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Monthly Archives: December 2013
The Road Home – Rose Tremain
While I was reading the Acknowledgements page of The Observations I came upon a familiar name – Rose Tremain. It didn’t take long to see I had a book by this author, so I decided this was going to be my next read.
This is the story of Lev, a man from Eastern Europe who is on his way to London to find a better life and send money back home to his village. If one would only change the names, this would be the classic immigrant story. The promise of a better life and the reminder that his 5 year old daughter and elderly mother are dependent on him manage to shake Lev from the depression he’d fallen into after the death of his wife, Marina, and with hope in his heart and vodka bottles in his traveling bag, he sets out for London.
On the bus that takes him to London, Lev meets Lydia, a former English teacher who is on her way to the same city hoping to find work as a translator. Throughout the book, their paths will come together at intervals, as both of them struggle to find their place in a new city teeming with immigrants.
It is a roller-coaster of events, the good mixed with the bad, and it feels a lot like a test. Will Lev be able to drag himself from the past and the memory of his dead wife, to the fast changing present or is he doomed to a never-ending circle of fleeting happiness and hard disappointment? The slightly dark story runs over undercurrents of humor, as Lev’s friend from home is mentioned, and heart-wrenching moments from a past life are played in the mind of a man who feeds on dreams. And it is one of these dreams that will ultimately turn Lev’s life around and force him to face the present and take advantage of the changing times.
The best way to describe this book: heart-warming.
Here’s the first chapter, free, have a look.
Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy
I came upon this book after reading an online list of “the ten horrifying novels that will scare you to death” or something of that sort, and I thought okay, let’s see what the author of The Road and No Country for Old Men is up to.
The story loosely follows the adventures of “the kid”, a teenager who runs away from home and ends up in a group of outlaws traveling the American Wild West in the mid and late 1800’s. It is probably the most violent book I have read, not only because it depicts amazing acts of cruelty towards people and animals (to the point when I began to cringe every time a horse or a dog came up in the story), but also because the characters seem like a band of devils in disguise sent on earth to punish others and they take pleasure in doing it. Scalping, rape, murder, mutilation, and the list goes on. By the middle of the book I considered abandoning the story because just the thought of going on made me depressed. Ultimately I decided to stick with it for a few reasons: because the writing is strikingly beautiful, in spite of the long winding sentences and an almost stubborn absence of commas; there are no quotation marks to make the dialogue stand out and this lends another strange beauty to the book and doesn’t hinder its narrative in any way, and the “redeeming” little scenes that I paused at like a thirsty traveler at a well of water in the desert.
The best way to describe this book: highly disturbing, but if you want to see how violence and beautiful writing work together, give it a try.
Here’s one of those redeeming little scenes:
“The kid rose and looked about at this desolate scene and then he saw alone and upright in a small niche in the rocks and old woman kneeling in a faded rebozo with her eyes cast down. He made his way among the corpses and stood before her. She was very old and her face was gray and leathery and sand had collected in the folds of her clothing. She did not look up.
He spoke to her in a low voice. He told her that he was an American and that he was a long way from the country of his birth and that he had no family and that he had traveled much and seen many things and had been at war and endured hardships. He told her that he would convey her to a safe place, some party of her countrypeople who would welcome her and that she should join them for he could not leave her in this place or she would surely die.
He knelt on one knee, resting the rifle before him like a staff. Abuelita, he said, No puedes escucharme?
He reached into the little cove and touched her arm. She moved slightly, her whole body, light and rigid. She weighed nothing. She was just a dried shell and she had been dead in that place for years.”
Blackbirds – Chuck Wendig
One of the blogs I visit is Chuck Wendig’s terribleminds.com and on one of such visits I discovered that his book, Blackbirds, was free for download until the end of this month (you can follow the link to download it). I finished reading it today and can say that it has been an exciting adventure.
Miriam Black is in her twenties, a drifter, and she has a special gift: by simply touching another person (skin-on-skin) she can see when and how that person dies. The scene is played in her mind with vivid accuracy, and up until she meets Louis, a gentle-giant of a trucker, she thinks there is nothing she can do to change fate. The story goes back and forth in time, leaving behind little cliffhangers – glimpses into Miriam’s past, and is nothing short of a crazy ride in a roller-coaster, packed with tough-girl dialogue, plenty of profanity and lots of punches. Think Jack Reacher in female form with a foul mouth. They would actually make an interesting couple.
The best way to describe this book: fast, violent and entertaining.
Many thanks to Chuck for making this available for free online. It’s one of those very few times I managed to read a book on a screen without any glitches. It went by quite fast.
*Read in December, 2013
I bought The Observations at a library sale. The book also bears the stamp of a second hand bookstore that I haven’t been to in a very long time – perhaps a year – and it looks like a well read copy. It is also a first novel.
The name of the author did not jump up at me at first, but when I looked it up on goodreads.com, I saw that she had written another novel whose name was quite familiar, “Gillespie and I”, a novel I had seen at the bookstore, picked up but didn’t buy. Now I will have to.
What attracted me to The Observations was the cover – very Victorian, and as I am a great fan of the genre, I decided to buy the book and read it as soon as possible.
The story is told from the perspective of Bessy Buckley, a girl with a dubious past, who is on her way to finding a job and starting anew. The place is Scotland and the year 1863. She finds employment at Castle Haivers which is not a castle at all but a fancy name for an estate that could have used a bit more care and a few more servants. Her new masters, Arabella and James Reid, are an odd couple – she is very observant, talkative, and locks herself up in her room to write. He is tight with money, selfish, and a no-nonsense aristocrat. As the story evolves, however, other character traits emerge and manage to change the perspective on these two people.
Bessy settles in her new life and has a few mishaps at first. It becomes apparent to her mistress that she was never a housekeeper nor a farm hand, and as she decides to find out more about the new maid, so does Bessy tries to find out more about her mistress. There’s a lot of humor in the book, mostly coming from Bessy’s doings as she snoops around while at the same time taking a liking to her new employer and trying her best to please her. She goes so far as to put up with Arabella’s strange requests of sitting up and down repeatedly and to let herself having her measurements taken, such as having her head measured, as well as the distance between her facial features. And when her mistress is occupied elsewhere she manages to read the book Arabella keeps under lock and key.
There is mystery throughout the book, and it becomes apparent to Bessy, as she begins to know her mistress, that something is amiss in the Reid household. Burned pages of a journal belonging to a former maid, an old trunk that belonged to Nora – another one of the former maids of Castle Haivers, and the odd request that she write down her own thoughts for her mistress to read, lead Bessy to believe that there is a secret Arabella is trying to keep under wraps. This she is not able to do for a very long time, as Bessy begins to put facts together and in the end arrives at the horrible truth.
Bessy’s natural humor shines throughout the book. She is a kind-hearted girl but she also lies, steals her mistress’ key and concocts a most devious plan that will have a powerful effect on Arabella. In spite of this I couldn’t help but sympathize with her, especially as the story goes back and forth in time and the reader is given glimpses into the young girl’s life before she became a maid.
Bessy’s voice is very distinct and her use of the vernacular gives the book a unique language that is both engaging and many times quite funny. Her daily adventures on the farm include trying to milk a cow (and failing), cleaning a carpet with a piece of wet newspaper and learning how to use punctuation under the patient instructions of her mistress.
What I liked most about the book was its engaging pace that never faltered and the constant discovery of yet another little detail that made the mystery that more baffling. It also has all the elements that I love in a story: the isolated house, strange noises in the attic, a tragic past, a villain, and more than a bit of humor thrown in for balance. If you’re a fan of historical novels, you’re going to enjoy this fun ride through the Victorian era.
Some paragraphs I liked:
She leaned in and says quietly, ‘Look at the spaces between the words.’
It was a clue. Well, I looked hard at her ‘Dear Father’. There was a space between the two words right enough. Then I looked at my ‘got up’. There was a space there too. But the two spaces seemed much the same to me and one space plus another space is just a bigger space no matter how long you look at it.
Most of all she seemed to like the part about my mother and her good works which for dear sake was the bit I had invented! on account of I had forgot to remember what I was thinking about whilst I was working so I just made up the first thing that came into my head.
‘This part about your mother,’ says missus. ‘Write more like this.’
‘I’ll do that marm’, I says, thinking well for dear sake if she can’t tell the difference that’s easy enough, I’ll just make things up all the time.
I had a quick skelly about the place but could find nothing and was on the verge of heading back down when I seen somebody coming towards me up the stairs. Crumbs and Christopher it scared the behicky out me.
The master was sat in the wing armchair opposite my Arabella. He flicked his eyes at me as I came in then glanced away again almost immediately. For dear sake he was a daddy longleg so he was! So tall and lean he barely fit the length of him in the chair. You would have put him older than missus but no more than 45 and just a shade off handsome on account of his phiz being on the lengthy side and he was not exactly going bald but lets just say his forehead was high.
*Read in December 2013
The enthusiasm, the doubt, the late nights, early morning coffee and word races, an incredible combination that had me going through the whole of November with only one goal in mind – to write 50,000 words that would be part of a novel. Well, let’s call it a story. Novel has such a scary sound to it.
The last week of NaNoWriMo was the hardest. Having the end in sight, I became impatient to finish, to reach those magic 50,000 words that would make me a winner. I began to grow afraid and at the same time I was less willing to write. One day I even stopped altogether, took a break and went out to see friends. But there was a nagging voice inside me saying, you should be writing. It’s a tough thing to quiet, that inner voice, so I went back to my laptop, even though I would have done almost anything else instead.
I reached my goal on the 28th, two days before the allotted time. Just to see that word count bar go from green to purple it was an incredible emotional moment. I had done it, one month of commitment to writing, through great days and not so great days, just sitting down and writing word after word even if reading them afterwards made me want to delete many of them. The story is not finished but things are slowly moving into place and this month hopefully will see me write The End on that last page.
At the moment I feel a little lost. After investing a lot of energy and time in the story, now when the challenge has come to an end I feel both sadness and relief. The pressure to write had lessened and I feel like a small weight has been lifted from my shoulders but at the same time I know I should keep going until all the words are there and then put the story away for a while before the big editing process begins.
Here’s what I learned from my first NaNoWriMo experience:
1. Writing is not difficult, but writing beautifully and in a linear way definitely is.
2. An idea is enough for a start.
3. I couldn’t have done an outline anyway, never tried it because I never wrote a novel before. So yes, I’m a bit of a pantser.
4. Fear of writing badly can be conquered by saying “nobody will see this anyway until it’s done”. It worked for me.
5. Having supportive friends and family helped immensely. Sometimes it was the only thing that kept me going. Yes, my blogging friends, that includes you too.
6. This was the first time I allowed myself to write without looking back and changing things. Well, not major things anyway.
7. Some surprising scenes made their way into the book, and I had no idea I was going to write them until the moment I did.
8. I enjoyed writing the scary parts the most.
9. Writing dialogue is not my favorite part but describing feelings is.
10. My story belongs to the “dark fantasy” genre.
A few statistics about my story – I’ve used the word:
telephones – 2 times
weary – 4 times
king – 24 times
pain – 25
cold – 33 times
rain – 35 times
cut – 65 times
death – 32 times
forest – 104 times
hands – 110 times
no – 152 times
tree – 254 times
the – 3309 times