Posts Tagged ‘Ronan Hession’

As many of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter will be aware, I haven’t been too well – again! After eight days in hospital, I came home yesterday, hence the longer than usual gap between blog posts. I am very grateful for all the good wishes I have been sent over the last week or so, this is always such a lovely community to be part of.

I now have seven books to tell you all about and my rule is to review everything I read, so in order to reduce the deficit a little I have three mini reviews for you today instead of my usual one book review per post. Back to normal soon, I hope.

I can’t say there is anything at all to link these three novels – they are quite different and just what I happened to be reading a couple of weeks ago.

The Golden Rule – Amanda Craig (2020) – with thanks for the review copy.

A novel longlisted earlier this year for the Women’s Prize I was delighted to be offered a copy of the new paperback edition for review. The novel takes some inspiration from Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train – a novel several characters refer to throughout the course of the novel. The setting is now however, post referendum Britain, where the differences and inequalities between London and Cornwall are plain to see.

Hannah is a poor, harassed single mother, travelling by train from London to Cornwall to see her dying mother. She is invited into the first class carriage by a woman she has never met before – unwittingly Hannah is walking straight into a carefully orchestrated snare. Her companion is Jinni – and like Hannah she is going through a marriage break up. Unlike Hannah she is wealthy. Hannah once left Cornwall for London to go to university, but later marriage to Jake and motherhood changed everything for her. Now she has ditched her work in advertising to work as a cleaner – as it fits around school hours – she never has any money and communication with her ex-husband is difficult and acrimonious.

After only knowing one another a very short time, Jinni makes an outrageous suggestion. The women agree to each murder each other’s husbands – after all how could they possibly be connected?

“All at once, the train thundered into the first of the series of tunnels before Exeter. The air became brick, and the noise deafening. Their reflections shone dimly in the black glass, a parallel world of darkness and shadow.

Jinni leant forward, her eyes bright, and mouthed, ‘Why don’t we, then?’”

However, when Hannah goes to Jinni’s former home and meets the man who Jinni is married to, he isn’t at all what she expects. Hannah begins to question everything Jinni told her – and starts to have second thoughts at having her daughter’s father harmed. How this will play out is uncertain, and there are a few unexpected surprises still to come.

I won’t say too much more about the plot – but it really is a great page turner. What I especially loved however were the themes of poverty and inequality – Craig shows us a very realistic Britain where the haves and have nots live just streets apart – in London and in Cornwall. Single mothers have it so much harder than their former partners, who carry on earning the same, get a new partner – while the woman ends up poorer – stressed, alone and insecure. It’s a familiar story told with great understanding.

Panenka – Rónán Hession (2021)

Like many people I absolutely adored Rónán Hession’s first novel Leonard and Hungry Paul – and so I was really looking forward to this one, I wasn’t disappointed. Again, we have a gentle novel, a novel about people the reader soon feels they know – and who we care about immediately.

“His name was Joseph, but for years they had called him Panenka, a name that was his sadness and his story.”

Panenka is now fifty years old – twenty-five years ago he made a mistake, something he has lived with ever since and that is known about by everyone. Ever since he lived as an exile in his own small town, where everyone knows his story. His relationships were destroyed and for years he was estranged from his daughter who he loved fiercely. Now Panenka is managing to rebuild a family life – living with his daughter, who is separated from her husband, and her seven year old son.

However, at night Panenka suffers crippling headaches that he calls his iron mask – pain that leaves him curled up on the bathroom floor until it passes. Something is clearly very wrong. Panenka goes in search of help without telling his daughter – and so must face the reality of what is happening to him alone. He faces loosing everything all over again. Then he meets Esther, a woman who has come to live in the town – and knows nothing of Panenka’s infamous story. Together they negotiate a fragile new relationship, finding comfort and understanding in one another’s experiences allowing a little bit of love into their fractured lives.

Written with great insight into people’s frailties Panenka is a beautiful quiet little novel. It is a sadder novel than Leonard and Hungry Paul – there is a bittersweet quality to the story telling that may bring a tear to the eye. The characterisation is flawless and for me that is the sign of a really excellent novel – I believe absolutely that these people are real. A fabulous achievement – as I hear that second novels can be problematic – so such worries here!!

Poison for Teacher – Nancy Spain (1949) – with thanks to Virago for the review copy.

This is the second of two Nancy Spain novels that have been reissued this year by Virago. It is unusual I suppose for Virago to publish books that could be called mystery – but I think the decision to publish these rests more with who Nancy Spain was. She really was quite the character and a fascinating personality in her own right. The introduction to these editions written by Sandi Toksvig who is herself a big fan. Also, the mystery element in these books while present can be eclipsed a little by all the witty, jolly hockey sticks type frolics.

In Poison for Teacher, we find ourselves in London and Sussex and is great fun for those who like school stories. Miriam Birdseye – former revue star and now professional detective is definitely intrigued when the headmistress of Radcliff Hall arrives at her Baker Street agency to consult her over a series of strange pranks that have begun to look rather sinister. Concerned about her school’s reputation, Miss Lipscomb fears that even her life might be in danger.

Miriam’s friend and colleague, former ballerina Natasha Nevkorina is really rather fed up with her husband Johnny DuVivien and walks out on him and straight into the case at Radcliffe Hall. Miriam and Natasha – neither of whom like children at all, nor can barely hide the fact – travel to the Sussex girls school in the guise of new teachers. Two more unlikely teachers it is really rather hard to imagine. Soon they are thrust into the world of this rather uncomfortable sounding school, uncovering a blackmail plot, infidelity, and jealousies on a fairly grand scale.

A play is being rehearsed and both Miriam and Natasha are drawn into the drama surrounding the play which everyone seems to be taking very seriously. Tragedy strikes when a teacher is poisoned during the play rehearsals, and another member of staff is left very unwell indeed.

As with the other Nancy Spain novels I have read this is great escapism, all jolly often irreverent fun, larger than life characters and a clever plot to boot. However, things do get just a little bit meander-y and confusing and frankly at just over 400 pages I think it is too long – a hundred pages too much perhaps.

Sorry for the long post – but three in one – yay!

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