Friday, 27 March 2015

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

A brilliant – and rather transgressive – collection of short stories from the double Man Booker Prize-winning author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.

Hilary Mantel is one of Britain’s most accomplished and acclaimed writers. In these ten bracingly subversive tales, all her gifts of characterisation and observation are fully engaged, summoning forth the horrors so often concealed behind everyday fa├žades. Childhood cruelty is played out behind the bushes in ‘Comma’; nurses clash in ‘Harley Street’ over something more than professional differences; and in the title story, staying in for the plumber turns into an ambiguous and potentially deadly waiting game.

Whether set in a claustrophobic Saudi Arabian flat or on a precarious mountain road in Greece, these stories share an insight into the darkest recesses of the spirit. Displaying all of Mantel’s unmistakable style and wit, they reveal a great writer at the peak of her powers.

I always approach the reading of short stories with trepidation because I really want to like them and very rarely do. I appreciate that this is my personal view and other people love them but I never find them satisfying. There is never enough to really get my teeth into.

However, because this volume is by Hilary Mantel I very much wanted to give them a chance. Whilst, I thoroughly enjoyed a couple of these stories the remaining ones still left me rather cold. The Heart Fails Without Warning and The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher were both excellent and in themselves have turned me slightly to the short story genre.

Without doubt Ms Mandel is creative, intelligent and writes wonderfully. Her characters are full bodied and she explores the psychology behind each character in turn. Also, her powers of observation and ability to convey this to the page are outstanding.

Despite the fact that this was not my cup of tea I would still encourage you to read it as it is very well done and if you like short stories you may think this collection are wonderful. I would love to hear your thoughts on it. 

About the Author:  

Hilary Mantel needs little introduction as she  is the bestselling author of many novels including Wolf Hall, which won the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. Bring Up the Bodies, Book Two of the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy, was also awarded the Man Booker Prize and the Costa Book Award. She is also the author of A Change of Climate, A Place of Greater Safety, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, An Experiment in Love, The Giant, O'Brien, Fludd, Beyond Black, Every Day Is Mother's Day, and Vacant Possession. She has also written a memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. Mantel was the winner of the Hawthornden Prize, and her reviews and essays have appeared in The New York Times,The New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books. She lives in England with her husband. 

Friday, 20 March 2015

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

Honor Bright is a sheltered Quaker who has rarely ventured out of 1850s Dorset when she impulsively emigrates to America. Opposed to the slavery that defines and divides the country, she finds her principles tested to the limit when a runaway slave appears at the farm of her new family.

In this tough, unsentimental place, where whisky bottles sit alongside quilts, Honor befriends two spirited women who will teach her how to turn ideas into actions.

Tracy Chevalier has been one of my favourite authors for years. I initially read Girl With a Pearl Earring when it was first published in 1999 and with one or two exceptions I have read my way through her entire canon.

All of her books are set within an historical context and it certainly appears that Ms Chevalier does her research thoroughly. This book is set in America during the middle of the 19th century and we follow Honor’s journey from a quiet town in Dorset to Ohio; a vast enterprise for the time.

Honor Bright was a delightful character to read about and I learned much about the lives of Quakers at the time. I felt real empathy for Honor as she tried to make a way for herself in this strange land amongst unfamiliar people.

Ms Chevalier also has the ability to bring the minor characters to life. Belle, the milliner, who first befriends Honor is a wonderful character who is full of life and colour and which is echoed in the hats that she makes.

As a needle woman myself I adored all the descriptions of quilting and millinery and this really enhanced the story for me and added a completely different dimension to the book.

However, the main theme of this excellent story is slavery and the equality of all people and this was handled sensitively whilst not shying away from the harsh realities faced by slaves and those who wished to help them towards freedom and eventual emancipation.

Overall, a good read and I think anyone who enjoys historical fiction will like it.

ISBN:  978-0007350353

Publisher: Harper

Price (based on today’s price at £4.98

About the Author:

Tracy Chevalier was born in Washington, DC but has lived in England all her adult life and now has dual citizenship. She has a BA in English from Oberlin College, Ohio, and an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, England. She lives in London with her English husband and son. Before turning to writing full-time she was a reference book editor for several years. She has written 7 novels. Her second novel, Girl with a Pearl Earring, won the Barnes and Noble Discover Award, sold 4 million copies worldwide, and was made into a film starring Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson.

Friday, 6 March 2015

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Set in Alaska in the 1920’s, Jack and Mabel have staked everything on a fresh start in a remote homestead, but the wilderness is a stark and lonely place to be. Mabel is haunted by the baby she lost many years ago and the pain never leaves her. When a little girl appears mysteriously on their land, each is filled with wonder and foreboding. Is she what she seems and can they find room in their hearts for her?

This book is a truly wonderful read simultaneously filled with harshness and magic. There is an enchanting fairytale quality to the whole book and as I read I wondered what was real and what was imaginary. In fact, throughout the book we can see that the story was based on a Russian fairytale and the prose runs parallel with this story.

The vivid description of the landscape was spellbinding. The bleakness of the Alaskan terrain was so convincingly portrayed that I was not surprised to learn that Ms. Ivey grew up and lives there still. She has done an amazing job of soaking up the atmosphere in which she lives and encapsulating it within the pages of this book.

There is also a wonderful simplicity in this book as the author describes the hardships of the characters making their lives there. Jack and Mabel are excellent characters and are described with both sensitivity and realism.

This sensitive and delicate work deals with the theme of love and more specifically, that love can be found in the most unexpected of places. I found this a very moving read; one that I found myself seeking out time alone to read this as I wanted to savour it and not rush through or to be distracted.

Above all, it is the magical quality contained within its prose that sets this book apart and which should ensure that this book is a bestseller for many years to come. For a debut novel, this is a stunning piece of work and Ms. Ivey is definitely one to watch. I would encourage you all to read this as it is an enchantingly beautiful book to read and one I feel sure I will re-read in the future.

ISBN: 978 0755380534

Publisher:  Tinder Press

Price (based on today's price on £3.85

About the Author:

The Snow Child is informed by Eowyn’s life in Alaska. Her husband is a fishery biologist with the state of Alaska. While they both work outside of the home, they are also raising their daughters in the rural, largely subsistence lifestyle in which they were both raised. As a family, they harvest salmon and wild berries, keep a vegetable garden, turkey and chickens, and they hunt caribou, moose and bear for meat. Because they don’t have a well and live outside any public water system, they haul water each week for their holding tank and gather rainwater for their animals and garden. Their primary source of home heat is a woodstove and they harvest and cut their own wood. Every penny Eowyn makes from the novel is a contribution to her well.