Teaser Tuesdays – Hearts and Minds

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

Share a couple or more sentences from the book you’re currently reading. You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your ‘teaser’ from €¦ that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

I’ve just started to read Hearts and Minds by Amanda Craig. I bought this book last year, attracted by the description on the back cover which describes it a contemporary novel which is entertaining and asking questions about the way we live. It’s about five people, all immigrants living in London, an illegal mini-cab driver from Zimbabwe, an idealistic supply teacher, from South Africa, a miserable dogsbody at a political magazine, from New York and a teenager trafficked into sexual slavery.

I remembered it when I saw that it’s on the Orange Prize for Fiction longlist and thought it was time I read it.

My teaser is from page 7.

Polly thinks gratefully of Iryna overhead. Bill has teased her about the way her life is dependent on cheap foreign labour, and she is conscious of the irony that, while her professional life often consists of helping refugees and illegal immigrants, her ability to do so depends upon exploiting them.

More teasers can be found here.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters: Book Review

The Little Stranger is the only book I’ve read by Sarah Waters. I saw the TV version of Tipping the Velvet and wasn’t impressed. It didn’t make me want to read any of her books. But, so many other bloggers have praised them that I was interested enough to borrow The Little Stranger when I saw it in the library. That’s the influence book bloggers have.

It begins very well – an old dilapidated house, Hundreds Hall, just after the end of the Second World War, a family struggling to come to terms with post-war life and lack of money, and the hint of something supernatural lurking in the background. The Hall has a major part in this book. This is how it is seen through the eyes of the narrator Dr Faraday, who had known it thirty years earlier when his mother had been a nursery maid there.

I remembered a long approach to the house through neat rhododendron and laurel, but the park was now so overgrown and untended, my small car had to fight its way down the drive. When I broke free of the bushes at last and found myself on a sweep of lumpy gravel with the Hall directly ahead of me, I put on the brake, and gasped in dismay. The house was smaller than in memory, of course – not quite the mansion I’d been recalling – but I’d been expecting that. What horrified me were the signs of decay. Sections of the lovely weathered edgings seemed to have fallen completely away, so that the house’s uncertain Georgian outline was even more tentative than before. Ivy had spread, then patchily died, and hung like rat’s-tail hair. The steps leading up to the broad front door were cracked, with weeds growing lushly up through the seams. (page 5)

Reminiscent of Rebecca, I thought. It’s not just the house that is decaying, the family too is cracking up. Dr Faraday remembered it in it’s prime – now there are just Mrs Ayres, Caroline her daughter and Roderick, her son left, living on their own in the house with help from one servant, a maid – Betty, a fourteen year old girl. Roderick was injured in the war, and Caroline is a plain young woman over-tall for a woman with thickish ankles and legs, but a ‘clever’ girl. Their mother still has a good figure, with a heart-shaped face and handsome dark eyes. As the book progresses she declines rapidly, overcome by events and it is soon revealed that she has never got over the death of her first child, Susan who was ‘her one true love’.

It begins with Dr Faraday called out to see Betty who tells him there is something bad in the house that makes wicked things happen. What follows is a sequence of terrible events. Dr Faraday is a very tedious character, dismissing all thoughts that things that are moved from one place to another and much worse events are in any way supernatural, believing there is either a rational or pscyhological explanation for it all.  He is reinforced in his beliefs when he talks to another doctor, Dr Seeley who says:

The subliminal mind has many dark corners, after all. Imagine something loosening itself from one of those corners. Let’s call it a – a germ. And let’s say conditions prove right for that germ to devlop – to grow like a child in the womb. What would this little stranger grow into? A sort of shadow-self, perhaps: a Caliban, a Mr Hyde. A creature motivated by all the nasty impulses and hungers the conscious mind had hoped to keep hidden away: things like envy, malice, and frustration … (page 380)

I got very tired of Dr Faraday and his persistence. It is all very drawn-out, no doubt to increase suspense but I felt that all the tension and spookiness that had initially been built up just drained away in the middle of the book. It did pick up towards the end with several dramatic scenes, but I think it would have been better if the book had been shorter. However, I did enjoy it – the descriptions of the house and park are vivid and I liked the social commentary. The post-war period is well defined, indicating the attitude of the upper classes towards the working classes, the coming introduction of the National Health Service and the breaking up of landed estates to build Council estates – new houses for the workers .

So, just what is the ‘ravenous frustrated energy’ at the heart of the matter? All the characters are built up as suspects and it was only towards the end that I realised what (or who) was responsible.

The Little Stranger has been shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Will it win? Maybe not, there are some other very good books on the list, which I suspect may over shadow this one.

The Orange Prize for Fiction Longlist

The Orange Prize for Fiction is awarded annually for the best fiction novel written by a woman. Here is this year’s longlist:

I have just two of these books – Hearts and Minds by Amanda Craig and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, which won the 2009  Man Booker Prize – will it win this one? And I’ve currently borrowed The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, which was shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize.

Will these three be on the shortlist when it is announced on 20 April?

Musing Mondays – Award Winning Books

monday-musingToday’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about award winning books€¦

Do you feel compelled to read prize-winning (Giller/Booker/Pulitzer etc) books? Why, or why not? Is there, perhaps, one particular award that you favour? (question courtesy of MizB)

I don’t feel at all compelled to read prize-winning books – interested yes, but not compelled. For years the only prize I followed was the Booker, but I’ve only read a few of the winners and shortlisted authors, so it hasn’t really had much impact on my reading.

Recently I’ve become interested in the Orange Prize for Fiction.  When I saw a list of all the books long-listed between 1996 and 2009 on Kimbofo’s blog Reading Matters I realised that I’ve read 26 of them – not many but more than I would have thought.  

I didn’t read any of them because they were longlisted or prize winners, in fact I was completely unaware of that when I read them. I read them because they attracted me, either because I’d read other books by the authors or because I thought they looked good.

The ones I’ve read are shown in bold and the hyperlinks take you to my reviews. The other books are books I own that I haven’t read yet.

Alice Sebold The Lovely Bones
Anita Shreve The Weight of Water – shortlist
Ann Patchett Bel Canto – winner
Ann Patchett The Magician’s Assistant – shortlist
Anne Enright The Gathering
Anne Tyler Digging to America
Audrey Niffenegger The Time Traveler’s Wife
Barbara Kingsolver The Poisonwood Bible – shortlist
Beryl Bainbridge Master Georgie
Carol Shields Unless – shortlist
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Half of a Yellow Sun – winner
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Purple Hibiscus – shortlist
Hilary Mantel Beyond Black – shortlist
Jane Gardam Old Filth – shortlist
Jane Harris The Observations – shortlist
Joyce Carol Oates Middle Age
Joyce Carol Oates The Falls
Kate Atkinson Case Histories
Kiran Desai The Inheritance of Loss – shortlist
Lily Prior La Cucina
Linda Grant The Clothes on Their Backs
Louise Welsh The Cutting Room
Margaret Atwood Alias Grace – shortlist
Margaret Atwood Oryx and Crake – shortlist
Margaret Atwood The Blind Assassin – shortlist
Margaret Forster Over
Marilynne Robinson Gilead
Marina Lewycka A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian – shortlist
Pat Barker The Ghost Road
Rachel Cusk Arlington Park – shortlist
Sadie Jones The Outcast
Samantha Harvey The Wilderness
Siri Hustvedt What I Loved
Stef Penney The Tenderness of Wolves
Sue Gee The Mysteries of Glass
Tracy Chevalier Girl with a Pearl Earring
Valerie Martin Property – winner
Zadie Smith On Beauty – winner