This Golden Fleece – Esther Rutter

I love knitting, and find social history fascinating, so picked up this book, subtitled “A Journey Through Britain’s Knitted History” when I noticed it in the library.

Rather than a linear history, Rutter spends a year taking literal journeys from the far north to south of the British Isles, examining historical knitwear in each area and working out how to make it for herself. Some attempts, like her nalebound sock are just for the interest, but a lot of them are things that could still be worn today.

Oh William! – Elizabeth Strout

The first book on my Booker 2022 shortlist read from the library. I found it a little strange that a sequel had been shortlisted, as it became obvious during reading that we should already be familiar with Lucy Barton, the protagonist of Oh William! I’m not certain if I’ll go back and pick up any of her earlier story.

Strout describes the friendship between divorced parents later in life. She weaves it cleverly, showing the underpinning friendship along with the difficulties that made the marriage impossile, while taking the characters on a journey to expand their understanding of themselves and each other.

At one point Lucy reflects on her late second husband after William has laughed at her for unconvential behaviour in private, thinking of how the marriages were different…

Never in a thousand years would he have laughed at me. Never. For anything.

All of this journey adds to up a pivot point in their relationship, which affects Lucy’s understanding of William as a person, father and in relation to her. I found the ending fairly soothing.

Of course the whole text is beautifully written. There are no chapters, with short segments of just a few paragraphs or pages, but it flows well and I read the whole book in one evening.

Finally, the exclamation at the end of the title here makes handling the title in review text clunky!

Interlude

Life has been busy, so this blog has been much-neglected. However I always feel inspired by the Booker shortlist coming out. I’ve reserved every book on the 2022 list at the library, so the order they’ll appear in depends on when I get to the top of each waiting list. Oh William! is already read, and I’m planning to collect Glory today.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue – V. E. Schwab

This is a heartbreaking book, about a woman who in desperation trades being known for freedom to live as she chooses. Addie refuses to accept the limits of life in rural France in the 18th century, and instead begs for freedom.

There are so many times I could feel Addie’s desperation, to love, for connection, and to experience everything.

“I saw an elephant in Paris”

This is a very cleverly constructed novel, jumping between timelines and yet managing to weave then all together elegantly, so they align into a beautiful whole.

The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing

Set amongst Communists in 1950s London, The Golden Notebook is a feminist novel, exploring how Anna navigates her life, lovers, motherhood, party loyalties and career. I did wish she had more friends, rather than being so dependent on Molly and her lovers though.

The structure is interesting, with different notebooks for each of her themes. Despite the book broadly being a set of diaries, Lessing manages to avoid the trap of making the novel too introspective of that one character, with all main characters developing on their own arcs.

This is not a fast read, and the discovery that I couldn’t renew it 4 days before it was due back at the library made finishing it on time to return challenging. However it is rewarding: well-written and a fascinating point on mid 20th century feminism.

Patience – Toby Litt

Having seen the difficult time Galley Beggar Press were going through, I flicked through their selection and picked out this as the most interesting. This order was placed less than 10 days before Christmas, and arrived very quickly. Amusingly, it arrived in a hand-addressed jiffy bag, which I had my other half check inside. He found such a nicely wrapped book (in tissue paper and ribbon) that we assumed it must be a Christmas present and it went under the tree to open on Christmas Day!

Of course, a book from me for me at Christmas was a brilliant move (maybe I’ll do that on purpose next year) and gave me something to curl up with as the week wore on.

Elliot is a thoughtful character who observes the world around him in great detail. He spends a lot of time considering how he would like to act and communicate. But his world is limited to where the sisters who staff his orphanage park his wheelchair that day.

Patience is about how Elliot identifies a potential ally within the orphanage and works out a way that they can communicate. The highs as successes are reached are followed by internal dialogue working through the lows as things go wrong. Those sisters which are supportive are identified, along with those stricter sisters who punish the (universally disabled or troubled) children when rules are breached. But Elliot listens to all this and considers that the Jesus in whose name punishments are melted out does not align with the Jesus of the Bible stories he has been told. Of course, he is unable to relate this to anyone within this book, instead just enduring his examination of the white wall he is parked in front of when he is judged to need to calm down.

Despite the setting, this is a soothing and uplifting book, and a very good read.

Folk – Zoe Gilbert

The videdness of the cover drew me to this book. The blood red contrasting starkly with the yellow and black, and the tangle of thorns behind the birds and roses.

There is a loose overarching plot through the life of the village folk, but the book is not driven by plot. Instead we twist between different characters as their mythical beliefs take form.

It is a bloody story. Myths are not safe places, but a retrlling of horror. But there is magic and human kindness to offset this horror.

Inferior – Angela Saini

Saini has written Inferior looking at the research behind differences between men and women. Women – the inferior sex? Biological differences or differences from societal pressures? Weaker…or with a different set of strengths?

She examines how different species interact, and the differences between historical societies, and different modern societies to now. Finally she looks at the differences between babies, before social pressures have had full effect.

She examines how men are physically stronger, but women have longer lifespans. How raising a child as a human is more of a community effort than for most animals. How the effort expending in getting food by men vs women in prehistory may not have matched the quantity of food collected.

Then there is the modern situation. How girls and boys are socialised differently. How most medical research, and even crash-test research assumes that what is safe and useful for men, is identical for women. But even here there is some good news. More medical tests involve women than they have done. There is even a ” pregnant” crash test dummy.

A good read for anyone wanting to understand why we still need modern feminism

Bones of the Moon – Jonathan Carroll

Stumbling across a Twitter thread in which several writers were enthusing about Carroll, I requested Bones of the Moon from the library.

It is a difficult book to describe. A grieving woman creates a dream world that she can escape to, but then that world starts bleeding into ours. To try and resolve her grief, she and her son have to go on a quest together, and all the while little details from the dream world are creeping into reality.

What is astounding is how real it all feels, which is from Carroll’s skill, at building both a realistic home life, and then bringing the fantasy world into that.

Mountains of the Mind – Robert MacFarlane

The strangest part of reading this book was my seven-year-old coming home from school and telling me that they had read a poem in class by Robert MacFarlane when this was laid on the top of my tbr pile. Between that and that it is a library book so needed reading quite quickly, I picked it up that afternoon.

MacFarlane took me on a journey up mountains I have climbed before, and mountains that will always be beyond my capabilities. He captures beautifully what it is to climb a mountain, in terms of the element of exploration and the challenge both in terms of physical endurance and mental resources to achieve it.

View from the summit of Pike of Blisco: climbed during this read

He also delves into the costs, in terms of lives lost to the mountain. This ranges from the personal of lost friends and near-misses, to an exploration of the costs to the early Everest expeditions. Rather than focusing solely on the heroism here, he focuses partly on Mallory’s letters home to his wife, capturing emotional vulnerability, as well as the sheer pointlessness of the loss of his life.

A beautiful book for anyone who loves the mountains, or wonders why some of us do.