Still Aiming to Clear The Decks

It’s been strange week. I finally accepted that I had to walk away from my job for the sake of my family and my mental health, and so I resigned. I had a birthday. And then a recurring eye problem flared up again.

I’m sure I’m doing the right thing, and that I’ll make it through, but the next few weeks are going to be tough.

I’ll get back to writing about books soon, but right now I’m thinking about putting things in order. And that includes my Clearing The Decks Project.

I have rounded up one hundred books that I think I will be happy into pass on, once I’ve read them and written about them. They are now my home library, stacked in a corner that I will turn to whenever I think I have nothing to read.

Some will be read, some I will accept just aren’t calling me any more and ditch.

I’m posting the books in batches of ten to bring them to the front of my mind, to remind myself why I bought them, why I wanted to read them.

And also to ask for help.

Can you see a book that you enjoyed ? Or a book that you didn’t?

Can you see a book that you’d like to know more about?

Ghost Town by Patrick McGrath

“A man is haunted by the memory of his mother with a rope round her neck. It is the American War of Independence, and having defied the British forces occupying New York she must pay for her revolutionary activities. But fifty years on, her son harbours a festering guilt for his inadvertent part in her downfall. In thrusting nineteenth-century New York, a ruthless merchant’s sensitive son is denied the love of his life through his father’s prejudice against the immigrants flooding into the city – and madness and violence ensue. In the wake of 9/11, a Manhattan psychiatrist treats a favoured patient reeling from the destruction of the World Trade Center, but fails to detect the damage she herself has sustained. In this trio of stunning tales from a master storyteller, Patrick McGrath excavates the layers of New York’s turbulent history.”

Patrick McGrath does this sort of subject so well. I spotted this one in the library, but I didn’t pick it up and it never appeared again. In the end I snared a copy on BookMooch.

Drood by Dan Simmons

“In 1865 Charles Dickens, the world’s most famous writer, narrowly escapes death in the Staplehurst Rail Disaster. He will never be the same again. A public hero for rescuing survivors, he slowly descends into madness as he hunts the individual he believes to be responsible for the carnage: a spectral figure known only as Drood. His best friend, Wilkie Collins, is enlisted for the pursuit. Together they venture into Undertown, the shadowy, lawless web of crypts and catacombs beneath London. Here Drood is rumoured to hold sway over a legion of brainwashed followers. But as Wilkie spirals ever further into opium addiction and jealousy of the most successful novelist, he must face a terrifying possibility: is Charles Dickens really capable of murder?”

When I started blogging a couple of years ago I seemed to be the only person in the world not reading this book. When it was finally published in the UK I ordered a copy straight away. And then it didn’t grab me. I thought that maybe I should reread Collins, read more Dickens, track down some good biographies instead. But I might just give Drood another go before I throw in the towel.

Sleep by Banana Yoshimoto

“Banana Yoshimoto has a magical ability to animate the lives of her young characters, and here she spins the stories of three women, all bewitched into a spiritual sleep. One, mourning a lost lover, finds herself sleepwalking at night. Another, who has embarked on a relationship with a man whose wife is in a coma, finds herself suddenly unable to stay awake. A third finds her sleep haunted by another woman whom she was once pitted against in a love triangle…”

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Banana Yoshimoto, and so when this appeared on a charity shop sale table I picked it up.

Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir

“Lady Jane Grey was born into times of extreme danger. Child of a scheming father and a ruthless mother, for whom she was merely a pawn in a dynastic power game with the highest stakes, she lived a live in thrall to political machinations and lethal religious fervour. Jane’s astonishing and essentially tragic story was played out during one of the most momentous periods of English history. As a great-niece of Henry VIII, and the cousin of Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, she grew up realize that she could never throw off the chains of her destiny. Her honesty, intelligence and strength of character carry the reader through all the vicious twists of Tudor power politics, to her nine-day reign and its unbearably poignant conclusion.”

I’ve only met Jane Grey as a secondary character in stories of other lives, and so a novel about her by such a formidable historian was an intriging proposition. I bought a copy, and I really don’t know why I haven’t read it yet.

Stone Cradle by Louise Doughty

“‘Elijah Smith was born in the graveyard of the church at Werrington, a village in the Soke of Peterborough. I can tell you this for certain, as I am his mother and so was there at the time.’ Clementina is barely sixteen when she falls pregnant. Other girls had been put out on the highroad for less, but Clementina’s Dei and Dadus stand by her. But the Travellers are treated with suspicion wherever they go, and soon the family are rounded up by the ‘gavvers’, accused of poisioning local livestock. As the Romany people struggle to survive the changes of the twentieth century, Louise Doughty charts one family’s path through persecution and tragedy, asking, can the Romany spirit survive in a century that no longer has space for them?”

I loved Louise Doughty’s first few books. They were small and quirky, but then she started writing bigger more serious books I’m afraid I liked them a little less. I gave this one the benefit of the doubt though when it appeared in a three for two promotion in Waterstones a while back.

Restless by William Boyd

“It is 1939. Eva Delectorskaya is a beautiful 28-year-old Russian emigree living in Paris. As war breaks out she is recruited for the British Secret Service by Lucas Romer, a mysterious Englishman, and under his tutelage she learns to become the perfect spy, to mask her emotions and trust no one, including those she loves most. Since the war, Eva has carefully rebuilt her life as a typically English wife and mother. But once a spy, always a spy. Now she must complete one final assignment, and this time Eva can’t do it alone: she needs her daughter’s help.”

The first of William Boyd’s books that I read – The Blue Afternoon – is high on my all time list, but none of his others have grabbed me in the same way. Yet. I like the look of this one and I was waiting for it to appear in the library when a copy appeared in a charity shop…

The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

“Set in Whitechapel in 1888, The Tea Rose is a tale of a love lost and won, of a family’s destruction, of murder and revenge — and one young woman’s quest to escape the poverty of her childhood and make her fortune in the tea trade. Fiona Finnegan is the spirited, ambitious daughter of an Irish dock worker. She longs to break free from the squalid lanes and alleys of Whitechapel, where she has a job in a tea factory. With the love of her life, Joe Bristow, she dreams of escaping the poverty and opening her own tea shop. But one by one her dreams fall apart as her father is killed in a dock accident, Joe is seduced by another woman, and her mother is viciously murdered — a suspected victim of Jack the Ripper. Devastated, her life in tatters, Fiona flees to New York where she sets up home with her alcoholic uncle. Slowly she builds his small grocery shop into a thriving tea house, and her new life flourishes. After years of hard work, she establishes herself as the head of her own powerful tea empire. But she cannot forget London — or Joe. Convinced that her father was murdered by his brutal employer, Fiona vows to seek revenge and ruin him once and for all. Making her way back to the streets of her impoverished childhood, Fiona must start her fight again…”

I can blame my mother for this one. She picked it up from the book stall at her lunch club for me.

Poker Face by Josie Barnard

“Allie retired behind her pulled-down fringe and a poker face when her mother walked out leaving three children and their father in a remote house in Yorkshire. Surviving was one thing; learning how to live a little was harder.”

I spotted a flash of Virago green on a charity shop sale table, and so I swooped. it was a rather tatty copy but definitely worth the 50p investment.

Double Fault by Lionel Shriver

“Tennis has been Willy Novinsky’s one love ever since she first picked up a racquet at the age of four. A middle-ranked pro at twenty-three, she’s met her match in Eric Oberdorf, a low-ranked, untested Princeton grad who also intends to make his mark on the international tennis circuit. Eric becomes Willy’s first passion off the court, and eventually they marry. But while wedded life begins well, full-tilt competition soon puts a strain on their relationship—and an unexpected accident sends driven and gifted Willy sliding irrevocably toward resentment, tragedy, and despair.”

I was knocked sideways by We Need to Talk About Kevin, and so I pounced on anything else carrying Lionel Shriver’s name. I started this one, but I wasn’t grabbed and so I put it to one side. Is it worth another try?

The Princess of Burundi by Kjell Eriksson

“The Princess of Burundi begins, benignly enough, with a morning jog. The run turns deadly when the jogger finds a mutilated body in the snow. The victim is soon identified as the town’s reformed troublemaker and an expert on tropical fish.Inspector Ann Lindell, despite being on maternity leave, is determined to find the brutal killer. Soon enough she is drawn into a cruel cat-and-mouse game that leads to the deadliest of confrontations.”

I spotted this one on a shelf in my local Oxfam shop. I picked it up to see what sort of book would have that title, and I was rather surprised to find an award-winning Scandinavian crime novel. It looked interesting but I put it back on the shelf and went to check the library catalogue. There wasn’t a copy in the county, and so when I was next in Oxfam and the book was still on the shelf I bought it.

… and that’s the end of this batch … Any thoughts?

10 responses

  1. “Drood” and “Restless,” though I’ve never heard of either, both look like great reads. I’ve been curious about Banana Yoshimoto since finding one of her books on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list.

    Happy reading, and hope your life gets straightened ’round soon.

  2. That sounds like a tough week. I hope your eyes, and your mental health, are better soon. And that is a tempting pile of books but I have my own TBR issues so I’m going to resist temptation and pass. How generous of you!

  3. Leaving a job is always difficult, so I hope you adjust quickly and that your health improves.

    As for the books, the only one I’ve read is Drood and I thought it was too long, too wordy, too full of facts described in great length, too full of Wilkie Collins
    and too full of hallucinatory nightmares, involving in particular a black beetle scarab. But it made me keen to read more books by Dickens and Collins and biographies of them.

  4. I’ve also been in the position where I had to leave a job for my health’s sake, probably about two years later than I should have done, so going now can only be the right thing in the long run. If you leave it too late and do permanent damage getting back into work can be very difficult indeed. Take care of yourself because you can’t take care of anyone else if you don’t.

    Where the books are concerned, I have just picked ‘Drood’ up from the library and it does look very interesting. The one I would really recommend, though, is ‘Restless’. Although there is one really bad plot slip in it, the rest is very good indeed.

  5. I hope that you had a wonderful birthday and that you are much happier after leaving your job.
    I’m afraid I haven’t read any of the books on your list, but do want to read Drood at some point. Margaret’s description is making me rethink that though….

  6. Jane, I’m really sorry, by mistake I deleted the comment you’d left on my blog (the hyperlinks on the phone are too close together). Even sorrier that you are going through such a tough time – do hope it all starts to improve soon and that your health problems clear up.
    I started to read Drood, and gave up for much the same reasons as Margaret – I really didn’t think it worked. Didn’t manage to wade through very much though, so I could easily be wrong.

  7. Hi – sorry to hear about your work and health problems . Sometimes you are left with no option, and I am sure things will work out for the best in time and you will be happier and healthier!
    What a great idea – having a read it or lose it clear-out! It will be very therapeutic too. I have wanted to read Drood for sometime, as I am a big Dickens fan. However, my brother-in-law has read it and was less than enthusiastic. Admittedly, it is not really his type of book (he is a massive sci-fi buff) but his opinion was that, as far as Victorian pastiche goes, Drood is quite mediocre. Of course, that’s quite subjective and you may love it, but I have found my enthusiasm for reading it now quite diminished!
    Innocent Traitor is a great book – Alison Weir in my opinion is not as good an historical fiction writer as Philippa Gregory, but there is no faulting her knowledge of the period and her genuine interest and love of the story and characters makes this a really enjoyable read – and one that fired my interest in Lady Jane Grey and the whole era.
    The Tea Rose for me was a complete guilty pleasure – it’s a ‘sweeping saga’ kind of story , all about a young woman making the most of herself and the cards that life deals. Not sure it is a book I would keep, but certainly worth reading and great escapism.
    Hope you have fun during your challenge – look forward to hearing the results!

  8. Happy Belated Birthday! I hope things are getting easier and that your eye problem has cleared up. I can understand leaving a job in order to preserve one’s mental health and I hope things will start looking brighter for you soon on that front. Take care 🙂

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