The Silver Dark Sea by Susan Fletcher #amreading #bookreview

Silver Dark sea

“I heard that there is hope on a coastline, it was my own self, speaking – me, as my comfort, trying to keep myself afloat.”

“There were so many stories on that island that it felt like they came in on the tide.”

 “The Silver Dark Sea” is perhaps the most significant character in this novel. For the inhabitants of the island of Parla, the sea’s moods, sounds, harvest and destruction rule their lives. This is not an easy novel at first; written in the main as the stream of consciousness of the key protagonists, interspersed with folktales from Abigail’s book, it slips from third person to first person and only becomes comprehensible when the reader identifies that individual.

The location of Parla is unclear but the intermingled fates of the Bright family from the lighthouse and the Bundy family from the farm “Wind Rising” provide the background to this tale of love and loss. The roles of women and men in this simple old-fashioned community are separate and clearly defined and after a tragedy 4 years earlier many have lost their stability and focus. Maybe if the story of The Fishman of Sye comes true, they will be redeemed.

I want to give this beautiful atmospheric novel five stars, but the slow laborious plot development makes me award it 4.5 stars. I was unsure how the story should end but for me the conclusion was just right. Susan Fletcher is an author to seek out.

The Silver Dark Sea can be found on Amazon UK

Susan Fletcher

Susan Fletcher

Susan Fletcher was born in 1979 in Birmingham. She is the author of the bestselling ‘Eve Green’ winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award, ‘Oystercatchers’ and ‘Witch Light’.

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Transcription by Kate Atkinson #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

transcription

 Transcription opens in 1981 when Juliet Armstrong is involved in an accident. As she lies on the ground, injured, her mind goes back to 1940 when she started work in the offices of MI5 and then to 1950 when she was a BBC schools programmes producer. A witty but unemotional protagonist she seems to be recounting events as they happened, but there are omissions, and can we really trust her testimony?

I loved this book, much preferring it to Life After Life. The story of how MI5 monitored Nazi sympathisers and the account of  the amoral social life of 1940 are fascinating. Juliet’s observations on a woman’s role, always making the tea but also sent out to risk her life on potentially dangerous missions without any training, reflect reality. At times, this novel made me laugh out loud, at others, it is tense and thrilling and always slightly puzzling. There are so many intriguing characters, from Peregrine Gibbons, so dapper but resisting her charms (Juliet’s naivety is believable) to Godfrey Talbot, the likeable double agent, via delightful Cyril, her hard-working companion in Dolphin Square and the tactless Daisy who is supposed to assist Juliet at the BBC.

As Juliet listens in to meetings between Godfrey and a group of fascist sympathisers her transcriptions are sketchy. Words are missing when the dog barks and we don’t have a complete picture of what is happening. This reflects Juliet’s story. She has the ability to lie easily, making her an effective spy and yet she cares deeply about the fate of a young maid who briefly helps her and who, like Juliet, is an orphan.

This is a deep novel with a light tone. It is interesting to read from the context of today’s politics and society. And if you are wondering, the flamingo on the cover is explained towards the end of the story. There has been criticism by some reviewers of the denouement in which we are told in a rapid summary how threads in the story linked and we learn more about Juliet’s motivation, but I am on the fence on this. It satisfied my queries but possibly could have been revealed more subtly. However, the texture and quality of the writing is so delightful I could happily read it all over again next week.

 Transcription is available atAmazon UK

Spies by Michael Frayn #ThrowbackThursday

I’m borrowing the #ThrowbackThursday meme from It’s Book Talk

to share a book I read several years ago.

 Spies

Blurb

 A mesmerizing novel about secrecy, imagination, and a child’s game turned deadly earnest

The sudden trace of a disturbing, forgotten aroma compels Stephen Wheatley to return to the site of a dimly remembered but troubling childhood summer in wartime London. As he pieces together his scattered images, we are brought back to a quiet, suburan street where two boys, Keith and his sidekick-Stephen-are engaged in their own version of the war effort: spying on the neighbors, recording their movements, ferreting out their secrets.

But when Keith utters six shocking words, the boys’ game of espionage takes a sinister and unintended turn. A wife’s simple errands and a family’s ordinary rituals-once the focus of childish speculation-become the tragic elements of adult catastrophe.

In gripping prose, charged with emotional intensity, Spies reaches into the moral confusion of youth to reveal a reality filled with deceptions and betrayals, where the bonds of friendship, marriage, and family are unravelled by cowardice and erotic desire. Master illusionist Michael Frayn powerfully demonstrates, yet again, that what appears to be happening in front of our eyes often turns out to be something we can’t see at all.

My Review

You need to be in the right frame of mind to read “Spies”. It’s a slow ramble through the confused mind of a young boy in the apparently uneventful “Close” against the background of a war in Europe which only occasionally impinges upon his life. As long as you’re not in a hurry to get to exactly what’s happening behind the lies then it’s an enjoyable enticing read.

It reminded me of my own childhood in the 1950s planning and creating camps & schemes with my cousins. There is a languorous atmosphere created by the evocative scents and the summer weather. It is also a really frustrating book because you feel like shaking Stephen to make him react and to further the plot.

I have always enjoyed Michael Frayn’s plays because of the way he skilfully uses words but in this book he seems to work too hard spelling things out like “private”, “privet” and “privy”. He takes many chapters trying to explain the tortuous thoughts of a young boy as seen through the eyes of his mature self and then ties up all the loose ends of the plot in a few brief sentences at the end.

I have read critics comparing “Spies” to “The Go-Between” by L. P. Hartley and it certainly reminds me of the misunderstandings and deceit of that book. But somehow “Spies” feels unfinished. We weren’t given enough information to understand Stephen’s relationship with his family and I really wanted to know what happened to Keith’s family.

This book could have been something special but somehow it misses out. Stephen is not really very likeable even if he is a typical boy of his time & circumstances. The real passions are out of reach for the reader. We cannot see inside the mind of Keith’s mother & can only imagine how she is suffering. Someone needs to write the book again, from her viewpoint.

Spies can be found on Amazon UK

Michael Frayn

Frayn

Michael Frayn was born in London in 1933 and began his career as a journalist on the Guardian and the Observer. His novels include Towards the End of the Morning, Headlong (shortlisted for the 1999 Booker Prize), Spies (longlisted for the 2002 Man Booker Prize) and Skios. His seventeen plays range from Noises Off, recently chosen as one of the nation’s three favourite plays, to Copenhagen, which won the 1998 Evening Standard Award for Best Play of the Year and the 2000 Tony Award for Best Play. He is married to the writer Claire Tomalin.

Goddess of the Rainbow by Patrick Brigham #FridayReads #BookReview

Goddess Rainbow

 

Goddess of the Rainbow gives, in 16 chapters, the interconnected stories of the community of a small town in Northern Greece when constant rain threatens imminent flooding.  The goddess of the title takes the form of Iris, a DHL courier, who like her namesake is a messenger.  The other inhabitants of Orestiada include an estate agent and his wife, who are plotting murder, a Greek Australian returning to his father’s birthplace, the Greek Orthodox priest whom everyone trusts but who has had a crisis of faith, a Syrian illegal immigrant, a writer with a dangerous past, who has found sanctuary and a group of Russian women invited to the town by the mayor, due to a lack of potential wives for the towns aging bachelors.

This disparate group provide, humour, pathos and intrigue.  Fate and the floods brings them together and changes their future. Patrick Brigham is a talented writer with specialised knowledge of the people and politics of the Balkans and the lifestyle of northern Greece.  His imaginative stories show an awareness of the human condition and the effects of relationships, both loving and poisonous.  These stories tempt me to look further into his other published books. A good read.

To purchase Goddess of the Rainbow on Amazon UK

 

Patrick Brigham

Patrick

The author Patrick Brigham has written several mystery books, many of which are set at the very end of the Cold War and Communism. Featuring fictional police detective Chief Inspector Michael Lambert, he is often faced with political intrigue, and in order to solve his cases – which frequently take place in Eastern Europe and the Balkans – he needs to understand how an old Communist thinks, during the course of his investigations.  There are few good books on the subject of international crime, especially mystery stories which delve into the shady side of Balkan politics, neither are there many novelists who are prepared to address Mystery Crime Fiction.

 
Patrick Brigham was the Editor in Chief of the first English Language news magazine in Bulgaria between 1995 and 2000. As a journalist, he witnessed the changes in this once hard core Communist Country and personally knew most of the political players. Traditionally a hotbed of intrigue and the natural home of the conspiracy theory, Bulgaria proved to be quite a challenge and for many the transition into democracy was painful.  Despite this, he personally managed to survive these changes and now lives peacefully in Northern Greece.

https://authorpatrickbrigham.com/

 

 

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Kate A

A God in ruins is a slow boiler. It tells the story of Teddy, a beloved son and brother whose comfortable life changed so dramatically when the second world war began. Moving back and forth through his life, we see him as a gentle, loving grandfather, a much-respected pilot and a dutiful husband. But it is a life full of quandaries; should he marry his childhood sweetheart, how can he communicate with his wayward daughter and how can he defend bombing Germany?

Looking through Teddy’s eyes the juxtaposition of different eras flows logically. I was more at ease with this book than with the artifice of “Life After Life.” Once immersed in the story I could read it forever, but there is a finale and that is both a surprise and yet absolutely right.

There are so many facets to this book such as the delightful stories of the mischievous child, Augustus, written by Teddy’s aunt with him as a model, the awful behaviour and total lack of empathy of Teddy’s daughter, Viola, and the very British, stubborn manner in which Teddy’s wife, Nancy, deals with illness.
I tend to ignore essential words at the beginning of a novel, so it is important to return to the quotes Kate Atkinson begins with, especially the source of her title:

“A man is a god in ruins. When men are innocent, life shall be longer, and shall pass into the immortal, as gently as we wake from dreams.“ – Ralph Waldo Emerson – Nature

I could write so much more about Kate Atkinson’s descriptive prose, her pithy comments, her understanding of humanity and the savage consequences of war, but it would be much better for you to read her book.

The Oystercatcher Girl by Gabrielle Barnby

Oyster catcher

The Oystercatcher Girl is set in the stark, windswept landscape of Orkney where Neolithic graves mark the ancient residents while the present-day community work hard and seek love and friendship. Returning for a heart-breaking funeral, Christine narrates her story and that of her sister, Lindsay, and her best friend, Tessa. For once, Lindsay, a tempestuous, unreliable personality, supports her sister as she mourns Robbie, the love of her life, who had married Tessa.

It is, therefore, a surprise to find Christine sharing her house with Tessa and her young daughter Jenna. Starting work in St Olaf’s primary school, she remembers her childhood, how she and Tessa became inseparable and how they marked the rhythm of the seasons such as Halloween and the November bonfires, as they grew up. But a teenage party changed everything. Secrets separated friends and inevitably Christine resented her troublesome sister.

Gabrielle Barnby writes in detail of everyday routine, of the beauty of the countryside or sordid appearance of a street and of the confusion Christine feels. Tessa appears to be an enigma; a butterfly or an oystercatcher, scampering with the tide. She gave up music on a whim, she shows little sign of grief for her husband and yet she is a caring mother. We see Robbie through the eyes of others and through a bundle of letters, which hint at the secrets we do not understand.

As the story progresses, Christine finds herself endangered by past deeds. Can she find contentment and a sense of belonging or will happiness be elusive? This literary, mindful novel has a spiritual quality and yet is firmly grounded in everyday predicaments of love, loss and secrets.

Gabrielle

Gabrielle Barnby

The longer I live in Orkney the more I have come to love the wild landscape and the lilting dialect, which stings the ear like the wind. This book was written over the last three years, it is set in Orkney, but I wanted to write about relationships in a way that spoke to everyone no matter where they live.

Christina’s story is about life and death, and the messy complications that increase rather than diminish as time goes by. The desire for perfection in herself and other people is in danger of leaving Christine isolated from everyone she loves. Ultimately, her journey to self-knowledge will be irrevocably linked with loss.

Gabrielle is a graduate of Oxford University where she studied Human Sciences and received a Phd for research into the molecular genetics of autism.
Gabrielle’s first collection The House with The Lilac Shutters and other stories was inspired by repeated summer visits to a small town at the base of the Pyrenees. She now lives in Orkney, where she is involved in writing groups, storytelling and creative workshops for children. A variety of her work, including poetry, has been published in anthologies and magazines.

‘I find joy in everyday happenings, give reverence to small moments that touch deeply and might otherwise pass by unremarked.’

You will find The Oystercatcher Girl at Amazon UK or at Amazon US

#FridayBookShare ~ Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson @ShelleyWilson72

07-_-10-_-2014-2

#FridayBookShare is a game created by Shelley Wilson to help search for an ideal read.

Anyone can have a go – all you need to do is answer the following questions based on the book you are currently reading/finished reading this week and use the hashtag #FridayBookShare

First line of the book.

Recruit fans by adding the book blurb

Introduce the main character using only three words.

Delightful design (add the cover image of the book).

Audience appeal (who would enjoy reading this book?)

Your favourite line/scene.

Ever since I discovered Case Histories many years ago I have been a great fan of Kate Atkinson.  Emotionally Weird is one of her early books, set in Dundee, which I read appropriately while staying in Dundee, although that is not necessary.

First Line   My mother is a virgin (trust me) my mother Nora- A fiery Caledonian beacon- says she is untouched by the hand of man and is as pure as Joan of Arc or the snow on the Grampians.

Recruit fans by adding the book blurb

On a peat and heather island off the west coast of Scotland, Effie and her mother Nora take refuge in the large mouldering house of their ancestors and tell each other stories.

Nora, at first, recounts nothing that Effie really wants to hear, like who her father was – variously Jimmy, Jack, or Ernie. Effie tells of her life at college in Dundee, where she lives in a lethargic relationship with Bob, a student who never goes to lectures, seldom gets out of bed, and to whom the Klingons are as real as the French and the Germans (more real than the Luxemburgers).

But strange things are happening. Why is Effie being followed? Why is everyone writing novels? Is someone killing the old people? And where is the mysterious yellow dog?

Introduce the main character – Effie is an observer, a novelist, a wordsmith.

Delightful Design

emotionally-weird

Audience appeal  This might appeal to those who are familiar with Atkinson’s recent novels or more to those who like absurdity such as Flann O’Brien’s books.  You are taken back to 1970s student life.

Your Favourite Scene

I was sitting next to Terri- a black wolf prowling the night.  Terri’s assignment for Martha was poetry.  Terri’s poems came under the collective title My Favourite Suicide and you can probably imagine the content matter.  Some of them (although undoubtedly derivative) were surprisingly cheerful-

I drank the glass of

milk you left on the

bedside table. It was

sour, thank you

Martha was wearing a long cashmere plaid woven from the dull colours of infinity, that she had fixed, toga-style, with a claw of some bird, a grouse or a ptarmigan maybe, set with a purple amethyst.

Andrea was making a great show of sharpening her pencils and laying everything out on her little table while Kevin was staring at the space Olivia’s feet would have occupied if she had been there.

“I think we should begin with a little exercise to flex our writing muscles,” Martha said, speaking very slowly as if she was on prescription drugs but I think it was just her way of trying to communicate with people less intelligent than she thought she was.

“Write me a paragraph,” Martha enunciated clearly, in just 10 minutes, which incorporates these three word bractate, trowel and vilifies.”

If you want to join in, then answer the F.R.I.D.A.Y questions and use the Friday Book Share meme. Tag Shelley (@ShelleyWilson72) in, so she can read what you have added, too.