A Photo, Two Links and a Mystery

Well this must be a first: I don’t think I’ve ever posted a proper photo of myself on this site and I wouldn’t break the routine now if it weren’t in honor of a very special event. Last week, the editors of Shiny New Books all met up in Piccadilly, London, for tea and, of course, book shopping (just on the wild offchance you might be curious, the books I bought were: Fin & Lady by Cathleen Shine, The Carriage House by Louisa Hall and The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer). Here we are, having more or less talked ourselves to a standstill.

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Harriet, Annabel, Me and Simon


We’re now in the thick of reading and reviewing for our next full edition, which will be out at the start of July. But before then, we’ll be updating our spring magazine with a few more reviews and features – our newsletter will contain the full details. I’ve been busy piecing together the life of crime fiction writer, Celia Fremlin, whose novels have recently been re-issued by Faber & Faber. It’s been rather exciting as no biography of her exists, so I’ve been trawling the web and the libraries for information, and swapping opinions with Harriet, who’s reviewing the books. Hitchcock adapted Fremlin’s first novel, The Hours Before Dawn, for one of his television programs, and you can still watch it online. I can see exactly why her stories appealed to him – domestic settings, creeping menace, women in peril, psychological terror. You can read all about it in May.

On that note, of really good books I’ve read for SNB, I thought I might point you in the direction of a couple of non-fiction reviews of mine.

mad girls love songAndrew Wilson’s new biography of Sylvia Plath, focusing on the years before she met Ted Hughes, was one of those books that I felt ambivalent about reading. I’d read biographies of Plath before – what could he do to surpass the wonderful Janet Malcolm bio, The Silent Woman? Well, he doesn’t surpass it, but the book was highly engaging, full of detail about Sylvia’s obsessively competitive nature, and her strenuous dating regime (one summer she dated 21 boys and rated them all with a star system). I was reading about the psychological factors involved in manic depression just the other day (as you do), and realised that the classic ‘storyline’ of the illness exactly fit Sylvia’s profile – a mother who singles out one of her children to be special and raise the family’s status, confusing the child with her mixture of love and fierce disciplinary strictures and becoming irrevocably mixed up with the child’s goals, so the child is no longer sure to whom they actually belong. Scary stuff.

‘In Andrew Wilson’s fascinating account of Sylvia Plath before she met Ted Hughes, she comes across as the Britney Spears of the poetry world. There’s the same economically-challenged background, of which she is slightly ashamed, with ambiguous relationships to her parents, the same precocious talent, and the same crazy ambition….’ Read full review.

falling into the fireAnother book I loved was Christine Montross’s Falling into the Fire, a portrait of her work as emergency admissions doctor in a psychiatric inpatient ward. The publicist who sent me the book warned me that I’d wince at the stories, and oh my, she was not kidding. The book opens with an account of a woman who eats light bulbs, screws, medical instruments – every hospital room has to be stripped clean before she can be put in it, or else she’ll eat the contents. But drama and sensation aside, what I really appreciated in this book was the careful consideration of medical ethics that is the reason Montross tells these stories in the first place. What actually happens to the impossible psychiatric cases? Who is responsible for these suffering people and what can be done to help them? I found it an engrossing and complex work.

‘I begin to wonder whether there is an entry in the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) for readers like me, who find themselves fascinated by accounts of people struggling with the different illnesses it defines. I’ve long been a reader of ‘shrink lit’, books based on psychotherapy, and now I’m branching into the popular literature on psychiatry, for which Oliver Sacks is the main torch bearer. Following in his footsteps with great compassion, intelligence and a wealth of completely bonkers patients is Christine Montross… Read full review

However, I’ve been complaining of late about the string of small but unpleasant catastrophes that have afflicted me recently, and now the universe has really stopped pulling its punches. I’ve realised that over the past 10 days or so, I’ve lost five books in the post. I’m going to the village post office for the second time later today to be put in touch with the local customer service rep to try and get this sorted out. I’d like to be all Nancy Drew about it – this is after all the tale of The Postman Doesn’t Ring Once, Let Alone Twice. But actually I’m just cross. People are sending me books, and they are not reaching me. What sort of heinous crime is this?



21 thoughts on “A Photo, Two Links and a Mystery

  1. You’ll be lucky to get anyone local – I had to ring customer service and I found myself talking to someone in Ipswich, which is about 200 miles from where I live. Sorry, ranting on your page! Liked the post. Thanks.

  2. It’s a lovely pic and nice to see you all together. Fascinated to hear about your Fremlin project – I read The Hours Before Dawn in a lovely Virago edition and it was quite chillingly effective – nice to know she’s being rediscovered!

  3. Nice to meet you! I really enjoyed Mad Girl’s Love Song and have recommended pupils read it – it is, I think, an easy, engaging read.

    Also FYI, just finished, Penelope and throughly enjoyed it – would sorta have liked to have written truth be told. More successful that many of its genre. In saying that I can see why some did not get on with it.

    So good luck with your new venture.

  4. This is definitely a photo to keep. Thanks for posting it, now we get to see all the masterminds behind Shiny New Books. What an exciting venture. Again, all the best! Now, as for your description of Sylvia Plath’s dating style, it sure sounds like a movie critic’s job. As for your lost books, well you know here in my country, Canada Post had announced that they will be phasing out door to door delivery. We’ll actually see the day when the Postman doesn’t need to ring at all. O well, maybe we’ll have less lost books that way.

  5. How lovely that you all got together! I hope that you enjoy The Interestings as much as I did. Good luck with the postal problems. When I began my reviews editor stint working from home none of the books I requested arrived for the first couple of weeks, then two rueful posties turned up in a van one evening with seven sacks full of books. After that, normal service was resumed and I hope it wil be for you, too.

  6. Enough is enough! When the universe starts messing with your book deliveries it’s definitely time to fight back! Looks like the SNB editors had a nice get together.

  7. Look at all those lovely bloggers! Great to see you all together. I adored The Interestings and have since read everything Meg Wolitzer has ever written (I’d read her grocery list). Hope you solve The Mystery of The Missing Books.

  8. Maybe your postman is a secret reader and the books will arrive after he has read his way through them. You could always ask him to review then for you.

  9. Hah I thought I was having problems with the Marketplace delivered me two books in error this month – “Terms of Endearment” instead of “Dark Lord: The Teenager Years” and “The Horizontal Society” instead of “Gone Girl”. Hope you get it sorted out.

    ‘Tis a very nice photo of you all!

  10. Goodness, is that picture an airbrush? I thought I’ve seen that lady in that pose [hands in prayer to side of face] before surely! Then I headed off to one of my bookshelves and found The Best of Tales from the Reading Room. There you are exactly the same, but it says 2007. How is this possible? Do you have a picture in the attic? Who sells the potion?
    Looks like you all had a good time, hope so!
    Well you thought the other things with taps and cars were bad, but who could have predicted a book delivery crisis? I hope you have some in hand. Sure you do – can’t turn off life support system. Hope deliveries soon resume.
    Thought the Mad Girl’s Love Song was very good, as it allowed it not to be a Ted-Hughes-which-side-of-the-argument-are-you-on read, for once.

  11. Congratulations again on the magazine. I look forward to the next issue in July. I hope you solve the mystery of the missing books soon.

  12. Look at you all sitting there so beautifully British! What a wonderful treat.
    Regarding your mail, you could try calling our post office. They are the gold standard for losing packages; perhaps they might have some ideas.

  13. Love the photograph: it is entirely delightful to us readers of all your blogs to see what you Shiny New Books folk look like, even if you think it a little strange that we want to!

    PS Could there be a desperate bookworm postwo/man who’s ‘borrowing’ the books that have been sent to you before – finally – delivering them to you?

  14. Lovely photo! Don’t you hate lost packages? I waited so long for A High Wind In Jamaica that once it arrived I’d forgotten I’d ordered it. I’ve got to see if my library has the book about Plath. Like most college women of my era, we all read The Bell Jar. I still have that old copy of mine. Looking forward to the next issue of SNB!

  15. I love the photograph of you all! But am also a bit shocked to discover that you are all real people too…

    I like the sound of the Sylvia Plath biography. As for the missing books, I suggest that when you go to the village post office you look in the corner to see who is skulking there with a cup of tea and a well-read look about the eyes. Good luck, Nancy!

  16. Nice to see you all together. I’ve seen pictures of you and harreit but never of the other two.
    Celia Fremlin is one of those authors who does really well in Germany. Together with Patricia Highsmith, Joan Aiken and Margaret Millar. Many of their books in English are oop but available i German. That’s interesting, I think, I also wonder if those three writers do have something in common.
    I’ll be interested to hear more about Celia Fremlin.

  17. I’m glad you can laugh about the missing books. I like the idea of a well-read post-woman but I suspect that it’s more likely that the postman got tired of delivering books to your address and threw some of them (sacrilege!) into a ditch.
    Lovely photo of the four of you 🙂
    And good luck with the Fremin project. Sounds exciting.

  18. Very lovely to meet you all properly! 🙂 I know I have seen photos of Simon as we are in a Yahoo group together, and I know I have spotted a photo or two of you, but it’s nice to ‘meet’ Harriet and Annabel! Sounds like a great time–you guys are doing a really amazing job! And it sounds like you are quite busy reading (that sounds so nice, but somehow I know it also means work and pressure, too!). I have looked up Celia Fremlin–my library has one of my books so I will be grabbing it off the shelf tomorrow in anticipation of your reviews later! And I have added the Plath bio to my library request list–I have yet to read the Janet Malcolm bio, which I really must do sometime soon. I am back at work tomorrow–hopefully can get back into my normal routine now that extracurricular library conferences are finally out of the way! Hope you have been well other than your work visitor! 🙂

  19. I’m reading Mad Girl’s Love Song right now, and hadn’t heard of the Silent Woman, so that’s next to get! I’m enjoying Mad Girl’s Love Song very much.

    I’m also in the middle of reading The Interestings – I’ll be curious about what you think. I’m in the middle and I was racing through it, and now I’ve paused, and it doesn’t feel the same. There’s some distance in it, that I’m not sure I like as much as before.

    I love the picture of the 4 of you, and I can hardly wait for the full issue to come out! I’ve been stopping by the site to see what’s happening 🙂

    I really hope your books turn up, that isn’t even annoying, it’s kind of sad and very frustrating when they disappear like that, isn’t it?

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