Bookish Thoughts on Boxing Day

In our house, Boxing Day is a day for fun, relaxing, and a little contemplation.

And I’ve had a little fun contemplating this year’s reading, with the help of a set of questions that I borrowed from Verity, who borrowed from Stacy, who found it at The Perpetual Page Turner …

Best Book of 2010

I read many wonderful books this year, but if I have to pick out just one it must be Love in the Sun by Leo Walmsley. Daphne du Maurier wrote an introduction to her friend’s book, and she can convey its charms much better than I ever could:

“”‘Love in the Sun’ will make other writers feel ashamed. And, curiously enough, old-fashioned too. It is a revelation in the art of writing and may be one of the pioneers in a new renaissance which shall and must take place in our time if the novel is to survive at all. While we struggle to produce our complicated plots, all sex and psychology, fondly imagining we are drawing modern life while really we are as démodé as jazz and mah jong, Leo Walmsley gives the reader a true story, classic in its simplicity, of a man and a girl who possessed nothing in life but love for each other and faith in the future, and because of these things, were courageous and happy…”

Worst Book of 2010

Luckily I didn’t read anything this year that was bad enough for me to give it the label “worst book.”

Most Disappointing Book of 2010

There were a few that I didn’t finish, but their names escape me now. The most disappointing book that I did finish was Trespass by Rose Tremain. Not a bad book by any means, but it didn’t live up to its potential or to the high expectations that Rose Tremain’s earlier work created.

Most Surprising (in a good way) Book of 2010

The cover of Diamond Star Halo was eye-catching, but it really didn’t look like my sort of book. That title rang a bell though, a tune lodged in my head, and the next line just wouldn’t come. I only picked it up to look for an answer, but the synopsis grabbed me, I remembered that I had really liked Tiffany Murray’s previous novel, and so the book came home. It proved to be a gem.

Book Recommended Most in 2010

I was a little disappointed when I saw The Winds of Heaven listed as one of the new Persephone Books for autumn. It wasn’t that I didn’t love Monica Dickens, but I already had The Winds of Heaven and many of her other books on my shelves , and I had hoped to discover a new author or two. I read The Winds of Heaven on holiday, loved it, and saw that it fitted into the Persephone list perfectly. And I’ve been saying that ever since!

Best Series You Discovered in 2010

I met Gussie just a few weeks ago when I read The Burying Beetle, and I fell in love with the gravely ill but wonderfully alive twelve-year-old, who so loved books, films, the whole world around her. I am so pleased that Ann Kelley continues her story in three more books, and the next one has already found its way home from the library.

Favourite New Authors in 2010

It has to be a writer from the first half of the century who is only new in that she if new to me: Sheila Kaye-Smith. I read Joanna Godden in the summer, and it pushed her creator on to the “I must find all of her books” list.

Most Hilarious Read in 2010

I am not a great lover of comic writing, but there are one or two authors who combine wit with intelligence and warmth who I love dearly. L C Tyler is one of them and his most recent book, The Herring in the Library, was a delight.

Most Thrilling, Unputdownable Book of 2010

Poem Strip by Dino Buzzati, an Italian graphic novel that retold the classical story of Orpheus and Euridyce, was unsettling and utterly compelling. I read it in a single sitting.

Book Most Anticipated in 2010

Aran Knitting by Alice Starmore was the Holy Grail for knitters for a long time. Copies were so scarce and changed hands for ridiculous sums. I could only dream of finding a copy and being able to knot some wonderful designs that had been in my Ravelry queue since day one. But then a reissue was announced and I am pleased to be able to report that I now own the new, updated edition, with wonderful patterns and so much information about Aran knitting, and that it every bit as wonderful as I had expected.

Favourite Cover of a Book in 2010

I was completely captivated by the cover of The Still Point by Amy Sackville as soon as it caught my eye. Now I just have to get past that cover and read the book!

Most Memorable Character in 2010

There are a few contenders, but I think it has to be Martha. I met her in The Eye of Love a couple of years ago and I read more of her story in Martha in Paris and Martha, Eric and George this year. Martha is both ordinary and extraordinary, and completely her own woman. And the incomparable Margery Sharp tells her story with such warmth and wit that it is quite impossible to not be charmed.

Most Beautifully Written Book in 2010

The Sculptor’s Daughter by Tove Jansson was just perfect.

Book That Had the Greatest Impact on You in 2010

Beside the Sea by Veronica Olmi still makes me catch my breath whenever I think about it.

Book You Can’t Believe You Waited until 2010 to Read

I fell in love with Colette’s writing years ago and read everything of hers I could lay my hands on. How did Gigi slip through the net? Why did I wait until this year to meet her? I really have no idea!

Trespass by Rose Tremain

Often when a new book by a well established author appears it seems to be everywhere. Yet Rose Tremain’s Trespass, her first since the award-winning The Road Home, seemed to slip out very quietly.

Why? Was something amiss?

The opening chapter held great promise. Ten year-old Melodie is on a school trip to the countryside. She is new, and though she is with the group she is not really part of it. And so she wanders off, towards a stream where she sees something that makes her scream and scream…

It was well executed, it made me want to read on, I couldn’t pick out anything that was wrong, but it didn’t quite work. The prose was lovely but it didn’t quite allow Melodie to live and breathe as I was sure she could.

It would not be until much later in the book that Melodie would reappear; the story of what made her scream had to be told.

A stage was set:  the village of La Callune in the Cevennes, an unspoilt, mountainous region in central France. Wonderfully described, but a sense of foreboding is ever-present.

Four principal characters were placed upon that stage:

  • Aramon Lunel, an alcoholic who has retreated from the world and lives alone, with only his dogs for company, in his old family home.
  • Audrun, his estranged sister, who lives in a bungalow nearby, who feels that she has been wronged.
  • Veronica Vesey, a garden designer who has settled in La Callune with her companion Kitty, a mediocre painter of watercolours.
  • Anthony, her brother, a London antique dealer, drawn to the area where his sister has settled.

An interesting quartet. Two very different pairs of siblings, with very different backgrounds and relationships. None of them easy to love, but all of them perfectly and distinctively painted in Rose Tremain’s wonderful prose.

They remained characters on a stage though, until the balance was upset: Anthony decided that he wanted to settle and Aramon decided that he was willing to sell. And that set off a series of events that would lead to dark tragedy.

It was then that the characters came to life and the story began to sing. A story with so much to say about sibling relationships, about the importance of having a place in the world, about what happens when cultures clash.

As the end approached it became clear what Melodie had seen, and I wished that I could learn more of her story.

I have to say that this isn’t Rose Tremain’s finest work, but the quality and range of her past work set expectations so very high, and I realise now that it is a better book than I thought while I was reading.

I haven’t grown to love the principal characters, but I would love to learn a little more of Melodie and Kitty, and the place, the atmosphere and the themes are still swirling in my head

The style and the themes hit, but for me, the emotional side of the story didn’t.

I’m still looking forward though to whatever Rose Tremain may write next.