Someone at a Distance

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As soon as I joined the blogging world there was one word that kept cropping up on many reviews: Persephone. And then I saw pictures of these beautiful books and I had vague recollections of seeing some of these when I worked in a bookshop, but I had never really paid them much attention. I knew that Persephone Books published forgotten novels from the twentieth century, mainly by women writers, but that was about it. So several months ago in a lovely little cafe/second hand bookshop I found a copy of Someone at a Distance and for £1 you can’t really say no.

Someone at a Distance, as my blurb tells me, is a novel about ‘a deceived wife and a foolish husband,’ which perfectly sums the novel up. Ellen has been married to Avery for twenty years, they have two teenage children and live in a beautiful house outside of London. Avery commutes to work in the city and Ellen spends her days gardening and caring for her family. Avery’s elderly mother lives nearby, and feeling neglected by her daughter-in-law and the rest of her family, she places an advert for a companion. And then Louise appears. After a love affair ends bitterly in France, Louise journeys to England in an attempt to escape from her past and reinvent herself as a fashionable and well travelled young lady. Before long Louise has taken full advantage of Ellen’s sweet nature and ruthlessly threatens the North’s marriage.

This novel was slow burning yet I couldn’t put it down. The life of the Norths is beautifully and realistically described througut and it is clear they are a loving and supportive family at the start of the novel. Time was taken to explore Louise’s past and the various reasons why she acts the way she does, from being spoilt by her parents to a bitter love affair doomed because of wealth and class. Whipple doesn’t rush the novel, she takes her time setting the scene and developing her characters, so you truly come to know and understand the characters and share in the agonising events that affect their lives.

For me the stand out character was that of Louise, only because I found her a truly hateful character. She is spiteful, selfish and manipulative, she treats those around her, especially her parents and Ellen atrociously, and feels she is far superior to anyone else around her. Why shouldn’t every man she meets fall in love with her? Why shouldn’t she travel first class everywhere? Why don’t people realise now glamorous and sophisticated she is? Goodness she is so self centred. She goes after Avery due to boredom and yet persists in staying with him despite the fact both of them are miserable, purely for money, status and spite.

Sometimes I feel as though I always gush over the books I read, declaring how much I love them and how amazing they are, and lots of them really are. But for me this is probably the most true to life and touching book I have blogged about and I cannot wait to read more work my Dorothy Whipple, and even discovering more Persephone authors.

Spinning

Way back when I was at Sixth Form I studied Art Fashion and one of the many things I learnt was how to use a spinning wheel. I carded wool, spun it (using a spinning wheel and a handheld spinner) and then dyed it…oh I miss doing textile stuff. Sadly this isn’t a post about my fashion skills, but about a different type of spinning…The Classics Club Spin.

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The rules are as follows:

1. List 20 books from your Classics Club list.
2. Number them 1-20.
3. Wait until Monday when a random number is selected.
4. You have February and March to read that book.

I have been neglecting my Classics list for a while, or I had least think I have, so why not have someone pick the book for me. Due to work and the fact I won’t be on holiday during this time I haven’t selected any of the longer/tougher books n my lists, wisely choosing to safe those until the summer holidays.

Books I have Studied

1. East Lynne by Ellen Wood

2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

3. Tess of the D’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy

4. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

5. Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

The Dickens List

6. The Old Curiosity Shop

7. Great Expectations

8. Little Dorritt

9. Oliver Twist

10. The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Random List

11. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

12. Midnight’s Children by Salmon Rushdie

13. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

14. Vilette by Charlotte Bronte

15. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H.Lawrence

The Austen List

16. Persuasion

17. Emma

18. Sense and Sensibility

19. Mansfield Park

20. Northanger Abbey

So yes here is my list and I eagerly anticipate Monday and the magic number.

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Life of Pi

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I am on my way back from London and despite my best efforts to read a book I just can’t concentrate. Why? Well firstly because I just finished reading another book a few hours ago and I hate finishing and starting a new book on the same day. Secondly, the book I just finished reading was Life of Pi. It the story of Piscine Molitor Patel (otherwise known as Pi) and his incredible tale of courage, determination and survival.

It is the 1970s, and when Pi’s father takes a strong disliking to the political change in India, he decides to sell his zoo and move the whole family to Canada. A few weeks into the ship journey Pi is awoken by a terrible explosion, and his decision to investigate changes his life forever. Soon Pi is left stranded on a lifeboat with an orang-utan, a zebra with a broken leg and a hyena. Shockingly enough these animals resort to their natural instincts to survive and soon it is just Pi and the hyena left. And then Pi spots Richard Parker…a 3 year old Bengal Tiger. Life of Pi details Pi’s survival on a tiny lifeboat and how he adapted and essentially tamed Richard Parker so the two could live harmoniously until they reached land…227 days later.

I was shocked how engrossed I became in Life of Pi. It has been on my radar for a fair few years and yet I have never felt the urge to read it. The film trailer, and the fact it was only 20p on the kindle might have had something to do with my sudden impulse, but I can honestly say I don’t want to see the film now. This novel has truly left me thinking about life, the unpredictable and often tragic turns it can take. I loved reading about how Pi trained Richard Parker and how the two were not only able to coexist but also how Richard Parker became Pi’s reason for surviving when he felt at his lowest. I am adamant that having a pet enriches one’s life and I’m not saying I would like a tiger but knowing another living thing needs you certainly makes life seem a tad more bearable in darker moments. I knew Pi survived, as the narrative starts in the present, so when he eventually hit dry land I was relieved. There is a beautiful discussion on saying goodbye and ending things and it particularly resonates with current events in my life:

‘it is important in life to conclude things properly. Only then can you let go. Otherwise you are left with words you should have said, but never did, and your heart is heavy with remorse.’

Reading it has made me slightly more accepting of events and I love it when literature opens your eyes to something that feels like a revelation.

So yes, Pi made it safely to land and I was pleased for him and enjoyed his intriguing tale of triumph.

And then the ending happened!

I did not see the twist in the tale, so god was I shocked. It is this sudden turn of events that has left me spellbound by the novel. I truly don’t want to give spoilers away, but I am off to find someone who has read this amazing book so I can literally talk at them about it. I should have guessed it was coming, but I wanted to stay wrapped up in the lifeboat world of Pi and Richard Parker and the sometimes gruesome, but often heartwarming events they survived together. I did not want a harsh stab of reality. Although it was the reality shock that made this novel for me, so I can’t be too mad at it.

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A Slightly Belated January Round-Up!

This post pretty much does what it says on the tin. It has been a while since I did a monthly round up and what with it being a New Year maybe it is time to make this a regular feature.

I feel like the New Year was such a long time ago, especially as due to Easter dates and half term, I am off on half term again as of Friday. Teaching is a strange career in terms of time passing, as I am two days short of the halfway point in my NQT year, but I feel as though I have been teaching forever, and yet there is so much for me still to learn. Luckily, I am still loving it, but yes time is an odd thing in my life at the moment.

But back to the reading. January reading consisted of:

Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful

Isabel Colegate’s The Shooting Party

Enid Blyton’s Five Go Adventuring Again

Jennifer Worth’s Call the Midwife

I guess technically I should include the Fiona Walker book I read, but I finished it in February so it will have to wait.

I enjoyed all the books I read in January, but I think my stand out read was definitely Call the Midwife. It wasn’t a book I had ever really thought about as I can’t say I am particularly interested in nursing or midwifery, however I loved this book. It was easy to read and Worth’s style was simplistic and engaging.

I am surprised with how much I read over the month as it has been a busy start to the year and as I said teaching, although going well, is still as hectic and manic as always. Hopefully this will keep up during February, but despite half term next year I don’t have high hopes. I am off to London for a few days to the theatre and I am moving house (yay!) so I think half term will be far from relaxing.

February Plans

I am currently reading Life of Pi; I only started it last night so it is too early to discuss this book yet. I think I should read something related to one of my challenges, either Turn of the Century or The Classic Club, but I tend to pick and choose as the mood takes me. Unusually for me I am reading two books at once; in my eyes the second one doesn’t count as a ‘real’ book. I am teaching To Kill a Mockingbird and having read a few reviews on Connell Guides I bought the one for Lee’s novel.

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So far it is an amazing and valuable critical perspective of the novel; I shall definitely be using some snippets in my lessons and I would wholeheartedly recommend this regardless of whether you are a Literature student or not. It is great to learn more about such a much loved novel and I can feel another Connell Guide purchase coming soon.

Tongue In Cheek

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I have had a strange reading month and after Call the Midwife, which I adored, I had difficulty deciding on my next read. I did begin something else, but I just could not get in to it, so settled for a light hearted chick lit read instead. Fiona Walker is an author I have not read before, but I picked Tongue in Cheek up in a charity shop last summer so decided to give it a go.

Tongue in Cheek is set in the fictional Lodes Valley and begins on Boxing Day Night in the early 1980s where the beautiful and rich Diana Henriques is celebrating her 18th birthday. However she has plans to ditch the large family party and run off her lover, Amos, who in typical ‘star-crossed lover’ fashion is of a different class and deemed not suitable for her. Whilst enjoying a passionate meeting in a secret garden, the lovers are discovered, and confronted with a shotgun.

Fast forward twenty years to sweltering summer day and the residents of Oddlode Valley are eagerly anticipating some new arrivals: Anke, a Danish ex-olympian, her flirtatious husband and three children, Mo and her charming, but promiscuous boyfriend, Pod, and a recently divorced Diana and her two children, returning to the village for the first time since her mysterious flight twenty years before. Not everyone is pleased to hear of Diana’s return, and when the local pub falls prey to suspected arson that evening it is not long before the villagers are accusing her of awakening local ghost and village legend, Firebrand.

Soon the romance and bed hopping begin, which I expected anyway, but there are also more arson attacks, and constant allusions, yet no explanation as to why Diana left so suddenly in the first place, creating an unexpected mystery that was a pleasant surprise. Although I found the novel slow to start with, I was soon intrigued and wrapped up in the lives of these three women and those they love. I loved the passionate, yet volatile relationship between Mo and Pod, and could see why she hated, yet loved him at the same time. Anke did annoy me to begin with as she was portrayed as a cold and unfeeling woman, but I soon began to empathise with her and the struggles she faced with a father who refuses to accept that he is suffering from dementia.

Arguably it is Diana’s story that forms the lynchpin of the novel and her journey to face and make sense of her past is tragic, yet moving. It is clear that she has struggled to come to terms with leaving Oddlode and Amos all those years ago and that she still loves him. Their relationship is a constant reminder about the importance of understanding the whole story and not just assuming that someone has done something or acted in a certain way (I hope that makes sense, because I am not sure how else to word it at the moment). They obviously regret leaving questions unanswered all those years ago.

The secret garden at the start of the novel and the mystery of the ghost and the arson attacks speed the novel along and for me made the novel more than just a typical chick lit romance. I was eager to get to bed each night and read more of the lives of the characters and although I did figure out the identity of the arsonist, it wasn’t until the novel was drawing to a close, so I appreciated the fact it wasn’t an obvious case of ‘It’s them!’.

Tongue in Cheek is the first Fiona Walker book I have read, and from this experience I can safely say it won’t be my last; I know exactly where I will be heading when I next need a new light hearted read.