Friday 27 August 2021

Book Review: Lean Fall Stand by Jon McGregor

I managed at the last minute to catch online the session with Jon McGregor at this year's Edinburgh Book Fest . He is an author I have been meaning to read yet never seemed to get round to him. He was not at all like what I had imagined, younger ( should have done my homework), somewhat hesitant in his words but clear so I concluded he thinks about what is he saying. He spoke about this book which was published earlier this year, about his trip to Antartica as art of his research for it, his experience of teaching creative writing at the University of Nottingham. He is one of the Guardian's 10 writers to see live  I was pleased I did, immediately fascinated by the book, went and bought the audio and borrowed the ebook from my local library very surprised to not find a waiting list for it. The audio version was read by Matt Bates

The book starts of with one old hand Robert "Doc" Wright and two novice youngsters post docs Luke and Thomas arriving at a research station in Antartica. This section is as gripping as any thriller as they are unexpectedly and suddenly caught in a storm with Doc up a hll to provide persective for Thomas' photographs, separated from them he returns to base and ***SPOILER ALERT ***suffers a stroke, Luke makes it back, Thomas does not.

The second section transfers us to England, to Robert's wife, Anna, how she finds out what has happened, her trip to the hospital in Chile, their return home, the impact of the incident on her life. Robert is trapped behind a barrier to the articulation of words. How often have we ourselves said "we'd been lost for words", unabe to explain or recant something. My own father, had several strokes, first loosing the ability to communicate and then to move. Reading this section I found myself thinking back to how my own mother must have been in Anna's position, how on earth did she cope and to the unsaid frustrations that must have been going on in my father's head as he struggled to make himself understood. McGregor writes these very well, quite realistically in my opinion.

The third section is in many ways about bravery. Robert gets discharged and ends up going to group sessions for asphasics which address communication through non standard means such as movement, sound, strategies for communicating that circumvent the word that cannot be found and said. Robert initially resents and doesn't want to be at the group. Many would say he was brave going of to the Antartic for months every year, that Anna was brave to soldier on without him, bringing up their children, repairing their house, having her own career, alone for long peroids of time. But this section is about the bravery of tackling the loss of the ability to undertake that most fundamental of human activities, namely to tell stories, to tell another person what you had done in a day, to say how you feel, to ask how they are, to respond to their stories all because you have lost the ability to speak, and to make progress towards communication.

This is a book that will stay with me for a long time. I thought it was extremely well written, with an insteresting construction of being part like a thriller, part an insight into how people recover from brain injury and how it effects their family, from mapping the terrain of the Antartic contenant to mapping the terrain of recovery this book has exquisite word use, for example some of the distorted word grouping that the group members say are rhythmic others poetic as they grapple with the complexity of language, McGregor writes it beautifully. I couldn't put the book down. Highly recommended.

Monday 23 August 2021

Book Review: The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey

The Mermaid of Black Conch The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Great storytelling on the themes of love, loss, loneliness and transformation. I listened to the audio version narrated by Vivienne Acheampong who reads the sections voiced by the mermaid Aycayia and Ben Onwukwe who reads the main narration by David the fisherman who rescues the mermaid caught by the tourist fishermen from Florida who see "it" as part of their catch,theirs to sell to somewhere like the Smithsonian and getting their hotos on the cover of Time Magazine. David takes Aycayia home expecting to return her to the sea, but she changes back into a woman. This basic storyline - outsider allows group to understand itself - are the stories of other islanders also suffering their own losses and lost loves. It is a beautiful read which won the Costa Book of the Year Award for 2020.

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Sunday 22 August 2021

Book Review: In My Father's Den by Maurice Gee

In My Father's DenIn My Father's Den by Maurice Gee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this for my in person book group. I'd never come across the book or the author before the group picked it as one of its New Zealand reads. In the end it proved a difficult book to get hold off, with only me being able to source a reasonably priced second hand one, this resulted in us altering our choice s. Sch a shame. This is a gem of a book. Very well written, well crafted, full characters, good plot. It opens with a Prologue of newspapers coverage of the brutal murder of a 17yr old school girl Celia Inverarity.Then we are into a first person narrative by Paul Emerson, her English teacher and mentor who finds himself a suspect. Celia's death propels Paul back into an examination of his past, his childhood with his parents and two brothers, the death of one and the mother, the strain between his father and his mother's atitudes to life, faith, his father's escape to his shed, his den and his own life, how he became an English teacher. It is a shortish book of 174 pages through which the writing flows beautifully. I read it over two late night sittings, thoroughly engrossed in Paul's memories and the lovely storytelling style of its writer Maurice Gee. Highly recommended.

Maurice Gee is one of New Zealand's most distinguished and prolific authors. He has written more than 30 novels for adults and children, has won numerous awards, including multiple New Zealand Book Awards.

In My Father's Den has been made into a movie starring Matthew MacFadyen

Friday 20 August 2021

Book Review: The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

The Panopticon The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The narrator of this story is 15 yrs old Anais, in the care system. Now too old for adoption, she has spent her life going too and fro from pillar to post, from foster parent to foster parent, from social worker to social worker, from care home to care home, from name to name. The author, Jenni Fagan, has created a class character of Scottish grime literature, often compared to Irvine Welsh Trainspotting's Renton, and gives her a brilliantly authentic voice, full of curses, but it is also a vehicle for her dreams, dreams of Paris, a new life where she is in control not the system, not the abusers. In the meantime that's where she is and she takes the reader on a tour of that life, her relationships with others in the children's unit, the documentaries she watches on the unit's TV, her love for Frieda Kahlo, in a rollicking first person narrative voice. We experience the highs and the lows, the loves and the hates, the friendships and the anything-but-friendly-ships. ****SPOILER ALERT **** the voice is gently Scots, full of curses, expletives abound throughout, as does violence as the book mounts to its horrific events which precede what we hope is the resurrection and redefinition of Anais as Frances.

Note: "The panopticon is a disciplinary concept brought to life in the form of a central observation tower placed within a circle of prison cells" developed by philospher Jermey Bentham

Not sure why I have not read anything by this author before, she is Scottish after all, so I should have. This was her debut novel in 2012, the author having spent much of her own childhood in the care system and one hopes that not too much of this is autobiographical. Thoroughly riveting. I listened to the Audio version narrated by Gayle Madine.

I've now got her most recent Luckenbooth to read.