No 595 The Reckoning by Jane Casey

Things weren’t great for Maeve Kerrigan at the end of The Burning, the first in the series of crime novels by Jane Casey. Attacked by a serial killer; dealing with the machismo and misogyny of her fellow police officers and starting a perilous relationship with her colleague Rob Langton had left Kerrigan in a fragile position.

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When we meet Maeve again at the start of The Reckoning, things aren’t much better. She has moved into a new flat with strange neighbours; she can’t reconcile working with and sleeping with Rob and her beloved boss Godley has paired her up with the obnoxious, chauvinistic Josh Derwent.

Kerrigan and Derwent are working on a series of murders of registered paedophiles – all horrifically killed, but in very different ways. Given the nature of the victims, there is little impetus for the police to solve the crimes, but Maeve sees past the unsavoury nature of the victims’ characters and believes that murder is murder no matter who the victim is. Derwent, does not agree – either with Maeve’s determination to solve the crimes, or with her usefulness as a police officer.

Derwent was still talking, oblivious. “According to the boss, this is an important case and needs sensitive handling. That’s why he assigned you to work on it with me, which makes some sort of sense. The last thing I need is one of those hairy-arsed DCs from the team clumping around offending the families by saying the wrong thing.”
“I’ll do my best to avoid that,” I said stiffly.
“That’s the thing. You don’t have to do anything at all. Just stand back, look pretty, and let me do all the work.” Derwent squinted out through the windscreen and I was glad he didn’t look in my direction, because the expression on my face was nothing short of murderous.

Thankfully Maeve ignores Derwent’s advice to rest on her looks and the more they investigate, the more complex the situation they are in becomes. John Skinner, a well-known gangster with a grudge against Godley is involved. His daughter Cheyenne has gone missing and there are links to another woman’s disappearance 18 months before. Meanwhile, it seems as if someone within the police force is leaking information and someone is stalking Maeve, taking pictures of her without her knowledge.

If the plot sounds complex, it is. At the half way mark there is a U-turn, a change of focus which is cleverly handled without leaving the reader to feel the rug has been pulled from under them.

There is a lot packed into The Reckoning, and it is to Casey’s credit that nothing feels like filler and subplots are made to feel like part of the bigger picture. The reckoning of the title refers to a lot of happenings in the book and the result is a well-paced, sharply plotted thriller.

Jane-Casey

When I reviewed Jane Casey’s previous novel, The Burning, I said that the strength of the book was the characterisation of Maeve Kerrigan and that continues to be the case. Crime novels can be as complex and plot-driven as they like, but if the lead character isn’t memorable, then there is the risk of the book becoming forgettable. However, with Kerrigan, Casey has created a dynamic, sharp-witted protagonist to match classic detectives such as Jane Tennison, or John Rebus. Maeve drives the plot as much as the crimes do and I find myself reading as much to find out about what it going to happen to Maeve.

Casey also explores the male-female working dynamic very well, particularly as it stands in the police force and the introduction of a lesbian character in this book widens out that discussion.

Casey is also careful not to turn Derwent into an all-out chauvinist pig and has created a character with room to grow. The relationship between Derwent and Maeve is an interesting one. They are probably more similar than Maeve would like to admit, both with a fiery temper and the ability to say the things that no one else will say. Despite being as maddened by him as Maeve is, there is also an interesting undercurrent developing in their relationship that I’m sure will carry through in future books.

Jane Casey has just published her latest book Let the Dead Speak to great critical acclaim. For me, she has created a great protagonist in Maeve Kerrigan and her crime novels are the most interesting I have come across in a long time. Meticulously plotted, realistic in the depiction of the slog of police work and with a strong, smart female lead, this series is one I can’t wait to read more of.

Read on: iBook

Number Read: 152

Number Remaining: 594

The Re-publication of The Female Line

Women’s writing in Ireland and Northern Ireland has been put firmly back on the agenda lately, not least with the publications and success of The Long Gaze Back and The Glass Shore, both edited by the inimitable Sinead Gleeson.

These anthologies have won awards, brought new readers to women’s literature and shone a spotlight on forgotten writers, however, they had a predecessor.

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The Female Line was launched on 28 November 1985 at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and was the first anthology of women’s writing from Northern Ireland ever published. The anthology included women who were already professionally writing and those who had never been published before and it featured extracts from novelws, short stories, poetry and drama. Spearheaded by Ruth Hooley (now Carr) and published by the Northern Ireland Women’s Rights Movement, the book sold out in a month and immediately went into reprint.

The Northern Ireland Women’s Rights Movement was established in 1975 to act as an ‘umbrella’ for a wide range of female-led organisations from both Nationalist and Unionist areas of Northern Ireland and to support and help women to co-operate over common problems and societal needs.

Inspired by Virago and the Attic Press in Dublin, The Female Line attempted to address the massive under-representation of women writers in Northern Ireland, in both publishing and in inclusion in academic courses. The anthology also aimed to encourage more women writers towards publication. At the time, Ruth Carr asked,

This silence is ambiguous. Does it mean an absence – there are hardly any women writing? Is it due to suppression – women lack confidence and opportunities to develop their writing? Is it a result of oppression – women are discriminated against in terms of what is taken seriously and which material matters? Or is it a passive resistance by those who find the language so steeped in gender-biased values as to be alien and inadequate to express their meaning?

What the collection did was bring the voices and imagination of women front and centre and provide them with a platform for their shared experiences that had previously not existed.

The themes of female entrapment, identity, abuse, power, motherhood and self-awareness and self-actualisation found in these works are also found in the recent anthologies published which suggests that the voices of women still need to be heard to provide a full and deep knowledge of a culture and place. The Troubles also featured heavily as a theme in The Female Line and gave a different perspective on the much talked about and written about conflict.

Some of the writers included in the original anthology have gone on to great successes, writers like Marie Jones, Medbh McGuckian and Jennifer Johnston. Some were revived by their inclusion, like Janet McNeill, whose books had largely been out of print until the 1980s. Some no longer write.

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Others deserve to be read more and with this in mind, The Female Line, long out of print and hard to get second hand, has been republished as an ebook by Herself Press. It is available to download from all major online booksellers and is well worth checking out.

At the recent launch for the republication of the collection, it was announced that a new book, Female Lines: New Writing by Women from Northern Ireland will be published by New Island in autumn 2017, bringing the focus to a new generation of women writers from Northern Ireland.

Contributers to The Female Line are:

Fiona Barr, Mary Beckett, Evelyn Berman, Shirley Bork, Geraldine Bradley, Francine Cunningham, Anne Devlin, Polly Devlin, Dorothy Gharbaoui, Ann W. Cleave, Christine Hammond, Ruth Hooley, Anne Jago, Maura Johnston, Jennifer Johnston, Marie Jones, Eileen Kelly, Jan Kennedy, Kate Madden, Stella Mahon, Patricia Mallon, Sandra Marshall, Frances McEnaney, Mary McGowan, Medbh, McGuckian, Jill McKenna, Blanaid McKinney, Janet McNeill, Elizabeth Miller, Frances Molloy, Sheila Mulvenna, Brenda Murphy, Anne Noble, Christina Reid, Geraldine Reid, Anne-Marie Reilly, Delia Rimington, Bernadette Ross, Carol Scanlon, Janet Shepperson, Laura Shier, Anne Strain, Anne Tannahill, Mary Twomey, Una Woods

 

The Moon Mother | Medbh McGuckian

Twice-lost colonial, making inroads

On my sleep, till I go round with the

Machinery, however can I trust

Your jagged growing, the gender you assume

On a given day? Unmothered by

This extra weight, and jealous of

Your wiriness, I polish the same

Place on the table over and over,

Not regretful of the huts where

The bloodless, blanched gardenia

Stains around the edge when it’s touched,

But forming messages to wrap

The braided moon in her dwindling,

Deflowered self-possessed, aware

Exactly when the floor would act that way

 

 

More Mini Summer Reviews!

 

The summer is slipping away from me and although I’m reading LOADS, my reviewing has stalled. I have been very busy in work trying to get everything in place for leaving my current job, and this has left me incapable of doing much in the evenings bar drinking some wine and watching some telly.

 

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So, here I am again with a few mini-reviews to get be up to date with my 20 Books of Summer challenge.

No 620 – My Lover’s Lover by Maggie O’ Farrell

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I wanted so much to love My Lover’s Lover as I’ve been so impressed with O’Farrell’s other books. Unfortunately, this one didn’t really work for me. It starts well enough – Lily (a strangely vacant character) moves into a flat with the charismatic Marcus and the moody Aidan and begins a relationship with Marcus with almost ridiculous haste. Very soon, she is haunted by the ‘ghost’ of Marcus’ ex Sinead, whose room she has taken and whom Marcus refers to as ‘no longer with us. References to Hitchcock would suggest this is a tale of the dead taking retribution on the one who has taken their place, and the first half of the book is creepy and interesting. Things fall apart though as Lily, and the reader, discover that Sinead is in fact alive and well but devastated by the break-up of her relationship with Marcus. The novel then shifts focus to explore what happened between Sinead and Marcus before seemingly running out of steam by the end. My main problem with My Lover’s Lover is that the characters were so insubstantial. Lily doesn’t register much of anything, and Aidan remains on the periphery throughout. For a man that two obviously smart young women fall for without hesitation – Marcus is actually a bit of a shit, if you’ll pardon my language. Unpleasant, unpredictable and unfaithful, it’s amazing that he manages to hang on to one girl let alone too. Add to that, the supernatural aspects of the book, which I found most intriguing, are presented and then never explained. As an exploration of how our past relationships can affect our current emotions, the ghost is a potent symbol, but it is jettisoned halfway through this rather disappointing book.

Read on: Book
20 Books of Summer: 9/20
Number Read: 127
Number Remaining: 619

No 619 – The Keep by Jennifer Egan

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Given that I expected so much from My Lover’s Lover and felt disappointed, it was great to follow it with a book about which I expected little, but enjoyed a great deal. The Keep is a clever, well-structured tale within a tale that confounds expectation at every turn. It opens with Danny, a feckless Wi-Fi addicted 30-something New Yorker, arriving at a European castle to work for his cousin Howie. Howie plans to turn the castle into a boutique hotel where people come to turn off their devices and turn on their imaginations. The castle contains a mythical keep, inhabited by an old woman who claims ownership and refuses to leave it. With incredible stylistic skill, Egan also introduces Ray to the story. Ray is in jail, attending a creative writing course and writing the story of Danny, Howie, the castle and its keep, to try and impress Holly, his teacher. Either one of these stories would have been interesting enough, but that Egan manages to interweave the two and have them mirror, blend and bounce off one another, is quite a skill. The reader is at all times reminded of the authorial voice, but is never jolted out of either story. This is a stunning piece of metafiction and through the imagery of trap doors, reflections, pools and caves, Egan reminds us that we can only come to know ourselves and heal ourselves through the power of our imagination. The Keep is clever and stylised and also immersive and moving. One of my favourites of the summer.

Read on: iBooks
20 Books of Summer: 10/20
Number Read: 128
Number Remaining: 618

No 618 – Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty

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Apple Tree Yard is another case of me hearing the hype about the latest exciting thriller, feeling the need to buy it immediately and then never getting around to reading it. By the time you find out that a book is getting a BBC adaptation, you know you are coming a little too late to the party. Apple Tree Yard is an interesting courtroom drama, well-structured and well- paced, but something about it left me a little cold. Dr Yvonne Carmichael is a successful 52 year old woman, with a good career as a geneticist, a loving husband and two grown up children. One day, while giving evidence to a select committee in the Houses of Parliament, she meets a man, chats to him briefly and ends up having sex with him in a public place without knowing his name. We then find out that Yvonne and her mystery man are in the dock in the Old Bailey, accused of murder and Doughty examines, as you would a court case, the decisions and acts that brought a seemingly normal woman to this point. Yvonne narrates her story as a letter to her lover, looking back over their relationship, her relationship with her husband and the chain of events that led them to more destruction than they could have imagined. Apple Tree Yard is a novel about stories – the stories we tell ourselves to justify our behaviour, the stories we invent to make ourselves appear more successful or attractive and then ultimately, the story that is told to a jury – all open to interpretation. It is also about manipulation and the far reaching consequences that can have. As a courtroom drama, it’s very successful and it was refreshing to read a book about the sex life of a middle aged woman that was clear eyed and unpatronising. However, as with My Lover’s Lover, I couldn’t quite understand Yvonne’s attraction to her lover, who came across as shifty and dangerous from the start. However, this is a chilling novel that explores the lies we can tell ourselves to justify what we have done.

Read on: Kindle
20 Books of Summer: 11/20
Number Read: 129
Number Remaining: 617

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein

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This last year has felt like a bit of a golden age for the female rock autobiography. From Patti Smith’s M Train to Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band, there is no shortage of musical memoirs at the moment, with Viv Albertine, Chrissie Hynde and Brix Smith Start all releasing books. Carrie Brownstein in the founder member of Sleater-Kinney one of the break out Riot Grrrl bands to come out of that 1990s scene. Now a respected actor and screenwriter (Portlandia, Transparent), Brownstein documents her life growing up in the suburbs of Seattle through the early days of Sleater-Kinney to the ultimate breakup of the band while on tour in Europe. Brownstein had a troubled childhood, her mother had anorexia and left, while her father came out as gay while she was in her teens. Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl captures perfectly how performance came to be both an escape and an identity for a young woman trying to make sense of a confusing world a create an identity of her own. Brownstein writes in a clean, downbeat manner, always willing to share her own embarrassments as much as her successes. She explores her relationship with band mate Corin Tucker with insight and clarity and her feminist voice demands to be heard. Fans of her later work in television may be disappointed but Brownstein is clever to end the book when the band ends, self-imploding just as things were going well. This could have been a frothy, girls on the road melodrama of a book, but by avoiding the high drama, Brownstein insightfully explores a life lived the only way it could be.

Read On: Book borrowed from my very accommodating husband
20 Books of Summer: 12/20

So, I’m back on track – 8 books to go in 6 more weeks, which I really hope I can manage. I may do a swap as I have now tried to start Moon Tiger on several occasions and it is not grabbing me at all, but I may give it one more go.

How is everyone else getting along? Can you believe there are only 6 weeks of summer left?

 

Round Up Reviews – No 624 – 622

I said I wouldn’t do this, but I am going to have to.

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Circumstances have dictated that I’m going to have to do a few round up reviews, just to clear the back log! Life has been very busy these last few weeks and I have started to feel stressed about falling behind on my blogging and the fact that I am not keeping up with all your posts. I really wanted to do full review for all 20 books this summer, but I have to remind myself that I blog for FUN and my posts should be a release rather than a worry, so I’m cutting myself a bit of slack and doing a few mini-reviews just to get things up to date.

I do plan to do full reviews of a couple of recent books – This is How and Apple Tree Yard – both of which I think deserve full reviews for very different reasons, but in the meantime, here are some of the books I’ve managed to get through in these past few weeks.

No 624 A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore

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I am a big fan of Helen Dunmore’s writing and A Spell of Winter doesn’t disappoint. Catherine and her brother Rob live with their grandfather in an isolated crumbling mansion in the years before World War 1. Their mother has abandoned them and their father has gone mad, so the siblings find comfort in the memories and half-truths of their home, and eventually their relationship turns incestuous. Reminiscent of a Brontë novel, it is to Dunmore’s credit that this tale does not veer into the ludicrous featuring as it does incest, abortion, madness, war and eventually murder. This is down to the beautiful prose and the sensitive characterisation – she evokes sympathy for her characters even when they are doing terrible things and as the novel ends, a glimmer of hope enters to thaw the snow.

Read On: Book

20 Books of Summer: 5/20

Number Read: 123

Number Remaining: 623

 

No 623 Blue Nights by Joan Didion

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Didion’s iconic The Year of Magical Thinking, written about the sudden death of her husband John Dunne was a searing and moving meditation on loss and grief and was also a moving portrait of a man and a marriage. Blue Nights is a tragic companion piece to that book, dealing as it does with the death of Didion’s daughter Quintana only a year later. Like the twilight of its title, Blue Nights is a vague and somewhat insubstantial book. Quintana remains an elusive figure within the pages, which feature Didion musing on motherhood, parenting and old age. She fixates on other people she knows who have died young (including family friend Natasha Richardson) and worries about how she brought up her daughter. It is a fragile and tremulous piece of writing, repeating phrases like incantations that will ward off painful truths. Where The Year of Magical Thinking felt universal, Blue Nights feels almost too specific to have that same emotional depth and charge. However, when Didion writes about her own personal frailty and her fear of losing her cognitive abilities, then we see the strength and the courage that she possesses in even writing this admirable book. 

Read On: iBook

20 Books of Summer: 6/20

Number Read: 124

Number Remaining: 622

 

No 622 Sister by Rosamund Lupton

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Rosamund Lupton’s charged and well-paced thriller focuses on the bond between two different, but close sisters. New York based designer Beatrice gets a call to say her younger sister, artist Tess, has gone missing, so she returns to London to discover what has happened to her beloved sister. What follows is a novel framed as a letter from Beatrice to Tess, which drip-feeds the details of Tess’s disappearance and subsequent death to the reader with precise plotting and a strong sense of pace. Details emerge of Tess’s pregnancy and a medical trial she was participating in before her death and these are mingled confidently with insights into the grief and guilt that arises from the violent death of a family member. While I enjoyed Sister and was buoyed along by the strong plot, I had a few issues with the characterisations of Beatrice and Tess, never really feeling I was getting a sense of who they were as people, rather than types. I also found the epistolary nature of the novel to be clunky at times and the ‘twist’ (there always has to be a twist!) at the end of the novel felt really unnecessary. I think I will be in the minority with this view, but I felt the book could have been just as successful, if not more so, without it.

Read on: iBooks

20 Books of Summer: 7/20

Number Read: 125

Number Remaining: 621

 

So, have you read any of these? What did you think?

 

 

 

No 626 The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa

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As usual with my 20 Books of Summer challenge, the reading isn’t the problem, it’s the reviewing. I’m actually nearly finished my 7th book, but am only at review number 3. I’ll be playing review catch up for the next while, but at least I’m on course to actually read all my books, for a change!

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I’ve been a fan of Yoko Ogawa’s exquisite controlled prose since reading Revenge, The Housekeeper and the Professor and Hotel Iris. The Diving Pool, written when she was in her twenties, is a collection of three novellas, all intuitively exploring emotionally displaced female psychologies.

As with all Ogawa’s work, the stories are written in a simple prose style that belies a profound emotional depth. A sense of unease permeates all these stories, which have an eerie dream-like quality despite their realistic settings. A lingering feeling of dread follows each of these tales, as if the reader awakens from a nightmare and is unable to shake the unease that comes in its wake.

The first two novellas in this mesmerising collection feature isolated female characters who are at an emotional distance from those around them, and try to poison people in a warped attempt at intimacy.

In The Diving Pool, Aya lives in the ‘Lighthouse’ an orphanage run by her parents.

My father and mother are the leaders of a church, a place they say mediates between the faithful and their god. They also run the Lighthouse, which is an orphanage where I am the only child who is not an orphan, a fact that has disfigured my family.

Aya has developed obsessive feelings for an orphan Jun, with whom she has lived since childhood and every day she watches him in secret at his diving practice. Unable to express her feelings for Jun, she internalises her need for comfort and connection and gives in to cruelty instead. She begins to torment a small child called Rie in the orphanage, finding excitement and power in her ability to hurt.

My desires seemed simple and terribly complicated at the same time: to gaze at Jun’s wet body and to make Rie cry. These were the only things that gave me comfort.

When Rie becomes dangerously ill and Aya still feels no remorse, Ogawa cleverly subverts our expectations and shows us how cruelty and kindness can be intermingled when our natural feelings have become twisted through childhood neglect.

The award winning Pregnancy Diary features another emotionally detached young woman. The diary of the title is not that of her own pregnancy, but of her sister’s. As each detail of the pregnancy is logged in the diary, a sense growing revulsion creeps into the narrative as the focus is not on the baby, but on bodily changes and on the consumption of food.

I feel a little disorientated every time I see her like this. Her while body is swelling before my eyes like a giant tumour.

As her sister suffers first from extreme morning sickness, then from a need to eat constantly, the narrator makes vat after vat of possibly toxic grapefruit jam to feed to her insatiable sister.

Like Aya in The Diving Pool, the narrator of Pregnancy Diary is essentially impassive, seeking power through cruelty with an almost disconcerting lack of awareness. Their roles in life are indistinct and their response to this is to create a position of power where they can. Ogawa’s characters seem unaware of the consequences of their actions and the cool, detached tone adds to a sense of alienation not only from those around them, but from themselves.

The protagonist of the final story Dormitory channels her sense of isolation towards misplaced kindness rather than misplaced cruelty. While she waits for her husband to summon her to live with him in Sweden where he is working, the narrator fills her day with patchwork quilting and television, unable to focus on anything more substantial.

My life, too, seemed to be drifting in circles, as if caught in the listless season….I never went out to meet people and had no deadlines or projects of any sort. Formless days passed one after the other, as if swollen into an indistinguishable mass by the damp weather.

Into this limbo comes her cousin, who is moving to Tokyo to go to University. He asks her to help him find accommodation and she finds him a place in her old college dormitory, run by a man who is missing both arms and a leg. Of all the stories in this collection, Dormitory is the one that most resembles the horror/ thriller genre. A student from the dormitory has gone missing in strange circumstances and as the narrator attempts to visit her cousin after he has moved in, she becomes a carer for the deformed manager. As she is drawn into his isolated world, she loses her grip on everyday life, ignoring her husband’s letters and feeling incapable of completing the simplest of tasks

Somehow I couldn’t really understand what he was trying to say. The words – ‘market’…’passport’, ‘moving company’ – were like obscure philosophical terms.

Where has her cousin gone? What is the steady humming sound in the dormitory and where is the growing stain in the ceiling coming from? Ogawa once again subverts expectation and the story ends on a symbolic rather than a sinister note.
As with all Ogawa’s books, there is not a word wasted, yet her prose evokes a dream-like, even surreal pull, distancing the reader before bringing them close again. There is a sense of beautiful unease in her stories that haunt long after they have been read. The cool brilliance of her narratives suggests a universality to her work and the translation by Stephen Snyder maintains this smooth, eerie magic.

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This is one of my Diverse reads for #ReadDiverse2016

Read on: Book
20 Books of Summer: 3/20
Number Read: 121
Number Remaining: 625

20 Books of Summer 2016!

1 summer.

96 Days.

20 Books.

6060 pages.

63 pages a day.

Will this year finally be the year I complete my 20 Books of Summer challenge?

From now until 5 September I will be attempting to read my 20 Books of Summer. Why not join in with your own 20 (or 10, or 15!), read along with some of the books or just cheer me on as I try and get that dreaded 746 down by another 20 in just 3 months.

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Here are my 20, all by women writers this year:

  • The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
  • Small Island by Andrea Levy
  • Bogeywoman by Jaimy Gordon
  • A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore
  • The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  • The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa
  • Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty
  • Blue Nights by Joan Didion
  • I Am No One You Know by Joyce Carol Oates
  • The Keep by Jennifer Egan
  • A Crime in the Neighbourhood by Suzanne Berne
  • The Republic of Love by Carol Shields
  • The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge
  • My Lover’s Lover by Maggie O’Farrell
  • Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
  • Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
  • Sister by Rosamund Lupton
  • Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
  • Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively replaced with Solace by Belinda McKeon
  • This Is How by MJ Hyland

Now, anyone who knows me, knows I am flexible with rules, so I may swap some books for something else during the course of the challenge and I will be keeping reviews short and sweet for the sake of my sanity!

Don’t forget to check out these other fabulous bloggers who are also taking part:

Cleopatra Loves Books

Faith, Hope and Cherrytea

Liz Dexter

The Writerly Reader

Raven Crime Reads (and Mum too!)

Well Read Pirate Queen

The (blank) Garden

Heaven Ali

Books Are My Favourite and Best

Smoke and Mirrors

Booker Talk

Consumed by Ink

Marina Sofia

Avid Mystery Reader

The Aroma of Books

Fiction Fan

Raging Fluff

Bookarino

My Book Strings

Books Please

The Bookworm Chronicles

A Crime is Afoot

LouLou Reads

Aleksandra Grabwicz

From First Page to Last

Onemore.org

Vanquer Boarding House

Beaches and Books

Grab the Lapels

Pining for the West

An Armchair by the Sea

Brona’s Books

Ipsofactodotme

Bookskeptic

A Great Book Study

Jill M Wanders

That’s What She Reads

Fig and Thistle

Elle Thinks

Behold the Stars

A Voluptuous Mind

Drunk Off Rhetoric

Nothing of Importance Again

Reading American Leaves

Big Reading Life

He Said Books or Me

Ravenscroft Cloud

A Bibliophile’s Style

Penni’s Perceptions

Geekarella

Rattle The Stars

Jaffa Reads Too

Books and Reviews

Sarah Reads Too Much

Head Full of Books

Simpler Pastimes

Mrs Bloggs Books

Have Books Will Read

Dancing With Architecture

Runt of A Reader

Poppy Peacock Pens

Books and Me!

Lisa Loves Literature

Julie’s Reading Room

Bloomin’ Brilliant Books

Rachel’s Random Reads

Polishing Mud Balls

Mareli Thalk Ink

My Little Library In the Attic

The Book Stop

The Story Book Girl

In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

52 Books or Bust

My Reader’s Block

Fictionophile

What’s Better Than Books?

Snow Feathers

Reader Writerville

Esther Writes

An Anthology of Clouds

Kathy Waller

*If you’re taking part and I’ve missed you off this list, link back and I’ll add you on!

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @cathy746books and use the hashtag #20booksofsummer to join in the chat with everyone taking part!

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Here’s to a great summer of reading!

 

No 627 The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge

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Inspired by Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week, I added The Bottle Factory Outing to my list of summer reads. I’ve never read Bainbridge before and had no idea what to expect, but was very pleasantly surprised.

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The Bottle Factory Outing opens in the 1970s with flat mates Brenda and Freda watching the funeral of an elderly neighbour and the reader is immediately struck by the difference between the pair.

Freda was enjoying herself. She stopped a tear with the tip of her finger and brought it to her mouth. ‘I’m very moved,’ she observed, as the coffin went at an acute angle down the stairs. Brenda, who was easily embarrassed, didn’t care to be seen gawping at the window. She declined to look at the roof of the hearse, crowned with flowers like a Sunday hat, as the coffin was shoved in to place.

Freda is theatrical and flamboyant where Brenda is shy and mousy. Freda is the romantic, imagining how her life will turn out when she marries, while Brenda is the passive pragmatist (‘She felt it unwise to see things as other than they were’), trying to get on with life after separating from her husband. They unhappily share a bedsit, and a bed, with a line of books piled down the middle to demarcate sides.

At night when they prepared for bed Freda removed all her clothes and lay like a great fretful baby, majestically dimpled and curved. Brenda wore her pyjamas and her underwear and a tweed coat – that was the difference between them. Brenda said it was on account of nearly being frozen to death in Ramsbottom, but it wasn’t really that.

They also work together at the bottle factory and their experiences there are just as divisive. Brenda constantly wards off the attentions of manager Rossi, who gropes her on a daily basis but she is too polite to ask him to stop.

Though she lacked imagination, Brenda would go to any lengths rather than cause herself embarrassment. It was her upbringing. As a child she had been taught it was rude to say no, unless she didn’t mean it. If she was offered another piece of cake and she wanted it she was obliged to refuse out of politeness. And if she didn’t want it she had to say yes, even if it had choked her.

Freda meanwhile is in love with the good-looking Vittorio and it is for his benefit that she organises an outing for the factory workers, imagining a romantic seduction in the grounds of a stately home.

If she couldn’t walk through the perfumed gardens with Vittorio, the maybe…where Henry VIII had danced with Anne Boleyn she could find an equally lyrical setting for the beginning of their romance.

Preceding the trip, there are hints that the Outing is not going to end well. Freda drunkenly and unsuccessfully attempts to seduce Vittorio; Brenda’s mother-in-law confronts her with a gun and the imagery of funeral processions looms large. Bainbridge is clever in presenting this as an entertaining domestic comedy at first, using her exacting eye for detail to create a beautifully observed world, but there are hints of something darker on the horizon.

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The Outing begins badly and ends worse, with events becoming more surreal as the book progresses. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it, but as the plot, tone and the humour darkens, Bainbridge explores how the dreams and hopes we have in life are stacked against a harsh reality and how life can be randomly cruel.

The violence and uncertainty of life have been there from the beginning, Bainbridge has simply lulled the reader into a false sense of security, only to show that she had told us what was coming all along. The book is a series of juxtapositions, between desire and expectation, imagination and reality and between who we imagine people to be and who they really are.

The characters of Brenda and Freda are perfectly drawn, Bainbridge has a real skill in characterisation and her emphasis on small details draws the reader into their world, realising them with humour and verve. She captures the often overwhelming closeness of female friendships and the pettiness that can grow between friends who both love and resent one another.

The Bottle Factory Outing is a wonderful, darkly comic novel – at once hilarious and horrific and well worth reading.

 
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