Catching Up

I wonder how long other bloggers leave it before reviewing a book they have read? There is definitely an optimum time for me, which is no more than a couple of days. Once the critical period has passed, my enthusiasm for a lengthy review falters, and there really has to be something I want to say if I still manage to write about a book several weeks after I’ve finished it. But on the other hand, I hate good novels to fall by the blogging wayside because of my own laziness. About ten days ago I finished two novels in quick succession and I enjoyed them both; in the spirit of catching up I thought I’d post a couple of brief reviews.

The first was Between Each Breath by Adam Thorpe. He is a British author who is often placed in the same kind of category as William Boyd, but Boyd has become a far better known name. That’s not fair because the one thing I really learned during the course of this novel is that Thorpe is an extraordinarily gifted writer. He sticks in my mind because of an incident that occurred years ago when I was working in the bookshop. He had just published his first novel, Ulverton, to huge critical acclaim. I was on the till when a customer, an elderly-ish lady, came up to me and slapped a copy of the book down on the counter between us. ‘That’s my son-in-law who wrote that!’ she declared triumphantly. ‘You must be very proud,’ I returned, in the conventional manner. I couldn’t help but wonder how many bookshops she had gone into and how many copies of the novel she had purchased, enjoying her reflected glory. I have a copy of Ulverton and must read it. It is the story of a village over 500 years in time, each chapter based in a different historical era and each written in a different narrative style, including an exchange of letters, a diary entry, a stream-of-consciousness monologue and a film script.

Anyhoo, Between Each Breath is a far more conventional novel altogether. It’s the story of contemporary composer, Jack Middleton, who goes to Estonia to seek inspiration for a piece of music he is writing and falls unexpectedly into an affair with a waitress he meets there. It’s a holiday romance, ending to Jack’s mind when he returns home to his rich and pregnant wife, Milly. But disaster strikes and Jack’s past comes back to haunt him in destructive ways. I can’t say much about the plot of this book without giving away spoilers. Suffice to say, the reader can see what’s coming from early on, but that doesn’t mean I should tell you. The strength of the novel is in the writing, which is outstanding, despite a little Nick Hornby-esque blokishness in Jack’s narrative that I could personally have lived without. What made me slightly uneasy was the way that Jack’s work as a composer and Milly’s as an expert on green living were somehow equated and placed high and dry above the run of everyday concerns. They both seemed somehow outdated or irrelevant, passionate about causes that verged upon irrelevance in modern life. I guess novels that have an element of social commentary are always struggling not to put across mixed messages. Still, I will read Adam Thorpe again and am keen to get hold of his novel The Rules of Perspective, which is set in the Second World War and brings together a young GI in love with a piece of art and four Germans huddled in a museum basement during an Allied bombing attack. I’d like to see him let loose on some richer material.

The other novel I read was Barbara Vine’s A Dark-Adapted Eye. This is again a story that I can tell you very little about, for fear of spoiling the tension. No, I’ve been thinking about it for five minutes now and I can’t even begin to explain what happens in this novel. But it is extremely good and I will certainly be reading her again. It’s a curious thing but I never got on with the Ruth Rendell novels; there was something queasy and unsatisfying about Inspector Wexford. But Barbara Vine has a classy spareness to her writing, and an unerring instinct for the place where festering emotions turn pathological. It’s also a wonderful book for me being all about mothers and children, in dark, twisted and disturbing ways. I had hoped to bring you news today about my motherhood project. I’ve been writing for a while now and had found on line a provider of writing coaches who will work one-to-one in correspondence. Having totted up the money I’d earned this term I thought I could afford to try a ten-week course and duly signed up. However, nothing in this writing venture seems to go straightforwardly at the moment and the 48-hour response window elapsed with perfect air silence being maintained. No writing coach got in touch with me. I contacted the writing site again to check I’d filled the forms in right, and was assured that I had; they were just waiting to hear back from the tutor. And so I’ve reached the end of the week and still I’ve heard nothing. What can be going on? Naturally, I’m assuming that the tutor has read my application and loathed the sound of me and is refusing to comply. Sometimes I despair; still, looking on the bright side I used my credit card and can easily get my money back if this falls through. Hey ho, I do have some more good reading ahead. I’ve become interested in Hungarian authors recently in translation and picked up a cheap copy of Peter Esterhazy’s Celestial Harmonies (it’s enormous) to add to Magda Szabo’s The Door and Antal Szerb’s Journey into Moonlight. But this weekend I’m intending to finish The Women’s Room and Gertrude Stein’s Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. I’ll be reviewing them both, hopefully within a few days of reading the closing pages when inspiration is still fresh.

Update:  Well, would you believe it. At 9.30 on Friday evening, when I certainly was not expecting to get an email,  I heard from the writing course people to say they had assigned me a tutor. I’ve looked her up online and like her work very much, so yay! I’m not expecting to begin work before April so this is a story I’ll return to later on.


15 thoughts on “Catching Up

  1. I’ve never heard of Adam Thorpe, but will be looking now. I’m also sure the tutor is not put off by your writing. Look on the bright side, maybe he’s gone on a drinking binge and hasn’t quite gotten sober yet. 🙂

  2. It would be ironic if your coach was having mother issues.

    Though not a blogger, the longest I’ve gone between reading a book and reviewing it is two and a half months. Thankfully, I make notes, and they usually remind me of things I wanted to say. Nevertheless, I don’t like that much time elapsing between setting the book down and setting some words down. I think a week is ideal.

  3. I do love Barbara Vine stuff – it’s great. And I’m sure you’re wrong about the tutor – things take an age to come back in the educational field, as we know!

    Hugs galore


  4. I almost always have to write my reviews within a day or two of finishing a book. Otherwise, I’m too wrapped up in my next read to get my mind back into the book I’m reviewing.

    And I’m with you on preferring the Barbara Vine books to the Rendells. I have found, though, that the Rendell books that do not involve Inspector Wexford are quite satisfying.

  5. I have the same problem with my reviews.

    Barbara Vine is a favorite of mine and A Dark Adapted Eye is one of my favorites. My all time favorite, though, is Asta’s Book (in the UK) Anna’s Book (in the US).

  6. This is why I’m not an official “book blogger.” I’d be all compulsive about reviewing (I’m bad enough when I get behind in updating and I am woefully behind in that right now). Much better to pretend my blog is not about books, and that I just happen, occasionally, to read something good and mention it in a post or 2 (but who am I really fooling, huh?). Barbara Vine has been recommended to me for years. Guess it’s about time I acted on all those recommendations, no?

  7. I think I am going to have to look for Adam Thorpe’s Ulverton–that sounds great–I love the idea of it being written from various eras. The Rules of Perspective sounds good as well. I love bookstore stories! I once met Barry Manilow when I was working at my bookstore–now That was a real thrill! 🙂 And glad to hear your writing coach has contacted you–hopefully it will be helpful with good feedback. I think Jacqueline Winspear used to do that or something similar. And I’m so glad you liked the Vine book. It is hard writing about a psychological thriller without giving things away. Her Vine books are wonderful. I’ve read some of her Rendell novels, which are pretty good, but have as yet to try any Wexfords.

  8. This is the second time I have come across Barbara Vine in as many days. I’m always looking for authors and books to read. I do a lot of reading, but only did the “book list” thing for one year. It started to be too much work.

    It is a good idea to write a review of a book once in a while, though. It changes the way you read them. And it is good mental exercise.

  9. Barbara Vine’s A Fatal Inversion is masterly – as a gripping page-turner with great psychological insights, no praise too high.

    Good news about the writing course!

  10. Lilian – I’m not sure what delayed the resolution, but I’m sure your explanation is closest to the truth! 🙂

    Grad – Adam Thorpe is good, really good. I’m not sure I like the idea of an alcoholic writing coach, but then again, it might prove a good source of anecdotes for this blog! 😉

    Bluestocking – having a cut-off point is a very good idea.

    Anne – Barbara Vine is completely fab and I am now an official fan. And you’re so right about education and its general slowness! Big hugs back to you – you made me feel better.

    Teresa – I agree that a couple of days is indeed optimal. I hadn’t thought of Ruth Rendell books without Wexford, but that’s a very good idea.

    Tara – it’s nice not to be alone! 🙂 Now that comment makes me very happy as the other Vine I possess on my shelves is Asta’s Book. I’ll look forward to that.

    Emily – oohhh don’t talk to me about goodreads – I am way, way behind too! But I’m all for creating a little wriggle room in life, generally. I do think you’d really like Barbara Vine – she has a very haunted quality that I think you might enjoy.

    Danielle – I will dig it out, too. Barry Manilow is a really good bookstore tale! What did he buy? I’d love to know. I’m really hoping the writing coach will be fun. I’ve never done anything like this before and I’ve got my fingers crossed it will be a little adventure for me. And Barbara Vine is just wonderful. I’ll definitely be reading more.

    Healingmagichands – do try Barbara Vine. There are very few authors who seem to appeal to most people, but she may be one of them. I find if I don’t write about a book then I can forget it very quickly. But then again if I had a more eventful life, I might write more about that! 🙂

    Deborah – I will certainly seek out A Fatal Inversion. And thank you – I’ll let you know how it goes. I’ve never tried anything like this before and I’m hoping it will be fun.

    Squirrel – I loved your post; it was just wonderful. It’s still me up there, only I have my good days and my bad days. 😉

  11. Lots of good news here — I’m glad the tutor came through (and I hope that works well!), and I’m also glad to hear you enjoyed Barbara Vine so much. I’ve got one of her books on my shelves that I’m looking forward to reading (No Night is Too Long). Also, Ulverton sounds very good — I like the idea of mixing genres and of telling the story of a village over such a long period of time.

  12. I have never heard fo Adam Thorpe before but you have my curiosity going. Ulverton sounds especially interesting even though it isn’t even the book you reviewed! Glad the tutor came through. I hope it turns out to be a useful and productive exchange!

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