Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Other Hand

The Other Hand by Chris Cleave

My writing tutor used this as an example of a literary style in class one day, and as she loved it I decided to read it, and bought it for my Kindle. Looking at the reviews on Amazon, people seem to be fairly evenly split across all 5 stars.

I'd give it 5 stars. I loved it.

It's the story of an African girl, Little Bee, who has come to England as an asylum seeker, trying to escape the men from an oil company in Nigeria who are trying to kill her because of what she has witnessed. And an English woman, Sarah, who once met Little Bee in extraordinary circumstances, back in Nigeria (can't say what as it would be a spoiler) and who becomes her only hope of refuge in the UK.

There are novels with a great plot which stops you putting them down, and novels which are so well-crafted you savour every sentence. This novel, for me,  falls into both those categories. I highly recommend it.

Monday, 11 June 2012

The Beauty in the Beast

The Beauty in the Beast by Hugh Warwick

Subtitled Britain's Favourite Creatures and the People Who Love Them.

This is a completely delightful book. I'm not a wildlife freak - prefer mountains and distant horizons to spiky, scaly, winged or stingy creatures - but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I bought it because one chapter is about my lovely friend Volewoman, read her section first, then started from the beginning again and read the lot. Each chapter covers a different animal, and a different nutter wildlife enthusiast championing it. They're not all rare or endangered - there's a chapter on robins, another on sparrows and another on foxes.

The author is into hedgehogs, and after having a hedgehog tattooed on his leg he decided he would get one other tattoo on the other leg, but what animal to depict? It was up to the animal ambassadors to sell him their species - whether it was the cutest (voles, obviously), the most endangered in Britain (probably otters), or the most interesting. He went out on field trips with each enthusiast, and managed to get some great sightings of most of the animals (except, oddly, moths).

The book is engagingly written, with the human characters just as fascinating as the animals. I'm still not likely to spend hours sitting in the cold, wet or dark hoping for a glimpse of a shy creature but I admire the people who do this, and after reading this book have an inkling of why they do it.

I probably like foxes best. I see one most weeks, just hanging out in my back garden, often in broad daylight. The usual visitor is a large male with a scrawny tail. He likes to sit on the lawn and drag himself along using his front paws, to give himself a good arse-scratch. Just like dogs do.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

The Novel in the Viola

The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons

I heard this author speak at a literary festival last year. I'd already bought this book, but it took me a while to get round to reading it - too many books, too little time!

I knew I'd like this one, and I wasn't wrong. It's set in Tyneford, which is closely based on the real-life village of Tyneham in Dorset, which was requisitioned by the MOD during the second world war, for training purposes. The entire village, including the manor house, was evacuated and used by troops training for D-Day. The villagers were never allowed back, and today the village is a museum, open only when the army aren't using their nearby firing ranges. I've been to Tyneham and it's a beautiful, magical place, so I knew I'd love a book set there.

Elise Landau is a Jewish refugee who comes to England in 1937 escaping persecution in her native Austria. She takes a job as a maid in Tyneford House, where she falls in love with Kit Rivers, the son of the squire. The late thirties is such an evocative time to begin a novel - the reader knows more than the characters of what's to come. And in this case, even after the war starts, we know that sooner or later the MOD are going to take over the village, and life will never be the same again.

What makes this book special, for me, is the description. The author is brilliant at describing the Dorset countryside, the farmland, hills, rocky coves that make up the area around Tyneham/Tyneford. And she's also a master at creating quirky village characters - fisherman Burt in this novel will stay with me a while.

The novel in the viola refers to a novel Elise's father wrote, and hid inside a viola which Elise brought to England with her. It symbolises hope for the future - that one day Elise will be reunited with her family again, and her father's last novel can be published. But as the war starts and then intensifies, can that ever happen?

Beautiful book, definitely recommended. I've read the author's first, Mr Rosenblum's List, also reviewed on here. I'm looking forward to her next.