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!

27 November 2011

1Q84 ... and a grumble

Yes, yes, unfortunately this post will be one of a grumbly and slightly short nature as I feel utterly poo this evening.  I love winter in many ways; atmospheric Christmas markets and music, jugs of gluwein and cold; crisp weather is right up my street. Any excuse to don an unflattering Christmas jumper or woolly mooflar and curl up in front of the fire (read: radiator) with a good novel makes this time of the year just perfect for bookworms like myself.

HOWEVER, runny noses, flaky hands and sore ears doth not a Merry Christmas make and this is how I feel today:

Bah. My chagrin has not been helped by the fact that, after spending 15 squids (that's with £5 off!) on 1Q84 in a moment of complete madness and excitement, I have been left feeling, well, rather indifferent to Haruki Murakami's new mega-novel; a harsh dose of reality that really did hit me where it hurts as I usually adore everything he writes, the obscurer the better.

So indifferent have I felt (indifference being a state far worse than love or hate in my mind) that I have actually closed this after only reading Book one, making the executive decision to abandon ship at an appropriate juncture and perhaps revisit, or even reread completely at a later date when the mood is right. The entire process of buying this book pointed towards this sorry conclusion from the very beginning. First of all, I hardly ever buy hardback books (unless they are of the coffee-table, rare or vintage variety). They are too large and cumbersome for me to read and maul in the way to which I'm accustomed, meaning that they end up as a strictly-for-bedtime book, to be read in short, unsatisfactory bursts using my poor boyfriend as a book rest. Not sexy.

In an attempt to remain the consummate professional to the very end, I refuse to review this novel (and I will read all three eventually, just to make sure) until I have given it a fair whack, I will just go as far as to say that I have been left feeling deeply unsatisfied. I have found Book one of this trilogy to be predictable, sluggish and well, rather vacuous. If I read another scene about a 20/30 something Japanese man/woman at the fringe of society sitting in a trendy bar sipping Cutty Sark whisky I might just shove my head through a window...

Yes, my ears are sore and therefore this damning commentary on Murakami's latest bestseller may well be one that is completely unfair and thoroughly uneducated. A fellow Tweeter very astutely commented that this a very large piece of fiction all together and this may be why I've been disappointed at what I've found to be lacking in the first section. Perhaps she's right.

The sheer physical size of this book also means that, for the first time since my library binges as a teen, I have had two books on the go at the same time, reading Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White on the bus to work which, whilst being perfect to read in conjunction as it is so completely different from 1Q84, has also potentially eclipsed it.  I have been sucked into this classic far more quickly and have found it a much more enjoyable read than this brand new bestseller.

So ladies and gents, the conclusion today leaves us with this: Classics: 1  Hyped up piffle:  0.  Hurrah!

20 November 2011

The Tiger's Wife

After listening to an intriguing Guardian Books podcast on the way home a few months ago with enigmatic young author Téa Obreht speaking about her Orange Prize winning novel, The Tiger's Wife; the mixture of the folkloric and surreal sounded exactly my cup of tea and I made sure to pick up a copy on my next shopping trip.

To say that I was a disappointed by this book would perhaps be a little harsh, however, perhaps due to the expectations I had I was slightly underwhelmed by Obreht's confusing plot line, although it turned out to be a very sweet and poignant story at times. 

Natalia is a young doctor living in an unnamed Balkan state (poss. Yugoslavia? I get very confused with the history/politics in this turbulent part of the world) skirting around the conflict to travel with her friend and colleague to an orphanage on the coast to inoculate the children living there. Natalia has a very special relationship with her grandfather, also a doctor, who she sadly discovers has died alone at a medical center in a remote part of the region only a few pages into the novel. This young woman's exploration into her grandfather's lonely few hours, set against a backdrop of death and superstition surrounding the village where they are based, sets us off into a barrage of atmospheric, folkloric tales that although very lovely, left me feeling slightly confused. 

Travelling back to various points throughout her grandfather's long career, we are fortunate enough to meet a host of interesting characters; the deathless man being one such person. Called to a settlement whose inhabitants are struggling to come to terms with a serious bout of consumption sweeping through the village, the doctor is called to confront a haunting taking place at the local church, where a man, thought to be dead, has been shot in the head after waking up during his funeral and is now making noises from his coffin at the back of the building. This man turns out to be Gavran Gailé; a mysterious character who claims to be immortal and present on this earth to deliver souls into the afterlife. He is a man who the doctor spends many a poignant, philosophical discussion with periodically throughout the book. The second lengthy tale concerns the Tiger's Wife of the title; a deaf-mute girl living within the doctor's childhood village of Galina; feared and ostricised by the villagers after she forms a curious attachment with a tiger that has escaped from the bombed city zoo....

In addition to not wanting to spoil this for anyone who has this book on their TBR; I find that the twisting narrative and lack of linearity makes this an extremely difficult book to summarise. Although I am impressed (and perhaps a tad envious) that Obreht has managed to write snippets of such touching prose at the tender age of 25, I also found myself sighing at times as I was thrust from the present back into another randomly related storyline in the past that just didn't connect up in a fluid enough way, which is a shame because I am ordinarily a complete sucker for a quirky tale like this.

On the positive side, I haven't read many novels set in this part of the world and, largely due to Obreht's vivid portrait of the Balkans and the hint she gives us of a culture rich in folklore and rustled by recent conflict, I would now readily pick up a novel set in the chilly and magical hills of Eastern Europe. You can really sense the author's roots here, her very personal attachment to this part of the world and this personal affection, coupled with elements such as the tragic animals trapped in the city zoo and the very special relationship between granddaughter and grandfather really pulled at my heart strings. There are hints of something wonderful to be had here and I am keen to see how Obreht grows as a writer in the future. I wonder if some short stories might suit? This definitely has potential....

13 November 2011

Jamrach's Menagerie

During the glorious golden-hued Saturday we've all enjoyed this weekend myself and the boyfriend took ourselves off on the bikes for a mini tour of some of Manchester's finest little bars, with a whistle-stop visit to the Whitworth Art Gallery for good measure. A portion of their quirky new exhibition; Dark Matters: Shadow_Technology_Art plays on a variety of, well shadows and technologies (!), to create a fair few interesting little pieces, one such piece being a black cube with an undulating shadow projected onto every side. It was a deceptively simple effect and put me in mind of being on a lonely raft in the middle of the ocean. It also reminded me that I had yet to review Carol Birch's Jamrach's Menagerie; a book that had been on the TBR shortlist ever since I was lucky enough to meet the author at Manchester's Bookmarked Salon earlier last month.

Although none of the Booker shortlist knocked me out this year I have to admit that, despite the immensely attractive cover, this isn't a book that would automatically draw me in; the seafaring theme being the primary drawback. I have been heartened to hear that I'm not the only reader with a problem with books set on boats. Adventure I love, travel I adore, but I never exactly understood (without much experience I must admit) how a novel so restricted in its setting could be interesting; a feeling exacerbated by the complete absence of female characters I imagined there might also be as a result. 

It happily turns out that my preconceptions were largely unfounded, a discovery I hope I will continue to make by hauling my lazy self to as many literary events in the region as possible. In the case of Jamrach's Menagerie, the whole 'historical fiction' label helped to push me in the right direction as anything set in London in the 19th century immediately grabs my attention. 

Jaffy Brown is a young working class lad living in and around the docklands of the great city with his dear old 'ma', who he loves dearly. One day something utterly extraordinary happens to this young boy, whose life has been fairly inconsequential up until then; a great Bengal tiger has found himself on a main road in the center of London and is sauntering down it without a care in the world. Does Jaffy scream? Cower? Run away? No. He walks straight up the beast and pets it on the nose as he might do a soft little pussy cat. In response he is lifted up within the tiger's mouth, passes out, and is carried down the street until its owner, the great Charles Jamrach (who actually existed in real life it turns out - but more of that later!) comes to the rescue and whisks Jaffy away back into his mother's arms. 

© 2011 Fauna & Flora International 

Jaffy's courage has made quite the impression on Mr Jamrach, who turns out to be a dealer in wild animals and other exotic flora and forna, and he soon finds himself working within his 'menagerie', caring for the animals before they are shipped out to wealthy buyers and becoming both best friends and worst enemies with Tim Linver; the golden boy of the yard.

Carol Birch paints a vivid picture of Victorian London; a stinky, seething hub of humanity; workers, whores and drunkards staggering down the filthy streets whilst hordes of weather-beaten sailors wash in and out of the harbour every day, bringing their stories with them. These stories inevitably reach the ears of young Jaffy and, much to his mother's dismay, as soon as the opportunity comes to set sail for distant lands, hot on the tail of Tim and the marvellous old sailor Dan Rymer, he takes it. I have to say that, unlike Jaffy, I was reluctant to leave the safety of the shore. 

The boys are sent as part of the crew on a whaling boat to catch a 'dragon' from some distant island somewhere for a rich client of Jamrach's; an exciting prospect you might think. However, I have to say that the first few chapters at sea, perhaps not helped by my preconceptions, did not completely enthrall me, despite the wonderfully gritty and grim descriptions of sea sickness the 'green' boys suffer during the first few weeks. However, happily and as hoped, as soon as the real mission for the 'dragon' is embarked upon the story really picked up and held my attention right up to the terribly traumatic chapters to follow that, in sharp contrast, had me completely gripped until the very end. (All I can suggest is that you read it to fully understand.)

I'm not necessarily in the camp of people who think that a book based on a true story necessarily makes it a better one, however, after reading I was delighted to recall Birch's comments on background research/inspiration for the novel; including the tragic story of the Whaleship Essex, an event I had never heard about before. 

Charles Jamarach was also a real-life London character in the early 19th century and did actually rescue a young boy from the clutches of one of his tigers, a scene that would be quite a sight today, never mind 200 years ago. I am glad I read this novel and feel that it was a rightful contender for the Booker Prize this year. It is imaginative, illuminating, harrowing and has broaden my horizons considerably.

Lesson # 1: Don't just read the blurb on the back and dismiss books offhand Lucy, you're far better than that. 

4 November 2011


Finally she read it! Hurrah! I have been jolted on by Simon and Polly's month of Discovering Daphne, a wonderful author and woman who has escaped  my attention for far too long. One of my most shameful secrets used to be that I had never read Rebecca, a book that always appears on bloggers/friends top 10 lists time and time again and which I, for no good reason whatsoever, had never quite got round to reading.  'Last Night I dreamt I went to Manderley again' ... This is undoubtedly one of the most famous sentences in literature, one whose subsequent story has been read by millions; even those who hardly ever think to pick a book up.

The entire story is essentially a flashback. Following a disconcerting dream sequence exploring the gardens of her former home, we are introduced to our 'nameless narrator' and her partner who clearly seem to be in self-imposed exile abroad recovering from a trauma of some kind. From here we travel back to the point of our main protagonists' meeting in the French Riviera. Our naive young narrator is busy (and bored) acting as a companion to a very rich and exceedingly gossipy old American woman when they bump into Maxim de Winter, a mysterious gentleman we soon learn to be a wealthy and well-known figure in English society who has recently lost his wife in an incident back at home.

Thanks mercifully to a nasty cold that confines the older woman to her bedroom, our narrator has the chance to become better acquainted with Mr de Winter and the two embark on a whirlwind romance together; one that ends with our girl getting her man for good, marrying him and departing from the Riviera for his pile in the countryside in wonderfully dramatic fashion. A happily ever after surely seems inevitable?.........Nope!

Hackneyed romance and perfectly contented characters have not made this classic book what it is today. As we arrive at Manderley House, our new Mrs de Winter must face up to a life of being 'the other woman', made even worse by the fact that the woman currently in prime position is in fact dead. (The well-known Rebecca of the title.) Within a wonderful portrait of an old English country house and its traditions we find a constant feeling of dread, made all the more menacing by the presence of the ubiquitous housekeeper Mrs Danvers, surely a literary institution in herself even for those not familiar with the book. In the same way that Rebecca appears to haunt Manderley and all those who reside within it, Mrs Danvers avenges her mistress by haunting Mrs de Winter, her skull-like face appearing in every nook and cranny of the house and piercing eyes watching her every move...**shudder**

That, for those very few of you who haven't read this book, is all you are going to get because the twists and turns and completely baffling surprises in this story are spellbinding and I'd hate to ruin it for anyone.

I do have to admit that although I was certainly enjoying myself, I did spent the first half of the book willing the young Mrs de Winter to, well, get a grip (!!) There were far too many histrionics for my 21st century sensibilities; i.e. fainting, weeping etc. After a while I did have to remind myself of the period setting and that no Lucy, it wouldn't just be acceptable to turn around and slap that horrible Mrs Danvers in the face.....

Happily this melodrama is easily eclipsed by some wonderful storytelling and soon dissipates completely as we are completely submersed in Du Maurier's very vivid, suffocatingly tense and eerie world. Never before have I marvelled so much at how a seemingly simple paragraph with seemingly simple descriptions and events could fill a reader with so much dread for beloved characters. As the weather grows heavy and dark above their heads, so it does above ours, leading us right up to the haunting ending....

I have read many an article comparing other novels/films/plays etc to Rebecca without having the main reference in my mind for comparison and I can categorically say that they are all essentially complete rubbish because, apart from a few key ideas that may have inspired other writers, Rebecca is completely original. It is clearly one of the most influential books of its time and if you have not yet read it, get yourself a copy immediately. Du Maurier is a fascinating character herself and I am so very very proud that our little island can produce authors and works of fiction such as this.

On that note, the other day the Guardian featured this genius little tool to play with at Book Drum, featuring a globe covered in virtual pins that detail 150 separate works of fiction in the places in which they are set. Brilliant! I'm pretty sure you can contribute as the list certainly isn't exhaustive by any means and I am in the process of looking into it...anyone know where Manderley is supposed to be?

29 October 2011

Meme meme meme....

I have to admit that ordinarily I'm not a huge fan of memes. (Don't kill me but..) I often glaze over other bloggers weekly memes as I find them a bit predictable once you've seen them a few times over and they don't make for hugely exciting reading.

HOWEVER, the one meme I have enjoyed and have participated in once before is Simon's surprising simple and highly effective (and useful for someone with a head full of rubbish, such as myself) stock checking book list.... 

So......anti-meme as I am..here we go...

1) The book I'm currently reading

The blurb for this book didn't initially draw me in and that, coupled with the fact that it won the Orange Prize and I'm often reluctant to jump on bandwagons right away, means that I've come to this a bit later than everyone else. However, after hearing Téa Obreht do a reading of this lovely book on the Guardian Books Podcast I had to give it a go. Not disappointed yet! 

2) The last book I finished

Picked this up after meeting Carol Birch at the Bookmarked Literary Salon in Manchester earlier this month. This wouldn't ordinarily be something I'd buy (completely sympathise with the whole issue with books set on boats that Simon and Polly have both expressed!) but I'm really glad I did and was completely routing for Carol to win the Booker. (Bugger!) Although sections could have done with a jolt, this ultimately very harrowing story will stay with me for a good while yet. Review to come soon.

3) The next book I want to read

Now, this is the reason why this meme is so effective! I've just realised how 'popular' my current reading habits are! I will endeavour to dig out a classic/something foreign and/or obscure very soon!  That said, I'm sure you can all forgive me for this....the 'must read' of the year surely?

4.) The last book I bought

Love her. 'Nuff said. :-)

5) The last book I was given

Everyone understandably chickened out on my birthday this year, unable to think of books I haven't acquired already and very kindly got me book vouchers instead. As a result, I think the last book I was given was probably Garcia Marquez's Collected Stories (the most recent edition - not the one above) that my parents very kindly gave me when they found a copy in a charity bookshop. I love Gabriel Garcia Marquez, particularly when I can read him in manageable bite-sized nuggets.

On an entirely different note, I'm already growing tired of the format/colours of this blog and am considering a bit more of a 'professional' look. If any of you seasoned bloggers out there have some ideas/advice I am all ears!

28 October 2011

Boho Literary Pub Crawl

Oh no...apologies, it was the Boho Literary Pub Walk that myself and the bf booked ourselves onto with much enthusiasm after perusing the delights to be had at the Manchester Literary Festival this year, and didn't my beloved Northern city put on a good show.

Although we only managed to haul ourselves to the event that focused on bookish stories centered around the watering holes of our fair city (most notably paying a visit to the Peveril of the Peak, one of my favourite places for a pint) it seems that everyone has thoroughly enjoyed their slice of the festival.

John; our enigmatic guide to Manchester's literary underbelly was extraordinary and a relative goldmine of information. We were both completely stupefied by the fact after interesting fact that he managed to cram into the two hour walk around the city center; god only knows how one man manages to remember it all! Our tour taught us several things; firstly and most importantly, it doesn't matter how long you live somewhere, you still don't know it like you think you know it. Moreover, however much of a downer you manage to create around a place where you've spent so much time, struggling sometimes to see out of the little box of drudgery on the way to the office each day, your home has so much more to offer than you realised.

It seems that Manchester was once the hub of everything; political, cultural, you name it. And I am proud to call myself a Mancunian (even more so nowadays) .Thankyou very much John (and, of course, the benevolent spirits of Elizabeth Gaskell and Anthony Burgess) you have opened our eyes...

(P.S - big shout out for Bookmarked at Waterstones Deansgate on the 7th November - Ben Aaronovitch, Paul Magrs, Simon and Adam, I can't WAIT !!!)

22 October 2011

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle

Over a month has passed by since I finished Murakami's The Wind up Bird Chronicle. So very many weeks that I was quite interested as to how effectively I could compile my thoughts on this book...whether it would be any easier to write a review with a bit more reflection and distance between us...

After reading Kafka on the Shore earlier this year I felt I had thrust open doors to entire new solar systems of thought and fiction -  Murakami's totally bizarre, ambiguous and sometimes very sinister worlds completely enthralled and surprised me; how I had not discovered him before now? I understand that his storytelling might not be everyone's cup of tea; some people like their reading to be less confusing and to have more of a clear plotline and, well, point. My second experience of this legendary author, although not pulling me in quite as much as Kafka, certainly did not disappoint.

Toru Okada is your typical Japanese unemployed 'everyman' (this is always a good starting point for me, I appreciate good books with amazingly ordinary characters at the center of them; take Diary of a Nobody for example) married to Kumiko, a woman who works in a high-pressure job for a publishing house. They have a cat called Noboru Wataya (a recurring name you have to keep an eye out for in Murakami novels) named after Kumiko's sinister and powerful brother. This beloved family pet has completely disappeared, leaving Toru's wife in distress and forming a frame for the story that follows; the mysterious disappearance of Kumiko herself and the strange set of circumstances that follow.

This is a characteristically quirky book; detached, philosophical, vivid and thought-provoking. Toru Okada is numb in his loss; the bizarre (journeys through the wall of a dried-up well - much like Alice down the rabbit hole) are treated normally and the mundane (eating pasta) take on a whole new lease of life with the ever-pervading sense of tension and, at times, dread, as the 'Wind-up' bird disappears from his garden and he is bombarded by phone calls and visits from a cast of eccentric characters. What happens to Toru exactly I couldn't really say, partially because I would hate to spoil it for anyone and also because, well, I don't really know! I love Murakami's oblique view of the world and I can't wait to read his new offering this year, but I am certain that there are whole chunks of meaning in his novels that I am only just grasping the cusp of, with much of it completely passing me by. Hopefully I will get a bit brighter with old age and this will improve but in the meantime his books and the characters within them are absolutely haunting and I thrust his work on anyone unlucky enough to peruse my bookshelf.

Although I'm up for reading a few spooky novels this autumn/winter (Rebecca being my starting point) I think I might lean towards a bit of a Japanese theme this year and next. The country and culture completely fascinates me and a good friend has just settled down over there so, you never know, perhaps an exciting journey could be on the cards over the next couple of years. Better start doing some research..

And...upon reflection, especially with such a mind-bending piece of writing, yes, I think the break between reading and review-writing did us both some good! Perhaps this is something to reflect on for future posts..what do you think?

14 October 2011

City of Djinns

Now, before I start to rattle on about the second read of my summer holiday, let me take the opportunity to congratulate Simon and Adam on the third most enjoyable installment of the Bookmarked Literary Salon at Waterstones in Manchester; this time with my most favourite theme of historical fiction at its centre. Carol Birch (whose Booker Prize short-listed Jamrach's Menagerie I'm reading at the mo) and Jane Harris (author of Gillespie and I, which also sounds fab)  were both so charming and it was really interesting to listen to what inspires them and how they organise themselves into writing a novel. Thanks guys! I wait in anticipation for the next one in November!

So, before we went to Delhi, one of my colleagues at work insisted that I pick up City of Djinns by William Dalrymple (I can never spell his name!) and I wasn't disappointed.

I don't read enough outside my comfort zone and travel fiction isn't really something I'm well versed in. The wonderful thing is that this personal account of Dalrymple's years spent with his Scottish wife living in the Indian capital reads just like a novel; only with a few facts thrown in on the side. During the first couple of days we spent abroad I wasn't blown away by the book and I felt quite indifferent to the frequent historical digressions, however once we settled in and began to understand the place a little more I thought his depiction of the country and its people was absolutely brilliant. The personal perspective brings a depth of understanding that you simply don't get from ordinary travel fiction and I appreciated the 'India through foreign eyes' perspective. The characters are hilarious and very true to Indian form and the bf, much to his dismay, had to endure night after night of Lucy's 'did you know..' Indian fact of the day...

So, good stuff over all and my parents have discovered an absolute gem of a charity shop outside Derby where I picked up a copy of In Xanadu, where Dalrymple follows Marco Polo's travels from Jerusalem all the way into the historical city of Xanadu in China. What a find!

Finally, and most importantly, I need some advice from all you bookworms out there - I have £40 worth of book tokens that I received for my birthday last week. What do you think is the best way to spend them? And where should I shop?!! Upon reflection there aren't too many independent bookstores in Manchester...**sigh** if only.....

9 October 2011

A Fine Balance

One of the most important things I have learnt from putting pen to paper and reflecting on what I read is how completely skewed first impressions can be.  I did think twice about putting A Fine Balance in my rucksack to take away with me because even opening this book up is a prospect that, until a few weeks ago, had made me quite anxious indeed. Densely-packed text covers all 624 pages of this epic novel that deals with some pretty harsh and harrowing subjects.......but was this a slog to read in the end?            
Not  one  bit.

 Despite having been thoroughly occupied with Discovering Daphne du Maurier these past few days, this deeply moving portrait of four people struggling to survive in the Indian mega-city Mumbai is something that has haunted me for days....

Dina Dilal is a headstrong individual with a fierce desperation to maintain her independence; an incredible goal in a world of crippling poverty and political turmoil, particularly for a woman. Having found a modest flat of her very own away from the prying eyes of her controlling brother and his wife, Dina sets out to employ two experienced tailors (Ishvar and Omprakesh) to take on the work doled out by a large export company in the city and rents out her only bedroom to the student son of a school friend.

The way in which Rohinton Mistry effortlessly interweaves the stories of four characters with completely different experiences of the same country is really very admirable. Through a masterful series of chapters that leap in time and space we follow Ishvar and Omprakesh's journey, and that of their family, from the small village of the chamaar caste of 'untouchables' they belong to to the bright lights and brand new lives working as tailors in the city. Great joy and great tragedy lies in store for these two men and we follow them closely every step of the way. Student Maneck, on the other hand, comes from a very different part of the world; growing up in a quiet hill station in his parent's grocery shop and finding himself understandably shell-shocked by the city.

The vivid images in this novel were of course made all the more so by being in situ at the time of reading and I find myself wondering what I would have imagined in my minds eye had we not witnessed the terrible poverty and overwhelming chaos with our own eyes. I am also rather ashamed that I understood so little about India's turbulent history before going there and this brilliant story merely served to hammer this home, exploring the religious conflicts surrounding partition-era India and the surgical removal (quite literally at times!) of citizens' basic human rights during Indira Gandhi's 'Emergency' of the 1970s.

This is a heartwarming and enlightening tale that deals with some uncomfortable and distressing subjects in a very appropriate and entirely natural way. The serious tragedy we might see that is a simple reality for many people in India is brutally and honestly approached without eclipsing the bond these wonderful characters develop and the positive periods spent with one another. Rohinton Mistry is an accomplished writer and this beautiful novel is well on its way to being a modern classic; had its 600 pages fit into my satchel without becoming horrendously squashed and dog-eared it would have been perfect.  A Fine Balance, you might say... 9/10

1 October 2011

Discovering Daphne

After having almost a month off the radar I have come back to England with a fair few goals with regards to the blog and reading; the first being an aim for quality rather than quantity. As I'm sure many out of you out there can sympathise, it is incredibly difficult to set aside quality time for indulging in writing and reading whilst trying to hold down a full-time job and, from reading other blogs, I realise that I'm not the only one who puts herself under unduly large pressure to update my website every five minutes with something earth shatteringly  well-written.

Well, the pressure is off. I have loved having two or three weeks of pure indulgence book-wise and I am determined for it to continue, it's important to have down time after all! I hope I can, as a result, develop Literary Relish into a more considered and therefore hopefully far more interesting forum for discussing literature and indeed all manner of fabulous and fascinating things that life as to offer.

Anyway, enough rambling, what I was going to say is that I have a few books in the pipeline that I'm desperate to get into, however, I may have to make one small addition to the pile this October:

Savidge Reads and Novel Insights will be hosting their annual Daphne du Maurier-fest and, although I can't join in the fabulous read-along (although if you have the time do check it out!) I am definitely going to be remedying the embarrassing fact that I have never read Rebecca. (I know, I know.) I also have The Doll sitting on my bookshelf tantilising me to turn the pages...so...onwards and upwards!

29 September 2011


Wholesale book market, Old Delhi.

Shahjahanabad or 'Old Delhi' as it is more commonly known, was the fantastically unreal starting point for mine and the bf's adventure in India that has almost brought us all the way up to the end of September. I can't believe it's almost October! (Although quite an unseasonably warm one in Manchester this week..)

As most people seem to the first time around, we decided to focus on the area of this vast country nicknamed 'The Golden Triangle'; a bewitching region that encompasses Delhi, Jaipur, the Taj Mahal, and a whole bunch of other fascinating nooks and crannies along the way. Although I have travelled and lived abroad in the past, I had never been outside of Europe before now and to say we felt as if we'd landed on Mars (and I mean that in the best possible way) would be an understatement. Chaotic and romantic in equal measures, this country is absolutely beautiful, despite the incredible poverty that would shock even the most seasoned individual. The people are friendly, the food mouthwatering, the atmosphere invigorating and I loved every minute of it. Without sounding hackneyed, I genuinely feel enriched (and slightly shell-shocked) by the last few weeks we've spent there.......for now, let me just share a few book pictures with you ..

Happily our book choices seemed to be right on the money. The bf read Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts; a swashbuckling (and apparently fairly corny) true story of an Australian fugitive living in Mumbai, a book I am still trying to wheedle a review out of him for. William Dalrymple's personal love affair with the ancient city of Delhi also added an extra layer of significance and romance to our stay and, although I was initially daunted by the size and subject matter of Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance, this masterfully accurate and heartwarming portrayal of four individuals struggling to get by in Mumbai has ensured that I can maintain my spaced-out, captivated state of mind for just a little bit longer...

8 September 2011

La Llorona

After reading this wonderful article in The Paris Review a few days ago I decided to devote this weeks' post to the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo; a woman whose inspirational life and artwork I rightly devoted an entire year to studying at University.

I have racked my brains to try and remember when I first discovered Frida and am proud to say that, unlike certain 'Fridamaniacs' who obsess over her chronic health problems, I discovered the art first and the personality afterwards, something I would hope that the artist herself would be pleased about.

Bold, quirky and unconventional, Kahlo's paintings have a distinctively revolutionary air. As a teenager I was attracted not only to their unnerving subject matter but also to the handsome, moustachioed woman at their center. As I gradually began to discover Kahlo and the work of her husband, Diego Rivera, the lives I found behind the images were so extraordinary that I fell in love with her work all over again.

During her early twenties, Kahlo was involved in a horrific traffic accident when the bus she was travelling in with a friend crashed into a trolley car. The collision left her close to death with broken bones all over her body (including her spine) and an iron handrail pushed through her uterus. The event understandably altered her life, one that was subsequently spent in a great deal of pain. Knowledge of this harrowing incident opens up entire windows of understanding when studying her artwork; work that is littered with images of death (a hugely popular theme in Mexican Culture) pain and symbols that betray her frustration directed at other areas of her life such as her inability to have children (also due to the accident) and her philandering husband Diego. HOWEVER. Let's stop here. Unlike the Fridamaniacs out there we don't want to become bogged down in the tragic details, something that is so very easy to do.

Ironically the world may never have had the joy of knowing Frida the artist had Frida the invalid never come to exist. An inability to leave her bed for long periods of her life coupled with the necessity to find an outlet for pent up pain and energy gave us the art we know today...although I am much keener to focus on the woman who had a great sense of her heritage and a strong desire to promote ancient Mexican culture as it was crushed underfoot by the great Western superpowers. Having suffered bouts of severe illness myself, Frida Kahlo is an individual whose story I have drawn strength from throughout my life. However, what ultimately inspires me is a woman who, in a mans world, pushed her opinions and her politics to the fore, openly criticising capitalist culture and lamented a world where the individual, and particularly the female, was forced to take a back seat. Battered, bruised and eventually drunk as she was, she is a figure for all to look up to and admire and she can have a seat around my dinner table anytime.

NB: Obviously I won't have mentioned (haha!) that Literary Relish will be taking a break whilst I go away to India for a couple of weeks. I am jabbed up and RARING to go so wish us luck! The boyfriend is taking Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts and I am going for two Indian and one very English book so I have the best of both worlds; i.e. something for discovery and something for a bit of nostalgia. Hip hip hooray!

28 August 2011

Robin Hood's Cave

Ever since moving from Derby up to the bright lights of Manchester I have thrived on the buzz of big cities; people, parties, galleries, restaurants...the advantages to living in such a thriving hub of activity are endless and I have loved every minute of it. However, as I get older and a little more settled I can also see the beauty of the more peaceful corners of world and, particularly after having been in a relationship with Mr Outdoors himself for quite some time now...of long days out in the countryside, the nicely buff Mr Monty Halls and perhaps one day even the prospect of living on a little croft in the remote regions of Scotland....

For now however I am still a city-slicker at heart and not ready for rearing pigs and digging up turnips quite yet. Weekends to our beautiful green patches walking and climbing gets me out and today was no exception. If you're heading over to the Peak District this Bank Holiday weekend and are around Hathersage-way, head over to Stanage Edge. It's one of the most popular locations for rock climbing in the area and the views are gorgeous (particularly when you get bored of watching bobbing-bums hanging off the side of the rock face :-))

(Robin Hood's Cave is a particularly nice little secret hidey hole that you can climb into from the top of the edge and out onto a naturally formed 'balcony' where people have quite sweetly carved love messages into the wall and you can see the wax left over from romantic nights out under the stars...)

 © Copyright John Fielding and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

24 August 2011

The History of Love

During a frenzied charity-shop-bag-drop at Oxfam a couple of weeks ago I was delighted to see Nicola Krauss' The History of Love perching snugly on the shelf, just a day after listening to her on the Radio 4 Bookclub. Woopee. It immediately went on my Wish List and after reading this beautiful story I am looking forward to delving into her other offerings when I get the chance.

The only less-than-perfect comment I have to make is that the plotline is ever so slightly convoluted, and I couldn't even begin to summarise the many twists and turns, and thrilling highs and lows that we are treated to as we dive into the colliding (though they don't yet know it) world of Alma Singer and Leo Gursky.

Alma Singer is a loving, imaginative, resourceful child growing up without a father in New York. Desperate to fill the gap that this terrible loss has left in her mother (and brother's) heart, Alma embarks on a mission to make a connection with a mysterious writer who commissions her mother to translate The History of Love.  This profound and eccentric book that Alma's father bought for her mother on a trip to South America (portions of which we are fortunate enough to be able to read here) inspired the name for their daughter and now it seems, holds the potential to carry her family a little further...

Meanwhile, on the other side of the city, 80-something pensioner Leopold Gursky is living out the final years of his life, milking this quiet period by spending time with his 'friend' Bruno and sitting for life drawing classes whilst musing on the more painful experiences in his life; the great losses he suffered during the Holocaust and the lack of relationship with his unwitting son, Isaac, a bestselling novelist.

At the risk of delving into any convoluted storylines myself, all I will say is that the object that essentially brings these two wonderful characters together is The History of Love (this is a book within a book - now concentrate please!) and this concept alone is simply perfect for a book FIEND such as myself. How utterly romantic. Weaving and wiggly as the storyline is, everything does come together at the end and Krauss' style of writing at least kept me on my toes over my morning coffee on the way to work. Love, loss and finding the words to express these powerful emotions seems to be the focus here and it makes for compelling reading.

This was a bittersweet experience and the closing (I want to say 'scene'? I regularly found myself imagining what this is going to look like as a film next year) ...the closing scene actually moved me to tears. Along with this I found myself belly laughing at some of Leo Gursky's antics - growing old with gusto and not much grace, I found him the most compelling character of the book whose lonely but equally hilarious ramblings were simply wonderful. He is massively vulnerable yet has huge amounts of love and grief and comedy within him and I LOVED him. LOVED him. 

20 August 2011

Books that make you go 'oooo'

I'm not keen on focusing too much on a specific company/brand in any of my posts, however, I read an article on the Tesco Books Blog today talking about the innovative new way that the uber-supermarket brand have decided to market the latest must-have reads; by grouping them not alphabetically or by genre but simply by how they make us feel.

I don't know what everyone else thinks but I couldn't think of a more inspired way to sell books. Since starting this blog I have tried to branch out from my strict charity shop-no book above £1.50 rule and shop not only at little individual bookshops but at high street chains (including the supermarkets, however uninspiring their displays might be) as well, as I want to support the industry on every level I possibly can. Whilst the charity shop technique of throwing everything onto one shelf still works for me as it throws up countless surprises, the main obstacle I find when faced with your standard A-Z or Bestseller stand is .... well, what am I in the mood for? And if all I have is the blurb on the back to base these choices on then how can make the right decision?

16 August 2011

My Name is Red


These are the first four, attention grabbing words that title the first chapter of Orhan Pamuk's My Name is Red, and my attention was well and truly grabbed.

My Dad bought this book for himself months and months ago and from the moment I saw the cover I was absolutely itching to discover it. I'm a true medievalist at heart and the thought of exploring the world of 16th century Istanbul through the eyes of its master-artists was a tantalizing prospect.

In reality, and I feel like such a heathen saying this, this book was hard work. We begin with the murder of one of the brightest stars of the Ottoman Empire, one the master miniaturists, killed whilst working on a controversial new book for the Sultan under the guidance of Enishte Effendi; a man tasked with managing the creation of this new masterpiece and heavily inspired by the techniques and styles emerging from the West, art that favours more realistic portrayals of perspective and individual people (seen as utter sacrilege to the Ottomans.) Enishte's nephew, Black, arrives in town, keen to impress his Uncle and win the affections of his daughter Shekure, a beautiful young widow he has adored since childhood. Instead he finds himself thrust into the controversy surrounding this manuscript and the murder mystery that has arisen because of it.

I was hooked from the first chapter however by the fifth I knew that I was in for a slog, and by the tenth (out of 59 chapters!) I have to say...I couldn't really have cared less who killed who and had to ensconce myself in the conservatory on Sunday evening with no phone and no boyfriend to fight to the final chapter (sorry Dad!)

I was really excited about this book and there are moments of true greatness here that betray a Nobel Prize winning author. The lengthy monologues on the nature of life, art, religion, death, the threat of the West and a whole host of heavy subjects are exquisite and the medium of art and colour the perfect way to begin these discussions. However, these monologues quite often felt like lectures and the subject matters incredibly repetitive, to the point where I had to force myself not to skim read paragraphs as this often felt like Groundhog Day à la Ottoman Empire.

There is also great beauty to be found in the first person perspective Pamuk writes from ... seeing the world through the eyes of the people loving and living in Instanbul in the 16th century, and the constant change of perspective (particularly some very intriguing chapters written from the perspective of 'a coin' or 'a tree' etc) kept things flowing, and I appreciated the occasional glimpse of the more everyday, human aspects of life through the female characters of the tale. However, all of the characters, particularly the artists and murder suspects were quite similar and began to blur into one by the final chapters.

Although the ideas in this book are incredibly profound and some of the descriptions absolutely stunning, I just felt a little bored at times I'm afraid. You're a special writer Orhan Pamuk, but not for Literary Relish at this moment in time, perhaps I'll revisit you when I've grown up a bit.

12 August 2011

Bookmarked Manchester Debut Night!

We've all been a little bit distracted Manchester-way this week with the terrible riots that have blighted our fair island these past few days. Happily we seem to have missed the worst of it in Manchester and luckily no-one (touch-wood) has been hurt, although our lovely city centre is looking a little worse for wear at the moment. I think I echo most people (and blogger's) sentiments when I say that we have all felt heartened by the actions of those who, the very next day, got to work clearing up the mess in a true show of solidarity. It in't so grim up North!

Now, back to books! Before the drama of Tuesday I was fortunate enough to grab a ticket for blogger Simon Savidge and author Adam Lowe's new literary salon BOOKMARKED, hosted at Waterstones Deansgate. These chaps rightly identified that, for a large, cosmopolitan, hip happening city such as MaDchester, we have embarrassingly few independent bookshops/literary events in the city centre. 

The promise of a literary event full stop, never mind one featuring the wonderful Sarah Winman, whose novel, When God was a Rabbit, has been a beloved holiday read this year, was enough to get me excited, and I certainly wasn't disappointed. There were a lot of like-minded people milling around to see both Winman and SJ Watson (author of Before I go to sleep) and I would have loved to have more opportunity to those bookish types sitting around me... Sarah Winman's reading of a particularly hilarious portion of her book was side-splittingly funny. The life she brought to her characters, even putting on completely plausible voices for each one, were brilliant, and I wasn't surprised to find out she actually used to be an actress. I, of course, for want of anything intelligent/endearing to say made a complete fool of myself in front of her as I shuffled forward sheepishly for a book signing, making a lame comment about dropping all of my books in the bath before blushing and backing away. She was wonderful, enigmatic and cool as cucumber.

Another great discovery was SJ Watson, whose novel is being lauded as a psychological thriller... a genre that doesn't usually float my boat. However, to be honest I realise that I've never really given it a go. What better opportunity than now. He was an incredibly engaging, down-to-earth guy and you simply cannot hear the first few pages of this book without rushing out to buy it immediately. I'm curious to see how I find this groundhog day-style tale of a woman who loses her memory every time she goes to sleep and therefore can never really trust those around her....

Although I can't be there for the next BOOKMARKED session with Val McDermid in September I will certainly be there for October. Thankyou very much to Simon an Adam for hosting!

7 August 2011

Dreams of Old Delhi

With everything almost finalised for India (with the first set of jabs tomorrow eek!) whilst planning the actual trip I have been having serious thoughts about holiday books and the fact that I have two very long flights to indulge in some hardcore reading. My Dad has lent me Salman Rushdie's classic Midnight's Children and I have A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry sat on the TBR. However, I am particularly excited about my next purchase; hopefully the City of Djinns by William Dalrymple, which sounds like the perfect read for our first time in this scintillating city. Djinns are figures that fascinates me; spirits that appear in many novels set in the East (including my current read) and seem to be particularly prevalent in Indian culture. This book promises a lot - part-memoir; encompassing not only Dalrymple's personal experience of the city but also an exploration of its rich history. How exciting! 

5 August 2011

When God was a Rabbit

Do any of you have a dilemma when it comes to choosing books to take away with you?  There you have it, a few days of uninterrupted reading-bliss, no blogging, no phone, just a bit of sightseeing and a lot of eating and drinking in between. What do you plump for?  Do you do go for for a Count of Monte Cristo/Ulysses-style readathon? Or do you focus on books that you can just dip into easily but that are profound and engaging enough to have something to talk about afterwards?  Both approaches work, and the bf and I were only saying the other day that holidays (of the beachy/swimming pool kind) are often the only time you have to really immerse yourself in classics that have been propping open your doors for years.

This has been a busy year so I have been glad for the easier route this year. (But yes, I will read Anna Karenina one day...) When God was a Rabbit was the perfect choice. It is a comfy read and a charming book which, like all great books, has the great theme of love at its heart. I can't necessarily lay out the 'plot' here as, although many things happen in this book I wouldn't say that there is any solid plot or clear 'action' of any sort. This story is about the people. The love between friends and family but ultimately the love between a brother and sister; very best friends and two people who hold each others secrets, pain, worries and joys deep in their hearts and whose paths into adulthood merely lead to an even deeper and richer friendship.

Without getting too cheesy and sentimental here, as I've said in many previous reviews, one of the most important things for me when reading any story is to sympathise with the main characters and here I happily can, a million times over. Although I am the older sibling in  my family, I could identify a great deal with the close relationship between Elly and her big brother Joe in this story as I am very close to my own brother (also a Joe!). It is a relationship that is completely unique and extremely special and I feel very lucky to have it . :-) ah. 

We are plunged back into the magic of childhood, where thoughts and feelings are relatively uncomplicated and where God is, well, a rabbit! However, don't be fooled into thinking that is a simple sweet tale of bunny rabbits and children's games. There are some serious and quite shocking underlying themes/events in this book that I won't reveal but that, although traumatic, are very sensitively and appropriately dealt with and Winman manages to maintain the tone of her book whilst keeping us aware of these more serious topics. 

This slightly oblique approach leaves us to fill in the gaps and I was really glad of it. I was also happy that the shine wasn't taken off the other important topics in the book, particularly the relationships. As well as Elly and Joe we are introduced to some wonderful, incredibly eccentric British characters. Creative and sparkly Aunt Nancy reminds me of my own sparkly bohemian auntie, the delightfully gay and melodramatic Ginger and Arthur put me in mind of myself and my gay-boyfriend and finally, who could forget Jenny Penny. Elly's quirky childhood friend with unmanageble hair and distinct smell of chips whose fate surprises us all...

Ah...I feel all warm and fuzzy inside...