Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My books of months gone by

I’ve got a bit behind with my book blogging, but thankfully not with my book reading, and I’ve got a couple of Book of the Months for February and March to share.

‘My mind hopped around agitated on a high tree, would not come down, would not let me read…’

I’ve developed quite a taste for books based in cold settings.  Snow, ice, remote, barren, wind-swept places, they all appeal within the pages of a book read in a nice centrally heated house with a cup of tea!  So when John Self reviewed Julius Winsome at his Asylum I knew I had to read it.  And I wasn’t disappointed.  Slightly shaken up, but not disappointed.  What a book!  I had to force myself to read it slowly, as I knew I did not want to miss a single word.  I had to remind myself to breathe.  And sometimes to put the book down if I was gripping it too tightly, just as it gripped me.  It was so tense, emotionally as well as through the plot, which is a simple but perfect vehicle for Julius to meet us.   

‘The winter is fifty books long and fixes you to silence like a pinned insect; your sentences fold themselves into single words, the hand of twelve makes one hand of time.’

If I could stand the loneliness, the cold, the guns and the dead dog then this is the life I would choose to lead.  In the meantime I’ll just enjoy the book.

I was impressed by my first introduction to Kate Grenville via her 2006 Booker nominated The Secret River.  She has the ability to draw me in, almost purely through the strength of her writing, to stories that might otherwise slip through my fingers.  Her next book I read was Lillian’s Story, which I got in a grotty little yellowed paperback.  However the story and characters exploded like one of those snakes in a can, and I’ve never quite crammed them back in since.  At times I still feel that a little bit of Lillian is lingering near.  I was eager then to read Dark Places which Grenville wrote to tell the story of Albion, Lillian’s father, in some ways the flipside of Lillian’s Story.  What a great idea - I can’t stop thinking of how many other books I’d like see this done to!  It feeds that need of wanting a bit more once a novel has ended, without resorting to a sequel.

‘Their features were jammed together in the centre of their faces like an afterthought, and they all stared out woodenly at the world, as if it cost money to have an expression on your face.’

And Dark Places has nothing of the sequel about it.  It begins before Lillian’s Story, and like that, follows quite a linear path of a character’s life.  But it is in no way dull for that approach, and whilst at times it is painfully obvious where Albion is heading, we are still gripped to see him get there.  Again Grenville has created an utterly life-like character, and while there were times when I felt very uncomfortable spending so much time with such a vile man, I couldn’t help but see him through to the end.  And like Lillian, I don’t think I’ll be forgetting him in a hurry.