The red notebook

REDNOTEBOOK

THE RED NOTEBOOK

BY ANTOINE LAURAIN

Charming and intriguing this another excellent story from Parisian author Antoine Laurain. I had previously read his best selling book The President’s Hat and this follows in a similar style – a light hearted tale about fate and chance that always stays just on the right side of whimsical.

Young widow Laure, a gilder, is mugged for her handbag outside her Paris home late at night. The attack leaves her hospitalised. Early the next morning bookseller Laurent finds her bag on top of a bin as he walks to work. In an act of citizenship he takes the bag along to the police station but finds they are too busy to process his discovery. Laurent takes the bag home and decides he will find the owner himself using the objects in her handbag (minus the stolen purse, phone and ID) as clues. Her red notebook in particular, with its list of likes and fears, holds vital pointers to her identity and whereabouts as does her signed copy of a novel by a local author.

This is a bookish, romantic story full of Parisian life, fabulous in its pleasant pace Continue reading

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Gorsky

GORSKY

BY VESNA GOLDSWORTH

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If you’re in the UK  you have probably seen huge window displays of this book in your local high street bookseller, such is the buzz around this Great Gatsby inspired page-turner. For once, this is rightly deserved. I devoured Gorsky over two train journeys and found it to be one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read this year.

Nick is a Serbian living in London and working in a shabby old bookshop. His humdrum life is turned on its head when the commission of a lifetime from Russian billionaire Gorsky sees him thrust into a world of wealth, beauty, art and sex. But, of course, all this comes at a price and Nick’s life is suddenly filled with danger.

Set in Chelsea (or Chelski!) the reader is immersed in a decadent world spilling over with previously unimaginable luxury, sums of money, Continue reading

The Strange Library

THE STRANGE LIBRARY

BY HARUKI MURAKAMI

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I bought this book the day after I got made redundant from my library job. For twelve years I thought I had worked in a strange library – but thankfully not as dark and sinister as Murkami’s one!

‘The Strange Library’ is a fully illustrated and beautifully designed book. I loved the nostalgic old school library ticket on the front cover and the tagline on the back cover which simply read; “All I did was go to the library to borrow a book.” I’m a real library lover and can be a bit of a geek about it so although I have only ever managed to dip in and out of Murakami, I sensed I might like this! The illustrations inside enhanced this psychedelic tale providing a unique visual enjoyment alongside the text. I found the drawings, some of which are marbled papers and old pages from books found in The London Library, to be simultaneously odd and fun.

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But what’s it about? Well that is a good question! A small boy goes to the public library to borrow a book, once there he is taken to an underground reading room by a cruel old man. There he is locked in a cell by a “Sheep-man” and is instructed to memorise two large books to secure his freedom otherwise his brains will get eaten and Continue reading

The Secrets We Keep

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THE SECRETS WE KEEP

BY JONATHAN HARVEY

Jonathan Harvey is a comedy writer who to date has written more than one hundred episodes of Coronation Street. Kathy Burke recently recommended “The Secrets We Keep” on Twitter. I love Corrie and I love Kathy Burke and that is how I ended up with Harvey’s fourth novel in my hands.

This is the story of Danny Bioletti, his wife Natalie and their children Owen and Cally. Five years ago Danny went out for a pint of milk and never came back. His devastated family were left to pick up the pieces living in the glare of the media on a posh new estate with over-friendly, nosey neighbours. After his disappearance Danny’s car was found at Beachy Head and so is presumed by all to have taken his life. But when the family find a left luggage ticket in the pocket of one of his old coats, Natalie starts to wonder if he is actually still alive and if he is, where could he be? She begins her own whirlwind of investigations and needless to say, she doesn’t like all that she finds.

The plot is superb, expertly interweaving the central characters with each other’s backstories, one discovered secret leading to another. There’s booming nightclubs, child abuse, teenage modelling, gay relationships, alcoholism, rags to riches and back again. Their stories come to life through Harvey taking on the distinctive voices of each of the four characters for their own chapters full of hoarded secrets, making this a really good read full of unexpected twists and turns. Continue reading

Process: the writing lives of great authors

PROCESS: THE WRITING LIVES OF GREAT AUTHORS

BY SARAH STODOLA

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I love reading about the routines and working lives of artists and writers. It’s fascinating to discover what ignites their inspirations and equally what hinders their progress. As such this book promised to be the perfect read for me.

Combining author biography with entertaining details about their writing habits, Stodola introduces us to the working person behind the famous name. The person who has devoted thousands of hours or dozens of years to researching, creating, avoiding, thinking, procrastinating and eventually writing the works that readers like us hugely admire. Her portraits of these writers at work allow us to appreciate the huge effort and often bizarre practices that propel these great minds forward to write at all costs.

A writer’s setting

Stodola’s portraits of these great writers adapting to their circumstances and working with what they have are intriguing. Franz Kafka waited until all other members of the household were asleep before he attempted to write. As a single parent, Toni Morrison chose writing over a social life to enable her to get her work written, admitting; “I don’t do any of the so-called fun things in life.” Vladimir Nabokov had an unpredictable schedule whereby he had to fit his writing around his lecturing and tennis coaching jobs. Finances meant this was the case well into his late 60s. He wrote anywhere and everywhere (sometimes even in the bath!) and often wrote on index cards finding them perfect for reorganising his plot without extensive rewrites. George Orwell was not a writer prone to invention and instead used real life experiences and work in the field – even posing as a tramp so that he could write about poverty free from the expected clichés. Following the wealth and renown that came with Animal Farm, he retreated to a Scottish island so that there he could recreate the “stark, impoverished, melancholic” conditions that he needed to write 1984.

The process

On writing itself, George Orwell wrote unceasingly despite calling the process “a horrible exhausting struggle.” David Foster Wallace is described by Stodola with “perhaps no great writer has ever been so effusive about his writer’s block.” Something that Richard Price struggled with too; “the only thing worse than writing is not writing.” He started with no plot in mind and “just goes along with something he’s interested in” saying; “the actual story can be an after-thought.” Salman Rushdie famously wrote five books during his decade in hiding. “I’ve learned I need to give it the first energy of the day, so before I read the newspaper, before I open the mail, before I phone anyone, often before I shower, I sit in my pajamas at the desk.” He then writes for four hours after which time he finds that his output “becomes mush.” Continue reading

The Good Luck of Right Now

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THE GOOD LUCK OF RIGHT NOW BY MATTHEW QUICK

The Good Luck Of Right Now is another wonderful novel from the author of The Silver Linings Playbook, Matthew Quick. Thirty nine year old Bartholomew Neil is in therapy following the death of his beloved mother. Bartholomew is a damaged guy who knows that after a lifetime of living with and then caring for his mother, he has to find his own way in the world. As he attempts to find his flock he falls in love with a strange “girl librarian”, his drunken Priest moves in and he gets to complete his first life goal thanks to a foul-mouthed and equally troubled cat-obsessed young man.

On the edge of madness he writes to Hollywood actor Richard Gere (whom his mother adored) for guidance and to offload his emotions. The whole of this quirky, unconventional page turner is told through those letters to Gere which at first I found a little irksome from but soon I realised it was the perfect vehicle for Bartholomew’s delusional outlook. Quick’s devastating prose is shot through with wit and a clever balance between an optimistic but unsentimental view of human nature.

Elizabeth, Max, Father McNamee and of course Bartholomew are all seriously flawed but deeply loveable characters that I determinedly rooted for them to overcome the prejudices and cruel blows dealt to them in life. Beautifully tender and gripping from the first page to the last, this offbeat and eccentric tale is another winner by this enormously talented American writer. A kind hearted story about humans rescuing themselves, and each other, from despair. Really great.

SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 8/10

Notes on the author – Matthew Quick:

  • Wrote the hugely popular The Silver Linings Playbook which was made into an Academy Award winning film
  • He is also the author of young adult novels
  • He is married to the novelist and pianist Alicia Bessette

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

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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