2021 Reading List

As mentioned in my last blog, I am not doing an online reading challenge this year. The main reason is I really want to clear my TBR pile and most challenges seem to require me to buy at least one or two new books. I usually buy any such books on my Kindle because at least they don’t take up physical space but I have a ridiculous amount of unread books on there now so I really need to reign it in a bit.

Last year, I attempted an alphabetical challenge and while I didn’t quite manage it (I missed Y) I did enjoy it and was tempted to do it again. However, that would require me buying a book for Q, X and Y and I don’t want to have to do that. While I was bemoaning the fact that I like to have a list of what I will read for the year but I couldn’t find challenge I wanted to do – and probably to shut me up – my husband suggested that I let him choose a list of possible books to read this year – from our shelves and my kindle. I agreed. Possibly foolishly as he seemed to get a lot of glee out of putting things on the list that he knows I’ve been avoiding.

Anyway, here is my list. Although there are no requirements, I’m going to try to write a review for each one. I want to blog more this year anyway so it will help with that as well. There are a lot more classics here then I would normally read so we’ll have to see how it goes. As I don’t usually make a list of all the books I will read and as I am terribly bad at sticking to a list, there may be additions over the year.

  1. The Girl in a Swing – Richard Adams
  2. The Testaments – Margaret Atwood Finished 8/1/21
  3. Emma – Jane Austen
  4. Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin Currently reading
  5. The Coral Island – R. M. Ballantyne
  6. Peter Pan – J. M. Barrie
  7. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernières
  8. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
  9. Kindred – Octavia E. Butler Currently reading
  10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – John le Carre Finished 2/4/21
  11. My Antonia – Willa Cather
  12. The Long Call – Anne Cleeves
  13. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
  14. The Burning Page – Genevieve Cogman Finished 16/5/21
  15. Moll Flanders – Daniel Defoe
  16. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
  17. Lake of Dreams – Kim Edwards
  18. Middlemarch – George Eliot Finished 9/3/21
  19. Charlotte Gray – Sebastian Faulks
  20. A Passage to India – E. M. Forster
  21. The Collector – John Fowles
  22. Take Nothing With You – Patrick Gale – Finished 11/2/21
  23. Pincher Martin – William Golding
  24. England Made Me – Graham Greene
  25. Far From the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
  26. Mysterious Skin – Scott Heim
  27. The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway Finished 19/2/21
  28. The Problem with Men – Richard Herring – Finished 7/4/21
  29. The Aspern Papers / Turn of the Screw – Henry James
  30. The Institute – Stephen King
  31. The Buddha of Suburbia – Hanif Kureishi Finished 22/3/21
  32. Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D. H. Lawrence
  33. Tishomingo Blues – Elmore Leonard
  34. Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
  35. No one Writes to the Colonel – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  36. Machines Like Me – Ian McEwan – Finished 19/4/21
  37. Moby Dick – Herman Melville Finished 15/5/21
  38. Utopia Avenue – David Mitchell -finished 3/3/21
  39. Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng – finished 9/5/21
  40. How to be Wrong: The Art of Changing Your Mind – James O’Brien Finished 24/5/21
  41. Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens Finished 13/3/21
  42. Dr Zhivago – Boris Pasternak
  43. Bleeding Hearts – Ian Rankin
  44. All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque Finished 28/4/21
  45. The Plot Against America – Philip Roth Finished 17/1/21
  46. Austerlitz – W. G. Sebald
  47. Autumn – Ali Smith Finished 25/1/21
  48. On Beauty – Zadie Smith
  49. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
  50. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson
  51. Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
  52. Bech at Bay – John Updike
  53. Candide – Voltaire
  54. The Nickel Boys – Colson Whitehead Finished 4/2/21
  55. A Streetcar named Desire – Tennessee Williams
  56. Green River Rising – Tim Willocks
  57. The Midwich Cuckoos – John Wyndham – Finished 2/6/21

2020 Reading Catch Up 2021 Reading Plans

One of the good things that 2020 has been is a good reading year for me. I met my target of reading 40 books on Goodreads. While this might sound like very many, some of them were quite difficult – Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, for example or John Updike’s Rabbit Run. However, I didn’t quite manage to read an author for every letter of the alphabet for my reading challenge, having mistaken Shakey as a Neil Young autobiography rather than a biography. Having no unread Y authors in the house and this being mid december, I decided that I didn’t have time to try and procure another Y and read The Book of Evidence by John Banville as my last book of 2020 instead.

Top Five Reads of 2020

  1. Bridge of Clay – Markus Zusak – This was one of the first books I read last year and I could not put it down. I was worried it might not live up to The Book Thief but, in fact, I enjoyed it more. It was the story of Clay and his brothers, their relationship with each other and with their father. It was emotional without being sentimental. The storyline was non-chronological and needed some unpicking but I like to have to work a bit and not have the answers handed to me on a plate. Definitely recommended.
  2. Born a Crime – Trevor Noah – I’ve always admired Noah. He has a reasonable and sensible view on things that always just seems to cut through the bullshit. This memoir about his South African childhood is both tragic and comic and never less than enthralling. Noah was a naughty child and he starts by telling about his mother chasing him and how he learned to run so fast. Pretty quickly we are into more serious territory, given that Noah’s very existence was considered a crime. Noah’s mother came across as a fantastically strong woman who has clearly been a huge influence on him and seems to be responsible for his attitude to life.
  3. The Hand That First Held Mine – Maggie O’Farrell – There are two main storylines in this novel – Ted and his wife, Elina, in the present day, and the story of Lexi Sinclair set some time in the past. I admit I did manage to work out some of the twists to this one but it was beautifully written and I still felt compelled to read on.
  4. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro – I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this or not. I’d read Ishiguro before and I hadn’t been massively impressed but this was so different to the other two, I was quickly taken with it. The story of Stephens, the butler at Darlington Hall and his unrealised love for Miss Kenton, the housekeeper is a subtle and clever joy from start to finish.
  5. No is not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need – Naomi Klein – This is a call to arms. Klein’s political observations were on the money as were her solutions to the current political situation in the US. Klein argues that Trump is not an aberration but the logical conclusion of recent policies on both the left and the right. She then suggests ways of working together in order to make sure it never happens again. Even with Biden now about to take over the white house, we shouldn’t be complacent and allow the same issues that caused it to happen before to resurface so it happens again.

Of course, there were also less good reads although none warranted a one star on Goodreads. The three I liked the least, I expected to like better – No Surrender by Constance Maud was recommended by a BBC program on women’s fiction and I thought it sounded interesting, being about the fight for suffrage but it was tediously dogmatic. P.D. James’ Death Comes to Pemberley was also tedious. James never managed to quite pull off her imitation of Austen and the style spoiled the story for me. Finally, Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain was not the first world war memoir I was expecting and I felt that it talked too much of things outside of her nursing career and I did not find that particularly interesting. (I just realised that all of these were by women. I’m not sure whether that is important but I do often find it hard to bond with female authors.)

And for next year, well, I’m not yet sure what my reading list will look like. I’m not following a online challenge because I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do. My husband has volunteered to give me a list of books and I have agreed to this although I admit that I’m feeling a little worried. There are certain books on our shelves that he feels I should have read and I think there is a good reason why I haven’t. The Lord of the Rings is one, anything by Hemingway is another. So we shall see. I’ve started reading The Testaments by Margaret Atwood just to ensure that I’ve at least one good read over the next twelve months.

Alphabet Soup – Author Edition – Miss Chopsticks by Xinran

Genre: Historical Fiction, Bildungsroman

Narrative Style: Third person from three different points of views.

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2007

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Three, Five and Six are country girls who move to Nanjing to try and get jobs in order to help their family and to prove that girls can be more than mere chopsticks. The novel details their difficulties in coming to terms with the different ways of the city and the various jobs they end up doing.

Reading Challenges: Alphabet Soup – Author Edition

The Li Sisters are from a poor rural area of China where girls are not valued. They are considered chopsticks – abundant and not that strong or important – compared to boys who are room beams – able to hold up the world. As such, they do not even have proper names, being called Three, Five and Six. Their father is a failure as he has only daughters. Apart from six, they do not have much education as the family could not afford it. They go to Nanjing to try and get jobs, to help their families and prove that girls can be important.

This novel was set in the early 2000s and based on interviews that Xinran conducted with various country girls working in Nanjing. I kept having to remind myself that it was so recent. It seems hard to credit that China was so cut off from the rest of the world and only just seeming to be coming to terms with technology and capitalism. The difference between the cities and the country is enormous. Probably the last time there was such a big difference in the UK was before the industrial revolution.

The three girls all end up with jobs that seem to represent the possibilities of the new China – one working in a restaurant which is aiming to take on the the American giants Kentucky Fried Chicken, one in a bookstore serving tea to intellectuals and foreigners and one in a Chinese water therapy centre. The girls are astonishingly naïve which is to be expected, given that they have never been further than their village but again gave the novel a much older feel.

Xinran tells their story simply and without melodrama. The girls are charming and their experiences are interesting. They learn to deal with the city, with the ways that Chinese society is changing and their story seems emblematic of the new society. It seems a largely hopeful picture.

The story ends with the girls triumphant return to their village, full of the knowledge that they have made friends and made a life for themselves. Their uncle was picked up by the police for sleeping in a doorway when he came to find them to take them home and all the new friends and associates the girls have made pull together to try and get him out. Although, in the end, it is sheer luck that he is released rather than anything that they do.

In her afterword, Xinran explains the inspiration for the stories and what happened when she tried to trace the three girls that the story is based on. It seems that the future wasn’t quite so rosy. For example, the bookshop that Six worked in had been closed down for selling banned books and it was unknown whether her dreams of education came to fruition. China’s progress towards freedom of thought and action has clearly not been straightforward and while I knew that already, I found that I had been caught up in the gentle optimism of the three girls and their successes.

Alphabet Soup Author Edition – Rabbit, Run – John Updike.

Genre: American, Anti-heroes,

Narrative Style: Chronological, third person from various points of view

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1960

Format: Hardback

Synopsis: Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom’s best days are behind him. He was the star basketball player when he was at school. Since then, he has married and has a child. His wife is pregnant again. But he doesn’t love his wife and he hates his job demonstrating a gadget in a store. He is dissatisfied and fed up so, on impulse, he deserts his wife and son and embarks on a journey to find something more satisfying.

Writing Challenges: Alphabet Soup – Author Challenge.

This was a hard book to read. Not because of the prose. Updike’s style is easy enough to read. It was the characters. I expected that I would probably have difficulty with Rabbit Angstrom. And he was unpleasantly sure of himself, always convinced he was on the right path simply because he had chosen it. But I had expected that there would have been some way of empathising with him. This was not the case. Nor was it any easier to empathise with his wife who was also an unpleasant drunk. I have no doubt that this is an accurate representation of a certain type of American masculinity and the havoc it can wreak but I didn’t feel drawn into the story. I was like an observer watching the decay of society from a distance.

At first, Rabbit just drives off, wanting to be far away from his wife and son. He gets lost and ends up driving back to his hometown. He doesn’t want to go home and admit defeat so he goes to see his old basketball coach who is full of Rabbit’s past glories – perhaps the only person to still see Harry as if he was a sporting hero. They go to dinner and Rabbit meets Ruth, a part time prostitute.

Rabbit forces himself into her life. He has soon set up a alternative domestic arrangement for himself. Out of everyone, Ruth is perhaps the easiest to have some sympathy for. She tries not to let Rabbit into her life but he just doesn’t give up. He is unable to see her as anything other than a means to sex. Rabbit is obsessed with sex perhpas because he thinks he is good at it and so it gives him the same sense of worth that BAsketball used to. Indeed, his sexual obsession is a facet of his relationship with his wife also. When he returns to her, after their second child is born, he is unable to leave her alone even though she has so recently given birth. When she refuses him, he walks out the door again.

This is also a book about religion. Rabbit is unable to completely escape his marriage as he meets priest, Jack Eccles who sees it as his duty to bring Rabbit and his wife back together. Rabbit’s conversations with Jack prove how far he is from God. Like his marriage, Rabbit finds the current framework of religious beliefs unsatisfactory. He is looking for something more, something spiritual but he doesn’t have the intelligence to really understand what it is.

This novel has a tragic ending. When Rabbit deserts his wife for the second time, she gets drunk and accidentally drowns their baby while trying to clean her up in the bath. This was the only time I felt any real emotions during the reading of this book. I couldn’t quite believe Updike was going to let it happen. It was heartbreaking, both for the reader and for Rabbit and his wife. However, any sympathy for Rabbit quickly disappears as he is soon back to his old tricks and is off out the door again.

I’m in two minds as to whether I will read anymore of this series. I’m not really sure that there could be anything new to say really. A part of me is curious to see where Updike will take the narrative but perhaps that isn’t enough to carry on with a series that will undoubtedly be a bit of a slog.

Alphabet Soup Challenge: Author Edition – Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov.

Genre: Literary Fiction, Anti-Heroes, Masculinity

Narrative Style: First person

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1955

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Humbert Humbert is a self-confessed lover of nymphets. When he sees Dolores Haze for the first time, he knows that she is the culmination of all of his most intimate fantasies. So much so that he agrees to marry her mother – even though he holds her in high contempt – in order to be near to her. When it seems that Lolita is gaining attention elsewhere, he takes her away on a car journey that crosses America.

Reading Challenges: Alphabet Soup Challenge: Author Edition

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. What I mean is, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to cope with reading it. Most people have some idea of what it is about and it is still considered shocking so I assumed it must be quite explicit. It is not. In fact, release is often deferred and the sexual encounters are not described in any straightforward way. Nabokov prefers metaphors and allusions to full on descriptions and thank goodness for that.

Not that it makes it an easier read or any less shocking. Getting to see inside the head of a paedophile is never going to be a fun experience and Humbert Humbert is unpleasant in every possible way. He tries to normalise his lust for Lolita which makes for uncomfortable reading. Thankfully, Nabokov does not allow any pity or sympathy for him. He is creepy, using his good looks to get what he wants – from grown women as well as from Lolita. He is particularly cynical in his using of Lolita’s mother. He has no redeeming features. He has contempt for everything and everyone around him. The America he describes is of a low standard with crumbling motels and unpleasant people. He is an European immigrant and clearly thinks himself better than them. He frequently describes himself as poet, as writer. He has a taste for the finer things. He appears to think that his sexual longings come under this heading as well. All of this makes me better than you.

There is not a single person in the novel that Humbert actually likes. Outside of his sexual fantasies of Lolita, he finds her quite disagreeable. She is sulky, frequently has tantrums and he has no care for any of her interests. He uses her for sex like he might use a blow up doll and feels no need to have any interest in her outside of her body. Even though it is not described – Humbert preferring to concentrate on describing the seediness of their journey across America – it is still apparent that every time they stop somewhere then Humbert will rape Lolita and this knowledge is hard to stomach. It is satisfying when eventually she manages to escape his clutches. Not that life gets that much better for her.

The book is very well written with lots of clever word play and complicated vocabulary. (I spent a lot of time looking up words on my phone. If only I’d been reading it on my kindle.) Not to mention all the French phrases which are scattered through the novel. Having said that, the writing flows really well. It doesn’t feel that Nabakov is showing off his immense vocabulary a la Ian McEwan where every sentence feels like an opportunity to show the reader how very clever he is. It is compelling, particularly towards the end when Humbert is searching for his rival with murder on his mind.

Overall, I am glad that I have read this book but I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone else. It wasn’t enjoyable. It was painful and discomforting.

Alphabet Soup Author Edition – Music and Silence – Rose Tremain

Genre: Historical Fiction

Narrative Style: Various third person and first person points of view.

Rating:3/5

Published: 1999

Format: Hardback

Synopsis: When Peter Clare is sent to be lutenist to King Christian of Denmark, he doesn’t realise exactly how much his life – and the lives of those around him are going to change.

Reading Challenges: 2020 Alphabet Soup – Author Edition.

This book has been on my shelf for a long time. I’ve read one other Rose Tremain – Sacred Country – and I didn’t love it. I probably wouldn’t have bought any others but this was offered for a couple of pounds because I’d spent so much and I’m a sucker for those sorts of offers. As a result, it has sat on my shelf for 20 years. Not helped by the fact that it is a hardback and I can’t say I particularly enjoy reading those. It seemed a good idea to make myself read it by putting it on this challenge.

This isn’t a bad book. I wavered between three and four stars all the way through. There are a number of different storylines which gradually come closer and closer together. The relationship between King Christian and Peter Clare was interesting as was the story of the King’s childhood friendship with Bror Brorson. I was less interested in the King’s self interested wife, Kirsten Munk and her sexual exploits. Also, the love story between Emilia and Peter Clare was – in my opinion – unduly romantic and sentimental. I’d rather have learned more about the King and his problems.

Whilst there is a lot of historical detail in this novel and you get a good feel for the nature of the Danish Court, I feel Tremain is less successful when she has conjured characters – such as Emilia and Marcus Tilsen – from her own imagination. Often there is the tone of the fairy tale and there are elements of magical realism – in the characters of Marcus and his stepmother, Magdalena, particularly. While, in general, I do enjoy magical realism, I found that it didn’t fully fit with the other stories that were more like straight historical fiction.

The ending was based on out of character changes of heart and lucky deaths which I found a little lazy. When even the character is saying I don’t understand where this change of heart has come from, perhaps the writer should take a different path. Everything was wrapped up a bit too neatly for my tastes.

Top Ten Tuesday – Book quotes

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This week’s top ten is favourite literary quotes. No particular theme to these – just my favourite quotes.

  1. “Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.” The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood.
  2. “The greatest patriotism is to tell your country when it is behaving dishonorably, foolishly, viciously.” Flaubert’s Parrot – Julian Barnes
  3. “Would you be so kind as to give a little thought to the question of what your good would be doing if evil did not exist, and how the earth would look if the shadows were to disappear from it?” The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
  4. “Out of the frying pan into the fire! What is marriage but prostitution to one man instead of many? No different!” Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter.
  5. “She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket” Farewell my Lovely – Raymond Chandler
  6. “They faced each other at opposite ends of an illusion” Dancer from the Dance – Andrew Holleran
  7. Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” 1984- George Orwell
  8. “The whole of life is just like watching a film. Only it’s as though you always get in ten minutes after the big picture has started, and no one will tell you the plot, so you have to work it out all yourself from the clues.” Moving Pictures – Terry Pratchett
  9. “Fuckin failures in a country of failures. Its nae good blamin it oan the English fir colonising us. Ah don’t hate the English. They’re just wankers. We are colonised by wankers. We can’t even pick a decent, vibrant healthy society to be colonised by. No.. we are ruled by effete arseholes. What does that make us? The lowest of the low, the scum of the earth. The most wretched servile, miserable, pathetic trash that was ever shat intae creation. Ah don’t hate the English. They just git oan wis the shite thev got. Ah hate the Scots.” Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh
  10. “I’m telling you stories. Trust me.” – The Passion – Jeanette Winterson

Top Ten Tuesday – Books on my Autumn TBR

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This weeks list is the top ten books on your autumn TBR.

Here are the next ten books that I intend to read this autumn.

  1. A Country Doctor’s Notebook – Mikhail Bulgakov
  2. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
  3. FIve Quarters of the Orange – Joanne Harris
  4. Live by Night – Dennis Lehane
  5. The Grass is Singing – Doris Lessing
  6. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
  7. The Notebook – Nicholas Spark
  8. Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee – Meera Syal
  9. Rabbit Run – John Updike
  10. Shakey – Neil Young

I have five books to read for the Alphabet Soup Author Challenge including the book I’m reading at the minute which is Music and Silence by Rose Tremain. The others are Lolita, Shakey, and Rabbit Run. I’ve left myself a couple of fairly heavy books to read for the end of the year. I also still need an author for X so if anyone has any recommendations, I would be very grateful.

2020 Alphabet Soup Challenge – Author Edition – Stoner by John Williams

Genre: Literary fiction, Classic, College

Narrative Style: Third person, chronological

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1965

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Stoner tells the life story of William Stoner from the moment he starts agricultural college to his death some fifty years later. It covers his marriage, the birth of his first child, his affair and his sometimes painful relationships with his fellow lecturers. 

Reading Challenges: 2020 Alphabet Soup – Author Edition

This was a reasonable read. It is certainly well-written. A lesser writer probably couldn’t have pulled off writing such an ordinary story. But for all that, I didn’t always find the life of William Stoner captivating. Like most lives, there were ups and downs, times of excitement and times of quiet, so the story wasn’t always that interesting.

Stoner wasn’t exactly captivating either. He was a hard character to love. He was reserved, finding little in the way of joy in anything other than his work as a teacher. His marriage is difficult and his wife outright unpleasant. Although he clearly loves his daughter, Grace, and spending time with her, he finds himself constantly out-maneuvered by his wife so much so that he gets to spend little quality time with Grace. He rarely fights back and I found myself wishing he would stand up for himself more.

There were a couple of moments when I found the novel more compelling. When Stoner fails a student with some physical disabilities because he has failed to do any of the work, he clashes with one of his fellow lecturers, Hollis Lomax, who also has physical disabilities. Stoner finds things he has said and done come back to bite him and make him seem like he wanted the student to fail because he was disabled when really Stoner was holding him to the same standards that he held all his students. This leads to lifelong hatred between the two professors which was never less than interesting to read about.

Also, some of the most beautiful prose comes about when Stoner has an affair with a younger teacher at the university. This feels like the one true moment of happiness for Stoner – perhaps the life he should have had if he hadn’t been so hasty in his marriage. Of course, this relationship does not last, largely due to Lomax and his need for revenge on Stoner. Even then, Stoner does not fight for the relationship but lets it slip from his grasp.

Ultimately, this is a novel about the fulfilment of work and literature. In fact, Stoner’s love of literature and of teaching would seem to be the things that lift his life beyond the ordinary. Everything else in his life ends up being a failure.

I can understand why this has had a resurgence in popularity recently. It is beautifully written and it really isn’t anything like a modern novel with its simple tale of one man’s journey through life but, in the end, it just didn’t quite thrill me enough.

 

2020 Alphabet Challenge – Author Edition – The Hand that First Held Mine – Maggie O’Farrell

Genre: Literary Fiction, Family

Narrative Style: Two third person linked narratives. 

Rating: 5/5

Published: 2009

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Lexie Sinclair feels suffocated by her parents simple lifestyle. When she meets magazine editor, Innes Kent, she stiffens her resolve to move to London and do something with her life. Ted and his wife, Elina have just had a baby. Elina is an artist and is struggling to recover from the birth which saw her nearly die. Ted is starting to be plagued by memories that he can’t place. How are the two stories – some thirty years apart – connected and will it help Ted sort out who he really is? 

Reading Challenges – 2020 Alphabet Soup: Author Edition

I really enjoyed this book. I was intrigued from the first moment until the last. Even though I figured some things out, others were still a mystery to me. O’Farrell dropped clues subtly throughout so there was always some new bit of information to mull over.

I was immediately drawn to the character of Lexie. She was larger than life, held back by the social conventions of fifties England. At the beginning of the novel, she is at home in Devon, having been sent down from Oxford for going through a door marked men only. This could be solved with an apology which Lexie refuses to give. Her family only want to see her married. She knows she has to escape so when she meets Innes Kent, whose car has broken down outside Lexi’s house, she makes up her mind to move to London. He leaves her his card and soon the pair are involved in an unconventional relationship.

The other narrative strand is set in a more modern London and tells the story of Ted and his wife, Elina who are new parents. Elina nearly died during the birth and initially cannot even remember it. Ted is equally off kilter, unable to recover from the sight of his wife during the birth. When he starts to have odd episodes, it seems at first, that it relates to this traumatic event. However, it soon becomes clear that there is something strange about Ted’s childhood that his parents are not telling him about.

To say anything more about the plot would mean giving away spoilers but needless to say, I found it compelling. There are subtle clues as to what the link between the two storylines will be – such as the fact that Lexie will not live to be old – that intrigue the reader without giving too much away. Ted works as a film editor, moving scenes to fit into a narrative and that is what the reader must do here, try to form separate memories into a coherent narrative.

Both women were portrayed as being unconventional. Lexie, in particular was a vivid, colourful character who refused to compromise, in her personal and professional life. Elina was an artist, working through the night, refusing to even adapt to society’s ideas of when you should sleep and when you should work. Both women have children out of wedlock and Elina and Ted decide to give the baby Elina’s surname.

Towards the end of the novel, it grows more obvious what the link between the two storylines is and I started to really feel for Ted. He starts to have strange memories that he can’t place which culminate when they visit Lyme Regis and he has a panic attack that lands him in hospital. The revelations are heartbreaking for all concerned.

From about halfway through, when I started to have inklings about what the end result was going to be, I could not put this down. O’Farrell’s writing is poetic in its description but also managed to keep the tension going. No mean feat.