Middlemarch by George Eliot

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This was the first book on my 2017 ‘list of betterment’ (see previous post in Nov 2016, on ‘The Year of Reading Dangerously’ by Andy Millar) or as I call it, ‘My Book/Reading Gym.’

I set myself a target to read 50 pages a day.  Some days I read more, on only a few occasions I read slightly less.  As I reached 600+ pages I galloped through the final 200 pages.

Readers have strong views on Middlemarch.  They rhapsodize about it, or detest it.  Not much middle ground in terms of the opinions I have heard. Well – I loved it.  I wouldn’t say it was the best book I have ever read or that it changed my life, but I definitely loved it.

George Eliot writes as omniscient narrator, and this along with the Victorian references and wordiness grated with me initially, until the brilliant characterization swept me along, and I became lost in the world of Middlemarch society.

The novel is set in 1830 and covers a wide range of the societal and political issues of the day, from medicine to parliamentary reform and education. I won’t begin to try and summarize the plot.  If you want to know what it’s about, google it my friends!  800 pages is 300 pages too long for a summary.

Instead I am going to tell you why I loved this novel.  The manner in which Eliot draws together all the different lives of the characters, and weaves the storylines between them, and makes the connections appear understated yet important, is nothing short of genius.   The characters’ lives weave, mesh and become entangled in the subtlest but most daring ways.   Two characters who may have not even met, suddenly turn out to be the cause of each other’s potential downfall.  The moral dilemma between Bulstrode, Dr Lydgate and the rest of Middlemarch society had me gripped and transfixed.

The two main characters of Dorothea and Dr Lydgate held the most interest for me.   Many reviewers have portrayed Dorothea as a saint and a specimen of perfection.  For me (as much as I did try to imagine how hard it must have been for women in the 1830s) she was an irritating sycophant.  She married the much older Mr Causaubon because he was so highly knowledgeable in her eyes, and so much worthier than herself.  Blimey, whip yourself a bit harder why don’t you.  She had him on such a high pedestal, it was inevitable there was only one way for him to go, which he duly did.  Down down down.     She then falls in love with Will Ladislaw, but cannot admit it to herself, or have anything to do with him until he proves himself worthy.  I know she had it tough, but I just yearned for her to show some feistiness, or some rebellion at some point.  Her self-pity and self-flagellation just made me want to puke.  Mind you, her sister Celia was worse, particularly when she became a mother to her darling Arthur.

Even though Rosamond (who married Dr Lydgate) was vain, self-centred and selfish, at least she had a bit of back bone and knew what she wanted.

My two favourite characters were probably Dr Lydgate and Mary Garth.  Humble, dependable, sure of themselves and their values. Poor Dr Lydgate.  My heart truly broke for him.  Marrying the selfish Rosamond, and struggling both financially and with his lifelong ambition. He needed a wife like Dorothea to fulfill all his needs, while he got on with his work.

Middlemarch is a book I imagine you could read five or six times and still not fully appreciate.  There is so much to it, my mind boggles just thinking about it.  It is a book I hope to read again in a few years.    To be honest I don’t think I got the full juice out of it on a first reading.  I also appreciated and enjoyed the exquisite writing, and marked many passages in the book.  One of my favourites regarded the nature of Mr Casaubon and his inability to enjoy anything in life.  A truly remarkable piece of writing:

“It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy; to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self – never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold…but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambitious and timid, scrupulous and dim-sighted.”  (Chapter 29 Page 280 Penguin Classics edition)

Eliot’s wisdom is rare, her genius plentiful.  It may take some effort and some time to read this masterpiece, but certain things are worth the effort, and in my opinion, reading Middlemarch is one of them.

If you have read it, I would love to hear your opinions.  Who was your favourite character?  Do you agree with me re Dorothea, or do you think she is the true heroine of the novel? Pray do tell (sorry…went all Victorian there for a moment.)

Next up at The Reading Gym is:  ‘Les Jeux sont Faits’ by Sartre.   I will be reading it in French, but if you fancy reading along, you can get a translation entitled ‘The Chips are Down.’  What a hideous translation, but never mind!  It’s not that easy to get, so I fear I may be on my own with this one!  The next book after that is ‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen.   I can’t wait for that one!

Thank you for reading.  I hope you enjoyed your stay at The Book Club Cafe!

 

 

 

 

Reflections on Reading

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Before I start my ‘List of Betterment’ or ‘My Reading Gym,’ as written about in my blog post in November, see here https://thebookclubcafe.com/2016/11/  I reflected upon what I read in 2016.  I was in a book club which I left.  I left for several reasons, but the main one was that there are too many books I wish to read, without reading books I don’t wish to read.  Also, it was a pain in the ass to get to. However, I will miss the debates and the conversation.

Last year I read a variety of books, mainly for pleasure. I read Sarah Waters, Alexandra Fuller, A collection of short stories by Irish women called ‘The Long Gaze Back’, Alexander McCall Smith and more. Over Christmas I read two excellent books.  ‘The Emperor of Ice-cream’ by a writer from Belfast called Brian Moore.  It is set in World War II, and it is about a teenage boy called Gavin Burke who becomes an ARP warden, and how he grows from a boy into a man once the war finally comes to Belfast.

The second book my husband brought me for Christmas and it is ‘The Princess Diarist’ by Carrie Fisher.  Little did I know she would die a couple of days after I received the book.  I read it in one day.  It is poignant and funny and a great read.  I would highly recommend it.

I now find it funny that I can’t even remember most of the books I read in 2016.  This year I intend to keep a list so I don’t forget them.

Apart from my own Reading Gym, I am going to read exclusively for two other purposes.  Firstly, for pleasure and secondly, for learning more about the craft of writing.    I figure if I am reading and blogging about several classics, I deserve a bit of light hearted reading to compensate.   I also wish to read more about writing, as there are some excellent books on the subject, and I need all the help I can get.

I also have a huge number of books on my bookshelves that I haven’t got around to reading yet.  I love going to the library, but this is a bit of a problem as I always see at least five books that I want to read, and so I never get around to reading the books I actually have on my shelves.  Simple solution –  don’t go to the library.  That may not be so hard.   I am currently sitting in the library, trying to get some peace, and two school girls are sitting next to me and whispering in the most infuriating manner. The obvious solution is to move, but for the moment most of the desks are occupied.  I will keep an eye out until a quieter spot becomes available.  I should have stayed at home and worked.  I always come to the library thinking I will do more productive work, and it always turns out to be the opposite.  So, that could be a solution to that problem.  Stay away from the library.

Do you have any reading goals, or do you just jump aimlessly from one recommended book to another?  Do you read the same author all the time or always read new authors?  Or do you re-read your favourite books all the time?    I am curious to know.  Please tell.  For me reading is the ultimate pleasure, but only when you can lose yourself completely in another world, and you can’t wait to get back to the book.  Otherwise it can be tortuous.

If you feel so inclined, please feel free to read along with my list and give your thoughts and opinions on the books.   I have come to the library today to work, but also to borrow Middlemarch by George Eliot.  The first book on my list.  It looks daunting indeed, but Andy Millar dealt with it in ‘The Year of Reading Dangerously’ by committing to 50 pages a day, I might try the same thing.  Sounds doable.  I will let you know how I get on.

In the meantime, Happy 2017 to you all and Happy Reading.

‘The Long Gaze Back.’ An Anthology of Irish Women Writers edited by Sinéad Gleeson.

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The Long Gaze Back

I have spent the last few years reading more Irish female writers, and constantly discovering new ones, and I am in awe of their talent.  Lisa McInerney’s ‘The Glorious Heresies’ was the best book I read all year.  I have been meaning to read this anthology since it was published last year.  I finally got around to it this month.  It is a gift.

There are thirty short stories in total, the stories range in time period from the 1800s to the present day.  The subjects and styles are diverse, and I can honestly say that there wasn’t one story in the collection that I didn’t enjoy.   Every story was full of emotion, style and substance.

I kept changing my mind as to which was my favourite.  They made me laugh, cry and contemplate many aspects of life – travel, a sense of place, a sense of identity, first loves, love lost….the themes are plentiful in these wonderfully woven tales.

The book begins with two Irish women writers born in the 18th Century, Maria Edgeworth and Charlotte Riddell, and it was lovely to be able to read a short synopsis about them, listed on the opposite page of each new story.   My favourite of this era, or just slightly later, was from Somerville and Ross, whom I knew well from the Irish R.M television series.  The story was a delight, as I was transported to an Ireland of the very distant past, where the language is as sharp as the humour.

Ireland has such a wealth of literary talent from women writers, and this book is a wonderful way to get acquainted or reacquainted with them.  The list of talent is just endless, with writers such as Kate O’Brien, Norah Hoult, and two eerie atmospheric stories from Elizabeth Bowen and Mary Lavin.

I was introduced to writers I had never heard of, and spent a lot of time googling them and bookmarking other works by them I would like to read.   In fact, my favourite story in the collection was by a writer I had never heard of – Roisín O’Donnell.  A writer born in Sheffield with family roots in County Derry.  She wrote a story called ‘Infinite Landscapes’ about a young half Irish, half Nigerian girl called Simidele, whose grandmother believes she is ‘abiku,’ which means that she is cursed – a child of the spirits.  The story goes on to tell how the young Simi displays unusual behaviour, and how she navigates he way through life, having to deal with this extraordinary aspect of her personality.  There is a wonderful diary entry from Simi when she is about 8:

“On Saturday we went to the beech and I said Dadddy can the spirits com in the car and daddy said no they fucking can’t and then the spirits got angree and played in daddy’s enjin and then daddy’s enjin wouldn’t start.”

The story tells of Simi’s life in the most beautiful lyrical language.  The story is full of humour and wisdom, and it is a wonderful story about identity and the idiosyncrasies on the blending of two cultures.   As I was born in Zambia, this story appealed to me, and reminded me of the wonderful superstitions that can be found in Africa.

The talent of Irish women writers in this collection is inspiring and intimidating in equal measure.  The stories are uniquely wonderful.   What is even more exciting is that there is another volume to look forward to, ‘The Glass Shore,’ by women writers from the North of Ireland.  Being from Belfast myself, I have asked Santa for this one and hope to spend my Christmas holidays enjoying it.

This book would make a perfect gift.   It is an ideal read for those who travel a lot, perfect for dipping in and out of at leisure.   I highly recommend it.  Classy stuff.

A Reading Challenge for 2017

Following my previous post, after having read ‘The Year of Reading Dangerously’ by Andy Miller, I have decided to compile my own ‘list of betterment.’ However, I will not be attempting 50 books.  I am sticking to a very realistic 10.  One a month with two months’ holiday!   I will be reading one book every month and then blogging about it.  The reasons I am doing this are threefold.  Firstly, I wish to improve my writing, and they say it is essential to read well and often.  Secondly, I want to see whether some of these ‘classics’ live up to the hype.  Finally, I also hope these books will challenge me in some way and stretch my reading muscles.   An added bonus will be that I can stop saying ‘I really must get around to reading that someday.’

I will be commencing in January 2017 and look forward to hearing your opinions on the books.

So, this is ‘My Reading Gym:’

  1. Middlemarch by George Eliot. According to Virginia Woolf, this is ‘one of the few English books written for grown up people.’  If I enjoy it even half as much as I liked ‘The Mill and the Floss,’ I am in for a treat!

 

  1. Les Jeux Sont Faits by Jean Paul Sartre. I read this at school and remember loving it, but I have entirely forgotten most of what it’s about, so I would like to re-read it.  I think I may try and read it in the French.  From what I remember it wasn’t that difficult.

 

 

  1. Persuasion – Jane Austen. I haven’t read a lot of Austen, so I was spoiled for choice.  Thought I would start here (as I haven’t seen a TV version of this one!)

 

 

  1. The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov. This was one of the books Andy Miller read and seemed to enjoy, so thought I’d give it a go.   Have read very little Russian literature so it should be an education in itself.

 

  1. Stoner by John Williams. I reckoned I would need something I knew I was going to love after the previous read.  I LOVE this novel.  I have read it before and am desperate to read it again, so I will.

 

  1. Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham. My father was a great fan of Maugham, and this is a book I read years ago, and again have been meaning to re-read as, truth be told, I can’t remember a darn thing about it.  Not a great sign, but anyway.

 

  1. Atomised by Michel Houellebecq. This one I have much trepidation about.  The only reason I am reading it is due to the sheer passion with which Andy Miller raves about it.  We shall see.  I sense it may not be for me.  This is the big gamble on this list. Another French writer.

 

  1. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. My writing teacher has mentioned this book in nearly every one of our classes, so thought it was high time I read it.  I am also intrigued with the concept of the mad woman in the attic from Jane Eyre.  I loved Jane Eyre, so am looking forward to this one. The only other woman on the list –  I know, but I do read a lot of literature by women the rest of the time, and have read a lot of literature by women, so I don’t feel too guilty.   Keep reading below the picture!

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  1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.   Another classic it is high time I read.  Enough said.

 

  1. The Ginger Man by JP Donleavy. What a way to finish. Considered a masterpiece, published in Paris in 1955, and banned in Ireland and the USA, this novel is a must read and I had to have an Irish author on the list somewhere.

 

Phew, I am exhausted and yet excited at the thought of reading all of these books.  Hopefully by the end of 2017 I will have broadened both my literary education and my writing!   Please do let me know your thoughts, and if you have a ‘list of betterment,’ what’s on it?

Review of ‘The Year of Reading Dangerously’ by Andy Miller

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I picked this book up in the library and was immediately drawn to it, because I love to read or hear about other people’s views on books.

I am SO glad I did (pick it up that is).  Not only is it highly informative, it is witty, erudite and extremely entertaining.

Andy Miller is like the Duracell bunny stoked up on caffeine.  The facts are numerous and at times baffling, but the whole is more than the sum of its parts.  The book is part memoir, part literary discussion, and is also filled with witty anecdotes, and passionate views on the books he discusses.

In the three years following the birth of his son Alex, Andy Miller had managed to read one book – The Da Vinci code by Dan Brown.  For someone who read a huge amount before that, he decides to do something about it, so he makes a list of books he wishes to read, which he calls ‘The List of Betterment.’

Miller tells us in hilarious description not just about the latest tome he is tackling, but the effect of it on his life.    He initially begins with a list of thirteen books.

Of the first thirteen books, I had only come across five, which surprised and intrigued me.   I knew of the following five:

Moby-Dick Herman Melville

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

Of Human Bondage – Somerset Maugham

Middlemarch – George Elliot.

Of these I have only read two – Austen and Maugham.

The other eight books are :

The Master and Margarita – Mickhail Bulgakov

Post Office – Charles Bukowski

The Communist Manifesto – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – Robert Tressell

The Sea, The Sea – Irish Murdoch

A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

The Unnamable – Samuel Beckett

Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky – Patrick Hamilton.

I would point out at this stage that Andy Miller is both an editor and had also written two books before this one, so he has form.  However, his knowledge of culture, music and literature, make this book worth reading for that alone.  After he finished the initial list of thirteen books, he expanded the list to fifty.  He doesn’t discuss all fifty books in detail, he selects a few from the list that have had an impact on him, either positively or negatively.

He also discusses what makes a good book (highly subjective) and why we feel the need to lie about classic books that we have never read (pretending to be intelligent?!)

I couldn’t put this book down, I screamed with laughter, I felt stupid at my lack of reading, (what the hell have I been doing all these years? – watching too much of The Gilmore Girls and The West Wing I fear.) I googled lots of authors and learnt more about books I liked the sound of, and I also decided not to waste a minute of my life reading Moby-Dick, which sounds like a book I could definitely live without having read.

All in all, if you love reading, I highly recommend this book.  There are references you may not understand or have heard in your wildest dreams (a couple of chapters were completely foreign to me) but hey, this is where google comes into its own.   It was an education, and might come in handy at parties if I feel like being pretentious!

The book has also inspired me to start my own ‘List of Betterment.’ Andy Miller read 50 books and I have neither the time nor the inclination to set myself such a daunting task.  Instead, in 2017 I am going to set myself a list called ‘My Book Gym.’  It will be a list of 10 books I have always meant to read, but have never got around to.  These are considered ‘classics’ or at least books that should advance the human spirit in some way. I plan to read and blog about said books. I will be sharing the list and writing more about this in my next blog post, so you can comment/and or read along.  I plan to read one book per month and give myself two months off (in case of burn out/frustration and/or to read the odd book for pure pleasure.)

If you want to find out more about Andy Miller and this book, his website is

http://www.Mill-I-am.com

Would love to hear your comments.  How many of the thirteen have you read?  Any you loved?  Hated?  Any that changed your life?  Do share!

 

Reviews at Writing.ie

It has been awhile since I posted a review, but I am always reading.  When I first started reviewing books, I wanted to do it properly.  I have been reading the book reviews in the Saturday Irish Times for years now.  I also attended two courses on book reviewing from the fabulous Sinead Gleeson and Sarah Gilmartin.  They were very helpful.

Last year I wrote a lot of reviews for http://www.writing.ie    However I found I couldn’t keep up with the number of books I was being asked to review!

So I have become a bit more selective.    However if you are looking for a good read, I suggest you have a quick scan through the reviews at http://www.writing.ie

The latest book I reviewed there is called ‘The Ice Beneath Her’ by Camilla Grebe.  A riveting psychological thriller.    My review is here:

‘The Ice Beneath Her’ by Camilla Grebe

So there should be something amongst all those lovely reviews at http://www.writing.ie to tickle your taste buds!

Happy Reading and if you read ‘The Ice Beneath Her,’ be sure to let me know what you thought!

 

 

The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley

The Camomile Lawn (Vintage Classics) by [Wesley, Mary]

The Camomile Lawn at Amazon

Mary Wesley came to writing late in life.  The Camomile Lawn was first published in 1984  when she was in her seventies, and went on to become a best seller and a Vintage Classic.

I was inspired to read this book by a reviewer from the Irish Times, who wrote an article about books he loved to re-read.  The Camomile Lawn was one of them, and reminded me that I had been meaning to read it for years!   Once I began, I was immediately plunged into the world of Cornwall in the summer of 1939, at the outbreak of World War II.

Told in the third person, the prose is relaxed, yet full of atmosphere and alive with the richness of the characters. We are immediately introduced to five cousins, who gather every summer at their Aunt Helena and Uncle Richard’s house in Cornwall.  There is Calypso, beautiful and detached,  Polly, wise and secretive, Oliver, who is just back from fighting in Spain and not impressed that no-one takes him seriously.  There is also Walter, Polly’s younger brother who is sweet and kind,  and finally young Sophy, who is the daughter of Richard’s half sister.  She is described as ‘small, ten and her appearance had a touch of the Orient.’

It is clear from the outset that the cousins are very close and have spent much of their youth together.  Teenage passions run high.  Sophy loves Oliver.  Oliver loves Calypso and Polly will come to love the twins, Paul and David Floyer – the Rector’s sons who live near Aunt Helena and are great friends of the cousins.

The family are upper class, and in some respects innocent and naive.  The novel follows the lives of the five cousins once the idyllic summer in Cornwall is at an end and war is declared. Oliver, Walter and the twins all join up.  Polly and Calypso also work for the war effort.  There is a lot of sleeping around and living life to the full. Polly later tells her children ‘We lived intensely.  It was a very happy time.’    Monika and Max who are Jewish also play a large part in the story.  Max becomes Helena’s lover (and everyone else’s!) and Monika looks after Richard. Although it is never overtly declared that Monika and Richard are lovers, we assume so, as Helena spends most of her time in London with Max, while Monika takes over the house in Cornwall and minds the eccentric Richard.

The behaviour of all of the characters is amoral.  They sleep around, drink too much and generally misbehave.  But they all play their part in the war effort and apart from Sophy, who is still at school, they work hard and play harder.

Mary Wesley had the gift of bringing the characters to life so well, that within a short space of time, I was invested in their lives. She relied heavily on dialogue, but the novel is none the worse for that.  The dialogue is full of humour and candour. The characters are straight to the point and often hilarious.

Flashbacks reveal what happens to the characters in later life, and everything is neatly tied up at the end, which I also love in a novel.  No flinging this book at the wall in frustration!

I have a feeling this may be a ‘love it or hate it’ novel.  But one thing is certain – it is entertaining.    I would  definitely recommend it.    It is a novel about how one survived during the war.  How one dealt with the cruelty of such a huge loss of life – by finding the resilience and courage to live life to the full, as if living for those no longer present.

The Dressmaker of Dachau by Mary Chamberlain

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Link to the book on Amazon

This book came highly recommended by a friend.  Thank you Michelle!

I love nothing more than when a book transports me to another world and I can’t wait to get back to it. It doesn’t happen to me that often, but this book had me absorbed from start to finish.

Ada Vaughan lives in Threed Street in 1930s London.  She gets a job working for Mrs B as a dressmaker, where she learns her trade.  But Ada is no ordinary worker.  She has a real talent for couture and a flair for fashion.  One evening she attracts the attention of a man named Stanislaus at a hotel, and the two begin courting.  When he asks Ada to go to Paris with him, she is thrilled.  Despite warning of the outbreak of War, Ada sneaks off to Paris with him.  What happens next is more than your worst nightmare.  Ada finds herself alone and abandoned in a city at war.

What I loved about this novel were the rich descriptions of both time and place.  I felt like I was there, and I got a real sense of Ada’s fear and panic.   The writing is lyrical and full of ambiance.    I defy you to not get caught up in this wonderful story of one woman’s perilous struggle to survive through World War II.

Also I will say that the ending surprised me, which always adds to a great read!

Read it, you won’t be disappointed.  4*.

My next book is The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley.  Review coming soon!

 

Disovering JM Coetzee.

After reading earlier this year, that JM Coetzee has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize for his work ‘The Schooldays of Jesus,’ I decided it was high time I began to read some of his work.  Given that he has won the Man Booker Prize twice, for ‘Life and Times of Michael K’ (1983) and ‘Disgrace’ in (1999) he could be the first writer to win it a record three times, if he wins this year.

I borrowed a beautiful hard back copy of ‘Disgrace’ from my father’s vast collection of books.  I now understand why Coetzee is so highly respected, if somewhat controversial in his native South Africa.  His prose is exquisite, and he makes it look effortless which is all the more incredible.

Disgrace tells the story of university professor David Lurie, who loses his job after having an affair with one of his students.   The student in question Melanie Isaacs does not initially seem to reject his advances, and although the sex may be far from passionate on her part she does not object. However, she later brings a charge against him, which leads to him leaving the university in disgrace.

He goes to stay on his daughter Lucy’s farm in the Eastern Cape, where he helps her take care of her stray dogs and he helps out on the farm.   He meets Petrus, who describes himself as ‘the gardener and the dog man’ but we soon come to realize that he is much more than that and he has plans and plenty of them.

I won’t give away any more of the plot, but suffice to say what happens next on the farm will change Lucy and David’s lives forever.

A difficult and at times highly depressing novel, through David and Lucy’s complex relationship, we see who holds the power in a still racially segregated South Africa.

Coetzee uses the animals as a way to show the cruelty of man’s inhumanity to man.  At the dog shelter where he helps remove the dogs who have been put down, the owner says:

‘Yes we eat up a lot of animals in this country…It doesn’t seem to do us much good. I’m not sure how we will justify it to them.’

David Lurie feels shame and guilt over the on-going savagery shown towards animals throughout, and his pain is visceral, although he ends up feeling useless to prevent it.

The characters in the novel seemed to me to be somewhat resigned to their fate, in particular Lucy, who doesn’t put up any kind of fight at all to change her tragic circumstances.  It is as if the winds of change have come, and they are utterly powerless to stop them or make their lives better.

There are power struggles and then there is cruelty and horror, and Coetzee shows the thin line between the two sadly continues to exist in South Africa.

A brilliant novel, but not for the faint hearted.   A novel that stayed with me long after I had finished reading it, and one which, in my view, thoroughly deserved all the plaudits it received.

I have not yet decided which of his novels to read next.  I will let you know.  Any suggestions?

 

 

 

Review of The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

In June I had the pleasure of going to the Hay Festival, where I went to hear Amy Liptrot talk about her memoir.  I finally got around to reading it during the last fortnight.  This memoir is about her survival from alcoholism in London to sobriety in Orkney, and how, by immersing herself fully into the harshness and beauty of nature in her homeland, she learnt to heal and live again, revitalized and renewed.

Amy Liptrot was brought up in the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland.  She grew up on a farm on the edge of a wide area of land known as the Outrun, that led to the cliffs above the Atlantic Ocean.  Her family life was not serene.  Her father suffered from Bi- Polar disorder and her mother joined an evangelical religious group.

Despite her love of the wild nature around her as a child, Amy Liptrot yearned to experience city life, and she sought to escape Orkney at the first available opportunity. After studying in Edinburgh, she moved to London looking for excitement and a more glamorous life.  What began as drinking at parties and on nights out, soon spiralled into habitual drinking and then heavy drinking, and before long Amy was in the depths of alcoholism.

Initially she managed to hold down jobs, but eventually her drinking became out of control, and following a devastating break-up (due to her drinking), she booked herself into rehab.  Following her time in rehab she found herself unexpectedly drawn back home to the Orkney islands.

Liptrot writes so eloquently, both about her struggles with alcohol, (about which she is brutally honest) and her love and knowledge of her beloved Orkney. A mixture of nature writing and self-reflection gives this memoir a unique twist.  The author’s knowledge of nature and the wild life on the islands of Orkney is impressive, and I found the excerpts on the seabirds and animal life in the small Scottish islands fascinating and evocative.  The weather is brutal in this part of the world and yet for the author it is not experienced as such, but instead is exhilarating and energizing.  A new healthier drug.

Her journey to sobriety is a daily struggle, but with the help of friends, family and a new focus, she gains strength from the beauty of nature around her.

My favourite part of the book is the chapter entitled ‘The Corncrake Wife.’  A few months after arriving back in Orkney, she is employed by the RSPB to count and study corncrakes – a rare and endangered bird species on the Orkney Islands.  So while everyone else is asleep, she drives around the island listening out for the call of the Corncrake:

“My job is to locate every calling male – only the males call – in Orkney.  I appeal for public reports, asking people to call my ‘corncrake hotline’ if they hear one.  My answerphone message contains a recording of the call so that people can compare it with what they have heard.”

Liptrot’s honesty gives this memoir a searing authenticity, and for anyone who has ever struggled with any kind of addiction, I am sure they found much with which they could identify.  Her nature writing is elegant, and the harshness of nature is reflected in her own struggle with herself.  She cannot beat it; she has to accept it.

As she settles in Papay (a small island north of the main island of Orkney) for four months and integrates into the community, she talks about the possibility of romance when sober: “I wonder if I can be cheeky or flirtatious without booze. If I master this I could be unstoppable. In the past months I’ve been stifled by bruised confidence and anxiety, but these things take time. I’m gradually learning to say things sober that other people wait to say drunk.”

This memoir has just won The Wainwright Golden Beer Prize, a prize for nature and travel writing in the UK.   I am delighted for her, as I think she is not only a beautiful writer, but a courageous and worthy winner.  I highly recommend this memoir.