Saturday, 30 January 2016
Sunday, 24 January 2016
ashramblings verdict 4 * I do like stories which do not have a traditional ending!
Narrated by Jennifer Woodward
This story is basically a doomed war time love affair. Laurel Shelton and her war wounded brother Hank live in the cove, a dark forboding place in the Appalachian Mountains that their now dead parents had got cheap as no one else wanted it and which locals still dread. One day in the woods she finds a stranger, stung almost to death by yellow jackets and brings him home to their cabin. He cannot speak, but once recovered stays, helps around the farm and their love blossoms. But his past catches up with them all as Chauncey Feith, the local army recruiter, whips the town into a patriotic fervour, hunting down German sympathisers, getting German Professor Mayer bannished from the college campus, commandeering German books from the Library, setting up the boys brigades, and finally organising a big shindig as the local town prepares to welcome back its wounded local hero, gassed by the Hun.
The story is well written, with good hooks along the way which are not explained but which lead the reader to the outcome of the story very well. The language is lovely, depicting time (towards the end of WW1) and place well (Appalachian Mountains in rural Carolina near the Tennessee border). There were lots of references to plants I'm not familiar with but which served to give the idea of a pre-war rural idyll with undeveloped, unspoilt countryside. Rash also portrays the hard life of the agricultural inhabitants in such a backwater, ignorant and bigoted, where the lynch mob rules whether targetted at those with a birthmark who are deemed to be a witch (Laurel Shelton), or of those of German ancestry who are deemed to be spies. Sadly one could make parallels with views held in some quarters about muslims today, and as we are shown in the Prologue to the story, the insular nature of such locations lasts on.
I'm really not a fan of American women readers – usually their voices are too brash, too high pitched for my ears, but this one was OK.
ashramblings verdict 4* My first book by Ron Rash and mightily impressed by him as a story teller
Thursday, 21 January 2016
I’ve only read one AS Byatt before The Children’s Book which I had struggled with. This led to my book club buddy recommending this collection and the Djinn in the Nightinggale’s Eye as the best ones to try and I have only now got round to reading more Byatt because my online book club’s short story thread is reading the first story from this collection over the next fortnight.
The collection begins with the story “Medusa’s Ankles” which can also be found online. Middle aged and plump like the Matisse Pink Nude which had originally drew her to this hairdresser’s salon a year or so ago, Susannah is sat in the chair struggling with the continuous inane commentary from the hairdresser about his mixed up love life, his revamp of the design of his salon to jarring techno-black, her own increasing flabbiness and concern with her aging body and dying hair. Her cathartic explosion in the story is dramatic and its ending brings home just how much our own view of our bodies differs from the view of others.
I struggled with reading this story, finding many of Byatt’s sentances jarring and hard work to read. Perhaps this was the author’s intention – to get this reader into the same frustrated state of mind as Susannah – if so it worked and the story in the end made an impact on me such that it encouraged me to hunt out and listen to an audio version of the whole collection (The Matisse Stories unabridged audiobook by Recorded Books read by Virginia Leishman (1997) is available on Scribd). After listening to the story read, I realised this would make an excellent screen play/short film, with a sort of Gok Wan like actor playing Lucien and Anne Reid playing Susannah.
The second story “Art Work” tells the story of the family life at 28 Alma Road where Debbie a rushed of her feet mother handles her work-at-home artist husband, Robin, her own “breadwinner” work as design editor at a magazine, their children and their housekeeper Mrs Brown. Debbie believes Mrs Brown has become indispensible, making cushions, jumpers in bright colours and goading and baiting “him” by moving thinks around that Robin is sketching causing Debbie to act as peacemaker between her cleaner and her husband. This relationship between Robin and Mrs Brown, comes to a climax over a disagreement on colour.
Then gallery owner Shona McRury comes to see Robin's paintings which she considers to be about the littleness of life, whereas he thinks they are about the infinite nature of color. Robin sees them as non repetitive series about colour and space, whereas McRury sees then as increasingly repetive and increasingly boring. Unable to articulate what he is trying to achieve, McRury leaves Robin without the hope of a show. Mrs Brown follows her out of the house and Debbie sees the two engage in conversation but hears nothing, She is left in as much of the dark about the conversation as the reader is until the next scene when Debbie’s magazine is invited to McRury’s gallery.
I suppose the story if about transformation of Mrs Brown and of Robin, but Debbie remains as before the stalwart,m ainstay of the family, holding it all together with the help of a replacement cleaner and Robin and Mrs Bown adjust themselves to the experience.
The third story is entitled “The Chinese Lobster” and can also be found online. Its a story about academic politics and how it handles an accusation of sexual assualt on a student who openly wants a different tutor, one more sympathetic to her viewpoint. Sadly ths story, once again left my totally bemused by Byatt.
Byatt stories for me always seem to evoke an elitist, middle class, London intelligensia, not only in her characters but also in her words, symbolism and references, in this case to various artworks. I suspect this makes her works rather inaccessible to some readers. I remain to be convinced by her writing which always makes me feel I am missing something from her work but which also makes me keep trying.
ashramblings verdict 2* I continue to struggle with Byatt.
Sunday, 17 January 2016
“Hurry, hurry, before it goes”
Where it came from no one knows.
On with the hat, the scarf and the gloves
On with the wellies still covered in mud
On with the mac and out of the door
Running and sliding and shouting for more.
Rolling it up into 2 big balls
Laughing and waiting for more to fall.
2 stones for his eyes, a small clump for his snout
A twig for his cigar stuck into his mouth
3 stones for his waistcoat to give him some style
Our hat and our scarf complete his profile.
Now back in the warmth, we all stand and smile
We check on his wellbeing every little while.
But bedtime comes round and sleep fills our eyes
We dream of the snowman and mum’s christmas pies.
Tomorrow he’s gone, we don’t really know where,
The sun is now shining, we don’t really care.
He’s only in transit, he comes and he goes
Forgotten for now till the next time it snows.
© Sheila Ash 17th January 2016
Friday, 1 January 2016
This is the story of the lives of migrants, legal and illegal. Randeep, Avtar and Tochi live in a house in Sheffield. It shows the reasons why they made the trip to the UK – lack of money, lack of work, poor harvests, the precariousness of life in the face of mounting debt, parents and siblings to support back home (Avtar) , or after their violent caste provoked deaths (Tochi). The routes taken – selling kidneys, taking out loans to pay for student visas, loans to secure the family’s business in times of economic stress, the arranged marriage-visa route and the “back of a lorry” route. Randeep’s visa wife is Narindar a highly religious British Sikh, who has chosen this route, against family honour and community values, to help where once she could not, to now do what she considers “the right thing”. This is their story over the course of a year when their 4 lives are flung together. They struggle to find work with their “fauji” status, even with student visa, a marriage visa, there is a fine line of difference between them and Tochi’s fully illegal status. They have to keep their money as cash, sending most of it back home, as regular, and as much as possible, balancing the need for this, with the demands of the loan sharks UK agents, with eating, surviving on roti and sabzi fo rthe most part. They are easy prey to the unscrupulous gang masters, shop and restaurant owners who pay them a pittance for long hours of work in terrible conditions, never mind those who steal their passports and lock them up at night between workdays. Its a grim but realistic account of a life most of us are comfortably ignorant of. Sahota captures very well the characters, their plight, their hopes and fears, their brotherly love, their isolation, their moments of tenderness and humanity, of brutality and survival.
ashramblings verdict 4* and a very just 2015 Booker shortlisting. The audio version is read brilliantly read by Sartaj Garewal giving the Hindi vernacular an authentic ring, thereby helping readers not used to the sounds, intonations, or vocabularly, the integratiion of which, in my opinion, Sahota handles really well removing the need for a glossary.