The Frank Business by Olivia Glazebrook

The Frank Business

John Murray Press|7 March 2019 |288 pages|e-book |Review copy|4*

I enjoyed The Frank Business by Olivia Glazebook very much. It’s about a rather dysfunctional family in crisis and it begins dramatically:

The Man on a Donkey by H F M Prescott

The Man on a Donkey

Apollo|2016|756 pages|e-book|3.5*

This was first published in 1952.

Description:

In 1536, Henry VIII was almost toppled when Northern England rose to oppose the Dissolution of the Monasteries. For a few weeks Robert Aske, the leader of the rebels, held the fate of the entire nation in his hand … An enthralling novel about a moment in history when England’s Catholic heritage was scattered to the four winds by a powerful and arrogant king.

Opening paragraph:

Sir John Uvedale had business at Coverham Abbey in Wensleydale, lately suppressed, so he sent his people on before him to Marrick, to make ready for him, and to take over possession of the Priory of St. Andrew from the Nuns, who should all be gone by noon or thereabouts. Sir John’s steward had been there for a week already, making sure that the Ladies carried away nothing but what was their own, and having the best of the silver and gold ornaments of the Church packed up in canvas, then in barrels, ready to be sent to the King. The lesser stuff was pushed, all anyhow, into big wicker baskets; since it would be melted down, scratches and dints did not matter.

My thoughts:

The Man on a Donkey is the longest book I’ve read this year and at times I thought it was overlong. It certainly is not a book to read quickly, as John Cooper writes in his Introduction it ‘requires persistence from the reader.’ Hilda Prescott (1896 – 1972) was a historian and biographer as well as a novelist and based this novel on documentary evidence relating to the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 led by Robert Aske, a lawyer. It was a protest against Henry VIII‘s break with the Roman Catholic Church, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and the policies of the King’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell.

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It’s written in the form of a chronicle, written from the various characters’ viewpoints. It’s as much about the ordinary people as the rich and powerful. There are many characters including many real historical people, such as Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Thomas Cromwell, Princess Mary and Thomas More amongst others. The two main characters are historical figures too – Robert (Robin) Aske and Christabel Cowper, the last Prioress of the Benedictine nunnery at Marrick in Yorkshire. They and the fictional characters came to life as I got used to their individual voices – some instantly likeable, such as Robin and Christabel despite their flaws and others so despicable. Henry VIII, a tyrant and Thomas Cromwell, a real villain, for example were much reviled as between them they created fear and terror in a totalitarian regime.

In fact this book is in line with much of what I had learnt of the period from history lessons at school, films, books and TV series up until I read Hilary Mantel’s books that portray a much kinder view of Cromwell. But just like Mantel’s books, this book transported me back to that time, with lyrical descriptions of the settings, both of the countryside and of the towns, of Marrick Priory and of the king’s court, of the people, and the mood of the times, both religious and political

The Pilgrimage of Grace was not a revolution against Henry but an attempt to get him to change his mind and to understand how people felt. They wanted Henry to stop the dissolution and his attacks on the monks and nuns and to return the country to following the Pope. There were several uprisings and thousands of people were involved, nobles as well as the ‘commons’. But it cost many people their lives in excruciating pain as they were hanged, drawn and quartered.

The source of the book’s title comes from the mystic, Malle, a  simple-minded young woman who the nuns had bought at a York market in the belief that she was a mermaid. She is a strange character who sees a vision of Christ riding on a donkey over a bridge across a stream in the Yorkshire countryside. Her visions and strange sayings continue to puzzle and frighten people throughout the book.

Reading A Man on a Donkey has reminded me that I have Tracy Borman’s biography of Thomas Cromwell still to read. It’s a detailed account of his life, subtitled ‘the untold story of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant’. I wonder what this will reveal about Cromwell’s controversial  character?

First Chapter First Paragraph: Dear Mrs Bird by A J Pearce

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

This week I’m featuring Dear Mrs Bird by A J Pearce, one of the books I’ll be reading soon.

Dear Mrs Bird

 

London, December 1940

Chapter One

An Advertisement in the Newspaper

When I first saw the advertisement in the newspaper I thought I might actually burst. I’d had rather a cheerful day so far despite the Luftwaffe annoying everyone by making us all late for work, and then I’d managed to get hold of an onion, which was very good news for a stew. But when I saw the announcement, I was cock-a-hoop.

Blurb (Amazon)

London, 1941. Amid the falling bombs Emmeline Lake dreams of becoming a fearless Lady War Correspondent. Unfortunately, Emmy instead finds herself employed as a typist for the formidable Henrietta Bird, the renowned agony aunt at Woman’s Friend magazine. Mrs Bird refuses to read, let alone answer, letters containing any form of Unpleasantness, and definitely not those from the lovelorn, grief-stricken or morally conflicted.

But the thought of these desperate women waiting for an answer at this most desperate of times becomes impossible for Emmy to ignore. She decides she simply must help and secretly starts to write back – after all, what harm could that possibly do?

~~~

Seeing all the 5 and 4 stars this book has gathered I’m hoping I’ll enjoy it too.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Six Degrees of Separation: from The Arsonist to The Ashes of London

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

The Arsonist: A Mind on Fire

This month the chain begins with The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper, a book I haven’t read. In fact, it isn’t to be published in the UK until May 2019. It’s non fiction about the scorching February day in 2009 that became known as Black Saturday, when a man lit two fires in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley.  It is also the story of fire in Australia, and of a community that owed its existence to that very element.

My chain begins by using the word ‘Saturday‘ as the link. It’s Saturday by Ian McEwan which follows one day in the life of a neurosurgeon, Henry Perowne as his life takes an unexpected turn of events. A minor car accident brings him into confrontation with Baxter, a man on the edge of violence.

Also following the life of one person in one day is Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, in which Clarissa Dalloway is preoccupied with the last-minute details of party she is to give that evening. Elsewhere in London, Septimus Smith is suffering from shell-shock and on the brink of madness. Mrs Dalloway first appeared in Virginia Woolf’s short story, Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street published in The Dial magazine in 1923.

The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie was also published in 1923, her second book featuring Hercule Poirot. She had the idea for the book after reading newspaper reports of a murder in France, in which masked men had broken into a house, killed the owner and left his wife bound and gagged. From these facts she then invented her plot, setting the book in the fictional French town of Merlinville next to a golf course and overlooking the sea.

SaturdayMrs DallowayThe Murder on the Links (Hercule Poirot, #2)The Chalk Circle ManTitus GroanThe Ashes of London (Marwood and Lovett, #1)

The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas is also set in France, her first book featuring Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg. Strange blue chalk circles start appearing on the pavements of Paris and increasingly bizarre objects are found within them, including the body of a woman with her throat savagely cut. Like Poirot, Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg is a detective who works on intuition.

Vargas’s books are full of eccentric characters as is Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake, the first of his Gormenghast books.  It begins with the birth of Titus, soon to be the 77th Earl of Gormenghast. His father, Lord Sepulchrave has endured despair and then madness after his beloved library was burnt down and Steerpike, a disrespectful youth, has clawed his way out of the castle’s kitchen to a position of some power, by manipulation and deceit.

This brings me full circle to a book about fire, or rather the aftermath of a fire in The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor as people set about rebuilding London after the Great Fire had reduced a large part of it to ashes and rubble. Interwoven with a murder mystery, and the hunt for the regicides responsible for the execution of Charles I, it brings home the reality of being homeless – a refugee in your own country. I could hear the noise of the fire, smell the smoke and almost feel the heat and the pain of the victims of the fire.

So, the last link in my chain takes it back to the start of the chain, but to the results of a fire started by accident rather than arson. This month my chain has travelled from Australia to the United Kingdom, via France and the fantasy world of Gormenghast, connected by names, dates of publication, settings and eccentric characters.

Next month (April 6, 2019), the chain will begin with Ali Smith’s award-winning novel, How to be Both.

My Friday Post: Printer’s Devil Court by Susan Hill

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week I’m featuring Printer’s Devil Court: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill, one of the books I’ve borrowed from my local library. This is a novella of just 106 pages.

Printer's Devil Court

In my first year as a junior doctor I moved into lodgings in a small court close by Fleet Street, an area which could not at the time have changed greatly since the days of Dickens.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

‘Do you not believe the evidence of your own eyes? How can what you witnessed tonight be some kind of trick or charade?

Blurb (Amazon)

A chilling ghost story by the author of The Woman in Black.

One murky November evening after a satisfying meal in their Fleet Street lodgings, a conversation between four medical students takes a curious turn and Hugh is initiated into a dark secret. In the cellar of their narrow lodgings in Printer’s Devil Court and a little used mortuary in a subterranean annex of the hospital, they have begun to interfere with death itself, in shadowy experiments beyond the realms of medical ethics. They call on Hugh to witness an event both extraordinary and terrifying.

Years later, Hugh has occasion to return to his student digs and the familiar surroundings resurrect peculiar and unpleasant memories of these unnatural events, the true horror of which only slowly becomes apparent.

~~~

I’ve loved some of Susan Hill’s books, but have found her novellas leave me feeling I want more – I hope this one lives up to the promise of its blurb.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

I Found You by Lisa Jewell

I Found You

Arrow Books|2016|438 pages|Library book |4*

After I’d enjoyed reading Watching You by Lisa Jewell so much I looked for more of her books to read and borrowed I Found You  from my local library.

Blurb:

Surrey: Lily Monrose has only been married for three weeks. When her new husband fails to come home from work one night she is left stranded in a new country where she knows no one.

East Yorkshire: Alice Lake finds a man on the beach outside her house. He has no name, no jacket, no idea what he is doing there. Against her better judgement she invites him in to her home.

But who is he, and how can she trust a man who has lost his memory?

My thoughts:

I Found You plunged me straight away into the mystery of the identity of the man Alice Lake found sitting on the beach at Ridinghouse Bay (a fictional seaside resort) in the pouring rain. He can’t remember who he is, or how or why he is sitting there. And, of course, I thought he must be Lily Monrose’s husband, Carl who has gone missing. These two strands of the story are written in the present tense. They alternate with another strand written in the past tense about events that took place 22 years earlier when a family of four, teenagers Kirsty and Gray, with their parents, are spending their summer holiday in Rabbit Cottage, a former coastguard’s cottage. That holiday changed all their lives.

One of the things I liked about this novel is its strong sense of place. Ridinghouse Bay is a small seaside town with the usual attractions for holidaymakers –  a pub, a seafood restaurant, cafe, a beach bar and a fairground . And there is a map showing all the locations around the Bay.

Alice’s cottage is tiny, an old coastguard’s cottage built over three hundred years ago.

Beyond her window, between Victorian street lights, a string of sun-faded bunting swings back and forth in the boisterous April wind. To the left there is a slipway where small fishing boats form a colourful spine down to a concrete jetty and where the great dreadful froth of the North Sea hits the rocky shoreline. And beyond that the sea. Black and infinite. (page 2)

Alice is a bit eccentric, a generous and kind-hearted woman, living on her own with her four children and three dogs. The cottage is too small for her family, cramped, with low ceilings that slope and bulge, but she invites the man in to stay in the studio/shed in her back yard which is where she makes art from old maps to sell on the internet. The children decide to call him ‘Frank’ and she tries to help him remember what had happened to him. Then Frank begins to have flashbacks and thinks he may have killed someone.

Lily, meanwhile is trying to find Carl. They had met and married in the Ukraine and although she has spoken to his mother on the phone she has never met her. The police tell her his passport is a fake and his mother isn’t answering her phone, but she finds her address and goes to see her. But the house is empty.

I read this quickly, it’s very readable. The characters are realistically drawn with depth – and the puzzle about Frank’s identity kept me guessing. It’s not as clear-cut as it first appeared and I kept changing my mind as I read on. It certainly isn’t the ‘cosy’ mystery, that the opening pages seem to indicate, but it is a story that me gripped as the tension rose to a dramatic and violent climax.

I’ll certainly be looking out for more of Lisa Jewell’s books to read.

There will be a new Lisa Jewell novel – The Family Upstairs which is out on 25 July. Her earlier books are:

Ralph’s Party (1999)
Thirtynothing (2000)
One-hit Wonder (2001)
A Friend of the Family (2003)
Vince and Joy (2005)
31 Dream Street (2007)
The Truth About Melody Browne (2009)
After the Party (2010)
The Making of Us (2011)
Before I Met You (2012)
The House We Grew Up In (2012)
The Third Wife (2012)
The Girls (2015)
aka The Girls in the Garden
I Found You (2016)
Then She Was Gone (2017)
Watching You (2018)

The Wych Elm by Tana French

The Wych Elm

Penguin UK Viking|21 February 2019 |517 pages|e-book |Review copy|4*