The Rules of Seeing by Joe Heap

Harper Collins|9 August 2018|416 pages|Review copy| 2*

Nova, an interpreter for the Metropolitan police, has been blind from birth. When she undergoes surgery to restore her sight her journey is just beginning – she now has to face a world in full colour for the first time. Kate, a successful architect and wife to Tony, is in hospital after a blow to the head. There, she meets Nova and what starts as a beautiful friendship soon turns into something more.

Nuanced and full of emotion, The Rules of Seeing poignantly explores the realities and tensions of a woman seeing the world for the first time – the highs and lows, the good and bad.

I thought from reading the blurb that this would be a book I would enjoy reading. The idea of a book about a blind woman whose sight is restored sounded enlightening – how she learned to interpret what she can see, having been born blind. And I did enjoy that aspect of this book. It does give an excellent insight into Nova’s struggle to cope emotionally with a world she can now see as well as hear and touch, and learning what it all means. And I liked the Rules of Seeing that she compiles from her experiences, although I think they are only loosely linked to the main story.

But, this isn’t just the story of a blind person learning to see and it’s not the main focus of this book which is Kate’s relationship with her husband and with Nova, and I didn’t like Kate’s story; the violence and anger of her husband, Tony was hard to read. If this had been referred to in the blurb I wouldn’t have chosen to read this book. I also found the pace very uneven and by the end of the book I thought it was too drawn out and I just wanted it to end.

One of the drawbacks of reading a review copy prior to publication is that you can’t read the beginning of a book. And if I had read the opening pages I wouldn’t have chosen it. It is in the present tense – there are some books that work well for me in the present tense and it certainly helps if I like the plot, but this isn’t one of them. I didn’t like the constant changes of scene -a bit like watching a drama or film where the action is filmed with a hand-held camera constantly changing focus, zooming in and out. It makes me feel claustrophobic. The use of the present tense in this book made me feel I was watching TV with the audio description turned on, explaining what is happening on screen.

It’s a pity as the basic concept is good and the characters came over as real people. I’m sorry I just couldn’t like it.

Thank you to Harper Collins and NetGalley for my copy of this book for review.

Absent in the Spring by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I love Agatha Christie’s crime fiction but I’ve held back from reading her other books written under the name of Mary Westmacott, not sure just what to expect. So, I was very glad to find that Absent in the Spring is just as good as her other books and I was thoroughly absorbed in the story of Joan Scudamore who was stranded in the desert, after visiting her daughter in Baghdad.

Agatha Christie managed to keep the true identity of Mary Westmacott a secret for fifteen years! Absent in the Spring is the one book she wrote that  satisfied her completely – and having now read it I can see why. She wrote the book in just three days in 1944. It had ‘grown inside‘ her for six or seven years. She had visualised all the characters and they were there ready for her to write about them and she just had to get it down on paper, writing in a ‘white heat‘, without interruptions until it was finished, leaving her exhausted. She slept for more or less twenty-four hours afterwards. She took the title from Shakespeare’s sonnet that begins ‘From you I have been absent in the spring.’ (Sonnet 98)

It is a great example of an unlikeable character that makes fascinating reading – you don’t have to like a character to love a book. In her Autobiography she wrote that it was:

… the picture of a woman with a complete image of herself, of what she was, but about which she was completely mistaken. Through her actions, her feelings and thoughts this would be revealed to the reader. She would be, as it were, continually meeting herself, not recognising herself, but becoming increasingly uneasy. What brought about this revelation would be the fact that for the first time in her life she was alone – completely alone – for four or five days. (page 516)

The novel is set in Mesopotamia (corresponding to today’s Iraq, mostly, but also parts of modern-day Iran, Syria and Turkey) in a railway rest-house at Tel Abu Hamid on the Turkish border, where Joan is stranded, delayed by floods – no trains or vehicles can get through to Mosul, her next stop on her journey home to London. There are no other travellers there, only an Arab boy and an Indian servant who brings her meals, but who speak little English and there is nowhere to go, except to walk in the desert.

At first she occupies herself writing letters and reading the two books she has with her, The Power House by John Buchan and Memoirs of Lady Catherine Dysart. Then she starts thinking about herself and gradually relives her past life, all the time with a growing feeling of unease and anxiety as she reinterprets her past. She wonders, for the first time in her life what she is really like and what other people think of her, with that unsettling, anxious feeling that she is not the person she thought she was. And she resolves to put things right when she returns home.

She is jolted out of her complacency  and self deception as she remembers how Rodney had looked as she watched him leave Victoria Station:

Suddenly, in the desert,with the sun pouring down on her, Joan gave a quick uncontrollable shiver.

She thought, No, no – I don’t want to go on – I don’t want to think about this …

Rodney, striding up the platform, his head thrown back, the tired sag of his shoulders all gone. A man who had been relieved of an intolerable burden …

Really, what was the matter with her? She was imagining things, inventing them. Her eyes had played a trick on her.

Why hadn’t he waited to see the train pull out?

She was imagining – Stop, that didn’t make it any better. If you imagined a thing like that, it meant that such an idea was already in your head.

And it couldn’t be true – the inference that she had drawn simply could not be true.

She was saying to herself (wasn’t she?) that Rodney was glad she was going away …

And that simply couldn’t be true! (pages 55-56)

It really is a most remarkable book. On the surface it is a simple story, but in fact it is a complex and in-depth character study, with a growing sense of tension. The setting adds to the uneasiness as Joan walks in the desert to get away from the rest-house, with its refuse dump of tins enclosed by a tangle of barbed wire,  and a space where skinny chickens run about squawking loudly and with clouds of flies surrounding the area. There is a twist at the end of the book, which I had begun to anticipate as I approached the final pages, which rounded it off very well. An excellent book.

Now, I really must get hold of her other Mary Westmacott books!

My copy is a paperback, published by Fontana, 2nd impression 1983, 192 pages. This is the 4th book for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 Challenge.

No Further Questions by Gillian McAllister

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I was hooked right from the start of No Further Questions by Gillian McAllister. It plunges straight into a trial as Martha sits in the courtroom listening to expert witnesses being questioned  and cross-examined about the death of her baby, Layla, just eight weeks old. Her sister Becky is accused of murdering her.  Becky was looking after Layla, a difficult baby who cries and screams endlessly, whilst Martha was away in Kos, organising a school for refugee children and her husband, Scott was away at a work conference. She found Layla dead in her cot and denies killing her. It looked like a cot death – until the postmortem showed otherwise – and the police are convinced it was murder.

This is a tense, tightly plotted book, narrated from several viewpoints, but mainly alternating between Martha and Becky, revealing their thoughts and emotions as they relate what had happened. Despite being very different characters with different lifestyles Martha and Becky love and trust each other – otherwise Martha would never have left Layla with Becky. Martha doesn’t want to believe Becky is guilty but as the trial proceeds, as medical and social worker witnesses as well as neighbours and a school teacher present their accounts it looks increasingly bad for Becky. And yet, and this shows how real this trial and these characters came over to me, I couldn’t believe she had done it either.

Despite being written in the present tense, I was gripped by this book. I didn’t want to stop reading it and when I wasn’t reading it I was thinking about it, about the characters and their relationships, about how they had got themselves into such a terrible situation. Gillian McAllister presents such a complex subject, with great insight into human nature, with characters that are not perfect (as none of us are) – they each have their flaws and make questionable decisions, so it is next to impossible to untangle the truth from supposition.

This  is simply an excellent book, and it is without doubt one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Thank you to Gillian McAllister, the publishers and NetGalley for my copy of this book for review.

  • Format: Kindle Edition ( also to be published in paperback on 18th October 2018)
  • File Size: 2892 KB
  • Print Length: 421 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1405934603
  • Publisher: Penguin (2 July 2018)-

Do Not Disturb by Claire Douglas

COULD YOUR DREAM HOME BE YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE?

4*

The Tudor Crown by Joanna Hickson

The early life of Henry VII

Harper Collins|31 May 2018|544 pages|e-book |Review copy|4*

Ruined Stones by Eric Reed

Poisoned Pen Press|2017 |226 pages|paperback|Review copy|3.5*

On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill

I’ve been doing quite well with reading books for my 10 Books of Summer Challenge – but not so well at writing reviews of them.

On Beulah Height (Dalziel & Pascoe, #17)

So here is a quick review of the first of my 10 Books. It’s also one of my TBRs, a book I’ve owned for a couple of years:

I loved On Beulah Height is Reginald Hill’s 17th Dalziel and Pascoe novel. He wrote 25 in this series and although it would probably make sense to get a picture of their development I’ve been reading them out of order. It doesn’t seem to matter much, but in this one there are a few references to something that had happened in an earlier case (told in The Wood Beyond) that had affected Pascoe personally. It had  filled him with anger and it is still affecting him, whilst investigating this case. But this book can easily be read as a standalone novel.

It is not just a crime fiction novel, it is also a book that raises many issues about parenthood, the relationship between families and their children and the devastation and anguish of parents and a community at the loss of a child.

I’d really like to re-read it some time as it is a complex book, that begins with a transcript written by Betsy Allgood, then aged seven, telling what had happened in the little village of Dendale in Yorkshire before the valley was flooded to provide a reservoir. That summer three little girls had gone missing. No bodies were ever found, and the best suspect, a strange lad named Benny Lightfoot, was held for a time, then released. Benny then disappeared from the area

Fifteen years later another little girl, Lorraine, also aged seven went out for a walk one morning with her dog before her parents got up and didn’t return home, reviving memories of the missing children from fifteen years earlier. It was a case that has haunted Dalziel – and the fears increase when a message appeared, sprayed on the walls: BENNY’S  BACK. It’s been a hot, dry summer and the buildings beneath the reservoir are gradually becoming visible and tensions are rising as memories of the missing children increase the fears for Lorraine’s safety.

This book is tightly plotted with many twists that made me change my mind so many times I gave up trying to work out who the murderer was and just read for the pleasure of reading. Hill’s descriptive writing is rich and full of imagery. The main characters are fully rounded people and the supporting cast are believable personalities, often described with wry humour.

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (30 Jan. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007313179
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007313174
  • Source: I bought the book
  • My rating: 5*