I Capture The Castle (1949) by Dodie Smith

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My love affair with this book goes back nearly twenty years and I’ve long since lost sight of precisely what it is that binds me to it. If you were to press me on the subject I’d probably say something vague and noncommittal about how much I love Cassandra’s narration and her witty portraits of her mad family. I might also mumble something about the fact that their dilapidated Suffolk castle provided a romantic fictional escape from my own teenage home on a dismal fenland council estate. In truth, however, I really have no idea why I have loved this book for so long. I just know that I have and that it makes it really hard to write an objective review now that I’ve just reread it. I suspect anything I write will sound either a bit too gushy or (worse?) just a bit stale. Instead, in lieu of my usual review style post, here are some of my favourite quotes from I Capture the Castle… 

The opening scene contains some of my favourite descriptions but I particularly love this exchange between Cassandra, her desperate sister Rose and stepmother Topaz at the height of their genteel poverty:

“…It may interest you both to know that for some time now I’ve been considering selling myself. If necessary, I shall go on the streets.” 

I told her she couldn’t go on the streets in the depths of Suffolk. 

“But if Topaz will kindly lend me the fare to London and give me a few hints-” 

Topaz said she had never been on the streets and rather regretted it, ‘because one must sink to the depths in order to rise to the heights,’ which is the kind of Topazism it requires much affection to tolerate. 

It makes me think of this later comment:

“Topaz was wonderfully patient – but sometimes I wonder if it is not only patience but also a faint resemblance to cows…” 

God bless Topaz.

Two profound truths that I couldn’t agree with more:

“I shouldn’t think even millionaires could eat anything nicer than new bread and real butter and honey for tea.” 

“Rose doesn’t like the flat country but I always did – flat country seems to give the sky such a chance.” 

I’m not lying when I say that I think of this passage almost every time I enter the eerie silence of a really old church:

I could hear rain still pouring from the gutters and a thin branch scraping against one of the windows; but the church seemed completely cut off from the restless day outside  – just as I felt cut off from the church. I thought: I am a restlessness inside a stillness inside a restlessness. 

That might be my favourite one of all I also love the slow evolution from this:

“I know all about the facts of life and I don’t think much of them.” 

To this:

“No bathroom on earth will make up for marrying a bearded man you hate.”

To this:

“Only the margin left to write on now. I love you, I love you, I love you.” 

Forgive the departure from my normal style – this just seemed the easiest way to approach this particular topic but my usual posts will resume very soon. I just read Tove Jannson’s Summer Book and adored it so there’ll be more in a day or two…

 

Sparkling Cyanide (1945) by Agatha Christie

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It should be a literary crime to give rather ordinary mysteries such evocative titles as this, especially when there’s already a particularly intriguing blurb on the back to hook the reader in. I was decidedly underwhelmed by this book – unusually so for an Agatha Christie – and now I can’t decide whether it’s the fault of the book, the title or just the fact that I was pretty spaced out on Lemsip at the time of reading. Probably the latter. I’d already been in bed sick for two looong days by the time I reached for this; I was cranky, bored and lacking both the energy and the will to read anything too demanding on the old grey cells. Usually Christie is ideal at times like these but she didn’t really do the trick on this occasion. I suspect I’m being a trifle unfair.

Sparkling Cyanide reunites several acquaintances for a rather tense dinner party at the Hotel Luxembourg. Gathered together are staid businessman George Barton and his young ward Iris, George’s doting secretary, a mysterious American businessman, a devious politician and his dutiful but very posh trophy wife. They’re all there to mark the passing of George’s late wife Rosemary who very publicly committed suicide at this table in this restaurant in front of these very same guests a year previously. It’s a macabre excuse for a gathering and of course, of course one of the guests is poisoned during dinner in an almost exact recreation of Rosemary’s death. Of course.  

“I’d like to give these detective story writers a course of routine work. They’d soon learn how most things are untraceable and nobody ever notices anything anywhere!”

There’s no Poirot or Marple in this one and I missed them both. It’s down to George’s old friend Colonel Race to identify the killer and determine whether Rosemary may also have fallen foul of a sinister plot. He does a fair job, Colonel Race, but without the flair or humour I might have expected from his more regular counterparts. Overall this felt like a fairly formulaic mystery: the set up was quite laboured and there was less of the wit and double bluffing that Christie usually employs to liven up the more mundane stories. I did fall prey to one red herring for a time but in the end I’d more or less guessed the killer anyway and instead of feeling triumphant I was left with the flat, dissatisfied feeling I always get when I’ve been proven right. Ho hum.

In my headachey, fuzzy haze I took Christie’s failure to keep me sufficiently entertained too personally. I decided that if she couldn’t offer me something decent to read at this difficult time then I would just have to resort to something more reliably cheering. I reached for I Capture The Castle which appears to be my go-to book when I’m sick. I’m so predictable.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) by Anne Bronte

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Throughout January I listened to the audiobook version of Clare Harman’s excellent and very sensible biography of Charlotte Bronte on my drive home from work each evening. I always think January is the bleakest of months and I don’t particularly enjoy long stretches in the car at the best of times so as the days passed I was surprised to find myself looking forward to my cosy night-time drives with the Brontes. As the audiobook was drawing to a close I wanted to prolong that nice companionable feeling a bit longer so I went on the hunt for a new-to-me Bronte novel in all the (three) bookshops close to my office. I had an idea that it might be a good time to read Agnes Grey or Villette or (ideally) some of Emily’s poetry, but alas, it was not to be.

The best I could manage was a rather tatty copy of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall which I found squished at the end the Bronte section in Waterstones. It followed a whole shelf and a half stuffed full with beautiful copies of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights which made me feel a little sad for poor, overlooked Anne Bronte.  I was pretty certain I’d read this already (and didn’t think much of it) but my memories were pretty hazy so I parted with the cash and it came home with me. It turns out that the book I read fifteen years ago was possibly one of those abridged versions mutilated by Anne’s horrified publishers in the years after her death. It was definitely much shorter than the version I’ve just read so I had a hard time reconciling this version with the one I very vaguely remember from back then. It’s nice in a way because it made the book feel new-to-me all over again.

Anne’s publishers subjected the book to pretty heavy editing after her death to mitigate some of the negative publicity that both of Anne’s published novels seem to have attracted.  It seems highly unfair now but I expect the novel’s themes were pretty shocking to readers of the time (“Wildfell Hall it hardly seems to me desirable to preserve”, wrote Charlotte later. “The choice of subject in that work is a mistake”).  This is the story of Helen Huntingdon and her radical decision to flee from a drunken, womanising husband after years of torment at his hands. Much of Helen’s story is told in diary format but it’s sandwiched between letters written several years later by Gilbert Markham, her only friend during her months in exile. For once, I wasn’t a huge fan of the diary/letter style but only because it feels like such a direct, confrontational novel; I think it needs a more direct style of narration perhaps.

“… for, since he and I are one, I so identify myself with him that I feel his degradation, his failings and transgressions as my own; I blush for him, I fear for him, I repent for him, weep, pray and feel for him as myself; but I cannot act for him and hence I must be, and am, debased, contaminated by the union, both in my own eyes and in the actual truth…” 

My main fascination with this novel lies in the fact that it so obviously draws upon Anne’s own experiences with her brother Branwell’s decline into alcoholism and drug addiction. It must, I think, have been a bitterly uncomfortable book to write and it gives you a strange sense of how impotent the sisters must have felt as they watched their brother rage and waste away the opportunities offered to him as the only son in the family. The injustice of their situation is mirrored in Helen’s powerlessness to do anything for herself or for husband. Of course, in the eyes of the law and the church Helen’s property is Arthur’s property, she is Arthur’s property, so she is completely at his mercy. Her decision to run away is a radical one but leaves her vulnerable to rumour, suspicion and condemnation.

I enjoyed this book much more than I expected to based on my experiences with the abridged version fifteen years ago. I’m reluctant to spend too much time comparing it to the other Bronte novels I’ve read but I will say that it doesn’t have the romantic brutality of Wuthering Heights but it’s not as restrained as Jane Eyre either. Anne clearly didn’t feel shy about portraying a very real and very common, but rarely discussed, problem in all its grubby sordidness or to say that it wasn’t fair to deprive women of any power to help themselves in situations such as this. The writing isn’t as polished as her sisters’ perhaps but while the subject matter (and all the moralising) may feel a little dated now it’s a much braver novel than it perhaps gets credit for.

I detested Gilbert Markham more than I hated Helen’s wicked husband but it’s weirdly refreshing every now and again to read a Victorian novel in which the menfolk are unremittingly awful in every possible way.

His Bloody Project (2016) by Graeme Macrae Burnet

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I’ve probably mentioned a hundred times before that I’m a sucker for an unusual narrative style and particularly for stories told in letter or diary format. This book caught my eye last year, before it was nominated for the Man Booker Prize, because of its subtitle: “Documents relating to the case of Roderick Macrae.” Hang on a second there, sunshine. Documents? Just my cup of tea. After that I fully intended to pick this up at the next opportunity but, as so often happens, promptly forgot about it as soon as something else came along. That’s just typical really. I spotted it again during some impromptu bookshop browsing a few weekends ago and then managed to read the whole thing before the weekend was over. That should tell you how daft I was to delay reading it for so long.

“One man can no more see into the mind of another than he can see inside a stone…”

In the preface to his novel Burnet describes this as a true story uncovered while he was researching his own family history in a Scottish archive. I don’t believe that’s actually true but it’s a clever layer to the fiction and adds a certain gravity to the tale he goes on to tell. The story he’s uncovered is that of seventeen year old Roddy Macrae who, we’re told, was charged with a horrific triple murder in a remote Highland crofting community in 1869. In this novel Burnet brings together all the original evidence relating to the trial that followed: the witness statements, post mortems, expert opinions, court transcripts and, most remarkably, Roddy’s own lengthy account of the events leading up to the crime. Roddy’s defence claims that he was suffering from a sort of temporary insanity at the time of the murders but would an insane man know he was insane? And if so, can you really trust anything he tells you?

This isn’t a straight forward crime/detective genre novel. Instead, as Burnet applies layer upon layer of information he leaves the reader to decide how far the evidence can be trusted and whether Roddy was really in his right mind at the time of the murders. I think the ‘documents’ format works really well in this respect as it means the reader can see the same man, and the same crime, from several different angles, each one with its own agendas and prejudices. Burnet’s restraint in handling all these different layers is evident here and it never feels disjointed or jarring. With hindsight I’m not sure that Roddy’s own account of the crime feels quite as historically authentic as some of the other reports but in some ways this works in the novel’s favour. It certainly creates a really atmospheric picture of this tiny, isolated community with its ancient customs, language, feuds and tensions.

It took me a while to realise that Burnet was deliberately leaving the ‘facts’ of the case open to interpretation by providing conflicting opinions and omitting certain details from Roddy’s memoir. One key piece of information mentioned briefly in a post-mortem report had me scratching my head for ages as it didn’t tally with Roddy’s own account, which I wanted to be truthful. It was at his point that I realised that there was clearly more to this tale than initially meets the eye and I spent much of my time from hereon waiting for a twist, a big reveal, that would suddenly make everything fall into place. However, I think by refusing to hold your hand or provide all the answers Burnet makes this a much more gripping, though unnerving, read. It’s the kind of book that will either leave you disappointed by the lack of answers or raking over the details in your head for days following. My response was much more like the latter.

Vile Bodies (1930) by Evelyn Waugh

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“Nina, there’s one thing – I don’t think I shall be able to marry you after all.” 

“Oh Adam, you are a bore.” 

I think Vile Bodies is possibly the most attractive looking book I’ve bought myself in a long time. It cost £3 In a little secondhand bookshop in Ironbridge (just opposite the iron bridge, in fact) where we stopped on our way to Wales last February. The shop had shelves and shelves of orange Penguin Classics and this one caught my eye because of the glamorously 1980s faux Art Deco cover. I love it. At the time I didn’t have a particular wish to read Vile Bodies but I always feel well disposed towards Waugh, partly because I enjoyed Brideshead Revisited but also because I read somewhere that he and his second(?) wife, also called Evelyn, used to refer to each other as Hevelyn and Shevelyn in company. If that’s not inducement to buy a book I don’t know what is.

It’s not an easy book to get into, Vile Bodies, but it’s a fun one. The narrative jumps about all over the place, throwing in a hundred characters at once with no introduction and telling large chunks of the story in sparse conversation. It’s hectic and a bit indistinct but I soon settled into it and quite enjoyed myself. This is Waugh’s satirical take on the ‘bright young things’ of the 1920s, among them young Adam Fenwyck Symes. Adam returns to London at the start of the novel and is quickly drawn into a heady whirlwind of parties, hangovers, prosperity, poverty, engagements and un-engagements. He and his friends stumble from one party to the next, drinking too much and sleeping too little, always accompanied by a reporter from the Daily Excess and leaving a wake of destruction wherever they go.

I love the dialogue in Vile Bodies; it’s rapid and bitterly funny and so easy to read you almost don’t notice it. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for that jolly-ho Bertie Wooster style and you can find tons of completely ridiculous examples here.

“Well!” they said. “Well! How too, too shaming,  Agatha darling,” they said. “How devastating, how unpoliceman-like, how goat-like, how sick-making, how too, too awful.” And then they began talking about Archie Schwert’s party that night. 

This could end up being a very quote heavy post if I had my way.

For a book in which nothing much really happens it’s surprisingly busy and Waugh whisks you through at such a pace that there’s almost no time to consider what the point of it all is, which I realise now is actually probably the point. It soon becomes apparent that in spite of appearances no one is really having any fun at all, not the party goers and certainly not the onlookers. It’s all curiously empty and kind of sad. For me Waugh seems to be suggesting that his generation’s endless pursuit of fun is a response to the traumas of the previous years; unlike their parents, they were almost born knowing that the good times don’t last. He couldn’t have seen that another war was looming around the corner but even without hindsight the final scenes of the novel are touching in a strangely frivolous and surreal kind of way. I liked this book very much indeed.

After finishing Vile Bodies I fully intended to continue wading through my unread pile but I bought His Bloody Project on Saturday, in a rare moment of my own kind of frivolity, and got hooked on it straight away. I’m finished now so there’ll be another post here soon.

Top Ten Tuesday: Tyrants, despots and dictators

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. 

I had already half decided not to involve myself in the next few Top Ten Tuesdays, at least until I had a bit more time to spare. However, as soon as I realised that this was a freebie week, the idea for a post on tyrannical regimes in literature immediately leapt into my head fully formed. It would have been wasteful to ignore it or to put it off until another week when the subject would be less relevant (although I guess it’ll remain relevant for at least the next four years). But still, it seemed like an apt week.

1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, in which a revolutionary extremist Christian movement seizes control of power and strips women of their rights and freedoms, with horrifying consequences. I’ve read this a few times now and it never fails to scare me.

2. 1984 by George Orwell. An obvious choice perhaps but I don’t think this list would be complete without reference to 1984. Winston Smith exists in a nightmarish world where the state controls the truth and every move is watched by Big Brother; there’s no privacy, no freedom, no love.

3. V for Vendetta by Alan Moore. I think the dystopian world in V for Vendetta is disturbing because it’s just about recognisable. This is a police-state London in the 1990s, post civil-war and run by the fascist Norsefire party.

4. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. The White Witch’s tyranny over Narnia has lasted a hundred years and caused a deep, deep winter to settle over the land.

5. Coriolanus by William Shakespeare. Weird choice maybe but I quite like this play, although it is rather harrowing. Coriolanus’ tyranny over Rome eventually collapses because he is completely unable to compromise.

6. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde. A slightly more light hearted entry on the list here although it’s still fairly dark. The action here takes place in Chromatica, where the social hierarchy is determined by ability to see colour.Woe betide you if you’re a Grey caught fraternising with a Violet…

7. Animal Farm by George Orwell. The farmyard setting is used here to comment on the high ideals of the Russian Revolution which had quickly gone astray and been replaced with Stalin’s reign of terror.

8. Harry Potter and the … by J.K. Rowling. In the Deathly Hallows Voldemort seizes power and begins his own renewed terrifying reign over the magical world, but you could argue that Delores Umbridge and the Ministry of Magic had been verging on the despotic for some time anyway.

9. Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman. Another alternative history but in this one the people from the African continent have used centuries of technological advantage to subjugate the Europeans. Now the Crosses (Whites) are at the mercy of the more powerful Noughts (Blacks).

10. The Wave by Todd Strasser. A clever classroom experiment – and an attempt to show what life was really like in Nazi Germany – goes horribly wrong when a new movement sweeps through the school.

I realise that this week would also have been a good week for a TTT list on protests in literature but sadly that proved a little harder to write. I’ll bear it in mind for a future week though – suggestions always welcome!

Katherine (1954) by Anya Seton

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Finally finishing this book at the weekend was a truly wonderful, joyous thing that can be traced back to a very mundane circumstance several weeks ago: I had to work between Christmas and New Year and while my colleagues were at home enjoying happy family fun times I enjoyed three beautifully lonely lunch hours in the staff room. A solid hour of uninterrupted reading time is pretty unheard of for me right now so the chance to do it three days in a row was a tremendous luxury. Like Christmas all over again in fact. It came at just the right time and stopped me giving up on Katherine just as I was feeling at my most fed up and demoralised about my failure to make progress. Hurray for Christmas miracles.

Katherine is a bit of a departure from my usual reading material. I enjoy historical fiction but usually avoid romance and I had a vague idea that this was a sort of epic love story complete with fair maidens, chivalry and jousting. I quickly realised that I wasn’t quite right about that (although there is jousting, be warned). Even if Katherine didn’t appear at number 95 on the BBC’s Big Read I might have been keen to read it anyway since it features a bevy of my favourite Plantagenets and the Plantagenets are always, always interesting, mainly because of all the (figurative) backstabbing and (literal) murdering they did during their four centuries in charge. The subject of this novel is Katherine Swynford, the daughter of a poor knight who, at the age of fifteen, joined the royal court of Edward III. The novel takes you from Katherine’s childish infatuation with the King’s son John of Gaunt through to their torrid love affair and the decades she spent as his not-very-secret mistress. Katherine wasn’t to know, of course, that in spite of quite publicly being branded a harlot by her contemporaries, she and John would eventually establish a bloodline that can be traced right down through the centuries to the modern royals.

I love the depth of the detail in this novel; that, and the fact that Seton grants the same attention to the minor things – the real names of Katherine’s attendants for example, or the history of Sir Hugh Swynford’s Lincolnshire estates – as she does to the pivotal moments in the romance. It’s like there’s nothing so insignificant that she doesn’t think it worth writing down. I know some people really hate all that useless detail in a novel because it slows down the narrative but, for me at least, it makes the historical setting really believable and kind of immersive.  Each time you close the book it’s a supreme effort to re-acclimatise to the real world, you almost have to shake the fourteenth century out of your brain and force yourself to remember where you are. I quite like it, but I’m weird like that. It helps, of course, that the Plantagenets are such good story fodder. Seton handles them well so that there’s just the right amount of domestic and political treachery for it to be entertaining without becoming completely absurd.

I wasn’t massively in love with some of the characterisation and at times I have to say that I found Katherine utterly, utterly exasperating. After spending much of the book demurely complying with the Duke’s every whim it made quite a nice change when she occasionally stopped all that half-hearted moral wrangling and made a decision for herself for once, even if it did jeopardise her own happiness. You wonder whether the Duke would have loved her quite so much if she hadn’t been so content to sit around in a castle for years, quietly hoping for the occasional visit, bearing bonny children and mysteriously never losing her looks or figure. I know that this sort of forced inactivity was a reality for a lot of medieval women but still, I needed something more here to make me really warm to Katherine or to root for her love affair. Reading it at a distance of sixty years it comes across as a little dated and even very slightly cheesy.

Immediately after finishing Katherine I began Vile Bodies and loved it from the start. I’m about half way through now and having a rollicking fun time; isn’t it funny how you can switch so easily from one response to another?

My reading year in numbers

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At the end of last year I wrote this short post looking statistically at the books I’d read in the previous twelve months. I’m not sure where the idea came from – I might have pinched it, I can’t remember; if I did, I’m sorry – but it was quite revealing and I enjoyed doing it. It was the first time I’d looked back and thought carefully about what I’d been reading, what this said about my reading habits, and what I wanted to do in the coming year. In lieu of a typical end-of-year review I’ve done a similar thing this time. Here is my reading year in numbers…

In 2016 I completed 26 novels and 3 short stories.

I listened to 1 audiobook (Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America 1927 – unblogged).

I failed to finish 1 book.

The oldest novel was Our Mutual Friend, published in 1864 but I also read Edgar Allen Poe’s short story The Tell-Tale Heart which was published in 1843.

The newest book I read was Shylock Is My Name, published in 2016.

Roughly 15% of the books I read were published before 1900, 19% were published in the first half of the twentieth century, 27% in the second half and 38% in the last sixteen years.

17 books were by male authors. 9 were written by women.

They were written by authors from 14 different countries.

Fiction accounted for nearly 93 % of the books I read.

The longest book was War and Peace (1,317 pages). The shortest was The Uncommon Reader (121 pages).

I have read 2 more books from the BBC Big Read this year (War and Peace and Perfume).

My most popular blog post of the year – in terms of the most views – was this one on tips for reading War and Peace. At last count it had been viewed 91 times.

 

So what does this tell me? Firstly, that although I read fewer books than last year, it really wasn’t as bad as I was imagining. There were a few occasions in the second half of 2016 when I felt like I was wasting time; days and weeks were passing by and I wasn’t finding time to do any reading at all. It was annoying. But, you know what? Given the various upheavals the year has thrown my way, 26 isn’t really all that bad. It could be worse.

I’m also really happy to see that my efforts to read books by a more diverse range of authors have been partially successful. British authors still dominated (9 books in total) but the remaining novels were written by authors from the US, Germany, Italy, Russia, France, Uruguay, South Korea, Albania, Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran, Chile and Zimbabwe. Looking back, I’m not sure I’d have discovered many of these works at all if I hadn’t been making an effort to push myself and my last Top Ten Tuesday post should stand as proof of how much I’ve enjoyed doing this. I should also thank the ladies at Hard Book Habit for launching the Around the World challenge and giving me the push I needed.

It’s also worth saying, however, that this shift away from my quaint little English Victorian/Edwardian comfort zone has had the unexpected effect of making my reading material less diverse in other ways. In 2016 I read less non-fiction, fewer female authors and fewer classics than in previous years. Maybe this says something about the kinds of works that get translated into English – is modern fiction more likely to get translated than classic fiction? – or maybe it’s just one of those weird unavoidable things. Maybe I just wanted to read fiction this year because times were tough and I subconsciously thought that non-fiction might be too heavy going. Maybe there are just more male authors than female ones.  Who knows.

All in all, though, I think I can look back on the past twelve months and be reasonably happy; I read some wonderful books, discovered some new authors, and have plenty more to look forward to in 2017.

Happy 2017 all 🙂

Top Ten Tuesday: My favourite books of 2016

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. This week we’re looking at our favourite books of the year (not counting rereads like Our Mutual Friend). 

In true Top of the Pops style, here’s my top ten countdown in reverse order:

10. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. I can’t say whether it was due to the contentious subject matter or the lively, chatty way in which it was written but I really couldn’t put this down. It consumed my life for three days.

9. The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy. If you’d told me last year that only one Brit was going to make it into my favourite ten I wouldn’t have put money on it being Hardy. I’m as surprised as you are.

8. On Tangled Paths by Theodor Fontane. Lovely, short and sweet. Much like this review.

7. A Very Long Engagement by Sebastien Japrisot. This was the ideal book for restoring my reading mojo when I was finding my job and general lack of spare time really demoralising. I think it came along at the perfect moment for me.

6. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. The Neapolitan books are tumultuous and kind of exhausting but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like them. I’ve been dead pleased with them so far.

5. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. It’s not the most engrossing or the most accessible of novels – in fact I’m pretty sure I’d have hated it if I’d found it on my school English syllabus – but there’s something about the starkness of the writing that I really like.

4. A Country Doctor’s Notebook by Mikhail Bulgakov. Hilarious, gruesome and unnerving; I loved it.

3. The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante. Let’s hear it for the Ferrante double whammy! It’s not often I’m keen to pursue a series of books past the first couple but I’m really looking forward to discovering how this story plays out.

2. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. Nafisi writes with real passion about the sanctuary that books can offer in dark and oppressive times. This stayed with me long after I’d turned the last page.

1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Yup. We all saw this one coming. It was far and away the best thing I read last year and for ages afterwards nothing I read felt quite as good. It’s almost a shame I peaked so early in the year.

I’ve not yet formulated too many plans for next year but I’ll try to come up with some sort of [very] loose idea of what I’d like to focus on in 2017. I expect this will lead to some sort of New Year’s resolution style post in the near future but we’ll see how it goes.

Happy new year all 🙂

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I’d like to find under the Christmas tree

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new theme is posted and today we’re looking at books we’d like to receive for Christmas.

The hardest part of this week’s list is narrowing it down to just ten. Am I a bit greedy?!

1.       The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. I’ve had my eye on this for ages, mainly because I’ve seen a ton of good reviews on the blogs. Fingers crossed.

2.       Anything at all by Ismail Kadare. I don’t mind which book. Any will do.

3.       Mansfield Park or Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. This year has been an Austen free zone and it’d be nice to cross another of the major novels off the list.

4.       Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. If only this didn’t look so darn huge, I’m sure I’d have read it already. Maybe in 2017.

5.       The Sellout by Paul Beatty. It’s been hard to ignore all the buzz about this novel. I’m intrigued.

6.       The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. I’ve not yet read any Australasian novels as part of the Around the World in 80 Books challenge so this might be a nice way of doing it.

7.      The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville by Clare Mulley. I heard a radio documentary about Christine Granville last week and now I’m a bit obsessed.

8. Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev. I try to read at least one Russian novel a year and this, I think, is the leading candidate for 2017. I’ve not tackled any Turgenev before.

9. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbary. Again, it’s the reviews that did it for me with this one.

10. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. I read The House of Mirth last year and it was great. I’d like to read another.

That’s it for another week, and probably my last post before Christmas. Have a merry one 🙂