Thursday, 23 February 2012

Book Round-up

Although it does indeed seem that I am constantly rounding up books and putting them back in their proper place, this is actually a list of all the books I have read recently. Because - well - we like books. And we like lists.


Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
I first came across Sarah Waters via the television adaptation of her novel Tipping the Velvet. Fingersmith was also adapted for television, and I had a vague recollection of watching it but didn't remember any of the details. So when I came to read the book it seemed familiar but - fortunately! - I had no idea what was going to happen.

Set in London in the late 1800s, Fingersmith (principally meaning 'thief' but with other overtones that you can work out for yourself) is the story of Susan Trinder, orphaned daughter of a hanged murderess, who has grown up in a den of thieves and swindlers. Invited to be the main player in a deceit that will make her rich, Sue discovers that she is not all she thought she was. It is also the story of Maud Lilly, soon-to-be heiress and about-to-be mark, who befriends Sue and... well, that would be telling. You'll just have to read it to find out. What I will tell you is that the story is told from two points of view, those of Susan and Maud, and that it won't necessarily take you where you might think you are going. And that you shouldn't delve deeper than this if you have any intention of reading the book, as you will spoil a really wonderful plot.

Fingersmith was shortlisted for the Man Booker and the Orange Prize, and won the Crime Writers Association award for historical crime fiction in its year of publication (2002). It is, as you would expect, well written, with great attention to detail, and manages to confer an unsettling and somewhat disturbing feeling on the reader. It is one of those books that you regret being able to read for the first time only once.

Fair Exchange by Michèle Roberts
Oddly enough, I read this book without knowing what the title was. I simply forgot to look. If I had looked I might have guessed the plot destination, but I don't think that my enjoyment of the book would have wavered. Michèle Roberts' writing is less about plot and more about texture and character. Rich, colourful and very precise, the joy of it is in the small details that make up the overall picture.

Set during the French Revolution, and framed by a deathbed confession, this is a story of domesticity and passion, secrets and survival. It takes as inspiration events from the lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Wordsworth, but is primarily about the lives and burdens of ordinary women, and no knowledge of these historical figures is needed in order to enjoy this book.

The Desperate Diary of a Country Housewife by Daisy Waugh 
Ordinary Miracles by Grace Wynne-Jones
Neither of these are books that I would usually choose,  fitting - as they so obviously do - into the somewhat dismaying category of 'chick-lit'. (Which just goes to show that I am judgemental and snobbish when it comes to choosing my books. And possibly with good reason). But being stuck in bed on two separate occasions, and needing something extremely light to read, I thought these might be just the thing.

And I did enjoy reading them. But that doesn't necessarily equate with liking them, or with them being good books.

Desperate Diary is the tale of a middle-class London mum who moves her family to the countryside, only to discover that life there isn't the vision of 'Cath Kidston tea towels and home-baked cake' that she had expected. Hilarity (supposedly) ensues. Fairly basic writing, a few slightly amusing moments and not heavy on plot, this is a microwave-meal of a book: it fills a hole, but that's really all that can be said for it. I suppose - to be fair - it doesn't fall into the romantic-crap trap. There is no 'fairytale ending' for these people. Probably because they're not very nice and don't deserve one. They make their mistakes and have to deal with the consequences. And in that way it leans towards the realistic. But really it's just - bland.

I will be kinder about Ordinary Miracles. It does, after all, have a pig in it. And it is thoughtful, erotic in a non-gratuitous way, and actually quite funny. And it contains small pebbles of truth, such as (I'm going to paraphrase here as I can't find the exact quote) 'we sometimes forget that we are going to die'. The plot is fairly standard: unhappy marriage with cheating husband, and lost and lonely wife who goes on a voyage of self-discovery and eventually ends up with her soulmate. Also - did I mention? - there's a pig. It's no great work of literature, but then it's not meant to be. It's a small, kind, amusing piece of writing that I actually enjoyed. And I'm not ashamed of that.

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