Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

I bought this for my Kindle. Shorter novels are better value bought as ebooks, and that's one area where I think ebooks really win - making short novels, novellas and short story collections more cost-effective for the reader. This book was last year's Booker prize winner, and I always like to read the winning novel.

The story is narrated by Tony Webster. The first section covers his school days in the fifties, where he befriended intellectual philosopher Adrian, to whom he was in awe. Adrian was everything average, ordinary Tony and his other friends were not.
At university Tony has a girlfriend Veronica, whose family rather look down on Tony. After they split up, Veronica goes out with Adrian. And then, a while later when Tony has lost touch with him, Adrian commits suicide. He leaves a note explaining that suicide is the only true philosophical question, and that as he'd never asked for life, ending it was the only true answer.

Many years later, when Tony has married, had a child, divorced, and altogether led a mediocre, average life, he finds that Veronica's mother has bequeathed to him Adrian's diary. Why she would have the diary he has no idea, nor why she should leave it to him. But prickly Veronica won't give it up to him. Tony meets with her a few times and eventually, finally, begins to 'get it'.

This is a beautifully written novel, very introspective. And it's quite depressing. Tony's illusions about Adrian are gradually shattered, blow by blow, and so are the reader's. It's a fascinating look at the arrogance of youth from the perspective of old age. It's the kind of novel that stays with you, keeping you pondering, long after you've finished reading it.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

The Sealed Letter

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue

Read this on my Kindle while away in the Lake District. It's set in the 1860s, at a time when some women were just beginning to campaign for their rights, and when divorce had just been made a little easier, but was heavily weighted in favour of the husband. It's based on the true story of the Codrington divorce case as reported in the newspapers of the time.

Emily Faithfull, known as Fido to her friends, bumps into her old friend Helen Codrington. Fido is, we eventually realise, in love with Helen. Helen is glamourous, pretty and charming, and all to ready to use people for her own good. She's unhappy in her marriage and ropes Fido into colluding with her in her affair with a young army officer. When her husband finds out, he wants a divorce. He takes the children - in those days, the children almost always stayed with the father. Helen dupes Fido into lying to her solicitor about an episode which could form the basis of Helen's defence in court. The mysterious sealed letter of the title was presented in court by Helen's husband.

This book is written in 3rd person present tense which is not my favourite form, and didn't feel quite right for a historical novel. However after a while you stop noticing it. I enjoyed the book - especially as it was based on a true story. I love seeing what different writers can do, turning facts into fiction. The characterisation was excellent and the story moved along at a good pace.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Two books for writers

The Duties of Servants by Jan Barnes

Borrowed this from a writer-buddy (thanks David). It's a reprint of a Victorian book describing who does what in a large household. While the footmen are out with the carriage, who should answer the door to callers? Whose job is it to set the breakfast-table in the housekeeper's room? A great resource for all writers of historical fiction.

The Crime Writer's Guide to Police Practice and Procedure by Michael O'Byrne

Another one borrowed from David. The author is a retired senior police officer. Even if you're not writing crime, this is a fascinating guide and well worth a read.