Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

It is 1922 and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned, the out of work and the hungry are demanding change. And in the south of the city, on genteel Champion Hill, in a hushed Camberwell villa still recovering from the devastating losses of the First World War, life is about to be transformed.

Widowed Mrs. Wray and her daughter, Frances, an unmarried woman with an interesting past, now on her way to becoming a spinster find themselves obliged to take in lodgers.

The arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the 'clerk class' brings unsettling things with it: gramophone music, colour, fun. Open doors offer Frances glimpses of the newcomers' habits, Sounds travel from their rooms to hers and the staircase and landing have never seemed so busy.

As she and Lilian are drawn into an unexpected friendship, loyalties begin to shift. Secrets are confessed, dangerous desires admitted; the most ordinary of lives, it seems, can explode into passion and drama. And in the house on Champion Hill, no one can forsee just how far the disturbances will reach.

This is the best book I have read in a while. I am a big fan of Sarah Waters and I trust her to turn out quality writing with each new book. Whilst my favourite of her novels remains to be Affinity she has in no way disappointed me with this excellent book.

This book deals with relationships and the myriad of ways that people interact with one another. It also considers the ripple effect that the friendship between two people has on the others around us.

However, this book is about much more than relationships. It is an excellent thriller with the intensity of a courtroom drama to boot. With this being a vital part of the narrative there is so much to hold the readers attention. I found myself thinking about this book alot between reading sessions and I couldn't get back to it quickly enough.

It is no surprise to me that this book  is on the Shortlist for the Baileys Prize for Fiction for 2015 and I would be equally unsurprised if it wins the title. This is another excellent novel from the pen of the brilliant Sarah Waters and I highly recommend this to everyone.

Due for release in paperback on 4th June this book can be pre-ordered from for a mere £3.85 which is a bargain for this brilliant book. However, don't forget your local library and bookshop will be carrying copies too.

ISBN:  978 0349004365

Publisher:  Virago

Price (based on today at £10.00

About the Author:

She is best known for her first novel, Tipping the Velvet, as well the novels that followed, including AffinityFingersmith, and The Night Watch.

Sarah Waters is a British novelist. She was born in Wales in 1966. She has a Ph.D in English Literature and has been an associate lecturer with the Open University.  Before writing novels Waters worked as an academic, earning a doctorate and teaching. Waters went directly from her doctoral thesis to her first novel. It was during the process of writing her thesis that she thought she would write a novel; she began as soon as the thesis was complete.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Outline by Rachel Cusk

A woman arrives in Athens in the height of summer to teach a writing course. Once there, she becomes the audience to a chain of narratives as the people she meets tell her one after another the stories of their lives.
Beginning with the neighbouring passenger on the flight out and his tales of fast boats and failed marriages, the storytellers talk of their loves and ambitions and pains, their anxieties, their perceptions and daily lives. In the stifling heat and noise of the city the sequence of voices begins to weave a complex human tapestry: the experience of loss, the nature of family life, the difficulty of intimacy and the mystery of creativity itself.

This was an interesting novel to read as the main character actually plays a very small part in the story although is the linchpin which holds the narrative of the stories told to her by other people together.

Rachel Cusk is a very skilled writer which she demonstrates on every page. In a lesser writers hands this book could have been presented as a collection of short stories but Ms Cusk elevates her book by the fascinating way she has structured the story. 

This works so well because it enables the reader to listen to the stories that are being told to her without her interpretation and thus made me listen for myself. This enabled me to form my own judgments and to become part of the story. I suspect that every reader of this book will come away with a different view of the people and the stories told.

I do not remember reading anything quite like this book before so cannot compare it to others. It completely defies the boundaries of genre and therefore will appeal to many.

Having said that, I think this novel might well divide readers as I am not sure that this book would be to everybody’s taste (although that is true of most books.) What I am certain about is that the author has structured this novel uniquely and skillfully that it is no surprise to me that it has made it onto the 2015 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist.

I would encourage you to give this one a read. Please do let me know what you think of it.

ISBN:  978 1784702441

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Price: (paperback released tomorrow 7th May): £8.99

About the Author:  

Rachel Cusk was born in 1967 and is the author of eight novels: Saving Agnes, which won the Whitbread First Novel Award, The Temporary, The Country Life, which won a Somerset Maugham Award,The Lucky Ones, which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel Award, In the Fold, Arlington Park, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, The Bradshaw Variations and Outline. Her non-fiction books are A Life's Work, The Last Supper and Aftermath. In 2003 she was chosen as one of Granta's Best of Young Novelists.