Reasons to stay alive

reasons haig

REASONS TO STAY ALIVE BY MATT HAIG

This is such an important book. If you have depression, anxieties or other mental illnesses, I cannot recommend this book highly enough to you. Buy it and read it now. It might just save your life.

Aged 24, Matt Haig found himself stood on the edge of a cliff about to jump. He could see no way to go on living. Reasons To Stay Alive is the story of how he came through the depression that got him to that point and overcame an illness that almost destroyed him. In this part-memoir, part self-help book, he shares with us the reasons he found to not just stay alive but really learn to live again.

Mercifully, there are no trite inspirational quotes or meaningless platitudes here. This book is true and the advice he proffers on how to live better, love better and feel more alive is honest, helpful and real.

Depression

I have suffered from depression on and off for most of my adult life. This year I have been experiencing particularly bad episodes of it. So it was with great fortune that I looked up Matt Haig on Twitter recently to see if he was writing a follow up to his excellent novel The Humans, only to discover he had just published Reasons To Stay Alive. I bought it and began to read it immediately. It came at a really vital time in my life.

REASONS smaller than you

Haig has written this book to lessen the stigma that still exists around depression (unlike any physical illness) and to try to convince people “that the bottom of the valley never provides the clearest view.” He perfectly describes depression as “like walking around with your head on fire and no one can see the flames.” “Depression,” he says “reveals what is normally hidden. It unravels you, and everything you have ever known.” Indeed his list of symptoms are frightening and show this debilitating illness in all its infinite darkness. Continue reading

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Penguin Little Black Classic No.72: Miss Brill

miss brill

MISS BRILL BY KATHERINE MANSFIELD

Three short stories here, all taken from The Garden Party and Other Stories. I found them all a little too nice and quaint for me in general, but could appreciate the beautiful flourishes and poignant lines. Mansfield is credited with revolutionising the English short story and is much admired for writing without the common constraints of plots and tidy endings which is evident just from these brief examples.

Marriage a La Mode is a neat story first published in 1921 about a woman’s “dull, Bourgeois” husband versus her new fashionable, bohemian friends. The final scene where Isabel reads aloud a love letter from him to her new affected pals is moving and elegantly written. Continue reading

Penguin Little Black Classic No.71: Il Duro

Il Duro

IL DURO BY D.H LAWRENCE

I really enjoyed these four personal accounts of Lawrence’s sun-drenched experiences in early 20th Century Italy. Once again, the Penguin Little Black Classics format offering the perfect “in” for an author I had never really got round to reading.

Three of the stories – The Spinner and The Monks, Il Duro and John – are taken from Twilight in Italy, which was first published in 1916. The last story,The Florence Museum, is taken from Etruscan Places, which was first published sixteen years later.

The Spinner and The Monks stood out most for me. I adored his description of the old woman as she sat at her wheel in the sun. “Her face was like a sun-worn stone,” and “pieces of hair, like dirty snow, quite short, stuck out over her ears.”

I’m fond of Italy and his writing appealed to me so I would definitely seek to read more of experiences of the country.

 SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 6/10

 Notes on the author – D.H Lawrence:

  • Born 1885 Eastwood, England. Died 1930 Vence, France
  • The D.H stands for David Herbert
  • Best known works : Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Sons and Lovers and Women In Love

Penguin Little Black Classic No.13: The Eve of St Agnes

keats

THE EVE OF ST AGNES BY JOHN KEATS

I read this in a couple of hours on the train coming back from seeing Morrissey in Cardiff. Moz would be proud! I have only ever read the odd line and letter by Keats and have vowed this year to fully discover the Romantic poet’s best work. This seemed an easy place to start. Sort of. Due to the age of the language in these selected poems published in 1820, I had some difficulty following the plot and had to do a bit of online research to aid my comprehension.

The Eve of St Agnes is a 42 stanza poem based on the superstition that a girl could see her future husband in a dream if she performed certain rituals on the Eve of St. Agnes. This meant going to bed without any supper, laying on her bed completely naked with her hands under the pillow and looking up to the heavens. The proposed husband would then appear in her dream, kiss her, and feast with her. In Keats’ poem the girl is Madeline who pines for the love of Porphyro.

Although I stumbled on the plot, I just loved reading the beautiful words, so lyrical and sensual.

But no – already had his deathbell rung, the joys of all his life were said and sung Continue reading

Blotto, Twinks and The Rodents Of The Riviera

BLOTTO, TWINKS & THE RODENTS OF THE RIVIERA

BY SIMON BRETT

blotto

This is what you get when you judge a book solely by its cover. Disappointment. Yes, in a moment of payday madness I caught sight of the famous picture of Nice that adorns the cover of Simon Brett’s third Blotto & Twinks mystery and soon I was handing over the cash and dreaming of my most loved destination – the French Riviera.

There the dreaming ended. This wasn’t challenging and too far-fetched but, I suppose, good-humoured nonsense that I couldn’t wait to get through and get shot of.

Two family portraits go missing from Tawcester Towers. Posho aristocratic siblings, Blotto and Twinks, quickly hightail off to France in pursuit of the art thieves. Lots of silliness then ensues and people called Mimsy, Dimpsy and Giles Strappe-Cash crop up. In what context I’ll admit to being unsure as it’s hard to read when your eyes are either glazing over or looking longingly at the “to be read” pile by your bedside!

Simon Brett has a legion of fans and is well-regarded by some quite prominent peers. However, it is just not for me. There was a lack of location description, boring French and American stereotypes (garlic, hot dogs etc) and some truly irritating dialogue peppering every paragraph with sub-P.G Wodehouse exclamations such as; “great whiffling water rats!” and “dollops of clotted cream, Blotto me old trombone!” All very hard to digest and for me, not enjoyable reading.

SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 3/10

Notes on the author- Simon Brett:

  • Born in 1945, Oxford educated
  • Published many works, mostly crime novels
  • Lives near Arundel, West Sussex

Penguin Little Black Classic No.59: Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime

LORD ARTHUR SAVILE’S CRIME

BY OSCAR WILDE

lord arthur

Penguin Classics have published 80 Little Black Classics to mark their 80th anniversary. They are beautiful and neat and at just 80p each, instantly collectible.

Naturally, I chose Oscar Wilde’s Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime to be the first in my collection. A perfectly wonderful and funny story, easily devoured in a lunchbreak.

Lord Arthur has his palm read at lady Windemere’s party. He is alarmed and sickened to be warned that he is on the path to murder. Hopelessly in love with his beautiful fiance, he vows to commit the crime before they marry, saving her family from the ensuing scandal and disgrace. But who will he choose to murder? Why? How?

Wilde’s story is full of neat twists and of course the Wildean wit is ever present. Great little book, here are my best bits:

The author on Lady Windemere: “She was now forty years of age, childless, and with that inordinate passion for pleasure which is the secret of remaining young.” Continue reading

The Cornish Coast Murder

THE CORNISH COAST MURDER

BY JOHN BUDE

(A British Library Crime Classic)

CORNISH COAST

The British Library have republished a gorgeous set of novels from the golden age of British crime fiction. So far I have limited myself to purchasing just four of them! I start here with a classic mystery, first published in 1985, by John Bude.

Set against the vividly described backdrop of a Cornish fishing village, a man is found shot dead in his living room one stormy night. Whilst not a popular man he seems without any obvious enemies.

The Reverend Dodd, vicar of the quiet village of Boscawen, who spends his evenings reading detective stories by the fireside, soon puts his keen understanding of the criminal mind to the test by helping the local police inspector track down the murderer.

This is a well written story that is full of clever red herrings and blind alleys. Its strength lies in the small but charming cast of characters and the location rather than the oddly unsatisfying conclusion to their manhunt. For me, Rev. Dodd is the unquestionable highlight throughout. A good read for murder mystery lovers. Beautiful cover.

SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 7/10

Notes on the author – John Bude:

  • Real name Ernest Elmore (1901-1957)
  • Author of 30 crime novels which are now very rare and highly collectible
  • Worked in the theatre as a producer and director