It has been a bit of a busy month and a wisdom tooth extraction and a car crash (I’m not sure which was worse) have left me with little time to write reviews.
I have been reading though, which makes a nice change, but am now facing a review backlog – a wholly unusual scenario for me to be in. So, rather than fall behind, I’m going to do a quick reading round up to get me back on track!
No 654 Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth
I have been meaning to read Jerusalem since watching the BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall and falling in love with the astonishingly talented Mark Rylance. I had read a lot about his bravura performance of ‘Rooster’ Byron in the West End and on Broadway, but when you read this play you realise just what a towering performance it must have been.
Butterworth’s play is a tale of identity, nationality and what it means to be English today. ‘Rooster’ Byron is the local ruffian in the Wiltshire village of Flintock, living in a run-down caravan/ trailer in the middle of the woods and playing host to all kinds of unhappy teens, drifters and outsiders who gather at his door. They come for drugs, for alcohol, but they also come for a sense of belonging and companionship. Too young to remember his glory days as a stunt bike rider leaping double decker buses, this band of shabby brothers and sisters are drawn to Roosters tall tales, his wildness and his defiance of the local Council who are coming to evict him by the end of Fair Day.
Rooster is a force of nature. By turns Falstaff and Henry V; George and the Dragon; Prospero and Caliban, he spins his own legend of being born with a bullet between his teeth, meeting giants and getting barred from every pub in the county with the verve of the greatest story tellers
I’ve got rare blood. Rarest there is. Roman blood. All Byrons have got it. I’ve got it and you’ve got it too….This blood, it’s valuable. To doctors. Hospitals…If you’re ever short…. Remember the blood.
He adores England, the land he is borne of and its stories, but he also understands and rebels against everything England has become. However, as reality starts to close in on Rooster in the form of the father of a missing fifteen year old girl and the Council officers with their eviction notice, we find ourselves wondering about Roosters stories and the magic they contain. Is there a giant protecting him? Is he part of the fabric and folklore of the land? Perhaps in the end Rooster is the one we should believe in.
Unlike some other plays, Jerusalem reads well, although it does remind you that this is one theatrical production that would have been an honour to see. I’ll just have to make do with a few more episodes of Bing for my Rylance fix….
Read on: Book
Number Read: 93
Number Remaining: 653
No 653 What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn
In 1980 when I was around 9 years old, I got one book out of the local library again and again and again. That book was The Detectives Handbook – a how-to guide for would be sleuths in how to spot and solve crimes. Eventually, Santa bought me a copy and like Kate Meaney, the lead character in this lovely book, I read my Detective’s Handbook every day and was constantly on the lookout for crimes needing my expert solving skills.
The book opens in 1994 with Kate Meaney and her monkey toy Mickey building their private investigation business. Orphaned and living with her disinterested grandmother, Kate spends her time at the Green Oaks shopping centre tailing would be bank robbers and reporting back to her friend Adrian, a 22 year old who works in the local sweet shop. Kate’s grandmother wants her to go to the local boarding school, but Kate vanishes on her way to take the entrance exam and suspicion falls on Adrian, who under the strain of the accusation also leaves, not to be seen again.
Twenty years later the Green Oaks Shopping Centre is a thriving soulless temple to consumerism and home to Lisa, a duty manager at You Music and Kurt, the night time security guard. One night, Kurt spies a ten year old girl clutching a toy monkey on the security camera and Kurt and Lisa realise how intertwined their lives are as they try to work out what happened to Kate Meaney all those years before.
Crime may be at the centre of What Was Lost, but this is a poignant and moving tale of bereavement and loneliness. It is the story of Kate’s disappearance but is also about the people transformed by it, all in hiding in their own way, immobilised by what has happened in the past. All of the characters are in some ways missing or invisible and trying to work out how to live their lives with meaning, how to be found.
It is also a very clever treatise on the emptiness of consumerism, with the Green Oaks Shopping Centre becoming almost a character in its own right as O’Flynn explores the changes the modern way of shopping have brought to town centres, to communities and to our lives.
These faces amoungst faces – what are they doing at Green Oaks? The lonely man shopping for new shirts. The unhappy couple trying to get through a Sunday. The woman trying to get anyone’s attention. Four hundred thousand different stories on a busy day, floating up in the air like foil balloons, sticking to the ceiling.
The juxtaposition of the public and private spaces of the shopping centre acting as a metaphor for our inner versus our public lives. There are little vignettes interspersed throughout the narrative of shoppers and their experiences and they bring both humour and gravitas to this well plotted novel. Some aspects of the book jarred with me a little – there is a rushed romance and a key aspect of the original mystery that should have provided answers sooner rather than later, but overall What Was Lost is a moving and heart breaking exploration of how loss is borne and how it can erode our sense of self.
Read On: Kindle
Number Read: 94
Number Remaining: 652
No 652 The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
I had high hopes for this one. I love a book about books, I’m a fan of the gothic and the haunted house, it even has twins for goodness sake, but The Thirteenth Tale took me weeks to read and in the end just didn’t grab my imagination.
Margaret Lea’s life works in an antiquarian bookshop run by her father, a voracious reader who writes biographies of footnote characters in history. She has been traumatised by the knowledge that she was born with a twin attached to her side, whose removal and death allowed her survival.
She is stunned to be summoned to meet Vida Winter, a famous and prolific writer, who wishes Margaret to write her last biography and right the fanciful untruths she has perpetuated in the media. Margaret cannot understand why she has been picked and resolves to back out, but one line lures her in
Once upon a time, there were twins…..
So begins the tale of Angelfield House, the ruined pile where Miss Winter grew up. The tale includes strange siblings, Charlie and Isabelle and Isabelle’s children, the wild twins Adeline and Emmeline. Throw in an ancient library, a topiary garden, abandoned babies, madwomen, the hint of ghosts and a fire and you would imagine a story in the vein of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights or The Woman in White, all of which are referenced throughout The Thirteenth Tale.
Ultimately, The Thirteenth Tale is a story about stories and a celebration of the teller and the audience. As Vida Winter states
Everybody has a story. It’s like families. You might not know who they are, might have lost them, but they exist all the same. You might drift apart or you might turn your back on them, but you can’t say you haven’t got them. Same goes for stories.
As Vida tells her story to Margaret, we are reminded of the stories we tell, of what we choose to share and what we choose to keep hidden for self-preservation. I did enjoy the sections of the book relating to the twins and their lives at Angelfield, having all the ingredients for the romantic mystery novel.
The central tale does engage, piling on puzzle after puzzle and keeping the central mystery intriguing. However, the structure does create a certain distance for the reader, being as it is a story within a story. Vida’s account, however interesting is being told through Margaret and Margaret’s story often interrupts just when you least wish it to. Margaret’s backstory, although thematically similar to Vida’s is much less interesting and for me became an intrusion into the story I really wanted to read. The story often lurches from one view point to another, disrupting the flow and breaking what could have been a very irresistible spell.
I found some of the characters (particularly the men) to be flat and the inevitable twist, although intriguing and surprising, throws some cold water on the story that has gone before. The end suffers from the need to tie up all the loose ends, but there is certainly an intriguing tale in here and Setterfield is good at creating an atmosphere of the mysterious and the macabre, even if it didn’t entirely add up for me. I’m wondering if the TV adaptation might be worth checking out?
Read On: iBooks
Number Read: 95
Number Remaining: 651
So there we have it, my recent reads rounded up in one post. My aim for this year was to make it to book 646 – 100 books read from my TBR feels like a bit of a milestone, even if it has taken me 2 years! Do you think I can do it? 5 books in as many weeks? Fingers crossed!