23 December 2011

Ho ho ho!

Merry Christmas fellow bloggers, readers, friends and family. It has been a big one this year, if not least because Literary Relish was born back in January and has pretty much transformed everything for me!

I have met some wonderful new friends and read some astounding books this year and am all the better for it. I hope you all have a lovely, relaxing Christmas and I will post up again very soon xx

18 December 2011

The Report

I don't think I have ever been asked 'what my book is about' so many times in one week as I have whilst reading this unassuming, rather slim novel by Jessica Francis Kane. Perhaps it's the ambiguous title that has got people's tongues wagging but I have subsequently been greeted with a rather uncomfortable silence when I explain the terribly tragic event that this 'report' focuses on.

On March 3rd, 1943, 173 people (including 62 children) were crushed to death whilst making their way down into Bethnal Green tube station to shelter from the bombers that had all but destroyed the east end of London by the end of the war. It was the single largest loss of civilian life caused by a 'non military incident' during WWII, and still the largest to date on the London Underground. The question on everyone's lips (and certainly on Book Snob's - who drew my attention not only to this book, but the entire incident itself) is, why the gubbins do none of us know about this!? Of course, I'm sure Grandma, and even Mummy and Daddy Relish are aware of this disaster, but why did no-one think to mention it whilst we trawled through textbooks in history class at school?

This is a perfect example of how far removed younger people are becoming from significant events in history like this one. Yes, the avid readers among us may happen to stumble upon such enlightening books, but the reality is that many don't and I find it desperately sad that my bright, well-educated friends walk down these tube steps every single day and, unless they happen to take a fleeting glance at the small commemorative plaque that was so very belatedly tacked to the side of the station, they would have no idea of the tragedy that took place under their feet a mere 68 years ago...

I feel like a bit of a miserable sod reading about such a sad event at such a festive time but I honestly only picked this up out of shock at my complete ignorance and a burning desire to learn.....not sheer morbidity I assure you. Kane has very cleverly created a fictional account, not only of the event itself, but the inquiry following the event and the report put together by magistrate Laurence Dunn that attempted to make some sense of this freak accident.

Did the strange noise created by a new model of anti-aircraft missile coupled with the rumour of an impending attack set to rival the one that destroyed Berlin panic the crowd into pushing and creating a crush akin to that seen at Hillsborough in 1989? Or did the rising tensions with the local populace and the recent influx of immigrants, particularly Jews, have any connection with the disaster?

The ins and outs are thus explored, (along with a little creative license from our author with regards to the specifics) but I have to admit that, although it was a very harrowing yet thoroughly interesting read, it does seem a bit of a random choice of first novel for a woman who was born and grew up in the U.S. It leaves me wondering whether she has a personal relationship with the event or whether she just made a discovery and had a burning story to tell.

This book was all in all a very informative account of a very harrowing time for eastenders. It can be a little distant to the individual human stories at times but I suppose that's all in keeping with 'The Report' approach. A sad, intriguing, though clearly not a very festive read!  

8 December 2011

The Woman in White

I love this book. In fact, I would almost go as far to say that this book saved me from the gale force shock of a gloomy, grey November and the meh feeling induced by the not-so-amazing 1Q84. How happy I am with myself for favouring the classic! Perhaps I'm not such a heathen after all...

I'd always heard great things about Wilkie Collins and just never got around to him so I took a punt on a dull looking copy sat in a charity shop a couple of months ago and, as with a fair few books I've read this year, am sooo embarrassed it's taken me so long to get here.

As with many books from this period, it does take a few pages to relax into the wordy, melodramatic prose, but once you do (and it only took me about 3 pages) this superbly old-fashioned mystery novel - considered to be the first of its kind - is absolutely marvellous.

One dark night, following news that he will be moving to Cumberland to take up a post as the drawing master to two wealthy young women, Walter Hartwright chances by a rather strange and frightened young woman on his way into London; dressed, rather unusually, all in white. She is on her way to a safe house in the city and Walter, naturally wanting to help the young damsel in distress bundles her into a taxi and away into the night.

It transpires that this spectre of a woman is Ann Catherick who, as well as recognising the name of the fine house in Cumberland where Hartwright will be spending the next few months, is also an escapee from a nearby asylum who the artist has unwittingly helped escape. The memory of this mysterious encounter remains in the man's mind as he installs a place for himself at Limmeridge House, where he fosters a great friendship with (and love for) his students; the indomitable Marian Halcombe and her very sweet, very lovely sister Laura. Walter and Laura's blossoming romance is doomed from the very beginning, with the artist's sweetheart engaged to an exceedingly wealthy and extremely shady gentleman; Sir Percival Glyde, an arrangement that soon turns sour for all involved...

I will stop here with the narrative for fear of delving too far into the great threats, dramas and mysteries that quickly unravel and threaten our heroines from here on out. I actually missed my bus stop twice whilst reading this book on the way to work, and I think that says it all. Twists and turns are abound; events that will force you to prise your jaw off the floor and read on, both beginning and ending with our woman in white...

This story was first published as a series, something which is betrayed by the separate narrators who join in to relay events every chapter or so. This change of tone and point of view every so often really kept the narrative fresh and engaged me as a reader even further, particularly when we are treated to portrayals of some of the most singular characters in 19th century literature. The rather pathetic, shallow, crippled Mr Fairlie creates just the correct amount of frustration at key moments; as does the appearance of well-written supporting cast such as ill-witted servants and henchmen who appear at just the right moments to thwart our champion Mr Hartwright. The sinister 'Count Fosco' is such an elaborate, dangerous character that he could easily have been written for one of the great operas. Indeed, The Woman in White has been transferred onto the stage many a time and with this much angst and melodrama ocurrin' I'm hardly surprised, although how these adaptations have passed me by I have no idea.

The word 'mystery' in relation to the books very rarely has me leaping out of my seat. It's certainly not my favourite genre in modern fiction, however, perhaps eased along by the period setting and quirky characters, I have genuinely enjoyed being kept in the dark, second guessing and running around in circles with our victims. This book, for a very good reason, has remarkably never been out of print since its publication in 1860. In reading up I actually discovered, much to my amusement, that upon its release the book was such a hit that shops began to market items of clothing and perfumes as 'Woman in White' ..bonnets, eau de toilette and the like. Perhaps we shouldn't all feel so guilty about all of the gaudy Harry Potter toys and sexed-up Steig Larsson films after all!...

A reading and review of The Moonstone will be heading this way very soon....

4 December 2011

Wet wet wet...

Sideways rain, too much cauliflower cheese and a complete panic about the fact that I have no clue what to buy anyone this Christmas has meant that the last 50 pages of the marvellous Woman in White by Wilkie Collins are still unread and awaiting my attention on the bedside table for tonight. Bang goes my scheduled Sunday night review!

Wonderful pic courtesy of http://horrormove.deviantart.com/art/Rain-Storm-122143459. Hope they don't mind me using it!

So, what to talk about this evening whilst I dry my poor tootsies on the radiator?  Well, I was actually wondering how everyone was feeling about the festive season, and, on a bookish note is there anything in particular you're hoping to read/receive as a gift this year? I must admit, as usual I have been so preoccupied with other things, the bf's birthday among them, that Christmas has completely creeped up on me, the panic not helped along by the novelty @OfficialSanta twitter account that constantly reminds me that I need to pull my finger out of my arsienda. 

I do love this time of year if I have the time to appreciate it. Fairy lights, poinsettias and mulled wine are right up my street but its the pressure we unnecessarily put on ourselves and the numerous Christmas parties where you are forced to 'network' with people you can't stand that have me diving for the duvet with a stack of good books until Christmas morning comes along. Luckily my bookshelves have literally reached breaking point (one, my Dad pointed out, is leaning dangerously to one side, not helped by the risky amount of tinsel now liberally piled on top...) so I have a serious selection of winter reads coming my way and I hope and pray that Santa will bring even more...

So, any ideas what I can buy people for Christmas? Notes on a postcard please!