Another new year

Well, it has taken a while to get round to writing my first blog this year. In fact, the end of last year was so hectic, I never got round to writing an end of year blog which I fully intended. This will have to act as both.

I was pleased with the amount that I read last year and with the fact that I completed the two reading challenges I signed up for. Both of which – eclectic reader challenge and TBR challenge – I have signed up for again. I read some excellent books – The Slap and Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas spring straight to mind, as do The Absolutist by John Boyne and Complicity by Iain Banks and of course, Maddaddam by the amazing Margaret Atwood. I also read some authors that have been on my list for a while – Dorothy L. Sayers, Daphne Du Maurier and John Updike  – not all of which were enjoyed but it felt good to have read them at last.

This year I’m aiming to read more classics so half of the books I have picked for the eclectic reader challenge are pre 1950. Half of those are pre 1900. The first book I finished this year was a spy thriller which was a new genre and hopefully the eclectic reader challenge will continue to encourage me to read new genres.

I wasn’t sure that I was going to keep writing a blog post for each book I read but looking back over last year’s posts, I realised that it was making me think more deeply about what I was reading.

As for writing, while I still aim to write every day, it doesn’t always work. Time is the one commodity I lack at the moment.  I’m still in the process of editing / re-writing Choose Yr Future. It seems like an never-ending task at the moment. However, I’m sure I will recognise the point when I am happy with the storyline and structure and then I will be ready to let beta readers have a look at it. At the minute, I know it is not ready to be seen by other eyes. If I’m not happy with it, I wouldn’t expect others to be.

I’m not feeling downhearted though. I’m still trying to enter as many competitions as I can and while I haven’t won any yet, I’m not going to give up. If you don’t enter, you really don’t have a hope of winning. I enjoy the process of writing/re-writing even though sometimes I feel a bit like Sisyphus pushing the words into place only to realise later that they still don’t fit.

 

A general update: It’s been a while…

It’s been a pretty hellish start to the  year. For various reasons, I’ve spent much of the last three months either emptying or filling boxes. Sorting things and throwing things away is another new pastime along with visits to the tip and the charity shop. It hasn’t really been conducive to making progress with my writing and it is only in the last few weeks that I feel that I have started to get back to normal.

In terms of blogging, I have managed to keep up with my book reviews and I am pleased that I have still been able to read a lot. (All that travelling around on public transport has to be good for something.) I’ve read four books from my TBR Pile which is in keeping with what I’d planned – one a month. And when I finish John Boyne’s The Absolutist, I’ll be halfway through the Eclectic Reader Challenge so that is all to the good.

I am finding time to write but I have been concentrating on existing projects rather than using writing prompts. Much as I love doing that, I feel that I have more pressing commitments. I have entered a couple of short story competitions and I am trying to prepare Choose Yr future for publication ultimately but beta readers before that. I’m also quite excited by my other project which now has the name of The Practise of Deception. So, at the minute, whatever time I can spare to writing is being used for these. I will get back to using the prompts, I’m sure when life has settled down a bit and when I need a new project. After all, The Practise of Deception grew from one of these prompts so they are useful as well as fun.

Books read in 2014 – 9. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde


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Reading Challenges: Eclectic Reader Challenge 2014The TBR Challenge

Genre: Alternate History, Fantasy, Humour

Narrative Style: First person narrative, Straightforward chronological timeline

Rating 3/5
Format: Paperback
Published: 2001

Synopsis: Thursday Next is a literary detective. Her life suddenly becomes more exciting when Arch Villain Acheron Hades starts kidnapping literary characters. Never mind the fact that her personal life is in tatters as the man she loves is about to marry someone else. When Jane Eyre is kidnapped, Thursday must see if she can return her to the book without causing to much damage. 

Time on shelf: About four years. This series has been recommended to me by a couple of people whose views I trust but I’ve always been a little hesitant. 

Part of me thinks I should have loved this book. After all, it’s literary, it’s clever and in places it is very funny. But at the end I just felt like it could have been so much better. There are an awful lot of ideas in this book but not really enough plot and character to sustain them. Perhaps if Fforde had held some of them back, it would have been a bit more satisfying.

Part of the problem is the characters are little more than hangers for various jokes and stereotypes and I didn’t really relate to any of them. Acheron was quite good fun as a villain but even he was a little flat. And by then end of the novel, I was completely fed up with comedy names such as Paige Turner or Millon De Floss. Maybe it’s just me but I’ve always thought that this sort of thing is okay in moderation but very quickly grows tired. It certainly did here.

The best parts of the novel occur when Thursday is stuck in the book of Jane Eyre and she and Rochester conspire with the servants to ensure that Jane’s narrative is undisturbed. In this world, Jane does not end up with Rochester, at least not until there is an almighty fight between Thursday and Acheron and a fire ensues. I think you can see where this is going. Of course, everyone preferred this ending. And understandably so as the alternate ending was quite dreary.

After this, the narrative returns to Thursday’s love life. Despite being hostile to Landen Parke-Laine (Groan!) for a lot of the novel, she suddenly decides to stop him from marrying the wrong woman only to lose her nerve at the last minute. But it’s okay – the lawyers from Jane Eyre step in to accuse his bride of bigamy. I must admit, I found this part of the novel a bit tedious and not as funny or clever as Fforde probably hoped

Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a terrible book. It definitely had its moments, just not as many as I might have expected.

Eclectic Reader Challenge – Published in 2013 – The Painted Girls – Cathy Marie Buchanan

I wasn’t really sure what to read for this category as, in terms of genre, it could be anything really. The last book I read for this category was Levels of Life by Julian Barnes so I knew I didn’t want it to be a memoir. I came across The Painted Girls on a Goodreads search and decided it was suitably different from everything else I had read for the Eclectic Reader Challenge.

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It took me a while to read it, partly because it was the summer and I was not travelling to work every day, partly because it took me a while to get into it. The novel tells the story of the van Goethem girls in Belle Epoque Paris. Marie, the middle daughter, models for Degas’ Little Dancer Aged Fourteen in order to gain extra money for a family permanently poverty stricken, while also dancing and aiming for the stars. However, life is not ready to carry her in this direction.

There has been much praise for this novel and it does have some good features. I liked the interspersing of newspaper articles and scientific treaties with the girls’ narratives, along with reviews of the art shows where Little Dancer is shown. This helps to give a period feel and added to the oppressive atmosphere. Also, reference to the ‘science’ of physiognomy – whereby it was judged you could tell what a person was like from their features – that was popular at the time, adds to the narrative as Marie is fearful that her own features make her a potential criminal and helps to contribute to her downfall.

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Less successful, I feel, were depictions of Antoinette’s relationship with Emile Abadie which end with her prostituting herself in order to raise money to follow him when he is shipped off to New Caledonia. Emile is a brute – and a bit of a characiture, if you ask me -and even after he has been implicated in two murders, Antoinette still protests his innocence and dreams of her perfect future. When she does eventually realise the truth, her change of heart was equally unconvincing. 

Some reviews of The Painted Girls on Amazon complained that it was too depressing. Now, I am ready to admit that I am a miserablist and quite enjoy reading things that are considered depressing. Life would have been tough for the sisters and with the mention of Zola and L’Assommoir, the reader is given a clue to the downward trajectory of the girls’ lives. However, Buchanan moves away from the naturalist aspirations of Zola. Marie wonders why the heroine of L’Assommoir is fated by her lowly beginnings and it seems to me that Buchanan wished to give the sisters a different fate. However, for me, the happy ending seems a little too pat, a little unlikely.

Maybe it is just my lack of romance. I know I would have been happier had the ending been less so. In the end, I found that the narrative highs and lows were equally unconvincing. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate this book but I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would. The descriptions of the ballet and of Marie modelling for Degas show exactly how tough the ballet world was and are perhaps my favourite part of this novel. Unfortunately other events were neither as touching or as well-written.