Friday, 24 April 2015

The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman

When Claire begins to write her Memory Book she already knows that this scrapbook of mementos will soon be all her daughters and husband have left of her. But how can she hold on to the past when her future is slipping through her fingers?

Initially, this book begins with a familiar premise. Claire has a successful career as a teacher, she is married to the man of her dreams and has two beautiful daughters. Whilst this sounds like the outline for any number of chick lit novels this book is far from what it initially seems.

Claire has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer ’s disease and as we witness her mental demise alongside the effect that his devastating disease has on her family I found I became completely immersed in the characters and how they were dealing with the multitude of issues caused by the disease.

Indeed, it is the multiple narratives that run through this book that allows us to empathise with each of the characters. The majority of the narration is provided by Claire herself but alongside this there are chapters written from the point of view of her daughter, mother and husband. For me, this was what made this book stand out from the rest as we are able to witness the gradual demise of Claire's understanding of any given situation and compare it with the actual events as told in the chapters narrated by her family.

I learned much about this disease by reading this book. I am thankful that I have not had any family or friends who have suffered from this disease so I found this book informative.

I do not want to give the impression that this is a depressing book because it really isn't. Clearly, it is a difficult theme that the book deals with but there are times when we can see the humour in the situation particularly when we see the effect her illness has on her relationship with her young daughter, Esther.

Ms Coleman treats her novel with great sensitivity. She is an intelligent author who can couple sadness and light heartedness together seamlessly and, therefore, enable the reader to understand the heartbreak and hope that the novel conveys.

I highly recommend this compelling novel and I am looking forward to reading more of Rowan Coleman’s work.

ISBN:  978 0091953119

Publisher: Ebury Press

Price (based on £3.85

About the Author: 

Rowan Coleman lives with her husband and five children in Hertfordshire. She juggles writing novels with raising her family which includes a very lively set of toddler twins whose main hobby is going in opposite directions. When she gets the chance, Rowan enjoys sleeping, sitting and loves watching films; she is also attempting to learn how to bake.

Despite being dyslexic, Rowan loves writing, and The Memory Book is her eleventh novel. Others include The Accidental Mother, Lessons in Laughing Out Loud and the award-winning Dearest Rose, a novel which led Rowan to become an active supporter of domestic abuse charity Refuge, donating 100% of royalties from the ebook publication of her novella, Woman Walks Into a Bar, to the charity. 

Monday, 13 April 2015

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

“It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon…”

This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she and Red fell in love that day in July 1959. The whole family on the porch, relaxed, half-listening as their mother tells the same tale they have heard so many times before.

And yet this gathering is different. Abby and Red are getting older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them and their beloved family home. They’ve all come, even Denny, who can usually be relied on only to please himself.

From that porch we spool back through three generations of the Whitshanks, witnessing the events, secrets and unguarded moments that have come to define who and what they are. And while all families like to believe they are special, round that kitchen table over all those years we see played out the hopes and fears, the rivalries and tensions of families everywhere – the essential nature of family life.

This book represents what Anne Tyler does best in that she takes an ordinary family and develops them into something engaging and fascinating. She does this by looking at the idiosyncrasies of the individuals and then develops the dynamics of the family as a whole.

In addition to the well rounded characters of this book is the house in which Abby and Red live. The house plays an enormous part in this book and is the vehicle in which we can understand the family as a whole, not just Abby and Red but their adult children. The narrative then moves back a generation to the time when Red’s parents were living in the house and the part it had to play in their lives.

Ms Tyler is a great storyteller and I found it easy to lose myself in this book. I think what I really liked was that she makes her characters and their situations reassuringly recognisable and in reading this I almost felt part of the family as their secrets and lives were revealed.

I have read a few of Anne Tyler’s books and enjoyed them all. Her writing appears to flow effortlessly, which in my opinion is a sign of an excellent writer. This book is her on top form and is well worth reading.

ISBN: 978 0701189518

Publisher: Chatto & Windus

Price: (based on today’s price on £12.91

About the Author: 

Born on 25th October 1941 Anne Tyler is a Pulitzer Prize winning American novelist, short story writer, and literary critic. She has published 20 novels, the best known of which are Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1983), The Accidental Tourist (1985), and Breathing Lessons (1988). All three were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the third won it.  While many of her characters have been described as quirky or eccentric, she has managed to make them seem real through skillfully fleshing out their inner lives in great depth. Her subject in all her novels has been the American family and marriage: the boredom and exasperating irritants endured by partners, children, siblings, parents; the desire for freedom pulling against the tethers of attachments and conflicted love; the evolution over time of familial love and sense of duty. Tyler celebrates unremarkable Americans and the ordinary details of their everyday lives. Because of her style and subject matter, she has been compared  to Jane Austen.