So, 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 Wolverhampton 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.
Apart 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.
That 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.