27 June 2012

Paris in July

Yes peeps, it's that time of year again; the sun is shining (....) our cornbeefy English legs are getting an airing and BookBath and Thyme for Tea are once again hosting the fabulous Paris in July. My favourite city, country, language, food....basically, everything I love rolled into one event that I can indulge in sans guilt for an entire month!  Apart from the inevitable Manchester Book Club choice that may not necessarily have anything to do with France, the rest of my month will be spent reading French authors, eating too much (also, not necessarily French food!) and generally pining for gay Pareeee :-)

I have heaps of literature/films in stock for anything French themed but would like to know whether anyone has read/seen anything particularly exciting in the past few months?  I think it may also be time for me to finally watch the much-lauded Trois Couleurs trilogy. ..

I thought I'd also take the opportunity to thank a couple of gorgeous bloggers for awards that they have kindly bestowed on Literary Relish this week! The lovely Cynthia (who has a brilliantly quirky blog - take a look!) with the Liebster award and the fabulous BundleofBooks (a Twitter fave!) with the Sunshine Award.

I've already been given the Liebster Award by Victoria Corby just recently so I won't BORE you all with too much inane information about myself and just treat you to BundleofBooks ten short, snappy questions:

1. Favourite colour – Red (Fiery!)
2. Favourite animal – Cat
3. Favourite number – 7
4. Favourite non-alcoholic drink – Lychee juice...mmmmmm!
5. Prefer Facebook or Twitter – Twitter
6. My passion – Books!
7. Prefer Giving or Getting presents – I prefer giving more than getting as I get older....am I becoming less selfish?!
8. Favourite pattern – Polka dots. Like Minnie. 
9. Favourite day of the week – Thursday. It's the new Friday!
10. Favourite flower – Tulips

24 June 2012

Wolf Hall

'Already there are too many books in the world. There are more every day. One man cannot hope to read them all.'
Henry VIII, p. 472

The world can never have too many books. However, Henry's exasperated claim that we can never hope to read all of them is, scarily, very true. This considered, it's becoming progressively more important for me to read really good books. Although it's impossible to guarantee you'll like something, with certain authors or themes you know you're on to a winner; in my humble opinion Hilary Mantel is one such author. 

Like many people my age in the UK, I studied the Tudors at least twice, maybe even three times, at school, something which ordinarily ruins a subject for pupils. This period of history however, never fails to be the most sumptuous, filthiest, most dramatic going; beheadings, burnings, fancy clothes, feasts and sex; now how could you ever get bored with that? 

As with plenty of books, I'm coming to Wolf Hall far too late really; although there's something to be said about reading a book like this after the hoohah has died down. (I'm taking the same approach with Bring up the Bodies; waiting patiently for the paperback edition to be released...) 

Hilary Mantel's (soon to be) trilogy, ending with The Mirror and the Light, will eventually chart the rise from obscurity and eventual demise of one of history's most controversial characters; Thomas Cromwell. Ordinarily painted in a fairly unflattering light, Mantel's more balanced portrait delves into both his public and imagined private life. Cromwell became a key player in Henry VIII's break from Rome, the dissolution of the monasteries and the highs and lows, in this particular novel, of his relationship with the notorious Anne Boleyn.  Normally portrayed as a ruthless and entirely manipulative man, in stark contrast to his contemporary Thomas More; Hilary Mantel plays with convention and, quite convincingly, imagines a more realistic 16th century world; where even Saints have their flaws and where ordinary men must sometimes abandon their morals to save their neck and serve their King.

Historical fiction that manages to steer away from the fluffy, über-sexed up stereotype is right up my street, especially when it's done well and Hilary Mantel is an absolute master at it. Although I'm no Tudor expert, it certainly seems that she's done her homework and has a profound understanding of her subject. At the same time, she is careful not to sacrifice her story for the sake of bogging us down in dates and facts, giving us one of those rare occasions where a 600 + page novel leaves us wanting more. Mantel has succeeded in recreating a luxuriant, elaborate and dangerous world, with a vast array of characters (see the 'cast list' at the beginning of the book) that, rather than confuse, merely serves to bring this multi-faceted world to life, where something intriguing happens or is said on every single page

Her powerful descriptions of executions are vomit-inducing:
'At Smithfield Frith is being shovelled up, his youth, his grace, his learning and his beauty: a compaction of mud, grease, charred bone.'
p. 480

'The chains retained the remnants of flesh, sucking and clinging...A man took an iron bar  and thrust it through the whole where the woman's left eye had been.' 
p. 355

Certain scenes, such as the bridal procession of Anne Boleyn are so vibrant and full of movement and colour that the scenes of medieval England almost reminded me of modern day India:

'At every turn on the route there are pageants and living statues, recitations of her virtue and gifts of gold from city coffers...blossom mashed and minced under the treading feet of the stout sixteen, so scent rises like smoke. The route is hung with tapestries and banners, and at his orders the ground beneath the horses' hooves is gravelled to prevent slipping, and the crowds restrained behind rails in case of riots and crush'
'And looking down on them, the other Londoners, those monsters who live in the air, the city's uncounted population of stone men and women and beasts, and things that are neither human nor beasts, fanged rabbits and flying hares, four-legged birds and pinioned snakes, imps with bulging eyes and ducks' bills, men who are wreathed in leaves or have the heads of goats or rams; creatures with knotted coils and leather wings, with hairy ears and cloven feet, horned and roaring, feathered and scaled, some laughing, some singing, some pulling back their lips to show their teeth; lions and friars, donkeys and geese, devils with children crammed into their maws, all chewed except for their helpless paddling feet; limestone or leaden, metalled or marbled, shrieking and sniggering above the populace, hooting and gurning and dry-heaving from buttresses, walls and roofs.'
 p. 463-64 

Thomas Cromwell by Holbein c. 1533

Most crucially to this novel's success is the fact that I both liked and believed in Thomas Cromwell and all who surrounded him, both at home and at Court. Avoiding 'ye olde' style English, Mantel creates a sense of period in her dialogue without resorting to unreadable language and creates characters who come out with 16th century versions of the kind of nonsense you or I would do. Cromwell is realistic; a working class hero and family man whose care for the young people he has taken under his wing and grief for those he has lost balances well with the more snakish sides to his personality that become more prevalent as the book draws to its conclusion. Wolf Hall, the novel's namesake and seat of the Seymour family is only mentioned a handful of times throughout the book and does not take a prominent position, though through this clever title (and our own basic knowledge of English history) we know that this is exactly where Henry is headed. It is an unusual thing to know precisely in what direction a story is going before it gets there (e.g. Anne and Cromwell's eventual executions, among many others) although how Hilary Mantel will arrive there is another question altogether. She kept me glued to the edge of my seat for a good two weeks with Wolf Hall and I absolutely cannot wait to see what she has in store for our anti-hero next.

'Arrange your face'

22 June 2012

Scotland reads...

Returning home to the rather taxing (though, I'm thinking, also pretty marvelous) The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, our Manchester Book Club read this month, I was doubly, triply glad that I took some 'light' book choices on our hols to Scotland with me. We took far too many books and board games in hindsight, planning for a week of terrible weather and being cooped up in sleeping bags. Instead, we were greeted with this:

Hot Cows

A week that was supposed to be all about reading (albeit Victoria Hislop-style fluff) Cluedo and cold pasta became one of sunshine, sheep and beer and between bouts of hiking and sunbathing I managed to finish the deeply disturbing (in the best way possible) Never Let Me Go and Andrea Levy's Small Island, a book I've been meaning to get around for ages and struck just the right holiday chord. 

I also promised a yurt photograph, so here we go, a yurt and a Relish getting stuck into the cider and a good read (photography courtesy of The Seed™):

(NB: On Saturday we spent the day wandering around the gorgeous Glasgow for the Voltaire and Rousseau Bookshop, which, partially due to my stubbornness and partially due to the humid weather, we completely failed to find. Although, if you do happen to be up that way, pay a visit and tell us what it's like! Looking at the winding streets on the map I don't feel too guilty for our failure now...)

21 June 2012

An evening with ... Carlos Ruiz Zafón

First of all, a big hello and welcome back to a more active Literary Relish! I'm sure you'll all be relieved (heh) to know that I feel rather refreshed indeed and full of musings and reviews for this, the first day of summer! (something I'm finding rather hard to believe judging by the deluge of water swilling around our doorstep this evening...) A Scottish update is soon to follow but, in the meantime, I'm itching to to talk about my.... I mean Waterstones Deansgate's ... delectable evening with the great Carlos Ruiz Zafón last night.

Donning a rugby top and some rather funky glasses, the enthusiastic Manchester crowd were greeted (unbeknowningly) by a slightly hairier, more owlish version of Daddy Relish, an impression that automatically made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside...

I'd heard Carlos (oo, listen to me, like we're best friends or something!) interviewed before on the BBC World Service and other miscellaneous podcasts and whatnot and had great expectations as a result. He didn't disappoint. After a slightly corny introduction by the overexcited compere, the refreshingly humble star-author led with a chat about his 'YA' fiction (children study his books in Spain) that, I should mention, are just as, if not more popular with adults than the youngsters, and the development of a fourth book (eeek!) to round up his quartet of atmospheric novels surrounding the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.

Talk of inspiration, location and translation were abound (his books are translated into English by Lucia Graves - Robert Grave's daughter. Interesting fact of the week) and Zafón spoke enigmatically about all three. I even took an excited lady's photo getting every one of his novels signed, including a cheeky slip of paper for his fourth book. I have a bit of an aversion to hardbacks at the mo and therefore managed to control myself, sitting on my hands until the paperback comes out, but standing with the hoards was worth it to meet the man. A chuffed Relish returns to the grindstone this week!

Photo stolen from Waterstones as mine were terrible.
 Hope they don't mind!

6 June 2012


... the boyfriend and I are lucky lucky people; lucky enough to be escaping away to the Outer Hebrides to live in a yurt for a week as of Saturday :-) Like my pre-holiday post back in March, I am feeling completely exhausted today; thoroughly in need of a break in short. I have a feeling that a lot of this may be some kind of subconscious wind down I always have the tendency to do a few days before I cast anchor....

 Last evening, minus poor Simon, who really hasn't been feeling too hot of late, the Manchester Book Club met for our third meeting to discuss Simon's book choice; The Dubious Salvation of Jack V by Jacques Strauss (a relishy review to come later on this month!) and to ponder and potentially break into sweats over the dear Alex in Leeds' thoughtful (and Russian; yes!) pick of three. We finally settled for The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov; thoroughly satiating my appetite for something meaty and Slavic.  
Although her other two books were also excellent and differed wildly from our final choice (I actually went for a Mapp and Lucia  book by E F Benson ... perhaps its all in the name...) the group pleasantly surprised me by being up for the challenge - helped along I think by the card-playing cat on the cover. Freaky. (See above.) We had a lovely mix of peeps there yesterday and had some mixed reviews on our Strauss book, which always makes life more interesting. We even welcomed another boy into the fold, hurrah! 

That said, I don't see this being a holiday book and would much rather give Bulgakov the respect he deserves by settling down seriously when I have regained some much needed energy and brainpower traipsing the shores of Scotland. Until then, enjoy your reading everyone!

3 June 2012

Important update..

Just wanted to post a quick note to let you know that Literary Relish will very soon, for various reasons, be transferring over to Wordpress. I have been pondering a move for some time and have finally been prompted by someone who shall remain nameless, whose nod towards the alternative blogging tool has finally given me the push I needed to move over.

More on this and a new URL to come soon! In the meantime do keep checking in on me here... :)

The Tiny Wife

It is quite unusual for me to drag myself out of my 'literary' mold and pick up a comicy number like Andrew Kaufman's The Tiny Wife. Wolf Hall had been calling to me from the bookshelf for weeks (especially considering the release of Bring up the Bodies a few weeks ago) so, before taking the plunge, this quirky little number was the perfect thing to let my brain hang out just a weensy bit. The perfect story to dip into over a weekend at Relish HQ; weekends that are often much more devoted to drinking, talking books and playing with cats than actually getting much reading done :) (I was also prompted by a tempting review via Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book.)

Kaufman has created a wonderful fable, a modern fairy tale and one that doesn't stop at including all of the dark (and slightly twisted) elements present in your traditional Hansel and Gretels and Red Riding Hoods a la Brothers Grimm.

A peculiarly-dressed man robs a bank stealing not money, but items of sentimental value and the SOULS of the patrons; victims who are soon plunged into a haphazard, frightening world where tattoos come to life, women metamorphose into sweet treats and husbands turn into snowmen. Although its a bit shallow of me, I have to admit to being delighted at just how pretty this little book is when it appeared on my doorstep, complete with attractive silhouette-style illustrations throughout. However, this isn't all fur coat and no knickers. Kaufman's imaginative tale is so much fun and made me appreciate the book in the kind of way I did as a child, sitting in my local library and letting my imagination run riot.

This isn't all fun and games, Kaufman doesn't lose himself in the madness so much that he forgets to include elements that draw the story in a little deeper. Some of the characters' demise, although fantastical, are really rather tragic and the focus on Stacey Hinterland, our 'tiny wife', her fear and relationship with her husband and young son really made this a very human and heartwarming tale.

Kaufman's previous novella All my Friends are Superheroes is supposed to be even better than this little treat. Onto my wish list it goes...

1 June 2012

Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death, by Kurt Vonnegut, a Fourth-Generation German-American Now Living in Easy Circumstances on Cape Cod [and Smoking Too Much], Who, as an American Infantry Scout Hors de Combat, as a Prisoner of War, Witnessed the Fire Bombing of Dresden, Germany, ‘The Florence of the Elbe,’ a Long Time Ago, and Survived to Tell the Tale. This Is a Novel Somewhat in the Telegraphic Schizophrenic Manner of Tales of the Planet Tralfamadore, Where the Flying Saucers Come From. Peace.


Such is the spandangling, wondrous full title of the Kurt Vonnegut classic Slaughterhouse-Five; yet another book pressed upon me by Daddy Relish which, after being slightly dismissed (I'm mortified to say) as 'another war book', not helped by the stark, though completely appropriate cover of the Vintage edition (see left), I finally picked up last month and can't believe I hadn't done sooner.

Billy Pilgrim; POW, optometrist, time-traveller and general outsider has become unstuck in time.  As we hurtle backwards and forwards after him to certain key points in his life, sometimes on more than one occasion, Vonnegut treats us to an insightful and inventive commentary on the nature of fate, logic, the concept of free will and even existence itself. So it goes. 

Along with the extremes of the mundane and completely fantastical that Billy supposedly experiences throughout his life, the pivotal event we return to continually is the bombing of Dresden in the closing months of WWII, a horrific event which Billy, along with a small group of fellow soldiers, miraculously survives. Our narrator (most probably K Vonnegut himself), inspired by his war experience, sets out to write an 'anti-war' book, with fellow-soldier Billy as his unlikely hero. Although war may have a significant role to play within the story, this is ultimately a hugely entertaining, complex satire, approaching a number of sometimes important, sometimes obscure ideas that absolutely astounded me from beginning to end. It is the best book I have read in a very long time, my admiration not having waned even now, a whole month later.

Slaughterhouse-Five presents a tantalising opportunity to reveal some completely original ideas and inventions to those who have yet to pick it up.. Huge concepts (almost too huge in places) are presented by a variety of unreal, satirical, often tragic characters (some who have reoccurring roles throughout Vonnegut's other fiction) to create a thoroughly enjoyable book that I feel should be made compulsory for everyone to read at least once in their lifetime.

The deeply insightful, and really quite comical portrayal of the very worst scenes of war and its protagonists should be argument enough to read this story, the completely unexpected, supernatural and philosophical elements (all superbly executed) help raise the bar to another level and will elevate this book to 'Top 100' lists for the rest of time.. What a weird yet wonderful place the world could become if everyone could think like Vonnegut....

'All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I've said before, bugs in amber.' 


Do not dismiss this as a 'war book' or, even worse, sci-fi genre fiction and pick it up before I buy you all a copy!

Returning to the real world, I would just like to take the opportunity to thank Olga, of the wonderful Bibliophile's Corner, who was kind enough to recently devote an entire blog post to Literary Relish, something which completely took me by surprise and did make me blush a little! Do go take a look at her blog; her posts are both varied and hugely entertaining (her 'Special Feature's are a treat) and her taste in books is sublime :-) It's a lovely thing to meet such likeminded people over the 'blogosphere'! Thanks Olga.