Clearing the Decks: The Final Round of Introductions … for now …

I am creating a home library of the books that I think I can let go after reading, or maybe let go without reading at all for my Clearing the Decks Project

The project began last year with one hundred books. By the end of the year forty books had left the premises last year, and so I’m adding forty more for 2012.

I’m introducing the books ten at a time, and so here are the final ten to make up the hundred I’m going to draw on.

Do let me know if I have a book that you’ve loved and I’ll try to make it a priority. Or a book that you’ve hated and I should think twice about.

The Chinese Shawl by Patricia Wentworth

Tanis Lyle was one of those passionate women who always get their own way. Her cousin Laura hated her. Most women did. But men found her irresistible and she used them mercilessly. So when Tanis was found murdered there seemed to be any number of suspects on hand. But Miss Silver had her own suspicions . . .

A mystery author from ‘my period’ I had yet to try, so when this one turned up on a charity shop sale table I picked it up.

The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel

Langston Braverman returns to Haddington, Indiana (pop. 3,062) after walking out on an academic career that has equipped her for little but lording it over other people. Amos Townsend is trying to minister to a congregation that would prefer simple affirmations to his esoteric brand of theology.
What draws these difficult—if not impossible—people together are two wounded little girls who call themselves Immaculata and Epiphany. They are the daughters of Langston’s childhood friend and the witnesses to her murder. And their need for love is so urgent that neither Langston nor Amos can resist it, though they do their best to resist each other.

I think I bought this at the lovely Any Amount of Books in Charing Cross Road back in the days when I worked just around the corner in Cranbourn Street. Which means I’ve had it for a very long time. I’ve started a couple of times and I’ve liked it but not been sufficiently engaged to keep reading. So next time it’s finish or ditch!

The Prestige by Christopher Priest

Two 19th century stage illusionists, the aristocratic Rupert Angier and the working-class Alfred Borden, engage in a bitter and deadly feud; the effects are still being felt by their respective families a hundred years later. Working in the gaslight-and-velvet world of Victorian music halls, they prowl edgily in the background of each other’s shadowy life, driven to the extremes by a deadly combination of obsessive secrecy and insatiable curiosity. At the heart of the row is an amazing illusion they both perform during their stage acts. The secret of the magic is simple, and the reader is in on it almost from the start, but to the antagonists the real mystery lies deeper. Both have something more to hide than the mere workings of a trick.

I loved the film and I was curious about the book, which I had heard was quite different. So I picked up a copy on ReadItswapIt.

Wicked by Gregory MacGuire

An astonishingly rich re-creation of the land of Oz, this book retells the story of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, who wasn’t so wicked after all. Taking readers past the yellow brick road and into a phantasmagoric world rich with imagination and allegory, Gregory Maguire just might change the reputation of one of the most sinister characters in literature.

There was a time when this book was everywhere; I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, so when I spotted a copy in a charity shop I picked it up.

Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King

Filippo Brunelleschi’s design for the dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence remains one of the most towering achievements of Renaissance architecture. Completed in 1436, the dome remains a remarkable feat of design and engineering. Its span of over 140 feet exceeds St Paul’s in London and St Peter’s in Rome, and even outdoes the Capitol in Washington DC, making it the largest dome ever constructed using bricks and mortar. The story of its creation and its brilliant but “hot-tempered” creator is told in Ross King’s delightful Brunelleschi’s Dome.

I read a historical novel set in Florence – I think it was one of Sarah Dunant’s – and it made me want to read about the real history. I asked on for recommendation LibraryThing, this book was mentioned, and so I acquired this copy. I forget where it came from.

Last Train from Liguria by Christine Dwyer-Hickey

In 1933, Bella Stuart leaves her quiet London life to move to Italy to tutor the child of a beautiful Jewish heiress and an elderly Italian aristocrat. Living at the family’s summer home, Bella’s reserve softens as she comes to love her young charge, and find friendship with Maestro Edward, his enigmatic music teacher. But as the decade draws to an end and fascism tightens its grip on Europe, the fact that Alec is Jewish places his life in grave danger. Bella and Edward take the boy on a terrifying train journey out of Italy – one they have no reason to believe any of them will survive…

I bought this new – the synopsis made me think of wonderful books by Kate O’Brien and Maura Laverty, which has to be a good thing.

Madame Depardieu and the Beautiful Strangers by Antonia Quirke

‘Madame Depardieu and the Beautiful Strangers’ is the story of how a young female film critic’s love-life is affected and nearly ruined by her obsession with male movie stars. As her increasingly hapless hunt for the right man unfolds and her television and newspaper career unravels, our heroine finally begins to understand that difficult truth: that life is not like the movies. Entwined with the narrative of her real-life love affairs is a kaleidoscope of digressions on great screen actors — her dream-life with Gerard Depardieu, a personal ad seeking out Tom Cruise, a disastrous climactic encounter with Jeff Bridges. It’s a helter skelter ride through love and the movies which reads like a screwball comedy. And the screwball is our heroine, who seems to know everything about movies and the human heart, and nothing about anything else.

An impulse buy in a charity shop – the title intrigued me, I had to take a look, and once I’d looked I had to bring the book home.

The King’s Daughter by Christie Dickason

As First Daughter of England, Elizabeth seems to live a life of privilege and luxury. Yet she is imprisoned by duty; a helpless pawn in the political machinations of her father, James I. She trusts only her beloved brother Henry until she is sent a slave-girl, Tallie, who becomes her unlikely advisor. As their friendship grows, the innocent Elizabeth must learn to listen to dangerous truths about her louche father and his volatile court. Can she risk playing their games of secrecy and subterfuge in order to forge her path to love and freedom? Tragically robbed of Henry in mysterious circumstances, Elizabeth must summon all her resilience and courage to determine her own future. As a stream of suitors are invited to court, her father’s unpredictability and the unstable political climate threaten to destroy her one chance for happiness and perhaps even her life.

I’d seen this in the library, I meant to borrow it one day, but then I saw a copy in a charity shop and I couldn’t resist.

Visibility by Boris Starling

London, 1952. As the fog rolls in, the chase begins… A stranger’s approach offering highly sensitive information seemed routine to an ex-spy turned policeman. But when a body turns up instead of state secrets, Detective Inspector Herbert Smith finds himself in a race against time to solve the murder. For he is not the only one after the dead man’s secret. It seems the CIA, KGB and MI-5 are all vying to get to the truth first and some are prepared to kill for it. As the Great Smog descends on London, bringing chaos and death, Herbert finds himself facing one of the greatest evils of the twentieth century. At stake is the biggest prize of all: the key to life itself.

I think I picked this one up in Waterstone’s on a day trip to Truro.

Wedlock: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match by Wendy Moore

Wedlock is the remarkable story of the Countess of Strathmore and her marriage to Andrew Robinson Stoney. Mary Eleanor Bowes was one of Britain’s richest young heiresses. She married the Count of Strathmore who died young, and pregnant with her lover’s child, Mary became engaged to George Gray. Then in swooped Andrew Robinson Stoney. Mary was bowled over and married him within the week. But nothing was as it seemed. Stoney was broke, and his pursuit of the wealthy Countess a calculated ploy. Once married to Mary, he embarked on years of ill-treatment, seizing her lands, beating her, terrorising servants, introducing prostitutes to the family home, kidnapping his own sister. But finally after many years, a servant helped Mary to escape. She began a high-profile divorce case that was the scandal of the day and was successful. But then Andrew kidnapped her and undertook a week-long rampage of terror and cruelty until the law finally caught up with him.

I must confess that I saw this in the library, thought I must borrow it when I had some space on my ticket, and then I realised that I had a copy at home.  Another book from Waterstone’s in Truro I think.

Any thoughts on this batch?

It brings me up to one hundred books again, so now I must update the project page.

And I’m going to report every ten books. Quarterly reporting didn’t work last year, and I’ve noticed that I have three projects involving one hundred books –  Clearing The Decks, Filling The Gaps and A Century of Books – so I’m going to take stock on each one every ten books.

At least, that’s the idea…

Tatty by Christine Dwyer Hickey

Tatty. That wasn’t her real name. her real name was Caroline, but Tatty stuck because she was a “tell-tale-tattler”, a child who made up and told stories.

That wasn’t surprising. Tatty was a bright child in a large and troubled family, growing up in Dublin in the sixties.

Tatty’s story tells of her family.

An ebullient father, full of good intentions but oh so easily distracted by his love of the bookies and a good time. A mother who is struggling, maybe with mental health issues, and growing ever more dependent on alcohol. Two brothers and two sisters, one handicapped.

It could have been just another story of a disturbed childhood. But it wasn’t. And that was because Christine Dwyer Hickey created an utterly believable little girl who it was quite impossible to resist.

Her observation was acute and her voice was quite unique: intelligent, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking. 

 “When you go to a birthday party, you get jelly and ice-cream, cake and chocolate Rice Krispie buns. You say thank you very much for the lovely party, then you go home with everyone else. If it’s your birthday party you say, Thanks very much for coming to my party and for the lovely present and all. When everyone’s gone you look at the presents again, say which is your favourite and which is your worst. You spread out the cards, read all the poems inside; you suck the icing off the end of the candles. Then you say thanks to mum for the lovely party and help her to clean up the table.

But when adults have a party it isn’t the same. They go a bit funny. Sometimes they sing and that can be good. They laugh and clap and make noble calls: that means you have to sing if you’re picked even if you don’t want to. Mam and Dad are happy when there’s singing going on. Mam knows lots of songs: the one about summertime, the one about diamonds, the one where she wants an old-fashioned millionaire. Mam is the best singer of all. She sings like someone off the pictures. Auntie Jane’s the scariest with her voice all shaky and dry. Uncle Matt’s funny doing his letting on he’s a woman with Aunt Winnie’s handbag. Then everyone says he’s a scream. dad doesn’t sing but he makes loads of jokes. Everyone’s happy and everyone claps. Then it’s time to go home and Mam and Dad stop enjoying themselves again.

If the party’s in your house then Dad just goes to bed and Mam stays up and finishes her drink and smokes on her own. The next day the house is all smelly and you have to open the windows and make sure you empty all the bottles down the sink before you put them in the brown bags outside the back door.

Sometime’s there’s no singing only talking, except it’s not really talking it’s shouting instead. They don’t listen to each other, because they’re only waiting on their turn to shout. They say the same things over and over. They talk about things that happened years ago. Then there might be a row, Everyone goes home at different times. If one of them goes home too early the people who are left behind always say something about them. You hear loads of stuff because they forget to send you out. They’re too busy shouting so they don’t notice anything. They never notice anything.”

The details were right. They rang true, and that made this book sing.

Tatty’s voice shifted between first, second and third persons. it bothered me a little at first, but then I realised that her viewpoint was shifting. Sometimes she was talking to others, sometimes to herself, sometimes she was just trying to set out her story. Something clicked and then the shifts seemed entirely right.

Her story charts her progress from a childish to a more mature understanding of her family and her world. A family and a world that changes around her.

It is a story with a lot to say about the effects of alcoholism, of family troubles, on children. About how your family is your family no matter what.

The story of one girl. Clear-eyed and honest. Sometimes shocking, but always believable. Emotional, but never sentimental.

The ending was not a conclusion, but a realisation.

And now I miss Tatty, and I wonder what happened to her and her family …