It is hard to believe, but this week marks the halfway point of 20 Books of Summer!
How is everyone doing? I was going great but plans were derailed last week when I had a horrible reaction to my second Covid vaccine. I felt awful for at least four days and am only starting to get back to normal today, a week later.
So, I am behind in my reviews and need to catch up on everyone’s blogs, but thankfully, my reading is still on track. I’ve read 12 of my 20 and am halfway through 2 more, so I’m confident I’ll read all 20, I just need to catch up on reviews. Which always seems to be the main sticking point with this challenge!
With that in mind, here are two mini reviews of two very different books from my summer reading challenge.
Peel Me A Lotus by Charmian Clift
Book 9 of 20 Books of Summer
Charmian Clift came to my attention when I read A Theatre for Dreamers by Polly Samson last year, I was immediately intrigued by this Australian writer, and her families spell making a life on the Greek island of Hydra in the 1950s and 1960s. Peel Me A Lotus is the second of her memoirs set on Hydra and follows the family as they buy a house, welcome their third child and try to navigate the social and physical challenges of living in a small, foreign community.
At least our way of life is of our own choosing. We even derive some peculiar satisfaction from our discomforts as we become more aware that we are learning again the true values of light and warmth and food and shelter, which for so many years we have taken for granted. Sometimes it seems to me that this is a sort of educational programme from which one day we might graduate qualified to live our lives with better understanding.
In 1954, Charmian Clift and her husband George Johnston left grey, post- war London for Greece. Moving first to the tiny island of Kalymnos they then settled on Hydra and stayed for almost a decade. They bought a picturesque but dilapidated house, where they planned to live cheaply and write with creative freedom, but in this memoir, Clift grapples with the domestic burdens placed on her and the clash of cultures on the island. The couple become the centre of an informal group of bohemian writers and artists, but life is far from an idyll for Clift, who still assumes most of the domestic work and childcare as they struggle to get by with limited financial means.
Clift writes with a wry beauty and eye for detail, capturing the beauty of her surroundings and bringing characters to life with an ease and wit. She effortlessly captures the comedic value inherent in their lifestyle, but also the desperation at the heart of their experience, of the need to commit to the life they have chosen. There is a darkness at the heart of Peel Me a Lotus, a sense of unease, where the idyll of a sun-drenched untethered life is punctured by the day-to-day realities of housework, shopping and childcare. Duties that seem only to fall to Clift and not to her husband.
A housewife is a housewife wherever she is – in the biggest city of the world or on a small Greek island. There is no escape. She must move always to the dreary recurring decimal of her rites.
Clift’s evocative writing is captivating, perfectly capturing the vivid yet precarious life she had embraced. It is hard to read the book without feeling it is somewhat haunted by the events that were to unfold in Clift’s life. Here the family are depicted as being on a precipice. Infidelity and unhappiness is hinted at, anxiety about being able to write is rife for both Charmian and George and the children are being brought up in a spirit of benign neglect.
Peel Me a Lotus is an uplifting classic of travel writing, a paean to leaving the rat race behind with beautiful descriptive passages of the landscape and the people, but the difficulties that exist regardless of location, are never far from the surface. Clift writes with a strong feminist sensibility that feels as apt today as it would have done in the 1950s and I look forward to reading more of her work.
No 411 The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh
Book 10 of 20 Books of Summer
The Cutting Room is a striking debut novel, a literary crime novel featuring an authentic and grisly narrative, with a firm grasp on atmosphere and style.
Reason tells me. Experience tells me. If someone has thought of doing a thing, then someone somewhere has done it. The world is an old and wicked place…the dreadful has already happened.
Rilke is an auctioneer who has been called to remove the final belongings of a deceased man – Mr McKindless – who lived in the upmarket suburbs of Glasgow. Survived only by his elderly sister, McKindless has left a treasure trove of antiques and collectibles, the kind of haul any auction house dreams of. The dead man’s sister asks that Rilke alone deal with the belongings in the attic, and it is there that he finds a massive hidden collection of pornographic books and photographs. A promiscuous man himself, Rilke is non-plussed, but the discovery of some old black-and-white photographs depicting the apparent brutal murder of a young woman makes him turn detective.
In his attempt to find out if the photographs are proof of a real murder, Rilke is drawn into a grimy underworld of amateur pornographers and drug barons. Welsh sets up a fascinating cast of characters who orbit around Rilke, the tough, hard-drinking trope of detective fiction, who also happens to be a homosexual who eschews intimacy while looking for love. He is a wonderful anachronistic character and his singular viewpoint is a guiding light through this murky narrative.
Glasgow itself becomes a character and Welsh is skilled at creating a murky atmosphere featuring back rooms, dank bookshops and underground photography clubs. There is a striking eye for detail that elevates The Cutting Room from a generic thriller, making up for the slightly rushed and not entirely convincing ending.
Read on: Book
Number Read: 335
Number Remaining: 411
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!