I Let You Go – Clare Mackintosh

Rating: 4.5 stars

I Let You Go.jpgPublished in hardback in 2014, this first novel written by Clare Mackintosh has now sold over a million copies and won the Crime Novel of the Year award last year. Clare has plenty of experience of crime investigations, having worked in the police for twelve years, including time in the CID, so the police attempts to solve the shocking event that happens in the opening pages ring utterly true, including the inevitable worries about understaffing and overtime costs, both of which naturally affect the course of the police investigation which follows.

Initially, I was confused between the voice of the first person narrative sections – a young woman whose son has died and who is fleeing her past – and the third person narrative sections following the police officers’ working to get justice for a dead boy and his grieving mother. Then suddenly the novel really clicked in and I read it compulsively, adjusting between the different voices and shifting of times back and forth to build a horrifying and compelling picture of the events leading up to and following the horror of the prologue. By the final chapters I felt as if I were living alongside the terrified young woman, too scared to breathe, needing to run but petrified of moving an inch.

The plot twists are unexpected and shocking, and at the same time utterly plausible. I sympathised with the police struggling to keep going through their heavy workload, while trying also to maintain a grip on their family lives.

Read this: but I strongly recommend not too late at night if you’re at all of a nervous disposition.

Daisy Chapter and VerseReviewed by Daisy

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House of Orphans – Helen Dunmore

Rating: 5 stars

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Early this June, when Helen Dunmore died at the age of just 64, I was reading her novel House of Orphans, published originally in 2006; it’s only now, nearly nine weeks later, I feel able to put into writing my thoughts on the book.

House of Orphans is set in Finland in 1901, at a time of political unrest and ferment, as the Finnish people struggled to resist the power of the Russian Empire and the ever-tightening grip of the Tsarist Finn leader Bobrikov. Eeva is the young daughter of a revolutionary and after being orphaned  she has been sent far from her home city of Helsinki to an orphanage to be trained for suitable domestic work. Local doctor, Thomas, a widower living alone, offers her work as his housekeeper. He is drawn to her unusual and thoughtful presence, and understands that she is no simple uneducated girl, but is intelligent, well-read and an independent thinker.

Thomas is a kind and unusual doctor, prepared to use both modern methods of medicine and old-fashioned remedies. His generosity leads him to help Eeva to leave his home and go back to Helsinki to return to her childhood friend, Lauri, and seek a different way of life, far away from the orphanage and domestic servitude. What she finds is love and constancy from Lauri, and from a new friend Magda, and bitter betrayal from Lauri’s new “comrade” in the political struggle, Sasha.

The harshness of Finnish winters is vividly described, along with the grim realities of young people living under a harsh regime and struggling to make ends meet. The kindness of Thomas shines through the pages, as we see him helping all his regular patients, as well as the orphans, living in their own strict regime, and Eeva. But Helen Dunmore has created a three-dimensional character here and we understand that he is not without fault, and that his own daughter feels betrayed by him. Eeva is a complex young woman, and I felt immense sympathy for her long struggles and relieved that she’d found the loyal support of Thomas, Lauri and Magda.

I felt that Dunmore had shown us a glimpse through a crack into lighted rooms in which they were all living and breathing. In some ways I wanted to know what happened next to the leading characters, so real had they become to me by the end of the book. But mostly I felt I’d been privileged to witness these scenes. That was enough, like looking at a famous painting and wondering about the real life of its subject.

Daisy Chapter and VerseReviewed by Daisy

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My Name is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout

Rating: 4.5 stars

my name is lucy barton.jpgI picked up My Name is Lucy Barton in a jetlag haze at Euston station. I’d bought one of those irritating Virgin super-off-peak tickets and I’d been awake for 24 hours and, because I was looking at three more before my train was going to depart – or at least the train I could afford to take – I shopped for books in order to keep myself awake. Of course, this meant poor old Lucy Barton didn’t get read right away, but sat in my bag, waiting for the opportune moment.

That moment was another train journey, another few hours to put away. I was meant to be having an important catch-up with the person opposite me, and certainly I wanted to hear all of their gossip, but I did find Lucy hard to put down. I enjoyed this book very much. There was a remarkable lightness of touch about it that is so often missing from novels. Not too much is explained. Not too much is described. Sharp images come into focus, but Strout doesn’t worry about describing every moment. We get the characters firmly, strongly, vividly, but without explanation – or at least, in most cases without explanation – of how they came to be the way they are.

My Name is Lucy Barton is the story of a woman’s life, how she came to be the way she is. A lot of it deals with the deep economic divide in America, but a lot of it, too, is just about personal experience, about the way that people relate to one another. It’s a charming book.

So why not 5 stars? Well, it’s not really poor old Lucy’s fault, but I’ve noticed a trend in current “literary” novels that has started to irritate me: a lot of main characters are written as naive, childlike, sort of wide-eyed with wonder at the world, or engaging with the things around them in a deliberately naive way. It annoyed me in The Buried Giant, and it was the reason I gave up on a book called The Portable Veblen even though, quite by chance, I actually knew of the work of the economist Veblen before I picked it up. (The book is not about him.) Now, the style does work and make sense in this book, but it also feels like something that is very trendy now.

Nonetheless, I would really recommend this book. It’s delicate, moving, engaging. And not just for reading on the train.

Louise CAV ReviewsReviewed by Louise

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The Power – Naomi Alderman

Rating: 5 stars

The Power.jpgI was put onto this book by a Guardian article by the author. I think it was around the time of International Women’s Day, and it touched on the idea of what makes a dystopia. The Power is an imagination of a near-future in which women develop the power, like electric eels, to electrocute others, and become the dominant sex.

The best (and most disturbing in their own way) parts of the book are the letters that bookend it, which imagine that the book was written by an aspiring young male author to Naomi herself, asking for her feedback. The same nervous hedging and not-really-jokes that every woman has herself written in an email to a man are there. I won’t spoil the punchline in the final letter, but it’s a killer.

In the story itself, the near-future depicted is a kind of pre-fempocalypse, and the text is punctuated by images of “artefacts” that chart the fall of the patriarchy and the rise of the matriarchy. Biological essentialism is turned on its head because of course women are physically stronger – they have to protect their young after all – and men are subject to the same kind of oppression that women are now.

Of course, it’s a simple premise. Flip things around to see how they really are. Things that we notice when they happen to men but don’t when they happen to women – like the simple but effective race-flipped pictures Elite Daily published recently. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack a punch.

There is one irritation with it, which is the British character, who when she first appears is all “cor blumming blimey babe there’s a bloke over there guv’na”. Thankfully this settles down. I had been going to suggest that a British author should write a book in which all of the American characters speak in “yee haaa howdy” isms so that we could see the process in reverse. However, Google is my friend: Alderman is English, and therefore has no excuse.

Nonetheless, I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone. Female readers be warned: it will make you wish that some power was coming your way.

Louise CAV ReviewsReviewed by Louise

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The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan

DNF

narrow road.jpgYou know, I really wanted to like The Narrow Road to the Deep North. I got it as a Christmas present a few years ago, and because it was a gift and because A.C. Grayling had promised me very earnestly on the dust-cover that it was ‘A masterpiece’, I had high hopes.

Alas, alackaday. Those hopes were dashed.

Thing is, there were lots of promising things at the outset. The setting – a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, mid 20th Century Australia – was unusual and intriguing, and I liked the way the narrative jumped around in time.

So why did I hate it? I promise I tried. I thought I had given up several times, but I kept coming back because surely a Man Booker Prize-winning novel ought to have some merits? Well, the problem with this was not the man booker, but the woman booker. That is to say, the female protagonist (or more correctly, and indeed disturbingly accurately, the love object) was the flimsiest and most implausible female character I have read sine the hoo-er in Rabbit, Run who let the whole thing down. She has eyes like a gas flame (so, like, blue) and has Manic Pixie Dream Girl written all over her. She doesn’t feel authentic at all as a woman for reasons that I will not rehearse in this polite company.

What did it for me (and I have edited this line with the addition of an ‘l’ so as to not offend) was the moment in which this character, feeling amorous towards her gentleman lover, muses that she ‘longed to have his lovely clock in her mouth… in front of them all’.

I couldn’t carry on. I couldn’t take it seriously! This isn’t “what do women think?” this is “what do men like to imagine that women think?” I’m not saying no woman has ever thought this, but what he is selling I ain’t buying. I guess it’s some male fantasy that women exist to give pleasure, but I’ve heard that track a hundred times before.

Masterpiece? Maybe to A.C. Grayling. Not to me.

Louise CAV ReviewsReviewed by Louise

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Lavinia’s Book of the Month: March 2017

A Brief Word

First, an admission and an apology. I had originally earmarked this for Chapter and Verse’s February pick, but through indolence and negligence it got pushed back; I doubt anyone even remembers February by now, so I’m calling it Book of the Month for March.

This is not Lavinia’s fault, but mine. A thousand apologies.

Nick

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

I was given this book several years ago (three; so sorry) by a friend who I trust in all things. But because beneath this veneer of being a responsible citizen I am a deeply awful person I only just got around to reading it. A couple of things put me off.

Firstly, the last piece of “art” I interacted with about the circus was the film Water for Elephants, which was super dull, and I guess I thought this book would be full of people feeding elephants in the night-time. I also thought it was a children’s book, because of the gorgeous cover and decorated pages, and I just wasn’t in the mood for one of those.

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Well, boy, was I sorry that I had put it off. The Night Circus is absolutely magical. The titular circus is a magical travelling affair, and the venue for a contest between two magicians of opposing schools of thought, carried out through their protégés. I’m not going to give too much away, but it’s an absolutely brilliant book. I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

You’ll love this book if:
– You like magic and fantasy
– You’re keen on a “steampunk” aesthetic
– You enjoy fun

You might want to avoid this book if:
– You don’t like fantasy

lavinia collins authorLove Lavinia xoxo
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Lie With Me – Sabine Durrant

Rating: 5 stars

I picked up Sabine Durrant’s Lie With Me in Marylebone station, because I wanted something to read on a long train journey. It was late, and I figured I would read a couple of chapters and then watch something I’d downloaded for the journey. Boy was I mistaken.

Lie With Me tells the story of Paul – playboy, exaggerator, sleazy philanderer and, most of all, liar. Following some literary success in his youth, Paul now flat-sits for more successful friends, passes the flat off as his own, sleeps with much younger women, and lives in fear of ending up living with his mother. When the opportunity to sponge off a widowed woman his own age presents itself, Paul takes up with the apparently vulnerable (but unsettlingly cold) Alice and blags his way on a family holiday to Greece. The rest – I shall not spoil!

lie with me 2.jpgThe great strength of Lie With Me is in its characters: Paul is the narrator we (I?) love to hate – always staring down women’s tops, and at the bums of his girlfriend’s teenage daughter and her friend, always casually putting other people’s things in his pocket; Alice is somehow both vulnerable and unavailable, both worldly and absent.

The narrative is perfectly paced, and we get just enough to guess at the twist before it is revealed, but not so much that we feel as if we know what it is going to be too early on. I read the book in less than twenty-four hours, and I would be surprised if many other readers didn’t – like me – struggle to put it down.

I would strongly recommend this to any readers!

Louise CAV ReviewsReviewed by Louise

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