One Book, Two Book, Three Book, Four… and Five…

A few days ago Simon decided to “do a little this-book-that-book-this-book-that-book sort of post that I hope you’ll copy on your own blogs. A quick bit of fun…”

He had a wonderful list, and since then I have read many more.

And now, of course, I must add my own.

The book I’m currently reading

“Our favourite novelists make something thrilling out of the recognisable. They make real a story that, however unlike our own life it might seem, can reach the humanity common to us all – that is the magic of the novel. Faulks on Fiction takes a look at the British novel through its human characters – the heroes, lovers, snobs and villains.”

I can never resist books about books, and this one was infuriating and wonderful in pretty much equal parts.

The last book I finished

“In the bustling harbour city of Port Said, Nellie witnesses a mysterious death and this makes her a target for a killer and involves her in international intrigue with the fate of nations at stake. On her journey from the Land of the Pharaohs to the exotic Orient, Nellie meets the most famous magicians in the world, legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt, and Frederick Selous, the real life inspiration for Rider Haggard’s hero in King Solomon’s Mines and for Indiana Jones. As magicians conjure the fantasy and a spiritualist raises the dead, Nellie discovers that the deadly plot begun in Egypt has tentacles around the world.”

Maybe not great literature, but definitely great entertainment. In a rare burst of efficiency I finished reading and wrote about the book (in the post before this one) on the same day.

The next book I want to read

“Map of a Nation tells the story of the creation of the Ordnance Survey map – the first complete, accurate, affordable map of the British Isles. The OS is a much beloved British institution, and “Map of a Nation” is, amazingly, the first popular history to tell the story of the map and the men who dreamt and delivered it from its inception in 1791, right through to the OS MasterMap of the present day: a vast digital database. The Ordnance Survey’s history is one of political revolutions, rebellions, and regional unions that altered the shape and identity of the United Kingdom over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It’s also a deliciously readable account of one of the great untold British adventure stories, featuring intrepid individuals lugging brass theodolites up mountains to make the country visible to itself for the first time.”

I picked this up in the library because it was so beautiful, not really meaning to bring it home. But it was just so readable, and it brought back memories of when I was thirteen years old and had aspirations of becoming a cartographer.

The last book I bought

“This newly translated collection of stories brilliantly evokes the shifting scenes and restlessness of summer. A professor arrives in a beautiful Spanish village only to find that her host has left and she must cope with fractious neighbours alone; a holiday on a Finnish Island is thrown into disarray when a disconcerting young boy arrives; an artist returns to an old flat to discover that her life has been eerily usurped. Philosophical and profound, but with the deceptive lightness that is her hallmark, ‘Travelling Light’ is guaranteed to surprise and transport.”

I’m not supposed to be buying books until I have a new job. And I’m not buying new books but I have to take an occasional look in charity shops and secondhand bookshops. A collection of short stories  by Tove Jansson on a charity shop shelf priced at just £1 was something that I  just couldn’t resist.

The last book I was given

“As she sits in her Bloomsbury home, with her two birds for company, elderly Harriet Baxter sets out to relate the story of her acquaintance, nearly four decades previously, with Ned Gillespie, a talented artist who never achieved the fame she maintains he deserved. Back in 1888, the young, art-loving, Harriet arrives in Glasgow at the time of the International Exhibition. After a chance encounter she befriends the Gillespie family and soon becomes a fixture in all of their lives. But when tragedy strikes – leading to a notorious criminal trial – the promise and certainties of this world all too rapidly disorientate into mystery and deception.”

I loved Jane Harris’s first novel, I heard great things about her second, and so I was delighted to win this from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme. It arrived this morning, and it is absolutely beautiful.

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!

Sculptor’s Daughter by Tove Jansson

Magic. There is no better word for this book.

My expectations were high. I loved the Moomin books as a child, and when I discovered Tove Jansson’s adult fiction I was bedazzled.

But this memoir …. as I said, magic.

A collection of childhood memories seen through the eye’s of the sculptor’s daughter, mixing fantasy and reality, darkness and light quite perfectly.

A whole world of childish emotions and perceptions expressed with crystal clarity. The words, the phrasing, everything is exactly right.

I lack the words to explain just what makes this book so special, so I shan’t say too much more.

But I must share some of Tove Jansson’s wonderful words.

“One Sunday I taught Poyu how to escape from the snakes in their big carpet. All you have to do is walk along the light-coloured edges, on all the colours that are light. If you step on the dark colours next to them you are lost. there are such swarms of snakes there thay tou just can;t descibe them, you have to imagine them. Everyone must imagine his own snakes because no one else’s snakes can ever be as awful.”

“Explosion is a beautiful word and a very big one. Later I learned others, words that you can whisper only when you’re alone. Inexorable. Ornamentation. Profile. Catastrophic. Electrical. District Nurse. they get bigger and bigger if you say them over and over again. You whisper and whisper and let the world grow until nothing exists except the word.”

“it was a light night, but it was the first time I had been out alone at night and I thought about the iceberg all the time so that I wouldn’t get frightened. I didn’t light the torch. The landscape was just as forbidding as before and looked like an illustration in which for once they had printed the grey shades properly. Out at sea the long-tailed ducks were carrying on like mad singing wedding songs to one another.”

“Once at twilight when Daddy was standing outside the house a bat flew straight into his arms. Daddy stood quite still and it crept into his jacket and hung upside down and went to sleep. Daddy didn’t move. We carried his dinner outside to him and he ate it very carefully. No one was allowed to speak. Then we took his plate away and Daddy stayed where it was until it got dark. Then the bat flew around for a while and came back to him again. This time it only stopped for a moment – a kind of courtesy call.”

“I crept into the wardrobe underneath the skirt and looked up inside it and now it was a light shaft that faded away into the darkness. I pulled the hem a little. Then the tulle skirt drifted out on top of me with a quiet swish. I hear the clothes hanger swing and scrape the top of the wardrobe and the skirt came after me.”

“If you stood in the furthest room you could see through all the other rooms and it made you feel sad; it was like a train ready to leave with its lights shining over the platform. The last room was dark like the inside of a tunnel except for a faint glow in the gold frames and the mirror which was hung too high on the wall. All the lamps were soft and misty and made a very tiny circle of light. And when you ran you made no noise.”

“The smaller you are the bigger Christmas is. Under the Christmas tree Christmas is vast, it is a green jungle with red apples and sad, peaceful angels twirling around on cotton thread keeping watch over the entrance to the primaeval forest. In the glass ball the primaeval forest is never-ending. Christmas is a time when you feel absolutely safe. Thanks to the Christmas tree.”

You see, magic!

Now if only some one would magic up a reissue – this is a book that really should not stay out of print.

Translated by Kingsley Hart

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.

True Deceiver by Tove Jansson

Imagine winter, in an isolated small community. Snowbound. You really can feel it.

And imagine two women.

First there is Anna, elderly and living alone in her old family home. She is the creator of a successful series of illustrated books for children. In the winter she stays quietly at home, attending to the correspondence she receives from her young readers. And when spring comes she goes out into the forest and paints pictures of the scenery, adorned with floral rabbits. She is content with her simple quiet life.

But Katri is not content. She lives with her younger brother and their dog and she is an outsider. She is respected, and her neighbours often sought her assistance with forms and paperwork, but they found no warmth and she was not liked.

Katri visits Anna’s “rabbit house” she sets her heart on living there. And she begins to work her way in. She fakes a break-in to convince Anna that she needs somebody to live their with her. She goes through Anna’s chaotic paperwork, and shows her that she is being cheated. By local shopkeepers. By her agent.

Katri is indispensible. Or is she? Katri is in control. Or is she?

True Deceiver is a quiet, subtle story. There is no big drama, but the tension is palpable, through small, telling incidents and changing, evolving relationships. Much more interesting. Fascinating, in fact.

And the story works so well because it is quite perfectly executed. Every word, every sentence is perfect. And Tove Jansson knows just where to leave gaps, to make you think, to let you wonder.

And her understanding of human behaviour, of how we maybe lie even to ourselves is extraordinary.

A small book, but oh so striking.

Translated by Thomas Teal