Sunday, 2 August 2009

Novel Insights has a New Home!

So it's au revoir, but not goodbye - I have decided to move over to Wordpress so please do pop by and take a look at Recent book reviews include:

Would love to hear what you think of the new site!

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Booking Through Thursday - Recent Funny

Q: What’s the funniest book you’ve read recently?

A: I haven't read any laugh out loud books recently although The Believers by Zoe Heller was quite witty and I remember Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn having amusing characters - a sort of comic mystery story. One of the few books that has made me laugh out loud was How to be Good by Nick Hornby - I read it while on a visit to New York and giggled so much at one bit that the lady on the train asked me what I was reading!

Oh and actually I just remembered that The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins really did make me laugh because of the hilariously over the top characters and the way that on of the leading characters, Marian Halcombe makes sweeping statements about how useless women are despite her being quite fabulous.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Lawrence Durrell Discovery: The Alexandria Quartet

A little belated blog about some gems I picked up in Savidge Reads' favourite 5 for £2 secondhand bookstore a couple of weeks ago. Actually they were a bit more expensive at £1 each from the classic literature section, but I couldn't help myself as it was a full matching (ish) lot of 4 Faber books.

So here they are - The 'Alexandria Quartet' comprising Justine (1957), Balthazar (1958), Mountolive (1958) and Clea (1960) by poet and novelist Lawrence Durrell.

The books didn't have much of a blurb on the back and even a quick flick through didn't really help me in figuring out what they were about, but I guess I was sort of drawn to the mysteriousness of them. Also, I noted that the prose at the beginning of the first book was quite beautiful;
"The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind. In the midst of winter you can feel the inventions of Spring. A sky of hot nude pearl until midday, crickets in sheltered places, and now the wind unpacking the great planes, ransacking the great planes..."
According to the bumpf on the Faber & Faber website, the Alexandria quartet is 'an investigation of modern love', exploring the sexual and political intrigues of a group of expatriates in Egypt before and during the Second World War. Each book tells essentially the same story from character different perspectives.

I have a suspicion that these might be a bit of a mission to read, but I'm looking forward to giving them a go and hopefully finding something special.

Has anyone read these novels? Are they beautiful literature or just plain odd?! Would love to hear any thoughts before I embark.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Booking Through Thursday - Bookish Preferences

Q: Which do you prefer?

  • Reading something frivolous? Or something serious?
  • My favourite books have a bit of both but tend towards serious.
  • Paperbacks? Or hardcovers?
  • Paperbacks - especially small size classic penguins that bend nicely in your fingertips.
  • Fiction? Or Nonfiction?
  • Definitely fiction.
  • Poetry? Or Prose?
  • Prose.
  • Biographies? Or Autobiographies?
  • Biographies.
  • History? Or Historical Fiction?
  • Historical fiction (terrible considering my degree is in History!).
  • Series? Or Stand-alones?
  • Stand-alones.
  • Classics? Or best-sellers?
  • Modern classics.
  • Lurid, fruity prose? Or straight-forward, basic prose?
  • As fruity as a margarita!
  • Plots? Or Stream-of-Consciousness?
  • Plots.
  • Long books? Or Short?
  • Short.
  • Illustrated? Or Non-illustrated?
  • Non-illustrated unless it's for children and has beautiful plates.
  • Borrowed? Or Owned?
  • Owned - without a doubt!!!
  • New? Or Used?
  • Used (or as I like to think of it, loved).

Sunday, 19 July 2009

The Believers - Zoe Heller

Last night I just couldn't sleep, so thought I might as well finish reading The Believers by Zoe Heller. Unfortunately it was not the kind of book that makes you snooze!

I very much enjoyed Notes on a Scandal and having been given a copy of The Believers by the lovely Savidge Reads, I was curious about how it would compare. To be honest, I didn't quite know what to expect with this one as it is one of those novels that revolves around a family and the experiences of the different people in it which I'm not normally 100% keen on reading.

Without giving too much away, plot-wise, the book revolves around a family living in New York whose father Joel Litvinoff, a prominent and radical lawyer, becomes ill. Audrey, his wife makes a devastating discovery about him and is forced to re-examine everything she thought she knew about her 40 year marriage. The grown-up children of the family (Rosa, Karla and Lenny) have to face this secret themselves, alongside their own muddled up lives.

At this point, I just want to say that this isn't a bleeding-heart story at all, rather the illness is more a lynchpin around which we see the different characters develop and change. It is a moving novel, but so carefully crafted with Heller's trademark dark humour that it never feels contrived or soppy in any way.

Initially it took me a little while to get into The Believers, but I always think that it does take a while with novels that revolve around the experiences of a variety of different characters. After all you have to get into the heads of each one instead of just following a main protagonist.

To my surprise, religious belief played much less of a part in this novel than I thought it would. Whoever drew the cover with all it's different religious symbols on it confused me greatly! The character who confronts religion is Rosa who despite her parent's adamant atheism has discovered a new found attachment to Orthadox Judaism. Rosa finds herself naturally drawn to Judaism, but struggles with the intellectual basis of the rules and rituals. I recently read The God Delusion, and in the light of that, I found the clash between Audrey and her daughter's opinions on the topic of organised religion particularly interesting. Audrey's strident anti-religious stance reminded me of Dawkins, particularly when asks why exactly she should respect other people's religious views if she thinks they are rubbish. To further illustrate how anti-religion the Litvinoff's are, Heller describes how upon receiving invitations to bar mitzvahs of their friend's children, they would send them back with "THERE IS NO GOD" scrawled across the engraved lettering! But, while Rosa's battle is theological, the other characters are also struggling with their own demons - Lenny with drugs and Karla with an unhappy marriage and having to think about what they believe in.

Even though it took me a little while to relate to the characters in this novel, I became really absorbed in it by the halfway point. I was particularly intrigued by Karla's relationship with her smarmy husband Mike, and the budding love affair between her and Khaled, a shopkeeper at the hospital she works in. The characters are well drawn and often painful to imagine, caught up as they are in their internal problems and insecurities. Audrey particularly is spiky with a sharp cutting tongue who simultaneously made me wince and smile at her bitchy comments.

Going back to The God Delusion I found that, despite enjoying it and thinking it was a genuinely brilliant book (very highly recommended), it is by it's very nature one long argument aimed at convincing the reader of a point of view. When I read The Believers, and the ideas about belief and religion Heller touched on, I realised that what I love about fiction is that it is thought provoking but leaves more room for making up your own mind. A definite thumbs up from me.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Booking Through Thursday Belatedly & More Bargain Books

Having just discovered Booking Through Thursday today, my contribution is a little belated but here it is anyway:

Q: Do you keep all your unread books together, like books in a waiting room? Or are they scattered throughout your shelves, mingling like party-goers waiting for the host to come along?

A: I had to downsize my accommodation before travelling, so I actually put all my 'read' books into storage. So I only have TBR's in my room now, except for those which I've read recently which I kind of put to one side. My read and unread books are definitely not partying, they are in fact, estranged!

On another note, I did a bit more book buying today. I felt compelled to pop into my local charity shop today - not for myself you understand, but for my boyfriend. His birthday is coming up and being a frugal pair, we like to collect all sorts of bits of inexpensive random stuff to give each other. So after perusing the bookshelves, I discovered the following:

The Guide to Family Photography, by Reg Mason - My boyfriend loves photography and so I thought I would pick this little gem up for him. It's probably pretty useless from a theory point of view as it was printed in the late seventies, but I couldn't resist it's fabulous combination of step by step cartoons, interspersed strangely with images of Prince Charles. I thought that this one was Mills & Boon-worthy actually!

Then because my man is always moaning about how he's getting old now, I snapped up Happy Birthday (you poor old wreck). A compilation of messages to 'old people over 21' by young children, including such wisdom as;
"Cats have birthdays like us. No one nose what cats thik about birthdays probly nothink." Denis Hutchinson, 8

"When you die you don't have birthdays" David Pollick, 7
OK, so it's not that hilarious but it was birthday-related and only a quid. I also saw a copy of the original Jane Fonda workout book, which I was sorely tempted by but resisted. Although there were actually two copies so if I change my mind...

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

A Perk of the Job

Warning! Second-hand book-shop in close proximity to new office alert!

Popped in to my new offices in Wimbledon today so that they could check my passport and make sure that I am not illegal and lo and behold, there is a really great bookshop just a short distance away called Copperfield's.

Actually I did spot it when interviewed (not that it influenced me in any way at all!) but resisted the urge to go in after telling myself I have too many books on my 'to read' pile already!

But today I wasn't so steadfast, and was drawn like a moth to a flame to their stack of Penguin Classics craftily placed by the entrance.

Copperfield's has all the hallmarks of an excellent second-hand bookshop - happily jumbled looking books stacked on a table outside, good prices and most of all that lovely lived-in feel and bookish smell which makes you feel you can browse for ages. Plus, just look at the signage, it just says 'come into our little treasure-trove!'.

I was fairly restrained and purchased two lovely Penguin Classics -

Savidge Reads got me into Susan Hill's creepy stories and blurb on the back of The Bird of Night, by Susan Hill (1976) made me think it might be an interesting little number for £1.
"Francis Croft, the greatest poet of his age, was mad. His world was a nightmare of internal furies and haunting poetic vision. Harvey Lawson watched and protected him until his final suicide. From his solitary old age Harvey writes this brief account of their twenty years together [secret gaylords perhaps?!] and then burns all the papers to shut out an inquisitive world."
Then I spotted The Bachelors, by one of my favourite authors Muriel Spark (1960). Not one I've heard of but had a fabulous cover and I love everything she writes. Plus it has a great plug on the back from Evelyn Waugh who writes;
"I am dazzled by The Bachelors. It is the cleverest and most elegant of all Mrs Spark's clever and elegant books."
Well, that convinced me to hand over my precious £1.50 and snaffle it into my handbag.

I always have the excuse that I need the reading material for my commute, plus I have discovered that there is a Lush in Wimbledon too. A book and a luxurious bath. What could be a better combination?