Thursday, 25 November 2010

'Little White Lies' by Emma Blair

I enjoy Emma Blair books, so for relaxation decided to re-read this one - 'Little White Lies'. I read it very quickly; couldn't put it down, in fact.
It is about the antics of a family that move to Glasgow, after the father loses his job in the small town Tomintoul. Lizzie moves there with her parents, although the 2 grown-up sons do not join them. Lizzie quickly finds work as a machinist and makes friends with Pearl. We witness Lizzie growing up; her first alcoholic drink; her first boyfriend; her first sexual encounter etc. But all suddenly goes pear-shaped when she discovers that the first and only time that she has sex, she falls pregnant (whilst Jack has gone off to sea - he was too young to be tied-down, he thought - even though he was mesmerised by Lizzie). The family were really worried about the disgrace it would bring on them. So much so that the mother, Ethne, decides to make out that she is pregnant; she pads herself all out. Meanwhile, Lizzie goes to stay with her brothers, supposedly to help to care for them through a bout of sickness, whilst in fact, she has the baby. Ethne joins them then returns telling everyone in the area that the baby is hers - i.e. 'Little White Lies'. Everyone seems happy with this solution. Later Jack returns, realises he loves Lizzie and they settle down, although he is never told about the baby!
Another story running alongside this is in regard to Pearl. She marries Willie; very keen to tie the knot, only to realise what a big mistake she has made. He is always complaining, comparing her to her mother. Then, he is desperate for a child, but no joy. In the end, she does something very dramatic - has sex with Willie's friend Pete, just to try to get pregnant and please Willie. She succeeds - she falls pregnant, only to discover later that Pete and Pearl love each other. Pearl ends up going off to London to live with him, and hopefully in time, to marry him.
The final story is in regard to Doogie, the father, who can't resist the bountiful and sexy Daisy at work.; especially as at the time, Esthne is not so keen. But it is only for a short duration; then Daisy finds someone else and luckily no-one gets hurt. Doogie is also a hard worker, which probably helped him to 'get away with it all'.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

'Push' by Sapphire

'Push' by Sapphire, Vintage Books: London, 1998 - another book that Alexander's girlfriend Simone lent me the other day. It is a book that she rates highly. Not the sort of book that I would normally read, it has to be said. But surprisingly, it kept me engaged and I read it quickly, in fact (it is only a small book mind - 140 pages). It is described as being 'The Colour Purple for the Nineties' - and 'The Colour Purple' was certainly a book that I found to be very powerful and engaging, and this is why Simone lent me 'Push', I think (a long time since I've read 'The Colour Purple' though).
'Push' is really a very tragic story, about a 16-year old girl black Precious who is raped by her father and now has 2 children as a result of it. Her education has obviously been completely messed up; the book is written in the first person and we witness Precious trying to express herself, through her tragically poor and inadequate English. How brave she is. One can feel the pain that she is going through. And to add insult to injury she then discovers that she is HIV positive.
How can any one human bear so much pain? And yet somehow she does, and through it all she still manages to be cheerful in some way.
The book deals with some really important social issues, although I must admit that I did find it very painful and disturbing, and I am not sure that I would want to read too many books like that! But thanks for lending it to me Simone. It certainly made me think.

'Northanger Abbey' by Jane Austen

I decided to re-read 'Northanger Abbey' by Jane Austen, having recently enjoyed watching the film again (the perfect way to relax for me). For me, it doesn't quite match up to 'Pride and Prejudice', 'Sense and Sensibility' and 'Emma', but still all 6 of her novels are very special; really something. What a shame it was that Jane Austen didn't live longer, and wasn't able to write more. Still, we must just enjoy what we have, and it helps me to focus and sobers me up, to contemplate on the fact that life is quite short really, and if we do not really 'go' for externalising what is deep within us, and making it happen for us, and live life to the full, then we can end up living a life of regrets.
So, Jane Austen died at 40 years of age, with 6 novels written; so far, I have not completed one! I have my non-fiction books and articles which I am, of course, very proud of, and I am so very glad that I broke through that barrier. However, my first love was fiction, my first fantasy was to write a novel, and I really must and will make this happen. There always just seem to be so many things stopping me from progressing with it. I must and will find another window soon, so that I can return to it.
Anyway, Jane Austen's ability to create something beautiful through the words she used, the way in which she phrased things, is breath-taking, I think. She creates something very special and wonderful out of what, on one level can be seen to be something quite ordinary. 'Emma' for example - about match-making. And one of the main themes of 'Northanger Abey' is about how a young girl, Catherine Morland's love of reading Gothic romance novels, clouded her judgement on reality, leading her to mistaken believe that Henry Tilney's mother had been murdered by Henry's father, General Tilney. Well, there is more to it than that, but that is a very important theme. But all comes good in the end anyway, Catherine matures, and Henry and Catherine are married.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

'The Magic Cottage' by James Herbert

Our son, Alexander's new girlfriend, Simone, kindly lent me this book the other day, because she thought I would like it and it did prove to be an enjoyable read: 'The Magic Cottage' by James Herbert, New English Library, 1987. For some reason, I have never tried reading a James Herbert book before. But anyway, this one was quite gripping.
It is basically about this couple, Midge and Mike who buy a cottage, Gramarye, that turns out to have special magical powers. All sorts of weird things happen in the place; there are bats in the loft, for example, cracks in the building mysteriously appear, and Mike's injured arm rapidly and mysteriously heals. They then discover that there is a religious sect in the village, called the Synergists; this group start interfering in Midge and Mike's life. Then they realise it is because the Synergists want to take over and move into Gramarye, wanting to benefit from its special powers. But in the end the cottage is destroyed.
In the final page Mike and Midge are thinking of looking for and buying another cottage in the country, perhaps in the Cotswolds. But this time, not surprisingly, they are not so sure about it all!

Friday, 12 November 2010

'Alexa' by Andrea Newman

'Alexa: a novel of three people caught up in feelings they can't control' by Andrea Newman, Penguin, Middlesex, 1976. I have read this little novel just so many times - I really have lost count of the number of times! For me, it is a little gem. It sits on my shelf and when I am in a particular mood, and when I have a real need to regroup/rethink/take hold of life somehow in a new and different way etc, off it comes from the shelf again and I read it. Andrea Newman is a powerful writer, and a number of her books (including this one) were made into TV productions.

It is such a little book (just 157 pages) and yet it says so much; for me, it covers so many important topics; topics that are so very dear to my heart; issues that basically I have grappled with all my teenage and adult life in fact.
What do I mean by this? Well, to put it in a nutshell, it captures something about the real dilemma within myself, and which many other women must clearly suffer from. This is the dilemma between wanting security, a stable and secure relationship, a home etc. with wanting a risk-taking, adventurous, creative life etc.
The book centres around 3 characters: Alexa, Christine and Paul. Christine and Paul are married with 2 children. Paul has a secure job as a teacher; they have a nice home in the country, and in theory have 'domestic bliss'. Alexa, on the other hand, is a successful, creative novelist; living in London; having different relationships with men and a seemingly exciting life (although in reality, it often just involves her spending lots of time writing). Anyway, Alexa and Christine are long-standing friends; Alexa has chosen the creative, risk-taking path; whereas Christine has taken the security, earth-mother path.
Christine is feeling stale; she is also a pianoist, but never plays the piano these days. The children are just too demanding, and she gets too tired. Alexa comes to stay to see how she can help. They decide that Christine will go and stay in Alexa's flat in London for a few days, and live the high life, whilst Alexa stays in Christine's home and looks after her children.
But all goes 'pear-shaped' when Alexa and Paul have a brief affair. Alexa tells Paul that she only wants to go ahead if he promises that he will feel no guilt afterwards. Alexa is into free, no-strings attached, no guilt-attached love-making. Paul agrees; but he can't sustain it. He ends up telling Christine. Christine overdoses and tries to kill herself.
Luckily, Christine does not succeed, and the pages end with her and Alexa maintaining very infrequent communication through letters, and with Christine telling Alexa that she is pregnant again.
The characters of these two women portray the two sides of my personality that I am forever trying to juggle up, and that are sometimes in conflict. All very difficult; but then, life is difficult! So be it, we carry on and try to make it all work, somehow or other.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Hand of Ethelberta by Thomas Hardy

I decided to read 'The Hand of Ethelberta: a comedy in chapters' by Thomas Hardy (Macmillan, London, 1975). I love Thomas Hardy, but had not read this one before. However, I was pretty disappointed, it has to be said (so much so that I did not actually finish it). The Introduction by Robert Gittings, in this case, proved to be absolutely right; he said that the book was 'the joker in the pack'. And then goes on to say that " fascinates by its very strangeness. Among much that may seem clumsy or fumbling, there are flashes of amazing insight and poetic delicacy." (p. 15) However: "The truth is that a large part of Ethelberta is badly written, and often shows Hardy at his worst in style and thought." (p.18) I quite agree
The book deals with some important topics; class issues and the struggles a woman faces (Ethelberta) in trying to be a writer. But Ethelberta drifts from one group of people to the next; from one society to the next; the book is just not well-written and does not engage the readers attention. Oh well - can't win them all!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Firework Display on Wanstead Flats, 5th Nov 2010

I went to see the Firework Display on Wanstead Flats on Friday, 5th November 2010. It was rather a wet evening, but thankfully not raining when the display was on. There were loads of people there, and all in all, it was very emjoyable. And below - here are some photos of it.

Friday, 5 November 2010

'The Big Picture' by Douglas Kennedy

I re-read a Douglas Kennedy book the other day 'The Big Picture' (Abacus, London, 1997). I love Douglas Kennedy's books, and indeed, wrote a long piece about his books a while back, which went both on this blog and on our website - see As I said in this piece, Douglas Kennedy has a remarkable ability to be able to get into the minds of educated and intelligent, but troubled women.

Anyway, 'The Big Picture' is somewhat different, as it is written in the first person, but as a man, not a woman. It is full of adventure and intrigue, and the plot, on first reading, really surprises you and goes to places where one would never imagine it would. It is a very clever plot; illustrating once again, the intelligence and capability of Douglas Kennedy himself of course.

The first person is Ben Bradford, who has a wife, two children and a steady job, but discovers that his wife is 'playing away'. In a heat of passion, he ends up mistakingly killing Gary Summers, the lover. Now, what to do? Ben decides to fake his own death, and to take on Gary's identity (forging his signature etc.). His own death is faked by him saying that he was going on a boat trip on his own; the boat blows up along with the remains of Gary's body that are in the boat.

Ben then starts his new life as Gary, the succesful photographer, which is very exciting for him, because he always wanted to be a professional photographer anyway. But things get complex, when a certain Rudy tumbles him and then blackmails him.

They are in a car together, with Rudy driving. Suddenly, the car turns over, Rudy is killed, but Gary escapes. Now, what to do? Ben decides to reinvent himself yet again, and to take on Rudy's identity. Wow - a real page-turner.