Just outside Boston, in 1963, Frederick Merrill found himself a patient in the country’s premiere mental hospital, a world of structured authority and absolute control – a forced regression to a simpler time even as the pace of the outside world accelerated into modernity. Meanwhile, in a wintry New Hampshire village hours to the north, Frederick’s wife Katharine struggled to hold together her fracturing family and to heal from the wounds of her husband’s affliction. Nearly fifty years later, a writer in his twenties attempts to comprehend his grandparents’ story from that turbulent time, a moment in his family’s history that continues to cast a long shadow over his own young life. Spanning generations and genres, The Storm at the Door blends memory and imagination, historical fact and compulsive storytelling, to offer a meditation on how our love for one another and the stories we tell ourselves allow us to endure. Quietly incisive and unflinchingly honest, The Storm at the Door juxtaposes the visceral physical world of Frederick’s asylum with an exploration of how the subtlest damages can for ever alter a family’s fate.
This a beautifully written novel, in language which is often poignant and rather poetic. I did find the first third of the book to be quite slow, and so it took me a little while to settle into it. Eventually however I became quite immersed into the lives of Katherine and Frederick Merrill.
This is a biographical novel, a novel written about the author’s own grandparents. It is therefore hard to know where exactly the fiction begins and the biographical nature of the story ends, and how important this is to the reader I can’t decide. This must have been an incredibly important book for this young author to write, there must have been a sort of healing in the act of laying bare the facts of his grandparents difficult marriage. Set mainly in New Hampshire in 1962 – this is the story of Katherine and Frederick Merrill, of Frederick’s mental illness and incarceration in a psychiatric hospital, and how Katherine left behind managed keep things going.
Sometimes Katherine seems a bit hard, in her attitude to her husband locked away in the Mayflower asylum – but this is her coping mechanism – she is a still young woman with four daughters to bring up. She is alone, her own father, once supportive to her and her husband is now much less so, and is threatening to pull the plug on the bills, she has no idea when her husband will return, or in what condition. Meanwhile her husband is dependent upon the staff of his psychiatric hospital. Dr Canon – a deeply flawed man himself, subjects Frederick to electric shock treatment and solitary confinement – because Frederick knows a secret about him. Frederick is locked up with some deeply troubled and brilliant minds – these characters are fascinating, and help to bring the story to life. The story of the asylum, Dr Canon and his staff I found dreadfully sad, and no doubt horrifyingly authentic.
Read Full Post »
I was sent this book ( a lovely hardback edition) by the Librarything Early Reviewers programme. It seemed perfect for me as I love Sherlock Holmes. I know several writers have resurrected the great detective and written new stories about him, and although I have only read some of them, I love the idea that a character is so beloved and has become so mythologised that he never really goes away.
In this book there are seven new stories, stories apparently "discovered" recently which Watson considered too shocking for publication at the time. The events recorded in these stories range in date from 1882 to 1929. In them we meet: giants and dwarves, a silent valet, servants, masters, addicts and murderers. We discover the truth behind the death of Dorian Gray, and through the eyes of his great friend Dr John Watson how Sherlock Holmes met his own end in 1929. I thought these stories, and the characters stayed pretty well true to the original, and I hope Conan Doyle would approve.
I would love to share this book with bookcrossers – but I’m not going to : ) I have lost far too many bookring books to risk it. So if I find another copy – or maybe when it is out in paperback I will get a copy to do that with, but until then I am keeping this nice book and adding it to my increasing permanent collection.
Read Full Post »
Recieved from Librarything Early reviewers programme ages ago – not sure why I have take so long to read it – but glad I did.
A newly-widowed woman has done a runner. She just jumped in her car, abandoned her (very nice) house in north London and kept on driving until she reached the Norfolk coast. Now she’s rented a tiny cottage and holed herself away there, if only to escape the ceaseless sympathy and insincere concern. She’s not quite sure, but thinks she may be having a bit of a breakdown. Or perhaps this sense of dislocation is perfectly normal in the circumstances. All she knows is that she can’t sleep and may be drinking a little more than she ought to. But as her story unfolds we discover that her marriage was far from perfect. That it was, in fact, full of frustration and disappointment, as well as one or two significant secrets, and that by running away to this particular village she might actually be making her own personal pilgrimage. By turns elegiac and highly comical, The Widow’s Tale conjures up this most defiantly unapologetic of narrators as she begins to pick over the wreckage of her life and decide what has real value and what she should leave behind.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I had expected it to be more sombre in tone, or a little depressing and so was pleasently surprised by the wit of our caustic, nameless widow.This strong no nonsense narrative voice made me sit up for the first twenty pages or so – as it was so not what I was expecting, yet our narrator emerges as as strong quirky character, who I found brilliantly realisitic and often very funny. Having lost her husband around 3 months earlier she is somewhat lost, drinking too much, and irritated by well meaning friends. In this mood she fleas to north Norfolk, where she takes a tiny cottage, and walks on the saltmarshes, buys a tiny second hand car, and obsesses over a book of Holbein prints. Reflecting back over her life as a wife, and even before that as a young girl, we get to know this interesting complex woman as she starts to make some sense of her life, and understand things about herself and her marriage. We come to see why that part of Norfolk has drawn her back, and how it helps to set her on a straighter path. There is a lot of poignancy in this novel, a good deal about loss and grief, helped along by some really good writing.
Read Full Post »
Ever anxious to keep up appearances, self-avowed intellectual and scholar Nicholas Herrick knows that to involve himself in the running of his own school would be a condescension too far. Assembling around himself a cast of fittingly fawning friends and aides, he sets about unveiling his final masterpiece. Described in contemporary reviews as "a work of genius," Pastors and Masters inaugurated the writing career of an author gifted with a rare skill for characterization and for wry portrayals of domestic scenes.
I received this little novel from the Librarything early reviewers scheme. I was interested in reading a Compton-Burnett novel, as I recently read a biography about the novelist Elizabeth Taylor, and Compton-Burnett was a good friend of hers, and was referred to in the book a great deal.
In the forward to the novel, Sue Townsend suggests that readers might find it a hard read at times, that Compton-Burnett’s style takes some getting used to. The novel is written almost completely in dialogue. I didn’t however find it a difficult read, the style is a little unusual prehaps, but the writing is so very good that it flows easily and makes for a quick and lively read. The characters are quirky fully developed in spite of being written about in a style that one might think doesn’t lend itself to the description of characters, and yet within the great swathes of dialogue there emerges strong and distinct characters. This is the first book by this author I have read, but it probably won’t be the last.
Read Full Post »
I received this novel to review from the Librarything early reviewers programme. This novel is due to be published February 2010.
Set in the 17th century, a generation after the civil war, this
novel tells the story of a young cider maker. After discovering the partial remailns of a letter his dying uncle had sent his father, Jonathan Dymond sets out to discover secrets which lie at the heart of his own family. As a cider maker Johnathan travels from village to village pressing apples, using his trade as an excuse he goes to his aunts house. Here Jonathan quickly realises there are things his aunt is desperate to conceal, and he meets Tamar, the daughter of a beggar, who helped nurse Jonathan’s uncle as he lay dying.
The wilding is a light historical novel, that is packed with twists and turns as Jonathan unravels the secrets of his family’s past.
Not my favourite historical read, and a little light and predictable in parts, but quite entertaining overall.
Read Full Post »
I received this from the Librarything early reviewers scheme. The book is not out in the UK untill December – I am keeping this advanced readers copy in my PC so it won’t be registered on BC – but I would recommend it to anyone interested in reading first hand accounts of WWII
On the 70th anniversry of the beginning of World War II, a timeless and universal message about the devastation of modern warfare for average, ordinary human beings. This rare eyewitness account by a young career woman and mother brings to life in vivid detail the early, chaotic days of the war.
This brilliant account takes us from the last days of peace in August 1939 to February 1940 – a fairly short time in terms of days and weeks – but what a lot this family lives through in that time. The place is Poland, and in particular the city of Warsaw, the destruction of which was truly awful. Our narrator is Rulka a young mother and career woman, whose husband is in America at the time war breaks out. Rulka and her children are living with her mother, during the seige of Warsaw and the first uneasy days of the German occupation. What they must put up with in terms of hunger, cold and very real fear, brings it home to the reader just how completely life was turned upside down in a matter of days. Rulka is resourceful though, and even manages to start up her own business within just a couple of months of the Germans moving in. She is not the only tough customer we meet, people help each other, including running along burning streets to warn people they are in danger from the fires. At one point Rulka says to a friend just returned to Warsaw, how war brings people’s true nature’s out – they are in effect unable to pretend – you see people for who they are at such times. This is a fascinating, hugely readable, hard to put down book, I came to love the Rulka’s family and neighbours. So many fabulous photographs in this edition bring Warsaw and it’s people to life, and show the utter devastation of a beautiful city. So very glad I had the chance to read this book.
Read Full Post »
I recieved this from Librarything early reviewers May batch. It only came the other day, but I thought I would read it straight away.
On the coldest night of 1975, a young man with shock-red hair tears though the snowbound streets of Warrington’s toughest housing estate. He is Robbie Fitzgerald, and he is running for his life – and that of his young family. In his heart, Robbie knows the odds are stacked against them. In this unbending Northern town, he has married the beautiful brown nurse who once stitched up his wounds. Susheela is his Tamil Princess, but in the real world, the Fitzgeralds have to face up to prejudice, poverty and sheer naked hatred from their neighbours. Now Robbie has seen a way out, and he’s sprinting to his date with destiny…
Read Full Post »
I recieved this from Librarything early reviewers, and decided to read it straight away, rather than sit on it for ages.
When Helen invites her old friend Nicola to stay in her spare room, she has no idea what she is taking on: for Nicola has cancer, and from the moment she staggers through the front door, imperious, deluded and maddeningly endearing, she turns Helen’s life inside out. In the three weeks that follow, Helen is driven through extremes of rage and tenderness to become Nicola’s nurse, protector, guardian angel and stony judge. The Spare Room is an unforgettable novel about the distance a friendship must travel, and the depths it must plumb, when confronted by the threat of death. It is full of wisdom, dark laughter and truth.
Read Full Post »