Weekly Fragments ~ January 15th

37788084343093605_97fq9uva_fSo, here we are again, back from the hospital and slowly beginning to return to what passes for normal in this household.  I shall be in and out attending clinics for the foreseeable future but not, I hope, having any further procedures.  I have no intention of regaling you with all the indignities of the previous week but feel I must share, if only to gain sympathy points, the ultimate in NHS fashion accessories this year, namely the outsize paper trousers with a flap in the back.  Clearly designed for someone coming in at a UK size 24 (I am a UK 8) keeping them up was a major challenge.  Oh, and did I mention they were sage green.  I feel safe in predicting that these are not going to catch on as the must have fashion item for summer 2014.

Being flooded with just about every drug going doesn’t leave you in the best frame of mind for tackling anything too challenging when it comes to reading.  In fact there were days when the best I could manage was to raid The Bears CD collection and let Stephen Fry read to me from the Harry Potter books.  As I would be perfectly happy listening to Mr Fry read the London Telephone Directory this wasn’t too much of a hardship but I was still glad when I could pick up a real book and read for myself again.  Nevertheless, I have to admit to having pretty much stuck to detective fiction for the last week with the exception of the book I need for tonight’s book group meeting, Sathnam Sanghera’s memoir of growing up in the TopknotWolverhampton Sikh community, The Boy with the Topknot.  I have been both fascinated and extremely moved by Sanghera’s story.  I taught many children from backgrounds similar to his in nearby Birmingham and I am appalled at just how ignorant I was about the difficulties faced by the women in particular as they tried to make a home for their families in a culture so completely alien to anything they had known before.  However, Sanghera’s family suffered even more than most because both his father and his eldest sister suffered from schizophrenia.  I seem to remember Dirk Bogarde in one of his autobiographies remarking how important it was that you should always be ill in your own language.  Imagine not merely being ill but being mentally ill and not having the words to describe what you are going through.  It simply doesn’t bear thinking about.  The group member whose selection this is used to be a GP in the next-door authority to Wolverhampton and I am going to be really interested to hear her speak about why she chose the book and how it relates to the experiences she had during her time in practice.

n390265Apart from that, as I say, I spent most of last week back in the world of crime fiction.  Having very much enjoyed Claire McGowan’s most recent novel, The Lost, I went back and read her first book, The Fall.  Unlike The Lost which is set in McGowan’s Irish homeland, the earlier novel is set in and around London and explores the universal hatred for anyone in the banking community after the crash of 2007.  When Charlotte’s fiancé, Dan, is accused of murder the whole world is quick to convict him mainly on the grounds that if he is a banker he must be corrupt.  The fact that there is evidence that suggests this isn’t the case is easily pushed to one side.  The book is a chilling exploration of how little attention is often paid to facts when the alternative is a good story and for a first novel I thought it very good indeed.  I said when I read The Lost that in Forensic Psychologist, Paula McGuire, the author might have discovered a character on which she could build a series and I’ve just noticed that she has a second book about McGuire coming out in April.  As I thought she captured the Irish setting extremely well, I’m looking forward to this and McGowan has gone onto my list of authors whose works I want to read as soon as they are available.

n438880That list is growing further, I’m afraid, following the discovery of another Irish crime writer in the person of Brian McGilloway, whose book Hurt has also been amongst my reading over the past few days.  This, his most recent novel, is set in and around Derry and is the second in a series about DS Lucy Black, a member of the PSNI’s Public Protection Unit.  Working mainly with children in care who have gone missing, Lucy already has a back story that I am going to have to explore because it is clear that her first case featured in Little Girl Lost is one that is going to haunt her throughout her subsequent career.  Like McGowan, McGilloway depicts the tensions that still run deep in the Irish community extremely well.  What is more, unsurprisingly, he writes beautifully. I say unsurprisingly because a bit of digging unearthed the fact that he is currently Head of English at Derry’s St Columb’s College.  This may not mean much to you but I have a friend, now a leading Old Testament scholar, who was at St Columb’s, as were his three brothers, the eldest of whom was in the same class as Seamus Heaney.  You don’t get to be Head of English in Seamus Heaney’s old school without being able to write well.     In addition to the Lucy Black series, the writer also has five books in a series set in the borderlands between Northern Ireland and the Republic.  If I do have to go back into hospital any time soon I have my reading already sorted.

But, now that my mind is clearing, I do want to turn my attention to something with a little more bite to it.  I’ve just about finished The Goldfinch and will write about that in more detail soon.  My next book group read will be Penelope Fitzgerald’s Offshore and if I have time I would like to look as well at the collection of her letters that has been sitting on my shelf for far too long.  Eventually I want to read the new biography however I’ll have to wait until it’s available in paperback, I’m afraid.  And, I also have the latest offering from Heywood Hill, but that is going to have a post of its own.  Suffice it to say that Lisa has come up trumps again.

21 thoughts on “Weekly Fragments ~ January 15th

  1. Welcome back, Alex. I’ve only been a regular visitor to your blog for a few months but I’ve missed you. I do hope that life will become a little easier, more comfortable, and chicer (is that a word?), for you. Eagerly anticipating the unveiling of the next Heywood Hill package.

  2. Dear Alex, happy new year to you and many apologies for failing to visit sooner… I’m sorry that you’ve been in hospital and subjected to horrible trousers too! I hope you’re feeling better now.

    The importance of being ill in your own language – that is so very, very true. So difficult to get the right word, the right nuance, so easy to just give up and agree with whatever the doctor says.

    • Thanks Helen, and a very Happy New Year to you as well. I am having second thoughts about the trousers. Perhaps I should embrace them and set up a cottage industry. Who knows they might become what every fashionista is desperate to be seen wearing this summer. They would certainly accommodate any cooling breezes that happened to be around in the unlikely circumstance that we should have a heat wave.

  3. Welcome back from me as well! I recently added my first Penelope Fitzgerald book to the reading stacks – inspired by the many blog reviews I’ve come across. I don’t know how I missed her books before. And I’ll look forward to hearing about your book parcel.

    • If I can find the time, Lisa, I want to make this the year when I explore all of Fitzgerald’s work. The only one I’ve read so far, also for a book group, is ‘The Bookshop’ but having heard parts of the biography serialised on the radio I really feel I want to know more about her both as an individual and as a writer.

  4. Dear Alex, I hope you’re feeling recovered and nice to see you back. At least listening to Stephen Fry reading the Harry Potter series sounds like a nice way to while away a few hours! Intrigued to find out what your next Heywood Hill package is!

    • Thanks Jenny. We bought the full set when swine flu was doing the rounds and there seemed to be the possibility that I might need a few days worth of listening material should I be unlucky enough to catch it. Of course, it wasn’t anywhere near as virulent as everyone was anticipating and I remained flu free, nevertheless, I’ve never regretted buying them.

  5. I am glad to hear you are recovering! I hope you continue on the mend. I am looking forward to your review of The Goldfinch. I have recently come across some dissatisfied blogger reviews of it to make me wonder if it is good or if it is all hype. I am relying on you to set me straight :)

    • I have had so many different responses to The Goldfinch, Stefanie, that I am going to be hard put to sort out precisely what I think. Every hundred pages or so I’ve found myself revising my opinion and as I reach the last ten or so I almost want to go back and read it again with hindsight to try and formulate a definitive position. However, at almost 800 pages all told I can’t actually see myself doing that.

  6. Of all the indignities of hospital, paper trousers sound like the last straw! I’m so glad you are feeling a bit more human and I send huge sympathy and many hugs for the past couple of weeks. Thank goodness for Stephen Fry, eh? On bookish matters, I’ve heard Claire McGowan’s name around the blogosphere before, and always attached to glowing reviews. As you know, I’m fond of crime too and am making a note to try her out. Hope you have a really interesting book group discussion too – sounds like you’re all set for one!

    • Thanks Litlove, I’m looking forward to getting out as I’ve been pretty much confined to the house for the last week. I think McGowan is going to be very good. I wouldn’t say these early novels are as outstanding as those three stand-alones that S J Bolton wrote before embarking on her Lacey Flint series, but then I think she is exceptional. Nevertheless, there is growing promise from book to book and that is what you should really look for, I think. My only concern is whether or not she will be tempted to mine the same ground too often with a Northern Ireland setting. There is material there for as many novels as she wishes to write but so much of it will be centred in the same set of emotions and that might be difficult to escape from.

    • Thanks Liz. I did think I should purloin a pair of said trousers and see what sort of comments they might raise in Broad Street on a Friday evening, but I’m afraid my courage gave out.

  7. Welcome home and wishing you a speedy sans culottes recovery. Paper trousers might well be the next fashion statement – they surely can’t look worse than some of the stuff paraded in Milan Fashion Week these last few days. I hope The Bears are doing their bit to keep your spirits up beyond lending you their Potter stories. Lively’s Offshore didn’t sparkle for me but I have two others of hers to read so my view on her may change.

    • Thanks Karen and yes I do know what you mean about the latest catwalk offerings. Do you ever get the urge to break into the Danny Kaye song about the King’s New Clothes, I know I do. The only Fitzgerald I’ve read so far is ‘The Bookstore’, but I did enjoy that even if it is rather pessimistic about the future of the independent.

  8. Looking forward to hearing what you think about The Goldfinch. I suspect the true horror of paper trousers is that they would be too small for someone like me, thus horrifying each end of the women’s size spectrum.

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