Another Town, Another Library

They say that every cloud has a silver lining.

And if the cloud is a hospital appointment at Treliske (nothing serious, but a cloud nonetheless) then the silver lining is a jaunt to Truro and a trip to the lovely library there.

It’s always lovely to browse some different shelves and what makes it even better is that Truro library houses the literary collection for the county.

I was exceeding restrained and brought home just four books: la creme de la creme!

Two from fiction downstairs:

The Opposite of Falling by Jennie Rooney: I loved her first novel and this, her second, had been on my radar for a while. In Victorian England an orphan from Liverpool becomes the travelling companion of an adventurous lady and finds herself travelling to Niagara Falls… I love the cover and I am enchanted by the opening chapters.

The Music at Long Verney by Sylvia Townsend Warner: A fairly recently published collection of “lost” short stories from the archives. This has been on my wishlist for so long but I hadn’t quite got round to buying a copy and, because I wanted a copy of my own, I hadn’t checked the library catalogue to see if I could order it in. I still want a copy of my own, but that didn’t mean that when a library copy appeared before me I wasn’t going to bring it home.

And from the collection upstairs:

Sculptor’s Daughter by Tove Jansson: I didn’t know that this one even existed and I was thrilled to find it. Vignettes from childhood, a mixture of the real and the imaginary. What could be more wonderful?!

Out of The Woodshed: The Life of Stella Gibbons by Reggie Oliver: A biography written with the full cooperation of Stella Gibbons’ family – indeed Reggie Oliver is her nephew – and with access all of the archives, including two unpublished novels. Intriguing to say the least.

A wonderful haul of books – now I just need to find a little more reading time.

Inside The Whale by Jennie Rooney

Such a simple story. Two people meet, fall in love, plan a future. But then something happens that separates them, that changes the courses of both their lives for good.

It’s been done before. It will doubtlessly be done again. But Jennie Rooney’s debut novel does it particularly well.

The story really is that simple, but the joy is in the execution.

The story is told by the two main characters, Stevie and Michael, in alternate chapters. And it moves backwards and forwards in time. We first meet Stevie as a young woman at home with her mother and Michael as an elderly man in a care home.

Often that wouldn’t work but here it does, because this isn’t a book about plot, it’s a book about two lives that met. The shifts in focus made it natural think about the two lives lived rather than a sequence of events that happened.

I warmed to Stevie immediately, and in the early part of the book I missed her in Michael’s chapters. But as I learned more about him I grew to care for him too, and the pages turned more and more quickly.

The meeting and the development of the relationship was completely natural and right. But was separated them, and its consequences kept them apart.

I felt joy, pain love, grief, so many emotions with Stevie and Michael over the courses of their lives, and I miss them now they are gone.

Yes it is a simple tale, but Jennie Rooney tells it so well and presents just the right moments, just the right details to make it wonderfully effective: a very human story of love, life and family told with great warmth and wit.

There’s not quite enough there to make this a great book, but it is a lovely debut from an author who clearly has the potential to write something great.

I shall definitely be looking out for her second novel.

Library Loot

I am finally managing to bring down the size of my library pile. Just four books in two weeks!

And here they are:

Inside The Whale by Jennie Rooney

“Stephanie Sandford, recently widowed, must tell her family the truth. But the past is indistinct and it’s complicated. First, there was her mum, who developed an anxious streak after marrying the wrong Reg. And then there was the young man from the dairy who gave Stevie swimming lessons before he broke her heart. War came, and four years chopping root vegetables in the canteen of the Sun Pat peanut factory on the Old Kent Road. Then the wet London nights, with the Doodle Bugs slipping through the sky like huge silvery fish. It’s not until she’s under an umbrella with Jonathan – dark hair and seaweed eyes – that Stevie finally starts to sense safety. Meanwhile, Michael Royston’s memories are squashed into a shoebox (along with Queen Matilda’s Dicken Medal for bravery) ready for his move into hospital. Years ago, he trained military carrier pigeons for the Royal Corps of Signals in Cairo so it’s ironic that his own homecoming has taken a lifetime. Michael has never been good at putting things into words; he’s more comfortable with the click of Morse code. But Anna, a young healthcare assistant, has the patience – and rare tenderness – to eke out his story. And so he begins.”

The synopsis may seem a touch muddled, but I’ve started reading and so far it is quite wonderful.

The Shadows in the Street by Susan Hill

“Simon Serrailler has just wrapped up a particularly exhausting and difficult case for SIFT – Special Incident Flying Taskforce – and is on a sabbatical on a far flung Scottish island when he is called back to Lafferton by the Chief Constable. Two local prostitutes have gone missing and are subsequently found strangled. By the time he gets back, another girl has disappeared. Is this a vendetta against prostitutes by someone with a warped mind? Or a series of killings by an angry punter? But then one of the Cathedral wives goes missing, followed by another young married woman, on her way to work. Serailler follows lead after lead, all of which become dead-ends. The fear is that more women will be killed, and that the murderer is right under their noses; meanwhile the public grow more angry and afraid. It is only through a piece of luck, a chance meeting and a life put in grave danger that he finally gets a result…”

I arrived in the library just as the new crime novels were being put out. There were a few I was interested in, but I was restrained and picked up just this one.

Sandy: The True Story of a Boy and His Friends Growing Up in Cornwall in the Late 1800s by C Richard Foye

“Sandy is the true story of a boy and his friends growing up in Cornwall in the late 1800s. It’s the story of a ‘lost world’ in two senses — the lost world of childhood as recalled from an adult perspective, and the lost world of late Victorian England as lived through in a rural community, when the ordinary family depended for its livelihood on long hours of difficult manual labour. The Sandy whose early life this book chronicles grew up in West Cornwall’s countryside at the end of the 1800s. Initially living in Falmouth, where he was born, Sandy moves when his father inherits a derelict house and farm from his Uncle Benjamin. Here we come to see the restoration process that the whole family is involved in once this move had been made. The reader can enjoy an array of local colour in the antics and adventures Sandy embarks on with the new friends he makes, from Polwheveral Creek to Porth Navas to the woodlands north of Constantine. Then there are larger-than-life characters, such as the sailors who wouldn’t feel out of place in Treasure Island, with facial scars and eye-patches and mutilated limbs. Enjoy such new-fangled inventions and machinery as gas lighting for the home and a horse-drawn grass-cutter, and share in the wonder their arrival must have excited among the common people. Become acquainted too with such local traditions as the Helston flora dance, and delicacies like star-gazy pie. Childhood however runs its natural course, and once on the brink of manhood Sandy cannot resist his passion for the sea, of which his father sternly disapproves. The only option Sandy has is to run away from home, which he does, joining the Royal Navy in Plymouth. He returns briefly after serving for ten years, to find out what has happened to his friends and family. Then that chapter too closes, and with it a whole past world of English rural life.”

Hopefully this will be perfect Cornish comfort reading!

Florence & Giles by John Harding

“In a remote and crumbling New England mansion, 12-year-old orphan Florence is neglected by her guardian uncle and banned from reading. Left to her own devices she devours books in secret and talks to herself – and narrates this, her story – in a unique language of her own invention. By night, she sleepwalks the corridors like one of the old house’s many ghosts and is troubled by a recurrent dream in which a mysterious woman appears to threaten her younger brother Giles. Sometimes Florence doesn’t sleepwalk at all, but simply pretends to so she can roam at will and search the house for clues to her own baffling past. After the sudden violent death of the children’s first governess, a second teacher, Miss Taylor, arrives, and immediately strange phenomena begin to occur. Florence becomes convinced that the new governess is a vengeful and malevolent spirit who means to do Giles harm. Against this powerful supernatural enemy, and without any adult to whom she can turn for help, Florence must use all her intelligence and ingenuity to both protect her little brother and preserve her private world.”

The influences are fairly obvious, but  it does look good and a gothic novel does appeal right now.

Have you read any of these? What did you think? Which book should I go for next? And which are you curious to know more about?

And what did you find in the library this week?

See more Library Loot here.