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Margaret Atwood reading month provided me with the perfect excuse to read Hag-seed which I have had languishing on my tbr quite some time. In this novel Margaret Atwood has combined her consummate storytelling with a phenomenal understanding of Shakespeare. Hag-seed is a brilliant re-telling of The Tempest. Initially, that might have put me off a little, I love Shakespeare, though The Tempest isn’t a play I know well at all. I definitely know it a lot better now – Atwood is so clever – that I don’t think it really matters if you know the original well or not.

I have been impressed with Margaret Atwood’s fictional achievements before – but this novel is so clever, I can’t help but love the way her mind works. In the story of a man’s obsession to stage The Tempest and take revenge on the people who ruined him, she in fact tells an updated story of The Tempest. The old story within a story thing, that both Shakespeare and Atwood have employed before. With practised skill Atwood weaves a story of greed, revenge, grief and magic. In Hag-seed she is at her most compelling.

Felix Phillips is in his element as director of the Makeshiweg festival, where he is known for his vibrant, forward looking productions. Numb with grief over the recent death of his little daughter Miranda, Felix hadn’t noticed the gradually increasing ambition of his right hand man, who is always sure to be in the right place at the right time. Suddenly, Felix is out, his enemies have manoeuvred their way into position, and on the eve of Felix’s production of The Tempest, they strike. Felix finds himself escorted to his car by security, a pile of packed cardboard boxes waiting for him. Everything he was sure of is shaken, and as his fury mixes with his grief, Felix knows that one day he will get his revenge.

“What to do with such a sorrow? It was like an enormous black cloud boiling up over the horizon. No: it was like a blizzard. No: it was like nothing he could put into language. He couldn’t face it head-on. He had to transform it, or at the very least enclose it.”

Retiring to an isolated hovel he comes across by chance, Felix changes his name and deliberately buries himself away from anyone who knew him during his success at the festival. Living with ghost of his dead daughter – who Felix can conjure up at will, and who continues to grow as she would have done in life – years pass.

After several years, Felix takes a job teaching a theatre course at a nearby prison. The course runs for a few months each year, and each year Felix does a different Shakespeare play. The prisoners know him as Mr Duke, and he insists on his own particular rules, never having a moments trouble with any of the prisoners. His course has proved very successful, it’s seen as quite a privilege by the prisoners, with some, serving longer sentences, coming back in subsequent years to take part again. Felix’s next course at the prison is about to start in early January, when he learns of the perfect opportunity to take revenge on the men who betrayed him.

“What he couldn’t have in life he might still catch sight of through his art: just a glimpse, from the corner of his eye”

His enemies have now stepped into cushy ministerial jobs, decision makers, who hold the purse strings, and they will be paying a visit to the very prison where Felix holds his Shakespeare theatre course.

Felix immediately decides that his course that year will be about The Tempest. The course culminates in a performance that is videoed and shown to the rest of the prison via cctv. The inmates taking ‘Mr Duke’s’ course hang on his every word – he really pushes them intellectually; he doesn’t talk down to them and he promises them cigarettes.

“Watching the many faces watching their own faces as they pretended to be someone else—Felix found that strangely moving. For once in their lives, they loved themselves.”

Felix has the perfect group of people around him to help put his plan into action. Twelve years have passed since the treachery at the Makeshiweg festival, but never has Felix’s desire for revenge diminished. So, with the help of Leggs, PPod, Bent Pencil and others, Felix, becoming more Prospero like every moment finally gets to stage the production of The Tempest he has dreamed of – with a twist.

The wraith like ghostly figure of Miranda, now fifteen years old, is never far away – only it’s just Felix who can see her, so he enlists the help of an actress he worked with in his previous life. Leaving nothing to chance, Felix spends weeks planning and resourcing his great production. The stage is set…

I really enjoyed this novel, so fantastically readable, and so blinklin’ clever I just wanted to cheer.

Translated from the German by Kathie von Ankum

I had meant to read The Artificial Silk Girl back in the summer for Women in Translation month, but as usual I had more books than I could possibly read. However, it meant I had the perfect book to read at the start of #Germanlitmonth. I remember seeing several glowing reviews of this book from other bloggers, and I can see why they liked it so much. Irmgard Keun’s classic takes us back to a time and place that many still finding fascinating, maybe as much because of the times that followed it.

An evocative portrait of the roaring Weimar Berlin of the 1920s/30s – it is also a wonderfully poignant story of a quirky, radical young woman, whose voice I found immediately captivating. The Artificial Silk Girl was Irmgard Keun’s second novel – banned by the Nazis it had been an instant best seller when it was first published. With the Nazis coming to power in 1933, this novel depicts life just before that tumultuous time.

“And I think it will be a good thing if I write everything down, because I’m an unusual person. I don’t mean a diary — that’s ridiculous for a trendy girl like me. But I want to write like a movie, because my life is like that and it’s going to become even more so. And I look like Colleen Moore, if she had a perm and her nose were a little more fashionable, like pointing up. And when I read it later on, everything will be like at the movies — I’m looking at myself in pictures.”

Our narrator is Doris – living in a mid-sized German town in 1931, working in an office for a boss she loathes but must flirt with to keep on the right side of. She is barely able to keep up with her duties, commas being a particular stumbling block. What little money she earns doesn’t last long; she hands over most of it to her hard drinking father. She manages to buy herself a new green hat – but Doris longs for the finer things in life – she is quite conscious of her own good looks and feels she must somehow become a star.

Doris is a fabulous creation, there is a streetwise vulnerability about her, on one level she understands the pitfalls of the world for a young woman, on another level she is heartbreakingly naïve and ripe for great hurt and disappointment. The reader is in her corner from the start, looking for the same happy ending as Doris herself.

Life has already been something of a disappointment for Doris – romance has been a let-down so far. Doris had had her hopes pinned on Hubert, but Hubert married someone else. She does manage to secure some extra work with a theatrical company, upgrading to a part with one speaking line by artifice, Doris wants more than this. There is nothing much left for Doris in her hometown.

When she is finally, and inevitably sacked from the job she is so ill suited for, Doris takes a night train to Berlin, where she hopes she can make it in the movies. Wearing a stolen fur coat, she spots in a cloakroom and wants for herself, she leaves her disappointments behind her and sets out with optimism. The coat is a kind of talisman for Doris, she feels it will bring her luck, or at least make her look the part.

“They have courses teaching you foreign languages and ballroom dancing and etiquette and cooking. But there are no classes to learn how to be by yourself in a furnished room with chipped dishes, or how to be alone in general without any words of concern or familiar sounds.”

What she finds in Berlin however is not the fame and fortune she craves, but a world of seedy bars and seedier men, a world where the options for women are limited and unattractive. Staying in a series of temporary rooms, she is often hungry. Doris resorts to increasingly desperate measures in order to survive. She has lots of encounters with men, using her looks to get drinks or meals. Yet, there is an obvious goodness in Doris, she is wonderfully sympathetic to a blind neighbour, and deep down she wants a boyfriend who will last longer than a day or two and care for her. She understands, as so many women before her, how the rules for men and women differ.

“If a young woman from money marries an old man because of money and nothing else and makes love to him for hours and has this pious look on her face, she’s called a German mother and a decent woman. If a young woman without money sleeps with a man with no money because he has smooth skin and she likes him, she’s a whore and a bitch.”

In Keun’s portrait of Berlin at this time, there is a slight foreshadowing of the days to come. In the dissatisfaction and selfishness of certain characters and in the poverty, we see something of the troubles that swept through Europe in the 1930s.

Doris’s voice is honestly matter of fact, she’s quite sarcastic and a little bit ditzy, but enormously likeable. This was my first novel by Irmgard Keun by I am sure it won’t be my last.

The Silence of the Girls was shortlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize, and the women’s prize is one that still interests me – hence the Women’s Prize project which I have started (not done that brilliantly though). However, this title was one that I felt rather unsure about – on the one hand I really like Pat Barker’s writing, having loved both war trilogies and two or three stand-alone novels. However, I have absolutely no interest in the ancient world, and novels retelling Greek myths have never really appealed. I was left a little underwhelmed by The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood (who I generally like very much) and have pretty much avoided all the other similar ones. Like The Penelopiad though, The Silence of the Girls was chosen by my very small book group and as it was on my Women’s Prize list too I really had no excuse – and so it was one of the books I took away with me last week.

The novel is a retelling of The Iliad from the point of view of the women whose voices are never heard, the premise is certainly an attractive one, especially for those who love the classics. Barker writes so well, she is quite masterly at setting her scene – be in WW1 trenches, London of the Second World war or an ancient Greek encampment.

I had expected the novel to be quite rapey and violent – and there is certainly some of that, though Barker doesn’t dwell on things that her characters clearly accept as being what always happens to women. She doesn’t allow our twenty-first century sensibilities to get in the way, though she also shows that the women of her story are aware on some level of the inequalities and contradictions of their world. However, these are women who don’t try to change things, they don’t try to fight – there is no point.

“We’re going to survive–our songs, our stories. They’ll never be able to forget us. Decades after the last man who fought at Troy is dead, their sons will remember the songs their Trojan mothers sang to them. We’ll be in their dreams–and in their worst nightmares too.”

After the Greek Queen Helen is carried off by the Trojans the Greeks set sail in pursuit, besieging the city of Troy with their fighters. The women of Troy shelter in a citadel, with them is Queen Briseis, who watches as her husband and brothers are murdered along with virtually every other man in Troy. A few women jump from the top of the citadel – knowing what is to come, they decide they want nothing of it. I don’t wonder! Unbeknownst to everyone, there are just ten weeks to go before the fall of Troy. The fate of the Trojan women is grim indeed – rounded up by the Greek soldiers, taken back to their camp, enslaved, voiceless, to be passed around, the spoils of war.

Briseis, is given to Achilles as a prize, condemned to be bed-slave to the man who slayed her family. She accepts her fate, knowing it could have actually been worse. Achilles the son of a mortal and a goddess, famed and feared in equal measure, a great warrior and a deeply troubled soul.

“Great Achilles. Brilliant Achilles, shining Achilles, godlike Achilles . . . How the epithets pile up.
We never called him any of those things; we called him ‘the butcher’.”

There are thousands of Trojan women slaves in the Greek camp, nursing the wounded, working in the laundry, laying out the dead, providing sport for soldiers’ miles from home. It is the stories of these women Barker tells, mainly from the perspective of Briseis; former queen and slave. Serving meals to Achilles and his men, Briseis is almost invisible – marking time until she is called to his bed. One man, Achille’s closes friend sees Briseis as human, Patroclus’ simple human kindness and sympathy and her solitary walks on the beach seem to keep her sane, as she longs for her homeland.

“I listened and let it soothe me, that ceaseless ebb and flow, the crash of the breaking waves, the grating sigh of its retreat. It was like lying on the chest of somebody who loves you, somebody you know you can trust—though the sea loves nobody and can never be trusted.” 

Barker has proved before that she understands the psychology of war, the impact it has on fighting men – the idea of collateral damage. She understands the feelings of conqueror and the conquered – of the freeman and the slave. Pat Barker writes with a thorough understanding of human beings and conflict.

“Yes, the death of young men in battle is a tragedy – I’d lost four brothers, I didn’t need anybody to tell me that. A tragedy worthy of any number of laments – but theirs is not the worst fate. I looked at Andromache, who’d have to live the rest of her amputated life as a slave, and I thought: We need a new song.”

Briseis is the prize that Achilles won, and like a petulant child clinging to a favourite toy, he regards her as his special, hard won gift. So, when Briseis becomes the subject of a bitter dispute between Achilles and Agamemnon, everyone in camp feels the tension ratcheting up.

In the end I enjoyed Barker’s writing very much as I expected to – the story she tells is compelling and brilliantly imagined. However, with my not really loving the whole ancient world thing – I didn’t love The Silence of the Girls – I found the fate of the women really rather depressing too at times. I can fully appreciate and applaud what Pat Barker’s achieved with this novel – it just won’t be my favourite of hers. My book group meets next week – and I am really looking forward to finding out what the others thought.

I bought The Light in the Dark, when it first came out in hardback, and for some reason it has sat unread on my shelves ever since. The days before the clocks went back here in the UK seemed to be the perfect time to read it and it was. Horatio Clare’s prose is sublime, descriptions I found myself stopping to read again, perfect evocations of the British landscape in winter.

I loved this book – and if you like the sound of it too – don’t miss the giveaway at the end of this review.

“I will not lose touch with nature. This is vital. I believe in immanence, in the oneness of living things. Maintaining that faith will carry you through the hardest times. Or such is the hope, this midnight. I start my birthday with many wishes, and this is one.”

The beginning of November is the time when our thoughts really do turn to winter – and for many people it’s a time of year when they struggle. I understand something of that, although I don’t mind many aspects of winter, I do struggle with January and February when everything I have to look forward to feels like such a long time away. However, for many the last days of autumn herald a serious struggle with mood, the long dark days of winter are dreaded and must somehow be endured. It’s a time of long held traditions, the seasonal rhythms that have long been a part of our lives, however it is also a time of seasonal sadness and deep depression, as author Horatio Clare knows all too well.

Suffering acutely from seasonal affected disorder, as the winter of 2017/18 approached, Horatio Clare decided to write about his relationship with this darkest time of the year, and the feelings it inspired in him. In journal form, beginning as autumn drew to a close, Horatio Clare began to look outward, celebrating and observing the natural world, which has its own rhythms. He reminds us that mountains are glorious no matter what the weather, that there is a kind of consolation in our British woodland and winter days can still be bright. In this wonderful book, Horatio Clare shines a light into the darkness and reveals the magic that is hidden sometimes by the darkness. It was a bad winter, when the ‘the Beast from the East’ hit, remember that? I don’t think I will ever forget the journey my family and I made, from Birmingham to Sheffield to attend a funeral, in a snowstorm.

Having previously lived in London – where winter is different somehow, more endurable – Clare is finding the Northern winters of his home in Hebden Bridge – from where he commutes part of the week to teach at the University in Liverpool – especially gruelling. Here he lives with his wife, and sons, recalling the winters of his childhood in rural Wales – where his mother still lives and who the family visit for Christmas. I really enjoyed this blending of past and present, and Clare’s simple appreciation of the natural world, which he stops to enjoy in the midst of his everyday life.

“A joy of magpies rush a buzzard, all three of them low; hedge-height under the air. A solar-panel farm gazes darkly at the clouds, its feet in water. In a hundred flat miles in the middle of half-term there is not a child outside; a man talks to two Labradors at a field’s turn, lecturing them, as they raise their noses and wag their sympathy. Pylons march into a westering afternoon as a swan beats his wings, stretching tall in a sugar-beet field, as if fanning four companions, snowdrop-white. Starlings! A hundred, no murmuration but a trace, a skipping wisp of a flock over the field’s brow.”

As the winter progresses Clare struggles more and more with his mental health, reluctant to see a doctor, though he describes honestly the worst of his moods, he does so retrospectively, sparing us in a sense from the worst. Not wanting, his journal to be as bleak as he feared that could make it. He is honest about the nature of depression and the guilt it made him feel – but he doesn’t impose those feelings on the reader.

“This diary is a refuge, a thing to do, something to put work and time into, a defence against the hopelessness. This depression is a terrible disabler. You cannot flow from one thing that needs to be done to the next; you constantly pause and doubt and disbelieve. When I do the shopping I make a list and stick to it, as if incapable of improvising.”

He acknowledges how it made work difficult, how debilitating it was, how having to function for his young son became a massive focus. Therefore, the book is far from bleak, it is beautiful, honest and infused with a quiet wisdom that I found inspiring, and which I hope will help me through my own winter days of discontent. For as Horatio Clare pushes through the worst of his winter days, there are moments of hope, in which he beautifully balances the dark with the light.

Giveaway

So, the lovely people at Elliott and Thompson who publish A Light in the Dark, offered me one of the new paperback copies – however as I already had my own copy of the book waiting, one of you can benefit instead.   

The giveaway is open to UK readers only I’m afraid, so if you would like to win a brand new copy of A Light in the Dark indicate below. I will draw a name using a random name generator next weekend and the winner’s details will be forwarded to Elliott and Thompson who will send out the book in due course.

October in review

I’m a couple of days late with this month’s roundup because I have been away for the last week. I arrived home a few hours ago, and before getting down to writing this, I finished my first book of November, The Silence of the Girls – started at the end of October, but it might as well go into the November pile.

Where September crawled by, October flew – and as you can see from the picture above, I am still not reading very fast. I have given up all hope I think of getting back to the kind of reading rates I used to enjoy, but as long as I am enjoying what I read – then I am happy.

I started the month reading Moor Fires (1916) by E H Young – a favourite author. Moor Fires was E H Young’s third novel and is definitely not typical of her later work. Still, for fans of E H Young’s work it is well worth reading. The novel set on a stretch of wild moorland, where twin sisters Helen and Miriam Caniper live with their stepmother; Notya and their two brothers. The sisters are twenty as the novel opens, and clearly very different. Helen is a domestic being, she loves her home and the moorland and has no wish to be anywhere else. Miriam longs to escape, she enjoys nothing more than to torment the young men who come in her way, proud of her looks and quick to make fun of others.

Nina Bawden’s Anna Apparent (1972) came next – another author I have read and enjoyed many times before, and this was another good one. Bawden is so good at portraying complex relationships within families. In this novel Bawden considers the question of nature versus nurture and the effects of childhood trauma. Who exactly is Anna? The carefully nurtured daughter of an adoptive mother, the younger second wife of Giles, casual lover to Daniel? While she is all of these things in time, she is also an individual. Anna’s view of herself is disrupted in the wake of a tragedy.

Karen and Simon hosted the 1930 club and my first read for that was A Shutter of Snow (1930) by Emily Holmes Coleman, a classic of American literature, It is the story of a woman’s two month stay in what was then called an asylum following the birth of her child.

My second read for the 1930 club was The Mysterious Mr Quin (1930) by Agatha Christie – well you can’t go wrong with an Agatha Christie. It’s a book of stories – though it is presented almost like a novel. Each chapter is a different story in which Mr Quin will turn up eventually. It’s a thoroughly engaging and entertaining collection, in which the reader must suspend disbelief as coincidences abound. Christie really does flex her storytelling muscles nicely with these stories, taking us from English country houses to the South of France and Corsica. While many stories feature the unravelling of mysteries of the past, other stories concern matters in the present, several pieces having a supernatural quality.

Girl, Woman, Other (2019) by Bernardine Evaristo was my standout book of the month. A worthy booker winner – I found it compulsively readable, a novel of modern Britain and some of the women who make it – their voices ring out clear and strong from every page. Twelve wonderful humans, mainly women, mainly black, scattered across the UK in town and country, who call this nation home.

The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton (1973) was sent to me by Virago books, a fabulous collection for this time of year. Delightfully chilling stories that never quite descend into horror, they bear witness to Wharton’s own fascination with hauntings, bewitchments and spirits. From childhood Edith Wharton had been terrified of ghost stories, and in these stories, she has channelled her fears in tales which expose the faults in us mere mortals; betrayal, grief, greed and the misuse of power. 

The Light in the Dark (2018) by Horatio Clare is a book I have had a long time, I first bought it in hardback, now the paperback is out. It is an absolutely glorious book, beautifully written. Look out for my review next week.

I ended the month reading The Silence of the Girls (2018) by Pat Barker – my book group’s choice. I finished it an hour or two ago, my first book of November it won’t be my favourite book of November, but it was compelling, and I will be interested to discuss it with my book group.

So on to my plans for November, my plans are fluid, as my reading mood is proving rather fickle. However, November is chock full of reading events – which you might aware of.

#MARM (Margaret Atwood reading month) hosted by Buried in Print and Consumed by Ink – is high on my agenda all being well. There is a read-a-long of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments for anyone who is interested in that. As well as the two novels I have tbr, I have several Atwood I would like to re-read, but Maddaddam and Hag-seed are novels I have meant to get to for a while. German lit month is again hosted by Lizzy at Lizzy’s Literary Life, and I have a book that should fit that and #novellasinNovember – so I think I might just start with The Artificial Silk Girl (I can’t remember who hosts Novellas in November, I’m sorry). It is also Non-fiction November (again I can’t remember who hosts that) and I have lots of books of essays on my shelves – I am hopeless at reading much non-fiction, so I have pulled one collection off the shelf – though whether I actually get to it, is another matter. Of course, I have other non-fiction books, and many other novellas, so we’ll see how the month goes.

I also have a couple of review books and a collection of stories I would like to find time for – but I have probably selected more than I can manage – I wonder how many of these will end up in the row of books I actually read in November? Anyway, lots of excellent reading events to join in with if that’s your thing.

What brilliant things did you read during October? Anything I should know about? Are you joining in with any of the reading events?

With thanks to Virago for providing me with this beautiful designer edition.

I love Edith Wharton and The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton had been on my wish list for ages – so I was very excited to receive this collection from Virago.

There is a long tradition of the telling of ghost stories, an oral tradition that saw people telling and re-telling the stories known in their own families. People have long delighted in the sharing of such stories. It seems we continue to love to scare ourselves. These stories are very much in the best tradition of ghost stories – they give one a little shiver down the spine, they are deliciously creepy – but they never descend into absolute horror – I can’t really see them as nightmare inducing. They are understated, more Gothic than frightening, beautifully written of course with well-drawn characters.

Edith Wharton’s stories are set in both America and England stories which appeared over a period of more than thirty years, in the first half of the last century. They bear witness to Wharton’s own fascination with hauntings, bewitchments and spirits. From childhood Edith Wharton had been terrified of ghost stories, and in these stories, she has channelled her fears in tales which expose the faults in us mere mortals; betrayal, grief, greed and the misuse of power. They are all endlessly readable.

There are eleven stories in this collection – none of them too short – they are to my mind the perfect length, perfect to settle down with over a cuppa when you get in from work – or at night before bed. I don’t feel I can talk about each story, so as I generally do with story collections, I shall instead just give a flavour of the whole collection and talk about a few favourites.

The collection opens with The Lady Maid’s Bell narrated by the lady maid of the title. Having recently recovered from typhoid, Hartley is in search of a new position. She is told about a Mrs Brympton, a young woman though something of an invalid, she lives all year round at her country home on the Hudson river. Hartley is warned that the house is large and gloomy, and that the lady’s husband is often away. Hartley feels that a quiet place in the country will suit her well having so recently been ill. On arrival at Brympton Place, she is greeted by Mrs Blinder the cook and a friendly housemaid Agnes. Some things feel strange, she hears about her predecessor so long devoted to Mrs Brympton who died the year before. It is explained that should Mrs Brympton want her, Agnes will fetch Hartley, that there will be no summons by bell – as is usual. So, why does Hartley wake suddenly to the sound of a bell? and who was the woman she saw in the corridor outside her room?

In Afterward an American couple seek to buy a house in England, Mary Boyne and her husband settle on Lyng in Dorsetshire. Mary asks about the presence of ghosts and is told: ‘oh, there is one, of course, but you’ll never know it.’ It is further explained that she will never know it till long afterward. Settling happily at Lyng Mary and her husband Ned laughingly look out for their ghost that they will not know about till afterward – not really feeling too worried. However, when Mary sees a figure walking toward the house as she and Ned watch from the roof – she starts to get a feeling for the trouble that will follow.

“Distinctly, yes she now recalled that she had seen, as she glanced, a shadow of anxiety, of perplexity rather, fall across his face; and, following his eyes, had beheld a figure of a man in loose greyish clothes, as it appeared to her – who was sauntering down the lime avenue to the court with the doubtful gait of a stranger who seeks his way.”

For me one of the most enthralling and memorable stories is Kerfol, set in Brittany, where the narrator has been urged by friends to buy a property going – they say – for a song. Deciding to go and view the property the young man is shocked to find his entry to the house is prevented by a pack of vicious, though silent dogs. The reason for the presence of these spectral dogs is told in the story of Anne de Cornault who lived in the house with her husband in the seventeenth century.

In Bewitched we are back in America, and in wintry rural New England landscape three local men, a farmer and two cutters, call at the house of Saul Rutledge another cutter. There they encounter Saul’s wife – beside herself with a tale of witchcraft – she claims that the dead daughter of one man has bewitched her husband over the previous year – leaving him a shadow of his former self. The men, shocked and horrified at such a tale – set out to uncover the validity of her strange claim.  

“As he came in he faced the light from the north window, and Bosworth’s first thought was that he looked like a drowned man fished out from under the ice – ‘self-drowned’ he added. But the snow light plays cruel tricks with a man’s colour, and even with the shape of his features; it must have been partly that, Bosworth reflected, which transformed Saul Rutledge from the straight muscular fellow he had been a year before into the haggard wretch now before them.”

Mr Jones tells the story of another English haunted house. When Lady Jane Lynke inherits the beautiful country house of Bells, she swears she will never leave it. She hasn’t reckoned on Mr Jones however – for everything that she wants to do in her new home she is told by the old servant that Mr Jones won’t like it. Whether it is lighting a fire in the parlour or unlocking the door to the muniment room Mr Jones is apparently consulted and his disapproval communicated to her ladyship. However, Lady Jane has never seen Mr Jones – and when she and her friend begin to investigate, they discover a Mr Jones had been an important servant many decades earlier.

In Pomegranate seed a young woman who is quite newly married to a man who had been previously widowed, is alarmed at the sight of a letter lying on the table addressed to her husband. The letter is one of a series of identical letters, to which her husband reacts very oddly. She becomes fixated on the letters, which her husband won’t talk to her about – and the idea that the writer, who she guesses is a woman – has some terrible hold over him, that the wife is desperate to free him of.

All in all, a pretty perfect collection of stories for the time of year. Ghost stories read well throughout the winter though, so I think this would make a great gift for any Edith Wharton fan come Christmas.

I am currently away on holiday, and there is no Wi-Fi where I am staying (this post uploaded courtesy of a café with sea view.) So, this post will have to suffice until I get home next weekend.

Joint winner of the 2019 Booker prize just over a week ago, Girl, Woman, Other is the eighth novel by Bernardine Evaristo. I am pleased to see – if social media is anything to go by – that lots more people are buying and reading her books than had been previously. I am one of them, although I did already own this book when it was awarded the prize. I had bought it in the summer having seen it on Twitter – the stunning cover art, along with the title first got my attention, the premise sealed the deal. Then, when it came to it, I wasn’t in the mood to read it. In the end I began reading it the day after it won The Booker. I am so glad I saved it – I absolutely loved it. I am now more than ready to read more novels by Bernardine Evaristo, especially Mr Loverman – which I just love the sound of.

I know so many people are reading this novel at the moment – so, I am doing my best to avoid spoilers.

A novel of modern Britain and some of the women who make it – their voices ring out clear and strong from every page. Twelve wonderful humans, mainly women, mainly black, scattered across the UK in town and country, who call this nation home.  The author weaves their stories together in a way that produces a glorious feeling of connectedness, some characters are connected slightly – other connections are more significant. Through these characters, we see everything we are as a country and all that we have been.

Here are stories of family, friendship, ambition and achievement, sexuality and gender.  There are five longish chapters – each chapter introducing us to three of the twelve key characters. They represent many of the people who make up Britain today, from a variety of backgrounds they carry their different experiences with them.

The novel opens with Amma, a woman who has come a long way since her squat sharing days in the 1980s, now she has a play opening at the National, she’s made it. She can’t help but look back at the days when she was preparing to smash the patriarchy, she took no prisoners, and had many lesbian lovers.

“Amma then spent decades on the fringe, a renegade lobbing hand grenades at the establishment that excluded her”

until the mainstream began to absorb what was once radical and she found herself hopeful of joining it”

Her daughter Yazz is fast becoming a young woman, she’ll be heading off to make her way in the world soon. We meet Dominique – a friend of Amma’s from those old days when they were experimenting with new feminist theatre. Dominique has spent years in America but couldn’t miss Amma’s big night.

Past and present merge in the stories that follow, in 1905 Newcastle, ten year old Grace is an orphan, placed in a home. She remembers the stories that her mother told of the enigmatic Abyssinian who was her father – a man she will never meet.

“it took a long time for Grace to stop hoping Ma might turn up and even longer before she stopped feeling her as a warmth spreading in her stomach whenever she thought of her

longer still for her features to fade

at night she began to dream of her Pa

who’d come back to rescue her

and take her to paradise”

She longs to work in the smart department stores – who when she is older refuse to hire her.

In the 1950s Winsome arrived from Barbados, met and married and followed her young fisherman husband to Cornwall. She realises right away that Cornwall aren’t ready for them – and is afraid her husband has made a big mistake, and perhaps she did too.

Carole made it to Oxford university from her Peckham comprehensive school while her mother worked as a cleaner.

“…Bummi dragged herself out of bed

to join her tribe of bleary-eyed workers who emerged into the dimmed streetlights of her new city to clamber aboard the red double-decker buses that ploughed the empty streets

  she sat in sleepy silence with others who had hoped for a better life in this country, huddled in her eiderdown jacket in winter, her feet in padded boots, longing to sleep, afraid to miss the stop for the office building where she scraped away hardened faecal matter in toilet bowls and disinfected everything that came into contact with human waste”

In Northumberland, Morgan; who used to be Megan visits Hattie, who despite being in her nineties remains in the farmhouse where she has lived so long. She remembers when she was young and strong but is determined to retain her independence, she still misses her husband Slim every day. Morgan; has left the city behind and embraced the countryside, they have a million Twitter followers.

Evaristo writes in an experimental style in which sentences are not marked in the usual way with a capital letter and full stop but with line breaks allowing her prose to feel poetry like at times. The entire novel is very readable. A wonderfully polyphonic novel that speaks strongly of modern Britain. It is of course, a very worthy Booker  winner.