Starting on the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist

I like to occasionally read prize lists (see my Man Booker readalongs). I have seen that this year Claire is reading the Bailey’s longlist, and picked up a review of a book that made me want to read it. Plus I’d already read one, and another was on the list for later this year, so I rapidly decided to tackle the whole list:

Stay With Me, Ayobami Adebayo
The Power, Naomi Alderman
Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood
Little Deaths, Emma Flint
The Mare, Mary Gaitskill
The Dark Circle, Linda Grant
The Lesser Bohemians, Eimear McBride
Midwinter, Fiona Melrose
The Sport of Kings, C.E. Morgan
The Woman Next Door, Yewande Omotoso
The Lonely Hearts Hotel, Heather O’Neill
The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry
Barkskins, Annie Proulx
First Love, Gwendoline Riley
Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien
The Gustav Sonata, Rose Tremain

The Lesser Bohemians is now on order at the library and Hag-Seed has been bought. Lets do this before the result is announced.

The Man who Rained – Ali Shaw

The cover of this set the tone nicely – is a nice “chick lit” with a fable woven beneath it. Elsa is taking the normal “running away” approach to life, and settles  in a small town. But of course it is not an ordinary small town, and it takes a few chapters before we discover how unusual it is.

This is hardly deep literature, but covers both the bright and dark sides of the human spirit. We see displays of love and of jealousy, of loyalty and a brutal mob.  The human side alone is powerful. Then the magic is imaginative, running with the idea of spirits (mischievous or otherwise) which have local powers.

I loved how Shaw drew all the threads together for the ending, giving very satisfying conclusions to all the parallel subplots running through the novel.

Dangerous Women Part III – Edited by George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

Dangerous Women is a collection of fast-paced stories centred around women. They vary in style and quality, and although one (by Melinda Snodgrass) I abandoned, it has also led me to reserve the first of the Desden Files novels to read. The Butcher story was typical, of the collection, a women who against the odds manages to use her wits and femininity to escape from dangerous enemies and end up ahead by the end of the story.

The editors don’t make an entry into this collection, outside a short introduction by Dozois, which I would imagine anyone picking this up for the George R. R. Martin name on the front would find a disappointment. However anyone who remains disappointed as the short stores unpack would be missing in taste. By the end I was only sorry that there were only seven stories, and I’m fairly likely to pick up the other parts of the Dangerous Women series.

Fludd – Hilary Mantel (Audiobook)

Hilary Mantel is one of those authors whose work I keep feeling like I should read, but then being too overwhelmed by the degree of seriousness to start. So I went for the audiobook solution, listening as I commuted for a fortnight.

Fludd is set in 1950s Lancashire, up in the Pennines. For those who don’t live in this area, it might be surprising that these are several villages and small towns that are very much Catholic, here in the cradle of methodism and in a country that has been officially protestant since the turn of the 17th Century. So the idea of this insular community, with an equal distrust of Yorkshiremen and Protestants seems very lifelike to me. Then we have the named characters, from a priest who has lost his faith, a nun who isn’t quite sure what she is doing and a bishop who wan’t to modernise this parish.

This novel is about the changing of times, faith and human nature. As a new arrival, Fludd challenges the existing community, sowing new thoughts and ideas. And then there are the small miracles that occur in his presence.

However despite all this, I couldn’t enjoy the climax the book finished at. It could so easily have gone somewhere else in those last couple of chapters, and made a larger point. Of course it is possible that the whole point was the individuality of the divine, and that deeper meaning needs another reading to solidify.

Kindertransport at Chorley Little Theatre

Play number four of our 2016/17 season ticket was Kindertransport, this year’s serious drama. It was indeed very serious, an intense play with very few light moments. Of course this is to be expected from the subject matter, and certainly we weren’t expecting a light-hearted comedy.

We live through Eva’s trauma and recovery, and how that effected herself and her relationships within her family. There were so many points where I had tears rolling down my face, as recovery seemed impossible. The actors were very powerful, in what must have been an emotionally tiring play.

In terms of angles on the impact of war theme, this stood in sharp contrast to Pals, which had been a story about men’s friendships, as instead a story about women’s family bonds. My only sorrow is that the playwright ended it where she did. It could easily have turned more towards a reconciled note at the end, although of course that would lessen the impact.

My favourite for World Book Day

This blog usually covers the new things I read, my library picks and theatre I go to see. But on World Book Day I want to tell you about my favourite books, Tamora Pierce’s Tortall series.Lioness Rampart Shield

“Why do boys say someone acts like a girl as if it were an insult?”

Since being a teenage I have loved fantasy novels, starting as we all did, with Harry Potter. But it was Pierce’s Alanna that changed my world. It didn’t pretend to happen in the real world, but set aside its own world, where magic could be real. And even better than that, here was a girl who wanted to choose her own path, and is prepared to break rules to get there.

There was even just enough light romance for a middle-teenager.

“Lord Raoul asked me to tell you that if you get yourself killed, he will never speak to you again.”

Then there were the Protector of the Small books, better again as Kel is the determined working one. Taking on the same world, but as herself, not disguised as a boy. She takes on bullies, struggles to make friends and to learn how to survive on her own terms.

This is the best series I own, and well into adulthood I am still rereading regularly. Reading again with Mark Reads was one of my most fun online time.

Messy – Tim Harford

As one of the BBC’s top statistics correspondents, Harford is not the person I would expet to write a book subtitled “How to be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World”.  But this is not a book on tidying, but on how the human brain requires opportunity to be creative, new constraints to seek new solutions and move outside our comfort zones.

Now in the spirit of “forced improvisation”, a quote from a page picked at random:

As Bezos [of Amazon] liked to say during the crunches of 1998 and 1999, ‘If you are planning more than twenty minutes ahead in this environment, you are wasting your time.’ He was a man in a hurry. No wonder he created such an almighty mess.

This was from a chapter titled “Winning” and describes how some successful military and business tactics involve making “good enough” decisions so fast that your opponents are unable to react. This is also descibed as Trump’s tactic as getting inside his opponents’ OODA loop such that they are incapable of reacting before he has moved onto his next tactic.

Overall this is a fascinating look at how to keep yourself on your toes, and the benefits that can come from doing so. I’m still going to keep my tidy desk though!

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

The premise of this book, that Death is telling a story is often forgotten throughout this book, only reaching in when Death touches Liesel’s life directly. Otherwise we see the world as a generic third-party narrator, following Liesel directly.

But it is a compelling tale, speaking of bravery, learning and compassion in a small town during the rise of Nazi Germany. Leisel relearns love and friendship in her foster home, as well as poverty and cruelty. And throughout the common theme is the stealing of books, and what that give to her.

Whilst the cover and the description did not make me pick this up with any degree of urgency, once I was a chapter in I needed to keep reading to find out Liesel’s fate.

A Whole Life – Robert Seethaler

This has been on the bookshelf for ages – it was actually chosen by my son to give to my husband for Christmas. But it looked interesting so once he’d read it it was snagged into my “to read” pile. Not a compelling plot, but a slow reflection on life and the changes that took place through the twentieth century.

I read this whilst on a ski holiday in the Alps, drinking in the worms-eye view on the sweeping change that came with the development of cable cars and ski holidays, and ultimately year-round tourism. Plus the depth of grief, along with the sense of space in the mountains, which drive the development of Egger’s character.

I have ordered this in the original German to read in that as well.

Funny Girl – Manchester Palace Theatre

Don’t tell me not to live
Just sit and Putter

Sheridan Smith’s interpretation of Fanny Brice’s rise from Brooklyn musical halls sparkles with energy. She easily handles the big numbers in this show, as well as the emotional depth of how she handles her personal life.

Life’s candy and the sun’s
A ball of butter

But then it is a piece from its own time, with some rather dated views on the roles of women and men within relationships, which are held up to be right and proper. But at least we establish that Fanny won’t let anyone rain on her parade.

Don’t bring around a cloud
To rain on my parade

I couldn’t work out how the set was moving until I saw this video (with the Orchestral Overture) of how it was built. Fascinating to watch for someone like me who belongs firmly in the audience.