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

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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

Tears and joy from classic comedy genius

THE SECOND LIFE OF SALLY MOTTRAM BY DAVID NOBBS

This is a lovely, funny, touching novel by the comic genius that brought us Reggie Perrin – David Nobbs. It’s the story of Sally Mottram, an ordinary resident of Potherthwaite, a small fictional Pennine town. A town, like so many now, in a dreadful rut of abandoned buildings and closing businesses. Sally feels strongly that something has to be done to turn around the town’s fortunes but what? and by whom?

A shocking tragedy breaks up this nice little tale of a one-woman crusade quite early on. Something happens that is so devastating that it threatens to shatter Sally’s whole existence. But indeed it is this incident that sparks her into action as she embarks on a mission to bring Potherthwaite back to life, rallying the whole community to save itself.

At times the plot appears to be straying into ITV Monday night drama territory but Nobbs didn’t get where he is today by succumbing to neat, twee, happy endings. Instead, we find amongst the tea rooms and allotments tales of suicide, obesity, guilt and jealousy all smothered in a heavy dollop of ‘keeping up appearances’ small town paranoia. Continue reading

Wilde about these mysteries!

OSCAR WILDE AND THE NEST OF VIPERS

BY GYLES BRANDRETH

I have previously written on this blog about my love of the Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries Series. Nest of Vipers is the fourth book in the run. Not quite my favourite but neither did it disappoint. We join the story in 1890 as the game is afoot after The Duchess of Albemarle is found dead with two small puncture marks in her neck following a glamorous reception.

The Prince of Wales, sensing foul play, asks Oscar Wilde and his friend Arthur Conan Doyle to quietly investigate the crime for fear of a public scandal.

A thrilling pursuit unfurls that includes royalty, hysteria, vampires and dancers from the Moulin Rouge. The story is brilliantly told through the letters, journal extracts and diary entries by the central characters adding pace and excitement to the slow reveal.

As with all his books, Brandreth’s Wilde is convincing and dazzlingly entertaining as a detective.The dialogue is richly enjoyable and there is no denying that our author certainly knows his stuff. Full of twists and turns and glorious Wildean wit, there is nothing not to love here.

Highly recommended.

SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 8.5/10

Notes on the author – Gyles Brandreth

  •  He is a writer, broadcaster, former MP and government whip
  • Currently a reporter on BBC1’s The One Show and a regular on Radio 4’s Just a Minute
  • These acclaimed Victorian detective stories are now being published in 21 countries around the world.
  • Many my age will known him as the man in the crazy woolly jumpers on breakfast television in the 1980s

Perfectly English but lacking intrigue

THE GRANTCHESTER MYSTERIES: SIDNEY CHAMBERS & THE PERIL OF THE NIGHT

BY JAMES RUNCIE
Grantchester starts as a new series on ITV soon. I kept hearing about these detective stories and decided to investigate further. The results were disappointing and twee-er than Midsomer Murders and Doc Martin put together.

Canon Sidney Chambers is a young loveable priest and part time amateur sleuth. In this book, the second in the series, he is called upon to investigate the death of a Cambridge don who falls from the chapel roof, an arson, a poisoning at a cricket match and a web of spies. He also has to make up his mind on a trip to Berlin whether he is actually ready to marry the charming German widow.

Set in post-war Cambridge, this is light, fluffy and nice enough. The setting is all cricket on the green, meat paste sandwiches, lardy cake and trusty Labradors. Perfectly English and pitched well, it is a welcome step back in time but could do with a lot more guts, pace and intrigue for me.

SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 5.5/10

Notes on the author – James Runcie

  • Head of Literature at the Southbank Centre
  • Award winning film maker and author of 6 novels
  • Lives in London and Edinburgh

 

Fantastic fifth mystery with Flavia

SPEAKING FROM AMONG THE BONES: FLAVIA DE LUCE MYSTERY 5

BY ALAN BRADLEY

Speaking from among the bones cover

 

The delightful eleven-year-old amateur sleuth is back! This is the fifth book in the Flavia de Luce series – my most favourite detective series of all. Not at all run of the mill and bursting full of hilarious characters and ghastly murders, Alan Bradley’s cult books are almost impossible to put down.

In this story the tomb of St Tancred is opened to reveal the body of the popular church organist lying in a pool of blood with a gas mask covering his once handsome face.

Our budding chemist and detective Flavia immediately engages her marvellous powers of deduction, not to mention eavesdropping and snooping, to lead her deep into the past, to a strange story of lost manuscripts and the precious Heart of Lucifer stone.

Accompanied by her trusty bicycle Gladys and with the use of the chemical laboratory at the family down at heel Buckshaw home, Flavia is as ever one step ahead of the police and the killers alike. Continue reading