Wednesday 15 May 2024

I was relieved to finally put down this 'unputdownable' book

The Couple at No. 9 Claire Douglas isn't writing books for people like me, but nevertheless I do have some positive things to say about The Couple at No. 9, so I'll start with those.

First, the premise is great. A young couple called Tom and Saffy Cutler move into a cottage in a village somewhere near Chippenham, Wiltshire. It's owned by Saffy's grandmother, Rose. They want to make some changes and begin with the garden. While digging the builders discover two bodies, buried 40 years earlier, when Rose was living there with her infant daughter, Lorna. Unfortunately the elderly woman has dementia and can't remember what happened.

Second, I enjoyed the first four chapters of the book, all of them narrated by Saffy.

That's about it. The more I read, the more I disliked, and only continued because it was a book club choice.

So, what didn't I like? The characters, for a start. Saffy is such a sap, often on the verge of tears, or frightened, "trying to keep the panic out of my voice. Oh, God, I’m going to have to ring for an ambulance. I’ve never phoned 999 in my life." Like many in the book, I mentally roll my eyes. Saffy's mother Lorna only cares about herself and I didn't find her actions credible. Rose was initially sympathetic, but this changed as the story developed.

I might have enjoyed it if it gave more than a passing thought to the motives of murderers and whether they can be rehabilitated. it is a best-seller tho', so I guess themes were sacrificed to pace.

The writing style wasn't to my taste either. It's told in the present tense, which didn't really work; sometimes Saffy narrates, sometimes Rose, and the other characters' points of view are written in the 3rd person. After a while all the voices merged into one; none of them sounded individual.

I usually look for professional reviews of any book I'm about to start reading and I found none for The Couple at No. 9. Even the Sunday Times, which had chosen it as 'Crime Book of the Month' hadn't reviewed it, other than providing a summary of the premise. It's described everywhere as 'unputdownable', which was not the case for me; although it grabbed me initially, the more I read, the more I wanted to stop.

Still, I'd recommend it to someone whose interest is in reading to escape, someone who wants simplicity of language, someone who associates with English middle-class aspirations to live in a house in the countryside rather than among the oiks. Slow, careful, thoughtful readers with a love of literary word-craft may be less impressed.

Finally, a quick scan of the reviews on goodreads reveals that many reviewers received a copy of the book free of charge. It's highly unlikely I'll be receiving a copy of Claire Douglas's next publication.

Saturday 4 May 2024

They fuck you up...

A Thousand Acres Lengthy family sagas don't appeal to me and I'd never normally have opened the covers of Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres. However, during a chat with an English-teacher friend I mentioned that I knew nothing about Shakespeare's King Lear. "Here", she said with a smirk, "this is a modern adaptation." So I took it, left it on the shelf for a couple of years where it kept staring down at me, and eventually thought I might as well read it so I could report back.

Wednesday 1 May 2024

#NaPoWriMo Paint Pot Angel

So NaPoWriMo has ended. Actually, 2024 is the first time I've participated, and I only managed one new poem throughout April. The Poetry Society prompted me to choose an artwork featuring a figure, to ask the figure a question, and imagine the answer. Having visited Bristol Museum and Art Gallery recently, I went for their Banksy figure, Paint Pot Angel, which you can see in the gallery's ground floor hall.

Here it is then. Hope it makes you smile.
Banksy's Paint Pot Angel
I can't hear you! Speak up! What's that you said?
That Banksy has put a large can on my head.
I can't see a thing and I'm feeling quite faint.
There's a very strong smell. I think that it's paint.
Since two-thousand-nine I've stood in this spot.
Won't somebody please take the stinking pot off?
Hello? Hello? Are you still there?

Tuesday 30 April 2024

Saturday... wait

Saturday I knew nothing of Ian McEwan's Saturday before picking it up. It was just another one of his books, another that I wanted to read before settling down to Atonement (I've still got a few to go).

A few pages in and I thought it was going to be a struggle.

Saturday 6 April 2024

All the nice people were poor

The Girls of Slender Means

If your reading preference is for door-stop sized sagas featuring families or fantasies, Muriel Sparks's 134-page The Girls of Slender Means may not appeal. The girls in question are aged under thirty, living away from home at the May of Teck Club, and starting out on their working lives. It reminded me of all-female halls of residence at university.

Sunday 31 March 2024

Don't call me Fanny

Look at Me

I have no idea how Anita Brookner's 1983 book Look At Me came into my possession. It's an old paperback copy with yellowed pages and the back cover missing. I'd been told that the author's output was melancholy, which suits me fine, so when I spotted it on the shelf I thought I'd give it a go. And I'm glad I did.

The story's narrated by Frances Hinton a medical librarian and aspiring writer who yearns to be noticed. She fears that she will "grow into the most awful old battle-axe" and says she writes in order to become visible, to be heard, "to make people laugh". In other words, she says she wants people to "look at me".

Sunday 14 January 2024

Theirs not to reason what the fuck, Theirs but to shoot and duck.

The Sellout

I might have been half listening to one of those BBC Sounds programs whilst preparing lunch, or reading an end of year best books list in The Guardian. Whatever, someone recommended Paul Beatty's The Sellout and said it was about a black man who re-introduces slavery and segregation to the USA. What?!