanna said...

This was really interesting and helpful, Joanne. I want to read Dead Ernest and I also love Helen Dunmore but had put off Mourning Ruby too. I'll try it now!

I love the Sophie Hannah book and this has reminded me to re-read it.

HelenMHunt said...

Wow! You have been having some fun with your reading!

joanne fox said...

So many books, so little time!

Stephen Tremp said...

I'm reading my first ever chick lit book The Hating Game from Talli Roland. And the first Harry Potter book. I've never read any of the HP stuff but thought I'd see what all the hoopla is about.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Joanne...loved the review of the short story collection. 'The Fantastic Book of Everybody's Secrets' sounds good. I will see if it’s available in India.

joanne fox said...

Welcome Chase and Rachna to the blog.

Suzanne Jones said...

Thanks for these recommendations, Joanne - lots for my tbr pile there :0)

joanne fox said...

Thank you all. Sorry if you left a comment which has since disappeared. I know I lost a few when we were having all the problems with Blogger mid-week.

L'Aussie said...

Hi Joanne.Long time since I've dropped by. You have been a busy gal with the writing and reading. I joined a 100+ Book Challenge this year and have already passed 50 but have read none of the ones you mention. Goes to show how many gazillion books are out there.

Denise

Joanne said...

Some interesting reads here, definitely. I'm in the thick of a manuscript revision right now, and find it hard to read a book, and read it well, while I'm in the revision process. But soon, I hope to be back to my reading!