Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my TBR list for summer 2015

toptentuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme is the top ten books I’d like to read this summer.

Ooh this is a tricky one. Generally I don’t tend to plan too far ahead – I’m too easily tempted by new books that come along – so all this list really tells you is that these are the books I’m thinking about today. Ask me tomorrow and I’m sure you’ll get completely different answers!

1. Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee. How many TBR lists does this appear on I wonder? Tons, I’m sure. I gave in and pre-ordered mine at W H Smiths last week.

2. The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale. This was a birthday present from our chickens (presumably with a little financial assistance from P). I’m not too sure what to expect but I saw some of the TV shows and enjoyed them. Paddy Considine is great.

3. Oscar And Lucinda by Peter Carey. This has been on my list for years. I finally bought a copy a couple of weeks ago…. and immediately realised I’d gone off the idea. Isn’t that annoying? Maybe in a month or two I’ll have worked up some more enthusiasm for it.

4. The End Of The Affair by Graham Greene. Reading this a few years ago sparked an obsessive Graham Greene binge that lasted a whole summer until I got fed up (a bit like when I binge watched A Game Of Thrones and then got so bored of it I never made it onto the third series – there’s a pattern here). Anyhoo, I remember this being awesome and I’d like to read it again.

5. The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy. I was a fool for being scared of Hardy. The Woodlanders is my mum’s favourite so it’s made on to this list on her recommendation.

6. Amo, Amas, Amat by Harry Mount. Latin would be a handy language to know where I work but I’ve always been too lazy to make a concerted effort to learn. I bought this at the Roman Army Museum, thinking it’d be a fun introduction.

7. Coraline by Neil Gaiman. I told my brother’s girlfriend that I’m always a little disappointed by Neil Gaiman books; I never enjoy them as much as I expect to. They very kindly bought me this for my birthday to change my mind.

8. 1215: The Year Of Magna Carta by Danny Danziger and John Gillingham. This was another birthday present and I’m looking forward to reading it hugely. Given that it’s the 800th anniversary this week I might bump it up the list and start it a bit sooner.

9. Any Anthony Trollope novel. I’ve always suspected that I’d like Anthony Trollope but I’ve never got round to reading any of his books. But where do I start?

10. Some of the stories in The World Of Jeeves by PG Wodehouse. I like Wodehouse. He’s always reliably entertaining.

So there you go! Will I manage to read all of them? Almost certainly not. But it’s been quite nice to think about all these possibilities stretching out before me.

I had the day off yesterday and was looking forward to spending some of it reading but the weather was so nice that I chose to do some gardening and go for lunch with my mum instead. I’m making really slow progress through Howards End so I probably should have taken the opportunity while it was there.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane (2013) by Neil Gaiman

oceanattheendofthelane

It’s taken months for this to become available at the library, literally months. But the fact that it’s in such high demand should be a good sign, right? Or a good omen if you will. Ha. (Sorry). It finally came free on Thursday afternoon, perfectly timed for my long train journey up north. So, was it worth the wait?

You expect a certain sort of fantasy from Neil Gaiman and this didn’t disappoint. I thought it was vivid, a little creepy, surreal and completely absorbing. At the start of the novel our unnamed narrator returns to his home town in Sussex for a funeral, after an absence of many years. He finds himself drawn to the pond at the end of the lane which, he now recalls, was known as the ‘ocean’  by his childhood friend Lettie Hemstock. As he looks over the water he remembers a series of strange events from when he was seven years old. These events began with the death of the family lodger, a South  African opal miner, and ended with a malignant, parasitic being from another world taking up the lodger’s place in our narrator’s childhood home. So far so Neil Gaiman.

Lucky for our narrator, the Hemstocks also live at the end of the lane and they’re of good magical stock. Lettie, her mother and grandmother have, at the time in question, been living in their cottage for over a thousand years. They remember William Rufus, the Civil War and the ‘old country’ before our world as we know it began. I liked the Hemstocks and I liked this idea, that these three women have been fixed to that spot watching the world change around them for centuries. It works. Without them, moreover, it’d really be quite a bleak novel; there’s little other light relief or comfort to be had.

Gaiman is really good at calling to mind the helplessness you felt as a child, your utter powerlessness to change the life around you. Our narrator, as a seven year old, feels doubly powerless because he cannot trust the adults in his life; both of his parents have been manipulated by the new lodger and are in thrall to her, not recognising her as the monster she really is. This, I think, is the scariest part of the story.

“I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown ups. Not one in the whole wide world.”

As an adult our narrator struggles to know whether his knowledge of these events which happened so long ago can be trusted. His memories advance and retreat according to his proximity to the Hemstocks. The facts are forgotten, remembered and forgotten in rapid succession. It’s very nicely done.

TOATEOTL is supposed to be a novel for adults but I don’t think it differs all that much from some of his children’s books. One brief episode aside, it’d certainly be suitable for children. That isn’t a criticism at all and I don’t think the book suffers because its intended audience is a bit uncertain. There doesn’t really need to be a clear cut distinction between books-for-adults and books-for-children; many people, me included, will happily read either. However, it could explain why this particular novel doesn’t feel quite as substantial as Neverwhere or American Gods. It’s an awkward, almost unsatisfactory, length. It does read a little like a short story that got out of hand.

But on the whole I think I liked it, just not wholeheartedly. I certainly didn’t not enjoy it. It’d be hard to not enjoy something by Gaiman; everything he writes is colourful and sinister and wonderfully imagined, this included. It’s a simple good vs. evil story with monsters and magic and spells but it didn’t, to me, feel like anything new. I’d have a liked a bit more; more story, more character development, more of a sense of place and time, more answers, more everything.

Choices

I had a day or two off while I recovered from my A Tale Of Two Cities hangover. Sometimes it just feels a bit wrong to begin another book when you’re still recovering from the last one… or maybe that’s just me. I’m always a bit worried that I won’t give the new book a fair chance if I’m still hankering after the one I just finished.

In the meantime I pondered over what to read next. There were a few contenders:

· Howards End by E. M. Forster

· The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman

· Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

· The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

· The Wombles by Elizabeth Beresford

· The Sot Weed Factor by John Barth

Some of these are re-reads, some of these have been lent to me, and some are very much dependent on the book finally, one day, please, becoming available at my local library (I’m looking at you, Gaiman).

In the end the decision was very quick to make: I was late for work yesterday morning and grabbed the first To-Be-Read book I could find before I legged it out the door. My shelves are alphabetised by author and H is at about eye level on the shelf so it was perhaps inevitable that it would be Hardy. We have a bit of a difficult history, Hardy and I, so I’m a bit concerned that I won’t finish it. We’ll see how it goes.  Wish me luck!