Guylain Vignolles lives alone, apart from his goldfish, and hates his job. Each day he gets pleasure from reading aloud, on the train, from pages of books he has rescued. One day he discovers entries from a young woman’s diary, and goes on a quest for love. Set in Paris, with a host of quirky characters, I expected this to be an awful lot sweeter and more heartwarming than I found it. It was rather more coarse, and didn’t deliver on the promises I thought the plot had made, especially about the power of books. It was a quick, and pleasant read, but disappointingly unaffecting.
I read Paula Byrne’s biography earlier this year, one concentrated mainly on his friendships and influences for Brideshead Revisited, and enjoyed it so much I was keen for more of Evelyn Waugh’s extraordinary life. Eade takes the more traditional, birth to death approach, and comprehensively presents Waugh’s life in all its complexity. Like Byrne, he shows that snobbery was not Waugh’s defining trait, though his rudeness, arrogance and cruelty are more obvious in this book, but he also emphasises his humour and extraordinary writing. This is a fascinating look at the man, but also at the time in which he lived and his literary legacy.
Howling Books is a second hand bookshop, with a collection of books for people to leave letters in. Rachel comes back to town and starts working there, with the boy she used to love. This is young adult fiction, with an Australian setting, references to so many books, sweet and complicated relationships, and not too much teenage angst. It’s about loss, connection and the power of books. There’s a lot to like.
It turns out that I can enjoy a book like this, if it is set in a book shop, in the Cotswolds. Emilia’s father has died, leaving her a book shop that isn’t doing very well. As she decides whether to keep it going or not, a cast of her customers also find themselves at crossroads. It’s heartwarming, comfortably predictable and sweet, without being cloying. I couldn’t read only this sort of book, but it was an entertaining interlude.
A charming Australian story about female friendship. Sybil decides to start a book club which leads to 5 women developing the strong bonds of friendship, bonds that will stand up against the bad and the good times. The setting of this book is a remote cattle station in the Northern Territory, which adds extra dimensions to the story, as well as being set in the late 70s. It was quite nostalgic going over some of the major world events for that time period which Sophie has included in her story and how much communication has changed (who remembers the telephone party line?). I was worried that the story was going to end all neatly wrapped up with everyone blissfully happy, but it wasn’t. Sophie has left room at the end of the story for the reader to continue the characters’ stories themselves – a great tool to let the story remain with you after reading the story.
Andrew Relph was born after a tragedy in his family. The event left his parents unable to respond to him, emotionally, as they should have. Though he, himself, had great difficulty reading, his mother read to him, and in books he found the connection, relationship, conversation and emotion that he was missing. There is a fair bit about psychotherapy in this book, the author became a psychotherapist, and perhaps because the particular books he has written about, are not ones I have loved, I didn’t connect with this book so much. It is about the immense power of reading, but I found How Proust can Change Your Life , by Alain de Botton, a far more engaging book on the subject.
An Unnecessary woman is the story of an aged, divorced, childless woman, living in a flat in Beirut. With almost no connections, she spends her days translating books into Arabic. It’s a quiet book, mostly the thoughts of a single woman, but it is also an interesting look at a life in Beirut, at purpose in life and the importance of books.
I love hearing about what people are reading; why they are enjoying books, or not, and what impact they have. Stuff I’ve Been Reading is a column Nick Hornby wrote for an American magazine, and his voice very entertaining. He is funny, reads thoughtfully, and loves Charles Dickens, which does tend to win me over (a reference to C.S. Lewis does that most quickly). I think I might need to read some more of his novels……
I weep for Charlotte, how relentlessly sad her life was! This is an engaging and thorough biography, opening up the lives of Charlotte, Emily and Anne; giving great insights into their novels. Harman has given a rounded picture of an extraordinary, intelligent, spirited and flawed woman whose faith sustained her through terrible trials, and who, together with her sisters, wrote some of the world’s most beloved, revolutionary novels.
Evelyn Waugh, such a fascinating, complicated man living in extraordinary times. Paula Byrne has brought to life his wit, passion, faith, irreverence and loyalty, largely through his long relationship with the Lygon family, who inspired the Marchmains of Brideshead Revisited. This biography is funny, tender, sad and often shocking, full of real life characters that are familiar and many that are recognisable from Waugh’s novels – enjoyably engrossing.