Random Bookish Thoughts – 27 January 2016 – On New Books for 2016

Following fellow readers on WordPress and Twitter has not, in any way, helped with my book-buying addiction. I’m not convinced I’m actually reading any more,* but I’m certainly contributing plenty of cash to the publishing sector.

In that vein, whilst I’m still in a pretty serious relationship with War and Peace, I will admit to checking out the eye candy (ie new books) that have crossed my consciousness recently via t’internet. The British publishing industry, in its infinite wisdom, seems to have concentrated the release of half a dozen brilliant new books on 28 January, which happens to be (a) tomorrow, and (b) the first payday since Christmas. So, either pre-ordered or on the Amazon wishlist, I have the following (with official-ish blurb):

 

  • The Noise of Time, Julian Barnes ‘In May 1937 a man in his early thirties waits by the lift of a Leningrad apartment block. He waits all through the night, expecting to be taken away to the Big House. Any celebrity he has known in the previous decade is no use to him now. And few who are taken to the Big House ever return.’

 

  • The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, Joanna Cannon ‘England,1976. Mrs Creasy is missing and The Avenue is alive with whispers. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly decide to take matters into their own hands.And as the cul-de-sac starts giving up its secrets, the amateur detectives will find much more than they imagined…’

 

  • Exposure, Helen Dunmore ‘London, November, 1960: the Cold War is at its height. Spy fever fills the newspapers, and the political establishment knows how and where to bury its secrets. When a highly sensitive file goes missing, Simon Callington is accused of passing information to the Soviets, and arrested. His wife, Lily, suspects that his imprisonment is part of a cover-up, and that more powerful men than Simon will do anything to prevent their own downfall. She knows that she too is in danger, and must fight to protect her children. But what she does not realise is that Simon has hidden vital truths about his past, and may be found guilty of another crime that carries with it an even greater penalty.’

 

  • In a Land of Paper Gods, Rebecca MacKenzie ‘Jiangxi Province, China, 1941. Atop the fabled mountain of Lushan, celebrated for its temples, capricious mists and plunging ravines, perches a boarding school for the children of British missionaries. As her parents pursue their calling to bring the gospel to China’s most remote provinces, ten-year-old Henrietta S. Robertson discovers that she has been singled out for a divine calling of her own. Etta is quick to share the news with her dorm mates, and soon even Big Bum Eileen is enlisted in the Prophetess Club, which busies itself looking for signs of the Lord’s intent. (Hark.) As rumours of war grow more insistent, so the girls’ quest takes on a new urgency – and in such a mystical landscape, the prophetesses find that lines between make believe and reality, good and bad, become dangerously blurred. So Etta’s pilgrimage begins.A story of a child far from home and caught between two cultures, In A Land of Paper Gods marries exuberant imagination with sharp pathos, and introduces Rebecca Mackenzie as a striking and original new voice.’

 

  • The Romanovs: 1613-1918, Simon Sebag Montefiore ‘The Romanovs were the most successful dynasty of modern times, ruling a sixth of the world’s surface. How did one family turn a war-ruined principality into the world’s greatest empire? And how did they lose it all?
    This is the intimate story of twenty tsars and tsarinas, some touched by genius, some by madness, but all inspired by holy autocracy and imperial ambition. Montefiore’s gripping chronicle reveals their secret world of unlimited power and ruthless empire-building, overshadowed by palace conspiracy, family rivalries, sexual decadence and wild extravagance, and peopled by a cast of adventurers, courtesans, revolutionaries and poets, from Ivan the Terrible to Tolstoy, from Queen Victoria to Lenin.’

 

  • Catullus’ Bedspread: The Life of Rome’s Most Erotic Poet, Daisy Dunn ‘Catullus was famed for his lyrical and subversive voice. His poetry tells the story of a life beset with love, loss, and the political conflict that characterised the end of the Roman Republic. ‘Catullus’ Bedspread’ follows the young poet’s journey through a world filled with all the indulgences and sexual mores of the time, and his lasting affair with a married woman called Clodia. While Catullus and Clodia made love in the shadows, the whole of Italy was quaking as Caesar, Pompey and Crassus forged a doomed allegiance for power. In these circumstances, Catullus composed his greatest work of all, a poem about the decoration on a bedspread, which forms the heart of this biography.’

 

I’ve pre-ordered the top two. Julian Barnes has been a bit hit-and-miss with me in the past – I Capital-L-Loved ‘Arthur & George’, I think I was a bit young for ‘The Sense of an Ending’. But this one sounds great. And ‘The Trouble With Goats and Sheep’ comes highly recommended by a number of people whose opinions I respect. I’m pretty excited about the other two novels on this list, too, and I suspect I will buy and read them well ahead of a lot of the other stuff on my TBR.

The two non-fiction I might resist a little longer, mainly because I have Peter Ackroyd’s awesome History of England series on the go. But ‘The Romanovs’ has been everywhere this month – even on Radio 2 – and it sounds frankly awesome. The Catullus is a more random pick, based not on any pre-existing knowledge of the Classics, but rather on some stellar reviews and a constant quest for ever more esoteric knowledge.

In any case, I’m looking forward to dipping into something a little more modern, once I finish with Tolstoy. (Although I’m not sure I will actually finish with Tolstoy, so much as turn the last of the 1273 pages and, somewhat befuddled, come up for air. In a good way.) Luckily, it looks like being a great month for new books!

 

*Actually, that’s not true. Based on my GoodReads record, I am actually reading more since I started following bookish social media – and remembering more of what I read, too. Long may it continue 🙂

#24in48 (sort of) wrap-up post

My final tally was about 9 hours of reading – not as much as I’d hoped, but not bad considering other commitments, not to mention the traditional January head cold! I read 2 books in full, 44% of another, and a good 80-odd pages of War and Peace (which is enough to take me to around page 500, and keep me just ahead of the BBC adaptation – although I suspect I will have to put in some serious reading time to stay ahead for next week!).

I’ll post more about War and Peace in due course. I’m enjoying it so much, and have so much to say about it, that I think an interim post when I get to the halfway mark might be a good idea. (So strange to be 500 pages in and not half done yet! But I’m enjoying the characters so much that I’m actually quite pleased.)

The other weekend reads were:

  • Pietr the Latvian (Inspector Maigret #1), by Georges Simenon. I bought this on a bit of a whim, because I fancied some classic crime fiction and a fairly quick read. It was good enough, not amazing. The writing was clunky in places (although it felt like that may have been over-faithfulness to the French original) and the plot was a little far-fetched, but it was an enjoyable read and I liked the slightly awkward character of Inspector Maigret. ***
  • Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit. I’ve had this on my Kindle for a while. The further I get up the professional ladder, the more necessary feminism feels to me. The title essay in this collection is great. Some of the others are less great, feeling a bit like ‘filler’, and she is better on current events than on other topics (such as the Virginia Woolf essay, where I think she is trying to say more than the essay form really lends itself to). There is also a little bit of first-world smugness when talking about women from other cultures; you’re not necessarily oppressed just because you don’t like hotpants. (It’s not overt, not really, but I think it’s there.) Still, these are important ideas, for the most part elegantly expressed. ****
  • Scottsboro, by Ellen Feldman. An only-slightly-fictionalised account of an event I was completely unaware of, until my trip to the Deep South in 2014. I’m ashamed to say this has been on my Kindle since then (Mount TBR has exploded, now that physical space is no longer a limiting factor), but I’m really glad that I’m finally reading it. Scottsboro tells the story of the Scottsboro Boys, 9 black teenagers falsely accused of ‘interfering with’ 2 white girls on a train during the Great Depression. I’ll wait until I’m finished before saying more, or giving a rating, but I’m really enjoying it so far.

I really like the 24in48 event – it’s low-key, low-pressure, and very light on rules. I’m already looking forward to the next one, when hopefully I can be better organised and actually fit in the full 24 hours of reading. In the meantime, I hope it will encourage me to keep up an increased reading pace throughout the week and into next weekend (and beyond? We can but hope…).

Readathon – #24in48….sort of

The non-conformist in me struggles with organised reading events. The second anybody tells me that I have to read a certain book, or for a certain length of time, my brain rebels and wanders off to seek other entertainment.

24 in 48 is sort of perfect for that. Rather than imposing a requirement of staying up for 24 hours straight, the rules are that you just read as much as you can, over the course of a weekend. The goal is to read 24 hours total, but I will be nowhere near that this time around, and that’s OK.

We’re 11.5 hours into Day 2 here in the UK, and, well, yesterday was a bit of a bust. I blame Tolstoy. I’m loving War and Peace, I really am, but it’s not an easy read – the Kindle percentage calculator ticks by at a demoralisingly slow rate – and so I think I clocked up a measly 3 hours yesterday.

This morning is going better. I switched to Georges Simenon (the first Inspector Maigret novel), followed by Rebecca Solnit’s collection of feminist essays, Men Explain Things To Me. After a couple of hours of solid reading, I’ve finished the former, and am about halfway through the latter.

I have nothing else I have to do today, other than the normal Sunday chores (laundry etc). Even still, I’ll struggle to spend the rest of the day reading – my rebellious brain, again, will distract me with musings on what else is going on in the world. If I can get to 12 hours total, I’ll be happy.

More later!

Review – Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

I was soooooooooooooooo disappointed by this. The preponderance of ‘o’s is completely justified, by the way, because I was enormously looking forward to reading it. It ticked all the boxes, for me – Victorian fiction, strong heroine, doorstop of a novel, grand themes of love and war.

Well. I’m going to try my hardest to be fair. I mean, it wasn’t terrible. Things I liked about it:

  • Thackeray’s sense of humour. You’d think I would have learned by now, but I’m always surprised at how darn funny the great Victorian novelists are. There were points in this at which I laughed out loud, mainly at his tongue-in-cheek observations about the crassness of humanity (whenever they’re on the right side of a sneer, anyway). Becky’s son, calling her out on her shamelessly hypocritical behaviour, is a particular highlight: ‘For Rebecca, seeing that tenderness was the fashion, called Rawdon to her one evening and stooped down and kissed him in the presence of all the ladies. He looked her full in the face after the operation, trembling and turning very red, as his wont was when moved. “You never kiss me at home, Mamma,” he said, at which there was a general silence and consternation and a by no means pleasant look in Becky’s eyes.’
  • The rather post-modern self-awareness of his form also felt like a private joke, but one in which the reader is included – you can’t help but feel that he is poking fun at himself and at our expectations, for example when he notes that ‘The causes which had led to the deplorable illness of Miss Crawley, and her departure from her brother’s house in the country, were of such an unromantic nature that they are hardly fit to be explained in this genteel and sentimental novel.’ There’s also a very short chapter, near the beginning, which I’m fairly confident was written at the last minute before that week’s deadline (this, like so many of the massive Victorian novels, was written for serialisation), and quite possible in the throes of a hangover.
  • Contemporary(ish) commentary. Although written some 50 years later, the novel is set at and around the time of the Battle of Waterloo (indeed, the battle itself provides a major plot point which I’ll try not to give away), and occasionally gems like this are dropped in: ‘”That was the most beautiful part of dear Lord Nelson’s character,” Miss Crawley said. “He went to the deuce for a woman. There must be good in a man who will do that.”‘ Superb.
  • The comparative lack of ‘battlefield analysis’. Although this is a novel of the Napoleonic Wars, it dwells very little on actual warfare (‘We do not claim to rank among the military novelists,’ says Thackeray; ‘Our place is with the non-combatants’.). It may sound odd to like a novel for a distinct lack of something (and I’ll leave it to you to determine whether I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel here), but I’m currently reading War and Peace and – although it’s kicking Thackeray’s a$$ in all other respects – the ‘war’ chapters do have their moments.

So, yes, very funny, very clever, a great achievement, etc. BUT. Oh. my. Goodness. Can we please talk for a moment about how badly Thackeray treats his characters?

Let’s start with poor Becky Sharp. I mean that literally, by the way. Here is a girl without money or family, and with only her wits (and one or two other attributes) to rely on. Vanity Fair is famously subtitled ‘A Novel Without a Hero’, and so I assumed – perhaps foolishly – that it would be full of heroines, instead. Nope, not allowed. Thackeray HATES women. They are all presented as either grasping harridans, or slavish nincompoops (see: Amelia’s devotion to George; ‘it was only when George was spoken of that she listened, and when he was not mentioned, she thought about him.’ Yuck.). I don’t think Thackeray has much time for men either, but he seems to reserve special ire for poor Becky. And I know, we’re not really supposed to sympathise with her; she does dreadful things, uses people and then throws them away, even flirting with the husband of her best friend for no apparent reason other than for sport. And she is an appalling parent. But she’s smart, and a born survivor, and almost everything she does is – rightly or wrongly (OK, OK, it’s wrongly) – in the name of necessity, an attempt to support herself and her family. As she herself says, ‘”I think I could be a good woman if I had five thousand a year.”‘

I sort of knew most of that about Becky before I started. But I think I was expecting Thackeray to present her, warts and all, with a kind of amused complicity – maybe even a grudging respect. There are flashes of that, particularly towards the beginning; but for most of the novel, if it’s there, it’s buried pretty deep.

Thackeray’s contempt isn’t limited to his main character, though; and this is another thing which I found more and more wearing as the novel rumbled on. His snide asides, sprinkled through the chapters, about ‘vanity fair’ (a near-synonym for civilised society) and how badly-behaved we all are, start out as caustically funny, but by the end are mildly-and-increasingly uncomfortable – like the elderly uncle who sits in the corner and says inappropriate things at Christmas. Like this misogynistic trio:

  • ‘Who has not seen how women bully women? What tortures have men to endure, comparable to those daily repeated shafts of scorn and cruelty with which poor women are riddled by the tyrants of their sex?’
  • ‘Women only know how to wound so. there is a poison on the tips of their little shafts, which stings a thousand times more than a man’s blunter weapon.’
  • ‘Oh, those women! They nurse and cuddle their presentiments, and make darlings of their ugliest thoughts, as they do of their deformed children.’

Really? Really, though? I don’t even think these are the worst. I only know that by the end, every time I came across one of these, I involuntarily muttered nasty things at the narrator. Since a lot of my reading happens on public transport, I suspect this came across as frankly antisocial.

I think in the end that was my problem with this. I’ve read novels with unlikeable characters, and loved them (the novels, I mean. And actually sometimes the characters as well). A good novel with no likeable characters is harder, but I think they do exist. A novel where the narrator sneers at the characters, and by extension the rest of us, all the way through….900 pages is a long, long time to be in the presence of a voice so out of love with the world. Too long, for me.

**

Bookish Lists – Best Reads of 2015

A little late maybe, but because it’s (still, just about) that time of year again, and because – as I’ve said before – I’m a sucker for a list, here are my top eleven reads of 2015 (where I haven’t reviewed yet, I’ll try to soon):

  1. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell – this was amazing, unexpected, and kept me up till 2.30am and thinking about it for an awful lot longer. Probably my read of the year.
  2. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara – review here
  3. Election Notebook by Nick Robinson – review here
  4. Words of Radiance (Stormlight 2) by Brandon Sanderson – I’m not an avid fantasy reader, but I discovered Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss last year as part of a push to read more widely, and this – read last January – was fantastic.
  5. The Boston Girl by Anita Diamond – review here
  6. The Vegetarian by Han Kang – definitely one of the most unexpected novels I read last year; weird, sad and reflective. It’s totally different to The Fishermen, but I sort of think that fans of The Fishermen might like this one as well.
  7. Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie – review here
  8. Tightrope by Simon Mawer – review here
  9. Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg – review here
  10. The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma – review here
  11. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James – I’ve actually not long finished this, because I wanted to wait until I had the time to devote myself to it properly, but its scope and breadth and language are incredible.

And the eight biggest disappointments. When I say ‘disappointments’, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re bad – just that they haven’t sat quite right with me somehow – maybe because I expected great things. I tend not to review books I haven’t enjoyed very much, on the premise of ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all’ – but of these, 1, 4, 5 and 6 are by authors whom I admire and have previously enjoyed; 2 ticked all the boxes (politics, Andrew Marr, thriller) but just could have been better executed; 3 and 7 were my least favourite of a pretty strong field for the Booker Prize; and 8 was maybe the most overrated classic I’ve read in the last ten years.

  1. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  2. Head of State by Andrew Marr
  3. Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy
  4. The Cocktail Party by TS Eliot
  5. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
  6. The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer
  7. The Illuminations by Andrew O’Hagan
  8. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Classics Club – The Women’s Classic Literature Event

Happy New Year, and the happiest of 2016s!

Back in October, I reposted an event of The Classics Club’s, to read more ‘classic women’ in 2016. Here’s an extract from their original post, to refresh everyone’s memory (not least of all mine):

“We’re going to have an event. It officially starts today because it is no fun to wait until January. But you can wait until January if you want to. 🙂

The event? Read classic literature by female authors, & share your thoughts (or links to your thoughts) at #ccwomenclassics on Twitter, or in our quarterly check-ins, which we’ll have here in January, April, July, October, & December of 2016.

This event is way more a celebration than a “reading challenge.” It’s about hunting out those forgotten titles which didn’t make it into the official canon, & reading them & sharing the excitement. Or exploring the females who are in the canon. For example, if you want to spend the entire year poring over Middlemarch by George Eliot, going a chapter or two a month and gently journaling, we don’t want to stifle that by asking you to meet a title count.

You can make a preset list, if you want one. (We think preset lists are mighty fine!) You can give yourself a goal. Or you can do this thing organically: read as you’re inspired, and share as you’re inspired, & give us a wave now & then.

You can choose any genre you like: Gothics, sensation fiction, sentimental novels, children’s classics, letters, journals, essays, short stories, female writers from the American South, Irish classics by women, African classics by women, Australian classics by women, poetry, plays. You can do all Persephone titles, all Virago, all forgotten nineteenth century letter-writers, all journals, all novels, all essays, all feminist works — or a mix. You could do a deep exploration of a single author’s work, or pick a couple authors whose works you’d like to compare and contrast. You could set up your own dueling authors: read three by one author, and three by the other, and see who comes out on top. Really, you can get as creative as you want with this event. If the title was penned by a female and written or published before 1960, it counts. (We don’t actually care if you want to fudge that date.)

Biographies on classic females count, too. (Even if they were written recently.) If you go that route, it would be lovely if you shared your author findings in a post so others can learn! If you want to list a series of poems by women & call that your list, it counts. Often women wrote short stories for magazines when they couldn’t find a publisher for their novel. That counts! Tour the centuries and continents or locate yourself in England in the nineteenth century. Your list is the product of your own exploration and imagination. If you want to reread the whole Little House collection for the entire year — THAT COUNTS. 🙂 The point is to get people thinking about women writers & sharing favorite reads.”

The full post is here, if you want it.

Anyway, I think this is a fab idea – especially after I revisited my original Classics Club list and found that, of my 50 titles, only NINE were written by women. Shame on me!

I’m going to try to read the majority of those nine over the course of this year but, other than that, I haven’t made a pre-set list. The best laid plans, and all. But I have, finally, got around to answering the Classics Club’s survey questions, below. Now all there is to do is to start reading 🙂

  1. Introduce yourself. Tell us what you are most looking forward to in this event. – Hello! I’m Jen. I’m an off-and-on blogger, but a much more dedicated reader (of both books and book blogs), and I’m most looking forward to getting – and hopefully giving – recommendations for new-to-me classics.
  2. Have you read many classics by women? Why or why not? – I did when I was at school and university (I’m a lapsed English Literature graduate), although nowhere near as many as those by men. Go figure.
  3. Pick a classic female writer you can’t wait to read for the event, & list her date of birth, her place of birth, and the title of one of her most famous works. – This is outrageous, but I’m yet to read anything by Virginia Woolf (1882-1941, England). I think I’ve always thought of her as a ‘difficult’ writer, and so been a little bit too scared to try. This is a bit nuts, and I hope to address it post-haste this year. On my list is To The Lighthouse; I suspect it may lead to more.
  4. Think of a female character who was represented in classic literature by a male writer. Does she seem to be a whole or complete woman? Why or why not? Tell us about her. (Without spoilers, please!) – Towards the end of last year, I read Vanity Fair by William Thackeray. This doorstep of a novel was driven by two female characters who were polar opposites – Amelia and Becky – and I don’t think Thackeray was fair in his treatment of either of them. He was patronising, and they lacked moral subtlety, to the point where I almost threw the book across the room. Hopefully it’s not a spoiler to say that I thought this got worse as the book went on. I actually haven’t reviewed Vanity Fair on this blog yet, partly because I’m still trying to come to terms with how I felt about the novel as a whole.
  5. Favorite classic heroine? (Why? Who wrote her?) – Too many to count, but I’m going to have to say Lizzie Bennet. Not exactly an original choice, but I still remember reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time aged fourteen, and it being one of the great literary experiences of my early life. Plus, it takes serious gumption to turn down Colin Firth – I mean, Mr Darcy…
  6. We’d love to help clubbers find great titles by classic female authors. Can you recommend any sources for building a list? (Just skip this question if you don’t have any at this point.) – I never get tired of reading publishers’ lists. If I were looking for women writers in particular, I’d try Persephone or Virago, but the Penguin Classics website is basically bookp*rn too.
  7. Recommend three books by classic female writers to get people started in this event. (Again, skip over this if you prefer not to answer.) – Trying to steer away from the totally obvious (Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, the entire works of Jane Austen, all of which are great places to start), three classic female writers I’ve really enjoyed are: Aphra Behn (Oroonoko). Behn is probably the earliest female writer I’ve read, and Oroonoko was one of the very earliest novels, written in the 1600s. It is the story of an enslaved African prince, and surprisingly modern. Elizabeth Gaskell (North and South, Mary Barton). A 19th century novelist, but one who is perhaps less well-known than Austen or the Brontes, and much more interested in the plight of the working class. It’s a long time since I read her, but I remember really enjoying both of these novels – as social history, as much as for their pure narrative value. Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind). A perfect doorstop novel for winter – and with wonderfully written women. I’m also going to cheat a little bit, and mention a few slightly more recent novels by women who have rocked my world – Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and The Bloody Chamber, by Angela Carter.
  8. Will you be joining us for this event immediately, or will you wait until the new year starts? – Oh dear, I did mean to start earlier, but I guess the datestamp on this post sort of takes care of this question for me, doesn’t it?
  9. Do you plan to read as inspiration pulls, or will you make out a preset list? – Mainly inspiration, although I will be guided by the reads and re-reads on my main CC list. I find it difficult to read ‘to plan’ – I’m too flighty. Also I think one of the main joys of something like this is to be free to discover new things throughout the year.
  10. Are you pulling to any particular genres? (Letters, journals, biographies, short stories, novels, poems, essays, etc?) – I’m mainly a novels girl, although I would like to dip into some related non-fiction. In particular, the superb Claire Tomalin has written a biography of Jane Austen which has been on my list for a while.
  11. Are you pulling to a particular era or location in literature by women? – Not really; I’m hoping to increase the diversity of my reading, which may pull me towards a few books which are more recent than 1960 – but hopefully that’s still within the spirit of the rules 🙂
  12. Do you hope to host an event or readalong for the group? No worries if you don’t have details. We’re just curious! – Not sure about hosting, but I’d like to participate!
  13. Is there an author or title you’d love to read with a group or a buddy for this event? Sharing may inspire someone to offer. – A re-read of Middlemarch is on my list, and it’s such a behemoth that sharing it with a group would be lovely!
  14. Share a quote you love by a classic female author — even if you haven’t read the book yet. – ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.’ (Dodie Smith, I Capture The Castle) I have actually read that book, and it’s glorious.
  15. Finally, ask the question you wish this survey had asked, & then answer it. – If a ‘classic’ is more than 50 years old, will there be a greater selection of ‘classics’ by women 50 years from now? What are the future classics by women published in the last few years? – Aside from my cheating at the end of question 7 above, and anything JK Rowling has ever written, I’ve read some incredible contemporary fiction by women in recent years. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (said through gritted teeth as she is younger than me, but it really was great), and Wolf Hall/Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, have all been worth their hype. Slammerkin, by Emma Donoghue, was great too, and I’m looking forward to reading more by her. In non-fiction, Wild Swans by Jung Chang was both educational and gripping, and in poetry, ‘Telling Tales’, Patience Agbabi’s retelling of the Canterbury Tales in 21st century London demotic, was a revelation.