Aren’t publishing trends funny? There is a tide of books coming in off the back of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry at the moment (including the delightful Last Bus to Coffeeville). This one, published by Pan Macmillan, runs in a similar vein, adding to the dialogue we are having at the moment in literature of what it really means to grow old in places like England.
I think this discussion about the truth of aging is a really important one, and something I feel The Extra Ordinary Life does extra ordinarily well. The other aspect where it truly flourishes is the comedic tone. Frank is, you guessed it, 81 years old, and has recently been run over by a milk float. I mean, no-one needs that, but when you’re 81 it can be a real buzz kill. Frank takes it all in his stride though – he is a fantastic character, full of life and fun. That’s from his James Stewart impersonations to his conversations with his only companion, Bill the cat.
‘I tried to see his face as he screamed in pain, but…I saw no-one I recognised’
The Testament of Mary is a relatively short novel, especially when compared to other monsters on the Booker shortlist. It has just become very relevant again, with Fiona Shaw getting consistently high reviews at the Barbican with the theatre version. The story is a simple one and with the signifiers ‘Mary’ and ‘Testament’ in the title, a pretty obvious one at that. However, don’t expect angels, demons or any immaculate decorating let alone conceptions. It explores a snippet in time of the pain of the Madonna without her holy trappings. Mary is left broken and alone in a darkened room in Ephesus, left to consider how she arrived here. She looks back at the events of her son’s life that have led to this isolated end to her existence, visited by his followers whom she neither trusts nor respects. It ends with a stripped back, honest re-telling of one of the most glorified executions written into history.
Despite its recent successes – winning the inaugural Goldsmiths prize, shortlisted for the Folio Prize and a current contender for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction – A Girl is a Half-formed Thing has not been universally well received. Heralded as ‘virtuosic’, ‘remarkable’ and ‘unique’ but simultaneously ‘pretentious’, ‘challenging’ and ‘incomprehensible’, I remained unsure as to what to expect from such a divisive novel.
Following the stream of consciousness of an anonymous young girl, the reader is pulled into a fractured narrative, physically distressed by its content. Driven by the familial relationship between sister and brother – the latter always referred to as ‘you’ – and the effect that his brain tumour has on her life and decisions, the story reaches out and pulls the reader into an intimate and viscerally tormented experience. Continue reading A Girl is a Half-formed Thing – Eimear McBride→
Imagine the concept of global pandemic visualised in Contagion meets survival narrative of The Hunger Games, throw in a set of seemingly different yet fatefully connected characters and you have Station Eleven. Moving between the outbreak of Georgia Flu and the lives of fragmented and vulnerable survivors twenty years later, Station Eleven is an addictive read which forms a welcome addition to the multitude of books and films that explore human instinct and survival in the face of catastrophic events. Continue reading Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel→
When the publishing bug first bit in my final year at university, I was finalising the bibliography of a history essay. In the midst of perfecting comma placement, alphabetising authors and marking the difference between primary and secondary sources, it suddenly struck me that the publishing houses and locations over which I spent so long collecting for each utilised source weren’t merely a means of acquiring marks, but real places in which real people worked each day. This may sound silly now – but at the time it was a lightning bolt moment for me.
Harvest is an insular novel in many ways. I have never read something of the like before, though the general consensus seems to be that Crace’s work often covers similar ground – loss of a way of life, a transition from one age into another. This is one such novel. It centres around one village, unnamed and unmapped at any point in the story. We assume it to be somewhere in rural England around the 17th Century but the time period is also negligible. The narrative revolves around the enforced change of England’s agrarian fields to those used for livestock farming, here signalled by the arrival of the rightful lord of their manor house, Master Jordan. Our protagonist is Walter Thirsk, a man both within and without; he speaks with the collective ‘we’ and ‘us’ when we first encounter him, but it soon becomes clear that twelve years amongst these villagers is not enough to stop him being an outsider to them – an ‘other’.
A day that not only celebrated the 69th year of freedom for Guernsey – Liberation Day – but also the OFFICIAL launch of this very blog, Franny & Perks.
When we first discussed our blog, we knew we had to start things with a bang and how better to fulfil this target than with a full blown party? Combining Franny’s island celebrations with our own, the date was set – we had a deadline for our first posts. The plan was in motion.
I am one of those people with an incredibly sweet tooth. No, scrap that, I think my entire dental structure is dedicated to the sweet cause, so the first recipe for this blog undoubtedly had to be cake. But not just any cake, this was the result of a busy Sunday morning in the kitchen, preparing for a sixtieth birthday party. The pressure was on, I had to impress.
“A woman fallen has no future; a man risen has no past.”
― Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries
When we decided to start the blog, it seemed to me that a great opening gambit would be to complete the Booker Challenge and review those six esteemed titles of 2013. I thought, what better way to alert the world to the timely, informed entry of Franny & Perks to the book blogosphere than to complete something most literary fiction readers did last September.
This has been my favourite book of 2014, so if you haven’t read it, do. You can thank me later.
There has been a boom in debut talent this year, and in my opinion, Hannah Kent is the pick of the bunch. Her novel, Burial Rites, is an outstanding piece of historical literary fiction, which traces the life of Agnes Magnusdottir, an Icelandic woman condemned to death for murdering her lover, Natan Ketilsson.