Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Queen of the Tambourine

Queen of the Tambourine is the first novel I've read by Jane Gardam and though I'm impressed by her style and her writing, I wouldn't exactly call this an enjoyable read.

Winner of the Whitbread award for 1991, the book consists of letters written by Eliza Peabody, a housewife in her fifties to her neighbor Joan who has recently abandoned her family to go on a worldwide adventure. Eliza imagines herself to be a close friend of Joan though actually they never even spoke to one another when they were neighbors. Of course Eliza never gets any replies to her letters but  there are a few oddball characters who visit her bearing exotic gifts from Joan. Gardam's writing has shades of Barbara Pym but she's definitely darker and more wicked. Eliza, funnily enough reminded me so much of Mrs.Bucket from that old British series, Keeping up Appearances. Just a nosy and annoying neighbor who everyone secretly dislikes.

I enjoyed the letters but they started to increase in length till they didn't really seem like letters anymore but became more of a narrative. Did Gardam lose the plot for a while there? We do start to see that nothing is quite what it seems. Does this Joan really exist? Why did Eliza's husband leave her? Why do people in her neighborhood avoid her or treat her very delicately? Is she mad?

The book is filled with riddles but there are solutions in the end. Though I enjoyed her writing and I intend to read her other books, this probably shouldn't have been my first experience with Jane Gardam .I thought the novel started out well but became a bit muddled and flawed half way through. I've heard her novel Old Filth is brilliant though so that's my next Gardam read.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday - Solar

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine.

I'm waiting for Solar by Ian McEwan.
Release Date: 18 March 2010 (UK) and 30 March 2010 (US)

From Amazon:
Michael Beard is a Nobel prize–winning physicist whose best work is behind him. Trading on his reputation, he speaks for enormous fees, lends his name to the letterheads of renowned scientific institutions, and half-heartedly heads a government-backed initiative tackling global warming. While he coasts along in his professional life, Michael’s personal life is another matter entirely. His fifth marriage is crumbling under the weight of his infidelities. But this time the tables are turned: His wife is having an affair, and Michael realizes he is still in love with her.

When Michael’s personal and professional lives begin to intersect in unexpected ways, an opportunity presents itself in the guise of an invitation to travel to New Mexico. Here is a chance for him to extricate himself from his marital problems, reinvigorate his career, and very possibly save the world from environmental disaster. Can a man who has made a mess of his life clean up the messes of humanity? A complex novel that brilliantly traces the arc of one man’s ambitions and self-deceptions, Solar is a startling, witty, and stylish new work from one of the world’s great writers.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading .

Quote two sentences from the book you're currently reading:

A newspaper man I know, who was stationed in London during the war, says tourists go to England with preconceived notions, so they always find exactly what they go looking for. I told him I'd go looking for the England of English literature, and he said: "Then it's there."

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff  (page 13)

Monday, January 25, 2010


Once upon a time, about ten or more years ago, Paul Auster was one of my favourite authors. I eagerly devoured all his books that I could get my hands on. But during the last few years I've been sorely let down with his newer novels, each one more disappointing than the last till I finally stopped reading his books altogether. However, when I recently read the description for his latest, Invisible, I was interested to give it a shot. It sounded like a classic Auster novel but with a new twist. I thought maybe, just maybe, he was back in form.

Invisible is set in New York City in 1967. Twenty-year-old Adam Walker, a student at Columbia University meets a charming yet dangerous Frenchman, Rudolf Born and his quiet and attractive girlfriend, Margot. Walker is soon caught in their sinister web leading to an act of violence that changes his life forever. Doesn't it sound like vintage Auster? I was intrigued and it does deal with the themes Auster constantly explores in all his books namely coincidence, the role of chance in our lives, identity and memory.

It's not a bad book but because I'm familiar with his work, I would say this isn't one of his best. Don't get me wrong, I still admire him and think he's one of the best contemporary American authors. Funnily enough he's more known in Europe than in his native country. They love him in Spain where he's been awarded the highest award for literature, the Prince of Asturias Prize in 2006. His daughter Sophie Auster is a famous singer in France and is now the model for the Spanish fashion label Mango. In press releases and magazine articles, they never fail to mention that she's Paul Auster's daughter. I do think he doesn't get the recognition he deserves in the United States.

The writer Siri Hustveldt (Auster's wife) with daughter Sophie and Paul.

I think about the past, the old days, that long-ago year(1967) when so much happened to me, happened in me and around me, the unexpected turns and discoveries of that year, the madness of that year, which pushed me toward the life i wound up living, both for good and bad.   (page 87)

I loved delving back into Auster's writing style which is really one of a kind. So unique and pitch-perfect that it's almost like music, it just pulls you in. I'm sure if this was my first Auster I would have probably been quite impressed. It's very obvious that he has a brilliant mind. Like all his protagonists, Auster is an intellectual and he's very cultured. He is knowledgeable about different subject matters such as politics, film, poetry, art, books and languages. He'd make a wonderful dinner guest. But I digress....Invisible had some disturbing elements. Incest plays a big part in the book and in fact there are graphic sex scenes between Walker and his sister. I thought it was unnecessary to the main story and actually very distasteful. I'm not really sure why Auster put that in. In spite of that, the book was still very readable and engaging. I think it's probably his best work in years. He's definitely back in form. However, I still wouldn't recommend this book if you're an Auster novice. Try Leviathan (my favourite) or The New York Trilogy first.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Budding Blyton Fan

The other day on a whim I pulled out the Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton from my bookshelf and read a few chapters to my four-year-old son. I wasn't sure he was ready for a chapter book but I was surprised to see his reaction. He loved it and he totally got it! (Believe me, I quizzed him after every chapter) He always begs for one chapter more and so between his dad and me we've gone through eight chapters in the last few days. He hides behind the pillows during the more exciting parts and screams out instructions to the kids. "Don't do it! Don't do won't work," he yelled when the children in the book were about to try a potion to make brooms fly. He laughs at the funny situations and longs to eat a pop cake or a google bun which (you'll love this) is a bun with a large raisin in the middle that's filled with sherbet. Yum! It's fun to see this budding Blyton fan enjoying this wonderful book. I'm more amazed than ever at Enid Blyton's power to weave a magical spell on children.

The Faraway Tree is the sequel to the Enchanted Wood. However, it obviously doesn't matter which one you read first. Joe, Beth and Frannie and their cousin Rick climb up the Faraway Tree and up to the clouds where a different land appears each day. Among them, the land of topsy-turvy, the land of spells and the land of presents. The children get down using the slippery-slip, a slide found inside the trunk of the tree. The characters who live there are Moon-Face, Saucepan Man and Silky the Fairy. It's quite easy for a child to picture these hilarious cast and there are a few illustrations in the book to fuel their imagination. I've caught my son a few times curled up on the couch staring at the cover and gently turning each page. He can't read yet but he's already a bookworm.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Inn at Lake Devine

Elinor Lipman is a fabulous find! I first heard about her and her book, The Inn at Lake Devine over at  My Porch . Thomas listed it as one of his ten best books of the year and I was intrigued. It sounded like the perfect read for the holidays. I'm so glad I picked it up as it did turn out to be a delightful, hilarious and enjoyable book.

It's 1962 and the Marx family are keen to spend a holiday in Vermont. They write an inquiry letter to the Inn at Lake Devine and get a response that ends with "our guests who feel most comfortable here and return year after year are Gentiles." So begins, 12 year-old Natalie's life-long obsession with the Inn at Lake Devine which starts off with a few scathing yet funny anonymous letters and phone calls to Mrs.Berry, the inn keeper. A few years later she manages to wriggle an invitation to the inn from a summer camp friend, Robin Fife. A hilarious stay wtih the Fifes follows and ten years later she travels back to the inn for Robin's wedding. Anyway, I don't want to give too much of the plot away but suffice it to say that this was a truly delicious and easy read. Lipman does an excellent job of tackling the subject of anti-semitism in such a light-hearted and stylish way.  She's been described as the modern-day Jane Austen but I think she's more like the modern-day Dorothy Whipple or Barbara Pym. She writes effortlessly and wonderfully. I'll definitely be picking up more of her novels. She's the type of writer I'll just purchase without even looking at the blurb at the back of the book. There's no need to because based on this book alone and her writing style I'm sure all her books are fun, fun, fun!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Captivated Review and Giveaway Winner

Captivated, J.M. Barrie, Daphne du Maurier and the Dark Side of Neverland by Piers Dudgeon is a non-fiction book about the bizarre relationship of J.M. Barrie, the writer of Peter Pan, and the du Maurier family. This book turned out to be a rather captivating read. I first read about this book in the New York Times and then I saw a review for it over at Tessa Just Read . In the US, the book is titled Neverland, J.M. Barrie, the du Mauriers and the Dark Side of Peter Pan.

Being a Daphne du Maurier fan, I was intrigued to learn that she had placed a moratorium on her adolescent diaries. They can only be opened in 2039, fifty years after her death. The diaries have been described as "dangerous, indiscreet and stupid." But why the secrecy? What could be written in her diaries that so compelled her to add this restriction in her will? Piers Dudgeon was driven to learn more.

Dudgeon, who met Daphne shortly before her death, has done excellent research and shows several pieces of evidence such as letters, excerpts from books and interviews with family members that lead readers to believe that Barrie was a predator who deliberately sought the du Mauriers.  Barrie first befriended the family when he manipulated his way into their homes by meeting the Llewelyn-Davies sons (Daphne's first cousins) at the nearby park and being a sort of uncle/father figure to them. He was fascinated by their grandfather, Kicky, the writer of the hypnotic bestseller, Trilby. Kicky dabbled in hypnotism which Barrie was very interested in. The Llewelyn-Davies sons were the inspiration for Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. Dudgeon implies that though he didn't abuse the boys sexually, he seems to have abused their minds. Two of the lost boys committed suicide and Daphne and others suffered from several nervous breakdowns throughout their lives.

I found the book extremely interesting and I kept wanting to know more. Throughout the book I felt a growing sense of unease like I was about to uncover something very creepy and unpleasant. However, though Captivated reveals an interesting family history and a wealth of secrets, Dudgeon doesn't really answer all the questions. He does paint a picture of a psychopath/predator who deliberately planned his way into the Llewelyn- Davies household and then ruthlessly altered their mother's will to place him as their guardian after her death. But how he influenced their imagination and how he hypnotized them and ensnared them in a spell for the rest of their lives is actually not very clear at all.

There are most assuredly skeletons in the family closets of  Barrie and the du Mauriers but the reader is left to speculate on all the missing pieces. It seems like all the answers won't really be revealed until we unlock Daphne's diaries in 2039. However, this book has compelled me to read more of Daphne's books this year and to find a good biography of her fascinating life.

And the winner of the Captivated giveaway is:

Verity at Verity's Virago Venture   and The B Files

Congratulations Verity! Please send me an email with your address so I can send the book soon.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Greengage Summer Reviews

Just a quick post to list down all the links of those who managed to join the Greengage Summer group read. Thanks again to all those who joined and if you weren't able to take part, check out the reviews below. Everyone thought it was a lovely book. Here's the list of bloggers who reviewed it.

A Work in Progress

The Misadventures of Moppet


My review

Please also check out the comments page below my review for interesting opinions from other readers.

Friday, January 8, 2010

An Award and a Giveaway!

Kals from  At Pemberley  has given me One Lovely Blog Award. Thank you so much Kals!

Here's a chance to win my very first giveaway. I've accumulated a number of books while in Holland so I'm not keen to bring home the ones I've already read. Up for grabs is Captivated, J.M. Barrie, Daphne du Maurier and the Dark Side of Neverland by Piers Dudgeon. I'll be posting a review for this soon. It's a paperback copy and very gently read and I so enjoyed it that I want to pass it on to another Daphne du Maurier fan anywhere in the world. To join in, please leave a comment saying what your favourite Daphne du Maurier book is and why. First time commenters welcome too. I'll randomly choose a winner on Wednesday morning, 9am, continental European time. Good luck!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Winter Scenes

We are in Holland at the moment visiting my husband's family. They're having a beautiful winter. I thought I'd share some photos. With this scenery you simply can't go wrong with any photograph. Aren't these pictures just breathtaking?

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Greengage Summer

The greengages had a pale-blue bloom, especially in the shade, but in the sun the flesh showed amber through the clear-green skin; if it were cracked the juice was doubly warm and sweet. Coming from the streets and small front gardens of Southstone, we had not been let loose in an orchard before, it was no wonder we ate too much. 
'Summer sickness,' said Mademoiselle Zizi.
'Indigestion,' said Madame Corbet.
I do not know which it was, but ever afterwards, in our family, we called that the greengage summer.

I don't know how many of you managed to join the group read of the Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden because it's not exactly easy to find copies. Please let me know if you've reviewed it and I'll link to your blog or to your web page. I found my pristine 1959 hardbound copy at a secondhand bookstore. I was actually hunting down another Godden novel, In this House of Brede. Instead, I found the Greengage Summer which turned out to be a fabulous find. 

The story is set in a French countryside pension, where five young children are left alone after their mother is suddenly taken ill. For the first time in their young lives, they are absolutely free to run around and do exactly what they please and they revel in it. There's something to be said about idle childhood summers. Somehow they always turn out to be the most memorable, don't you agree? The children are befriended by a young Englishman called Eliott who appears to be romantically linked to Madmoiselle Zizi, the proprietor of the pension. What follows is a haunting summer where the children suddenly come of age in different ways. The story is told from the point of view of the second oldest child, thirteen-year-old Cecil who narrates her impressions about that unforgettable time. She also observes the growing attraction between her beautiful sixteen-year-old sister, Joss, and Eliott, which will ultimately lead to tragedy. 

On and off, all that hot French August, we made ourselves ill from eating the greengages. Joss and I felt guilty; we were still at the age when we thought being greedy was a childish fault, and this gave our guilt a tinge of hopelessness because, up to then, we had believed that as we grew older our faults would disappear, and none of them did.

This is a book that grows on you. Whenever I read something about Godden, images from the book come back to me. Flashes of that summer, lying on the grass eating the greengages, having the first taste of champagne and exploring the countryside. I think it's memorable because Godden's writing is very visual and her descriptions intoxicating. Cecil's impressions about her surroundings, her family and the people at the hotel are  realistic and innocent yet at the same time they show shades of growing maturity. Because she is still a child on the brink of adulthood, she doesn't notice everything. As an adult reader you somehow see what's under the surface. This is a novel about the thoughts and views of a child in an adult world and the misunderstandings that result from it.

I thought the Greengage Summer was a sensitive and bittersweet coming-of-age novel. It's a book I'll definitely return to from time to time. Did you manage to join the group read? I look forward to reading your reviews.

Bookheaper co-hosted the group read. You can check out her review here.
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