Review – Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

‘In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June.’

I could quote from this novel endlessly. Unbelievably, this was the first time I’d read anything by Virginia Woolf. I’m so glad I waited. I genuinely don’t know how I might have reacted to this when I was younger; I get the feeling I might have gulped it down all at once, and not really let it touch the sides.

Instead, I took it slowly, reading this relatively slim novel in even slimmer chunks. I think you have to – or at least, I had to – to truly appreciate the ‘waves of that divine vitality which Clarissa loved’.

A brief note on plot, although plot really isn’t the point. Clarissa Dalloway, a fifty-something bastion of British privilege, is throwing a party. The narrative follows her thoughts, and those of others – mainly her ex-lover Peter, and a shell-shocked veteran Septimus – through the course of a single day in June. During the course of that day, they wander all around central London, occasionally overlapping, although Septimus’s story is broadly independent of the others. Their minds, though, are elsewhere; in Clarissa and Peter’s case, largely in the past, when they were young and things were different.

I have said this about other classics before, but I was surprised by how, well, modern it all felt. This was partly the style (the somewhat breathless stream-of-consciousness style means this novel will definitely be one I go back to; the access to the characters’ most intimate thoughts (and even more so, their thought processes) is familiar to us now, but was still pretty new in the early 1920s). It was also, though, the subject matter. Despite the shadow of World War I, I wasn’t expecting to read about a shell-shocked soldier. His story forms an agonising counterpoint to the main event, and adds depth to a plot which could otherwise – on the surface, at least – have seemed a little frothy.

The star of the show, though, is undoubtedly Clarissa. Married to a man who solemnly declares ‘that no decent man ought to read Shakespeare’s sonnets because it was like listening at keyholes (besides the relationship was not one that he approved)’, she is serene and respectable on the outside, whilst the narrative ranges over a complex and exhausting inner life, from worrying about aging and death, to wishing she could have done everything differently, to being – at times – happy, almost content. I found this complexity and depth wildly exhilarating; like seeing the world with the colours turned up. ‘It might be possible, Septimus thought, looking at England from the train window, as they left Newhaven; it might be possible that the world itself is without meaning.’ That must have been an easy thing to believe, after the horrors of the Great War; maybe it’s an even easier thing to believe today. The joy of this novel, for me, though, was its demonstration of exactly the opposite: ‘Absorbing, mysterious, of infinite richness, this life.’ Quite so.

****

Review – The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

I had been looking forward to reading this ever since 2014, when some friends and I went on a girly road trip through the Deep South and I fell in love with Dixieland.

Well. Carson McCullers’ novel, written when she was 23 (23! I find that irritating, to say the least) wasn’t quite what I was expecting. But let’s start at the beginning. This is the story of the misfit inhabitants of a town ‘in the middle of the deep South. The summers were long and the months of winter cold were very few. Nearly always the sky was a glassy, brilliant azure and the sun burned down riotously bright. Then the light, chill rains of November would come, and perhaps later there would be frost and some short months of cold. The winters were changeable, but the summers always were burning hot.’

I say ‘the story of’, but actually, if anything this felt more like a collection of short stories than a novel. I think a lot of that is down to how disconnected the characters are with each other (and themselves). The main character, although it feels odd to describe him that way, is Singer, a deaf mute towards whom a number of the other characters gravitate. His inability to speak inevitably draws other people out of themselves; he communicates little, allowing each of them to fill in the blanks and project a little of themselves onto him. They are not alone in this; the Turks in town are convinced that he’s Turkish, the Jews think he’s Jewish, and so on and so forth. ‘His eyes,’ McCullers tells us, ‘made a person think that he heard things nobody else had ever heard, that he knew things no one had ever guessed before. He did not seem quite human.’

Nobody else in the novel, though, seems to be able to connect with each other. There is one scene in particular where Singer, the deaf mute on whom the story hangs together, is visited by all four of his regular visitors at once; used to speaking only to him, they ignore each other awkwardly, until it’s time to leave again. This never improves; if anything, the sense of alienation gets worse, not better, and characters are driven through the book by their desires, rather than their relationships.

The writing is spare and precise and in places simply stunning – like the quote in the second paragraph above, which was one of my favourites. The sense of geography in particular, both in time and space and also in terms of the characters’ place in the natural world, is strong. McCullers (perhaps unsurprisingly, given her age at the time of writing) is also very good on the fizz of adolescent longing; ‘Her face felt like it was scattered in pieces and she could not keep it straight. The feeling was a whole lot worse than being hungry for any dinner, yet it was like that. I want – I want – I want – was all that she could think about – but just what this real want was she did not know.’

There’s politics, too, and anger. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter has been read as anti-Fascist, which I can definitely see. A couple of the characters are preoccupied with fighting injustice in different ways; there is a doctor who struggles with racial injustice, and a violently self-destructive Communist, trying to open the eyes of the world to everything he finds to be wrong with it. In the end, though, the novel left me feeling a little flat. There was a lot that was good about it, but its vaguely nihilistic world view was a little too much for me – like a teenager trying a little too hard to be cool, I just couldn’t quite believe that someone with such a gift for observing the world could be quite so disillusioned with it. I haven’t read any of McCullers’s later work, but I really hope she grew out of it.

*** 

 

Review – The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

OK, I’m calling it: When I grow up, I want to be Julian Barnes, please.

I’m not – specifically not – saying that The Noise of Time is the most enjoyable novel I’ve ever read. In places it was actually a bit of a slog. I did, though, still find it to be worth the effort. Why? Well, it turns out that Julian Barnes has a brain the size of a planet (and a proper planet, not one of those hokey-cokey ones at the edge of the solar system), and here he’s in the mood for sharing.

Indeed, there are times when this hardly felt like a novel at all. At its simplest, The Noise of Time is a fictionalised life of Dmitri Shostakovich under the Soviet regime, but that description in isolation is simple to the point of being misleading. This is not literary biography. Rather, Barnes takes three moments in Shostakovich’s life and uses them as a springboard for Barnes-as-Shostakovich’s ruminations on literature, music, philosophy, politics – really, a little of everything, delivered at times deadpan, with black humour; at others, with barely-suppressed anger. I’m not qualified (certainly not as qualified as Barnes) to comment on what Shostakovich was really thinking at these particular points in his life; to me, though, passages like this feel more like unfictionalised Barnes:

‘Art belongs to everybody and nobody. Art belongs to all time and no time. Art belongs to those who create it and those who savour it. Art no more belongs to the People and the Party than it once belonged to the aristocracy and the patron. Art is the whisper of history, heard above the noise of time. Art does not exist for art’s sake: it exists for people’s sake.’

Or this eminently quotable quote:

‘How was it possible not to love Shakespeare? Shakespeare, after all, had loved music. His plays were full of it, even the tragedies. That moment when Lear awakes from madness to the sound of music…And that moment in The Merchant of Venice where Shakespeare says that the man who doesn’t like music isn’t trustworthy; that such a man would be capable of a base act, even murder or treason. So of course tyrants hated music, however strenuously they pretended to love it. Although they hated poetry more.’

There are plenty more where that came from; in places, The Noise of Time feels like an evening spent with your old university professor, the one whose approval you craved. I enjoyed it, but then, that’s because I’m crazy about smart people, and I was in awe of nearly all of my professors – learning is pretty much my favourite thing. As a novel, though, rather than an exercise in intelligence, I’m not sure how well it works. It’s certainly not a book which can be read quickly, despite being a slim 192 pages – I had to keep putting it down and going back to it – and it’s not a book to pick up when you’re tired or distracted. I’d say that The Noise of Time has about the same intellectual density as Marilynne Robinson’s Lila has spiritual density; if you have the patience and the attention span to enjoy one, I think you’ll probably enjoy the other.

Now, I’m off to listen to some Shostakovich. Seems like it’s about time.

***

(This rating is probably unfair; I’m already feeling a little guilty about it, and may come back and bump it up. I think Julian Barnes accomplishes exactly what he set out to – and if I hadn’t read so many great novels recently, I probably would have given this an extra star. But I am a Philistine, and could have done with just a tiny bit more plot to help me digest all that intellectual fibre.)

Reading Round-Up – January 2016

My timeline is full of monthly wrap-up posts and they look like fun, so here is mine:

Books read in January:

This was a pretty good month, all in all. I read 8 books (none of which I have reviewed yet, whoops….), all of which were 3-star or better reads for me, including War and Peace which was my first 5-star read in ages. It has also got me firmly back into my reading groove, after a bit of a bumpy finish to last year. The 8 books I read were:

  • The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth – This was a re-read, but I read it for the first time back when it was originally published, around ten years ago I think, so I came to it as if for the first time. It marked the end of an alternative-fiction-what-if-the-Nazis-had-won spree, triggered by The Man In The High Castle, which I’ll write about in more detail soon (I promise).
  • War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy – This took up most of my month. It’s been on my TBR for years, in one form or another, but the promise of the Andrew Davies BBC mini-series was what finally prompted me to start reading. Both the book and the mini-series have been superb. I finished the book last Friday, and am sort of in mourning for the characters – and in total denial that the final episode of the series is this coming Sunday.
  • Pietr The Latvian, by Georges Simenon – This was purchased on a whim, a relatively quick read as part of 24-in-48. I enjoyed it at the time but it didn’t really leave a lasting impression.
  • Men Explain Things To Me, by Rebecca Solnit – Title essay brilliant, others mixed, overall better than average.
  • Scottsboro, by Ellen Feldman – A slightly-fictionalised account of the 1930s court case of 9 boys in rural Alabama, showing that nothing really ended with the Civil War.
  • The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, by Joanna Cannon – I had very high expectations of this and it didn’t quite live up to them, which isn’t to say it wasn’t good – I enjoyed it, and there were some particularly good laugh-out-loud moments, but it wasn’t the ‘Read of the Year’ I’d seen it hyped as.
  • Exposure, by Helen Dunmore – I’m very into spies, at the moment, and this was great. It seems like it’s difficult to say anything new about the Cold War, but looking at it like this, through a more domestic lens of what happens to the family of someone accused of spying, was really clever. One of the best I’ve read from Helen Dunmore.
  • The Complete Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi – My first ever graphic novel! The first half of this, detailing the Iranian revolution through the 9-year-old eyes of the author, was wonderful. The second part, in Austria and Iran, lost its way a little for me. But still very much worth the effort.

Best book of the month: War and Peace, by a country mile. I know that sounds like one of those hoity-toity things people say to make themselves sound good; believe me, I didn’t expect to love it. But I did. More on that to follow.

Reading goals for February: Stop buying books (easier said than done, when there are so many good ones being published)! And get on with the Classics Club Women’s Challenge. Five out of the eight books I read last month were written by women, but none of them were on my classics list. My first planned read for February is Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier), so hopefully this should start to fix itself.

I’d also like to read more diversely in February, which – looking at the list above – wouldn’t be difficult. On the TBR (among others) are The Sympathizer (Viet Thanh Nguyen), Human Acts (Han Kang, whose ‘The Vegetarian’ was one of my favourite books of last year), The Automobile Club of Egypt (Alaa Al Aswany), Beloved (Toni Morrison, actually a re-read but I remember loving this at university), and Americanah and We Should All Be Feminists (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). Any other recommendations gratefully received!

 

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 🙂

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.