Monthly Archives: March 2014

Blaming by Elizabeth Taylor

This is the final review in my series: Elizabeth Taylor’s novels, all 12 of them in more or less chronological order. They were published between 1945 and 1976. Blaming was the final one, written when she was dying of cancer and published in the year following her death. I have been reading one a month, and so I will, in many ways, miss the constant companion of the last year. Except – I have the collected short stories to dip into, and I can always reread her novels. And I know that there is something of a following by enthusiasts, especially of Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, on this blog. She features in the list of older women in fiction.

89 blaming coverBlaming begins with Amy on holiday with her husband Nick in Istanbul. When he dies of a heart attack, Martha, a young American woman, supports Amy by accompanying her home. Amy resents her debt to Martha and resists the young woman’s friendship. Martha is without much social finesse or awareness and simply proceeds to make Amy her friend. Amy tolerates her for at best Martha helps pass the time in her grief. And being widowed Amy must adapt to altered relationships with her own family, her housekeeper, and with the man who was married to her friend and is her doctor. As with many of her novels there is an ambiguous ending, without too many clues about the heroine’s future happiness with her new partner.

The housekeeper Ernie is an odd creation, but good to read some gender role reversal. The grandchildren are well portrayed. One is from hell and the other precocious. Amy doesn’t really like them. She falls out with her son. This is another reversal for as he grows older he feels able to tell her what to do – about money, her friendship with Martha and her life generally.

All the main characters are lonely. Amy was bored of her life with her husband, although she missed him badly after he died. Martha is an isolate who prefers London to the mid-west, but takes her own life when she cannot manage marriage and when Amy does not welcome her return to London.

I am not sure about the key idea included in the title: blame. Is it a useful part of reflection, considering one’s culpability and experiencing the shame that goes with it, thus enabling corrective or changed behaviour. Blaming by other people always seems to me to be unhelpful, unproductive and often destructive.

89 ET listAt one point in the novel Martha asks Amy what she would do if she knew her life was limited. Amy replies empty her drawers. Do we take it that in Blaming Elizabeth Taylor was in Blaming, somehow, emptying her drawers?

So I have now read them all. The project itself was enjoyable and enabled me to understand how Elizabeth Taylor’s skill developed and expanded, and how her imagination explored lives from so many perspectives, how she gave her characters so many faults and quirks and disabling traits. I especially enjoyed reading A View of the Harbour again, but also A Wreath of Roses for the first time. The characters are beautifully depicted in communities that are recognisable; one a little dispirited seaside town, the other a tight group of women.  I think it will be a while before I revisit the monstrous Angel, or the smug Flora from The Soul of Kindness. You can find my reviews by using the search function or accessing the category Elizabeth Taylor’s novels. This series also brought me to read Nicola Beauman’s biography: The Other Elizabeth Taylor.

89 ET shelfI am considering reading all of Elizabeth Bowen’s books next. In the Heat of the Day is a novel I would recommend to anyone and I have reviewed The Last September on this blog as well. What do you recommend?


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Filed under Books, Elizabeth Taylor's novels, Reading, Reviews

The Liebster Award – paying forward

Thanks to Norah Colvin for the nomination for the Liebster Award. I’ve been very slow to complete my responses, partly because I have been busy with things but also because I haven’t yet found the nominees that I want to promote. But I’ll do a separate post rather than delay any longer.

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The purpose of the Liebster Award is to:

  • provide encouragement for new bloggers with a following of fewer than 200
  • promote communication between bloggers,
  • recommend blogs to others.

Nominating others for the award is like paying a compliment forward.

Norah’s blog – live, love, laugh, learn – is one I visit frequently and I leave comments there sometimes. I am enjoying her flash fiction, for example, at the moment. She asked me some questions, and since Bookwood is a book blog I shall try to answer bookishly. Despite everything being transparent on-line, I prefer to keep quite a bit of my life private. I have adapted Norah’s questions somewhat as she allowed. Here are my responses:

  1. What do you value most in life?

No question – my daughter. Since her childhood we have shared books and responses to books. And now I am reading with her children, and the older one is at the point of reading for himself. Exciting. He has been enjoying Roald Dahl. The younger one enjoys ‘reading’ the Aybeeceedee book with me.

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  1. What activities do you enjoy and why?

Reading and writing, and talking about both with other enthusiasts. Not only do I belong to a reading group and a poetry group (but do not intend to write any) but also at least two writing groups. My published writing tends to be collaborative, and that too is a joy. Writing with someone else means I go deeper than I would on my own. Plus we laugh a lot.

  1. What is something you wish you had more time for?

Reading and writing fiction and non-fiction. Actually it’s not so much time as ability to fit all the things I love in my life. I can’t spend all day reading and writing. Well I can, but I have other things I like doing as well.

  1. What is one change you would like to make in the world?

World peace. Seriously. Or in bookish terms, access to books for everyone. I blog about how books and writing change lives. Access to books, not just to the internet would make so much difference to people in less developed countries, as well as to those in poverty and depressed area in this country. We must save our libraries. World peace and libraries. One of the delays to this post was the need to draw attention to a new policy making books conditional on good behaviour in prisons in the UK. I did this through twitter and on my previous post. Books, I know, are a force for good in the world.

  1. What surprises you most about your life – something good in your life that you hadn’t expected, dreamed of or thought possible?

That it goes on getting better, that I go on learning, that there are so many amazing people in the world and I know some of them. There are so many books to read. I can read and write about this, I can talk and tweet and blog about this, and other people will respond. And make recommendations.

  1. What “big” question do you often ponder?

How can articulate and intelligent people inflict direct and indirect suffering upon others?

  1. What sorts of things amuse you?

Unintentional meanings in things like the sign “uncontrolled pedestrian crossing” in London.

  1. What sorts of things irritate you?

There are lots of things, and one of them is the pervasive idea of favourite books and writers in tweets and blogs. It’s such a simplistic, reductionist concept that I try to avoid it. I added this question, just so I could indulge in a favourite whinge.

  1. What is something you can’t do without?

See answer to question 1.

  1. What is your earliest memory?

Someone threatened to steal my little sister. It was an early experience of a quandary: if I went to get adult help she might get taken, but could I make sure she was safe on my own. I was scarcely 3 and she was newborn.

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I can’t remember my earliest book. I can’t remember the earliest book I wrote, although it might have been the ‘diarey’ I found when I moved last summer and featured on a blogpost She’s leaving home. Books and writing have been in my life as long as I can remember, thanks to my parents.

I don’t know what anyone will have got from these answers, but I have enjoyed writing them. Thanks Norah. And my own nominations for the award will follow shortly.


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Filed under Books, Reading, The Craft of Blogging

Books in Prisons

The Minister of Justice in the UK, Chris Grayling, has banned relatives and friends from sending books to prisoners. And the justification is that the acquisition of books will be part of a punishment/reward scheme. Prisoners will still be able to have books in their cells.

This policy needs to be challenged. Books after all, are a right, not to be confused with treats, or punishment. Any civilised society will be encouraging prisoners to read, read, read. Not making reading something to be earned for good behaviour. Books should not be part of a control scheme.

The Howard League for Penal Reform and others have been objecting to this ill-considered policy. The Howard League’s chief executive Frances Crook wrote about the ban for

This is a letter to the Telegraph signed by many writers on the subject.

SIR – We are extremely concerned at new rules that ban family and friends sending in books to prisoners. Whilst we understand that prisons must be able to apply incentives to reward good behaviour by prisoners, we do not believe that education and reading should be part of that policy. Books represent a lifeline behind bars, a way of nourishing the mind and filling the many hours that prisoners spend locked in their cells.  In an environment with no internet access and only limited library facilities, books become all the more important.

We urge the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, to reconsider the Prison Service Instruction that limits books and other essentials being sent to prisoners from family and friends.


The full list of signatories can be found here. It’s an impressive list.

This policy seems so short-sighted; don’t we want to encourage prisoners to read more? And so mean spirited; what will prisoners be refused next: food? sleep? lawyers?

Speak out! You could start by signing the petition at petition.


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Filed under Books, Reading

Mind the gap!

Does this happen to you? I finish a novel feeling satisfied. If the novel is good I can enjoy the feeling of a resolution or conclusion. But if I haven’t really enjoyed it then I am pleased to have got to the end. And then I frequently find myself reluctant to start a new book, even one I want to read or must read or that has been in my tbr pile for months. I don’t want to loose the sensation of being in the mode of reader of the previous book. Does that happen to you?

86 Mind the Gap

I have four strategies for dealing with this.

Strategy #1 Short stories

Short stories often work because they pull me in quickly so that my reluctance is swiftly overcome. At the moment I have two volumes that are working in this way for me:

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Dear Life by Alice Munro – the queen of short stories.

Grimm Tales for Old and Young by Philip Pullman. These are short, often familiar and quickly pull you into the tale. ‘There was once a fisherman who …’ ‘A beautiful young girl was imprisoned in a tower …’ that kind of thing.


Strategy #2 Novellas

I pick up one of Peirene Press’s novellas and know that I will soon move into some very sharp experiences. The quality of the writing is guaranteed, for the Press specialises in translated novellas by European writers of note. Excellent translations too.

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My most recent that I read was Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius (translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch).

A pregnant young German woman, (we never know her name) walks through Rome in January 1943. Her journey takes two hours, 114 pages and only one sentence. Everywhere there are signs of war going badly: shortages, threat of bombs, and the presence of the German army. Her husband has been sent to the North African front. She becomes aware of the monstrousness of the world in which she lives: people are forced into separation from those they love, people are in mortal danger, and living with extreme privation, and her Lutheran beliefs are tested by Catholicism and anti-Semitic ideologies.

And currently in my bag for company on journeys is another novella from Peirene Press, this one French and starting with a bus journey and an atmosphere of dread: Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi (translated by Adriana Hunter). Those of us who live in Devon, beyond Dawlish, must be prepared for many long bus and train journeys while they repair the seawall and track, and so journeys, like the reading gaps, need good books.

Strategy #3 Literary Reviews

I subscribe to two journals, both of which alert me to books I do and don’t want to read: London Review of Books and Literary Review. I also always have several back copies of the Guardian Saturday Review waiting to be combed through. After reading a few recommendations I am usually ready to start on my next book.

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Strategy #4 Start a new book anyway!

Sometimes the necessity of getting through a book – for the reading group, for a review, for a library due date – means I must just dive in. Usually that works too.


Do you have the gap sensation? What do you do? Any more suggestions?


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Filed under Books, Reading

Stoner by John Williams

What is a good life? This question stalks my reading, of fiction about older women, of feminist texts and of last year’s surprise success – Stoner by John Williams. I had read references to it in the end of year lists, and it was especially endorsed by Julian Barnes in the Guardian Review in December 2013. I was also drawn to it by its academic setting, having been employed for the last 20 years in a university.

85 Stoner cover

This is not a novel that made an immediate impact, for it was first published in the US in 1965, and in the UK in 1973. Even today it is apparently more popular in Europe than in the US. I don’t know what made it become a word of mouth success last year, but it did. In his piece Julian Barnes describes how the introduction by John McGahern led him to the opening page and then how he was drawn in.

… And the prose was clean and quiet. And the first page led to the second and then what happened was that joyful internal word-of-mouth that sends a reader hurrying from one page to the next; which in turn leads to external word-of-mouth, the pressing of the book on friends, the ordering and sending of copies.

The narrative follows William Stoner entering the new University of Missouri at 19 to his death, at the age of 64 when he was an assistant professor of English Literature in the same university. His career, we are warned in the opening paragraph, was unremarkable and he was held ‘in no particular esteem’ by his colleagues. Why, then is his life the subject of a novel of nearly 300 pages?

In some ways one might perceive Stoner’s life as a slow accumulation of failure and disappointment. In the closing pages of the novel, Stoner is lying on his deathbed and considers his life.

Dispassionately, reasonably, he contemplated the failure that his life must appear to be. He had wanted friendship and the closeness of friendship that might hold him in the race of mankind; he had two friends, one of whom had died senselessly before he was known, the other of whom had now withdrawn so distantly into the ranks of the living that … He had wanted singleness and the still connective passion of marriage; he had had that too, and he had not known what to do with it, and it had died. He had wanted love; and he had had love, and had relinquished it, had let it go into the chaos of potentiality. (p285)

He considers his career in teaching, mostly he concedes as an indifferent one. And he asks himself repeatedly, ‘What did you expect?’ And the reader must ask this question, about the novel and about life.

Despite the apparent failure, (and we need to stress the appearance of failure, as Stoner does in the first sentence of the extract above) he has managed a life that is sad, but good. By relating Stoner’s life from boyhood to death in ‘clean and quiet prose’, Williams reveals its small actions, or inactions, all performed from a sense of integrity. His marriage is loveless and gives very little to either of them, and for much of their life together they can hardly be said to share anything. Even their daughter grows up to escape them through an early pregnancy and then alcoholism. She goes to live far away. Stoner’s career is overshadowed by a long feud with Lomax, who becomes his head of department, and they don’t talk for years. Lomax is vindictive, which Stoner accedes to (class schedules) for years until he finds a way to rebel. The breakdown in their relationship occurred because Stoner doubted the competence of a student favoured by Lomax.

He falls in love with a young woman, it is reciprocated and for less than a year he experienced love, companionship and delight with Katherine. Their behaviour was unacceptable in the 1950s, and they part. Their separation marks the end of Stoner’s only happy period.

And he becomes a teacher. He himself was overcome with the importance of English Literature when as an undergraduate he was exposed to Shakespeare’s 73rd sonnet. Since that moment he has immersed himself in teaching the subject. For me, this was the weakest element of the book – not the moment of revelation, which leaves Stoner silent, unable to breathe or speak. But we get no sense of his classes, his relationship with his students, the pleasures he derived from teaching. We are told on the first page that ‘very few students remembered him with any sharpness after they had taken his courses’.

John Williams

John William’s writing is spare and even. He is able to provide insights into his character’s behaviour without flourish. Here, for example, is Stoner’s wife Edith. She is not a bad woman, but she was brought up in a way that did not encourage a decent relationship.

Her moral training, both at the schools she attended and at home, was negative in nature, prohibitive in intent, and almost entirely sexual. The sexuality, however, was indirect and unacknowledged; therefore it suffused every other part of her education, which received most of its energy from the recessive and unspoken moral force. She learned that she would have duties toward her husband and family and that she must fulfil them. (p54)

I think that just about sums up the moral education of young women for millennia, and why it has been so important to oppose it.

John Williams is very good a portraying awkwardness between people – Stoner and his parents, who hardly ever speak, with his wife and his head of department. I wished he had had the courage or the beliefs that would allow him to take on his wife as she manoeuvred him about the house as if he was an inconvenient piece of furniture. The prose is spare, never racy or dramatic, reminding me of John McGahern’s novels and also of James Salter’s All that Is. These writers are also skilled at retelling the lives of men who lived in difficult circumstances – not so far removed from our own experiences – and for whom everyday activities and concerns add up to decent lives.

In addition to Julian Barnes’ piece, I also recommend this review on the Vulpes Libris blog.


Have you read Stoner? How did you respond to it?


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Filed under Books, Reading, Reviews

Writing A Woman’s Life by Carolyn G. Heilbrun

‘How’s your autobiography coming along?’ my friend asked. I was puzzled. Why did he imagine that I was writing an autobiography? He meant the one in my head, continuously revised, revisited, renewed. It’s the story of my life that I tell myself and sometimes, some parts I relate to others, especially to women, to my daughter and to my friends. In Carolyn Heilbrun’s terms my friend was asking me about the first way a woman can write her life.

There are four ways to write a woman’s life; the woman herself may tell it, in what she chooses to call an autobiography; she may tell it in what she chooses to call fiction; a biographer, woman or man, may write the woman’s life in what is called a biography; or the woman may write the woman’s life in advance of living it, unconsciously, and without recognising or naming the process. (p11)

Of course I am interested in all these ways to write a woman’s life, but it is the fourth method, the unconscious writing, without recognising or naming the process that influences us all. It is the script we are given as little girls that she is referring to here. The script is reinforced throughout life so that it’s hard to write a good autobiography, to live a good life as a woman, without being aware of it. Indeed, the task of a feminist is to explore the script and replace it with her own story.

There will be narratives of female lives only when women no longer live their lives isolated in the houses and the stories of men. (p47)

Now there’s a challenge.

84 carolynHeilbrunCarolyn Heilbrun was a professor of literature at Columbia University in New York, specialising in British fiction of the twentieth century. She wrote scholarly examinations of feminist theory and is especially remembered for her work on the cultural narratives of women’s lives.

Writing a Woman’s Life was published in 1988 and is a short book – only 131 pages. Her themes include ‘”unwomanly” ambition, marriage, friendship with women and love for women, aging, female childhood’. She has chosen to explore these areas because in them women are especially subject to control by others. She suggests new ways that women can write their own lives, as a feminist undertaking.

“Men can be men only if women are unambiguously women,” Deborah Cameron had written. What does it mean to be unambiguously a woman? It means to put a man at the center of one’s life and to allow to occur only what honors his prime position. Occasionally women have put God or Christ in the place of a man; the results are the same: one’s own ideas and quests are always secondary. For a short time, during courtship, the illusion is maintained that women, by withholding themselves, are central. Women are allowed this brief period in the limelight – and it is the part of their lives most constantly and vividly enacted in a myriad of representations – to encourage the acceptance of a lifetime of marginality. And courtship itself is, as often as not, an illusion: that is, the woman must entrap the man to ensure herself a center for her life. The rest is aging and regret. (p21)

The story for men to follow is of the quest, while women’s plot, she suggests, is marriage, support, erotic service. Two expressions jump out at me in that paragraph: the acceptance of a lifetime of marginality and The rest is aging and regret. The disappointment implied by these phrases are behind my search for strong older fictional female characters, those who have not accepted marginality, those who do not see ageing as an afterlife.

Despite the brevity of the book and phrases such as those picked out here, it is not an easy read. Because it is the work of a scholar it is intense and dense, with many references to other scholars – for it is also a celebration of women’s scholarship.

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Her final chapter on ageing is fascinating, especially in the light of her own death. She committed suicide (having told the world that she intended to do so at some point), leaving a note that read The journey is over. Love to all. She was 77. The book’s concluding paragraph suggests that in old age a woman finds a time to escape the biographies ascribed to her, and can stop being a ‘female impersonator’.

Biographers often find little overtly triumphant in the late years of a subject’s life, once she has moved beyond the categories our available narratives have provided for women. Neither rocking on a porch, nor automatically offering her services as cook and housekeeper and child watcher, nor awaiting another chapter in the heterosexual plot, the old woman must be glimpsed through all her disguises which seem to preclude her right to be called women. She may for the first time be woman herself. (p131)

Carolyn Heilbrun also wrote successful detective fiction under the pseudonym Amanda Cross, whose heroine, Kate Fansler, investigated crimes in university settings. In hiding behind her pseudonym Carolyn Heilbrun also gave me insight into the uses of secrecy. It’s a phrase I have adopted as the title of my novel. The friend who asked about my autobiography also gave me a gift. It was the word ‘effulgent’. I think I should try to use the word in my novel very soon.

How’s your autobiography going? Is your narrative breaking free of ‘the houses and the stories of men’?


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Filed under Books, Older women in fiction

A Little Reading on International Women’s Day

Here’s a little something for International Women’s Day: Saturday 8th March 2014. It’s a good day for mulling over the longlist for the Baileys’ Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 (formerly Orange Prize for Fiction).

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  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Americanah
  • Margaret Atwood – MaddAddam
  • Suzanne Berne – The Dogs of Littlefield
  • Fatima Bhutto – The Shadow of the Crescent Moon
  • Claire Cameron – The Bear
  • Lea Carpenter – Eleven Days
  • M.J. Carter – The Strangler Vine
  • Eleanor Catton – The Luminaries
  • Deborah Kay Davies – Reasons She Goes to the Woods
  • Elizabeth Gilbert – The Signature of All Things
  • Hannah Kent – Burial Rites
  • Rachel Kushner – The Flamethrowers
  • Jhumpa Lahiri – The Lowland
  • Audrey Magee – The Undertaking
  • Eimear McBride – A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing
  • Charlotte Mendelson – Almost English
  • Anna Quindlen – Still Life with Bread Crumbs
  • Elizabeth Strout – The Burgess Boys
  • Donna Tartt – The Goldfinch
  • Evie Wyld – All The Birds, Singing

20 titles. Have you read any of the longlist yet? I’ve read one and a half, so lots to consider for future reading. Let’s hear it for the newcomers on the list: six are first novels and seven are second novels. And I’m keen to read Canadian novelist Clair Cameron’s The Bear. She wrote The Line Painter. Which books will make it to the shortlist on April 7th? Doesn’t this list make you proud of women’s writing?

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These were the predictions of the blogger Farm Lane Books. Didn’t she do well?

And it’s a good day for women readers because Womankind and Bloomsbury have teamed up to make International Women’s Day Book List.  There are 10 books on the list and I’ve only heard of one of them. But they all look very interesting. Okay, yet more for the tbr pile.

imagesAnd check it out: the twitter hashtag #readwomen2014 is going well. No surprise given the content of this blogpost.


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Filed under Books, Reading

Five World Book Recommendations

It’s World Book Day – Thursday 6th March 2014. All over the country primary schools are alive with young people dressed as their favourite book character. I’m using World Book Day to recommend five reads from beyond the UK. (Nothing is implied by the order in which these are presented.)

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1. Donal Ryan (2012) The Spinning Heart

This is post-crash, rural Ireland. Many people are suffering because of trickery and corruption, or because benefits and services have been reduced, or from the fallout from a murder and a kidnap. The format of the novel is original and effective: it is narrated through the individual voices of the many villagers who feature in the story.

This narrative form helps perceptions develop, especially of the man Bobbie Mahon. Some of the voices/characters don’t quite ring true, for example the two kidnappers. The men emerge as very focused on sex, as violent and physical. The women die young, or put up with a great deal from their menfolk, and some get on with life.

82 Spin HThe novel evoked the life of a small community in Ireland only glimpsed on my brief tourist visits.

Winner of the Guardian First Book Award 2013. Long-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2013.


2. Hanna Krall (2006) Chasing the King of Hearts

This was a hard, sometimes excoriating read. It follows the search by a Polish and Jewish woman Isabel for her husband in the second world war. I started it, left it, went back to it and read it from the beginning again.

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One of its themes is how war makes normal codes of moral behaviour quite redundant. For example, it is hardly shocking that Isabel allows a man who has raped her to describe himself as decent, because he didn’t demand more of her, turn her in or shoot her. Or that she volunteers to use her nursing skills to work with Mendel and survives. On the other hand a curious economy of exchange and favours emerges to which she is faithful, including bargaining with God. Nor does everything come good at the longed-for moment of reconciliation. War changes everything, even love.

The novella is written in a rather bland, flat style, which means that the accumulating atrociousness of the situation can be told as one thing after another. Teeth are knocked out, shoulders dislocated, escapes made, suicides committed, poison bought, names exchanged until nothing matters any more than anything else. This too is horrific.

Another novella from the excellent Peirene Press. Translated from the Polish by Philip Boehm

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3. Jhumpa Lahiri (2013) The Lowland

From India and USA

This family saga followed Subash and his family from childhood in Calcutta to old age in New Hampshire. There were two very different brothers and the reader is curious – how will their paths differ? The more outgoing Udayan, joins the Naxalites and is summarily executed in front of his parents and wife. Subash marries his wife Gauri because she is pregnant. The story then follows her move to the US, her frustrations with being a mother, and wife to her brother in law. She leaves for a career in California when the child, Bela, is still quite young,.

From this point the novel presents parenthood in various forms – Subash’s who lets everyone believe he is Bela’s father, Gauri’s who left her daughter behind, and Subash’s parents in Calcutta. Bela matures and we know that she will have to confront the truth about her parents, and how her life in America relates to her family’s roots in Calcutta.

Jhumpa Lahiri is a neat writer but while the novel is crammed with events, they are narrated in short paragraphs, with little differentiation between their significance. The questions about family, obligations, genetics, political action vs personal fulfilment, involvement in political murder –are hardly posed, simply offered.

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013

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4. Ruth Ozeki (2013) A Tale for the Time Being

I loved this novel from Canada and Japan, which had some important things to say about the world and old women! You will find my review here.

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013.

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5. NoViolet Bulawayo (2013) We need new names

From Zimbabwe and USA

Darling lives with her friends in Paradise a shanty town in Zimbabwe. Life used to be better, but during Mugabe’s rule it got worse. Darling and her friends view the adult world through eyes of innocence, games, tree climbing, thieving trips to the affluent suburb of Budapest. This section of the novel is very strong on Darling’s voice, on her ambitions, hopes etc.

She escapes to America, to live with her aunty, in ‘Destroyedmichygen’ and grows up fast as a strange talking illegal African girl. We get snapshots of episodes in her life: a wedding, an illicit trip to the mall, watching x-rated movies with school friends, and a discursive chapter on why people leave. What comes through are the pains of exile, of not living at home.

I enjoyed the strong voice here, the evocation of children’s lives in Zimbabwe. The feistiness and inventiveness of children living in poverty.

This is the fourth of my recommendations nominated for the Man Booker Prize 2013. What a good year it was for world books.

82 WBD logo grWhat books from around the world have you read in the last year?


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Filed under Books, Reading