Posts Tagged With: writing.

Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill

Title: Howards End is on the Landing
Author:
Susan Hill
ISBN:
978-1846682667
Publisher:
Profile Books
First Published:
July 2010
No. of pages: 240

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (Amazon):
Early one autumn afternoon in pursuit of an elusive book on her shelves, Susan Hill encountered dozens of others that she had never read, or forgotten she owned, or wanted to read for a second time. The discovery inspired her to embark on a year-long voyage through her books, forsaking new purchases in order to get to know her own collection again. A book which is left on a shelf for a decade is a dead thing, but it is also a chrysalis, packed with the potential to burst into new life. Wandering through her house that day, Hill’s eyes were opened to how much of that life was stored in her home, neglected for years. Howard’s End is on the Landing charts the journey of one of the nation’s most accomplished authors as she revisits the conversations, libraries and bookshelves of the past that have informed a lifetime of reading and writing.

Review:
I’d heard so many wonderful things about this book that I think I fell victim to the hype and wanted to like it so much more than I did. That’s not to say it’s not good – it IS good, just not as good as I’d hoped.

Howards End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home is less a love letter to the books Susan Hill loves, and more a recounting of the many anecdotes she has of meeting and working with other writers, and their books which have subsequently helped shape her life, both personally and professionally.

It’s a little dry in places and, I confess, it did not actually inspire me to search for any of the books mentioned that I had not already read, but I did enjoy some of the little stories that were triggered by Hill wandering round her book-filled home and choosing to read only books she already owns for a year.

If we were all to follow her example, I’m sure everyone’s “Final Forty” would look very different. Certainly, there are not many books on which she settles that I would include in my own list, and there are many others I would insist upon that are omitted, but, as I’ve already intimated, everyone’s tastes are different.

This is an interesting read for anyone who loves books and, who knows, may lead to others discovering the joys of those tomes Hill pulled down from her own shelves.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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The Fiction Class (Loving books and falling in love, Manhattan style) by Susan Breen

Synopsis 

‘You’ve known there was something special about you for a long time, haven’t you?’

On paper, Arabella Hicks is perfectly qualified to teach a creative writing class on the Upper  West Side; as well as being an author herself, she loves fiction, more than anything in the world.

‘You still feel something every time you pick up a book; you still connect to characters in ways you’ve never connected to people you actually know, and you know you’re more than you appear to be. You have to give it one more shot; you have to see if you can be a writer.

But neither her own novel, nor her life are working out quite as she planned, and she is beginning to wonder whether this year’s students will be just as bad, mad and complicated as all the others; whether, as she fears, real life will never be as enjoyable as a really good novel

She is wrong.

Review

This debut novel by fiction teacher Susan Breen is different from most romantic novels, in that it attempts to enlighten the reader by showing the world of the author. In itself that is perhaps not earth-shattering, but when your world is all about books and writing, it is something different to the average reader. However, that said, (and ‘different’ is good), it may be one of the downfalls of the book. I am not sure how many readers would be interested in a writing class, and the exercises that go with it. At the end of each chapter covering the evening class, Ms Breen writes down the homework, and the reader, if interested, can make use of this. A good idea for aspiring writers, but I am not convinced that the avid romance reader will be impressed.
The book has several themes, notably disability and illness and the caring responsibilities attached to this situation: then there is the difficult relationship between mother and daughter; impending death; the romance; writing; the growth of the protagonist’s self-awareness and confidence, and faith – a steady thread throughout the book, which in a way is the glue that holds it together.

Initially I had problems with the characters. The main character, Arabella, didn’t come alive for me until well into the second half of the book. I am not sure why she remained transparent, but she wasn’t real for me.  Once fleshed out and more believable, she stayed with me long after I’d finished reading the book. Her mother, Vera Hicks, was the only character who seemed believable. I’m not sure why. Whereas Arabella was a little too ‘goody-goody’, her mother was nasty, cruel and unfeeling, yet you felt sorry for her and could relate to how you thought she might be feeling, given her past life. Arabella was a bit like a character from  an historical romance, a young woman from the Regency period perhaps, demure and sweet, and in the background. She was, after all, named after a character (and book) written by the romantic novelist Georgette Heyer, so perhaps this was deliberate on the part of the author, and in true Jane Austen style, we see the awakening and strenghening of the female protagonist’s character as the story progresses. I read Georgette Heyer in my teens and am now going to re-read her, having had my memory jogged! The other characters, Chuck her patient lover, and her students, were interesting to a degree, but a little clichéd, I felt,  and I found myself confused by the sheer number. I began to mix them up.

I liked the originality of the story, and the boldness of some of the ideas and the questions arising from them, such as the daunting moral dilemma of whether a parent should be sent to a nursing home, or cared for at home, and the contrast between Arabella’s decision to do the latter, whilst her mother had given up her life to care for her husband at home. Arabella’s vague awareness that things are not always as they appear is given a sharp jolt as reality hits hard in some of her students lives. I felt that the reminder about disability became too invasive and whiny. It was in danger of being over stated. It is something I feel strongly about too, having been a carer, but I began to get irritated as I felt that it was used too many times in the book and the impact was lost. However, the idea of a woman’s faith keeping her together (no matter that it was a belief in a miracle) was important, and illustrated Vera’s humanity in a way that contrasted with her daughter’s genuine and gentle honesty, a humanity which could so easily have been her ruin.

I wasn’t sure about the book at first, as the first few chapters were slow and seemed repetitive, and the inclusion of exercises could have put people off. By the end of the book I was convinced that it worked, and was sad to finish it, and the characters did stay with me for a while afterwards which is always a good sign. I noted that there were many parallels between the author and her protagonist, (auto-biographic?) and hope that Arabella’s good fortune will perhaps rub off on her creator’s pen. I would certainly be happy to read any second novel that Ms Breen might produce and wish her well in her writing.

Susan Breen lives in New York with her husband and children and teaches fiction at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop in Manhattan

Susie -Kimmikat

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A Puffin Quartet of Poets

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A PUFFIN QUARTET OF POEMS
ELEANOR FARJEON
JAMES REEVE
E.V.RIEU
IAN SERRAILLIER

ISBN 0 14 03.0121 6 First Pub by Penguin Books Ltd 1958  Editor Kay Webb.

‘A Puffin Quartet containing substantial selections from the poems of four of our finest writers of children’s verse:
A PUFFIN QUARTET OF POEMS
ELEANOR FARJEON
JAMES REEVE
E.V.RIEU
IAN SERRAILLIER

with notes on the authors and their methods of composing’.

From inside cover –

“A Puffin Quartet of Poets.
This unusual anthology contains a selection of poems from the work of only four poets, but four of the finest contemporary writers of children’s verse. A substantial amount from the work of each is given, enough to show their individual quality and special characteristics.The quartet is made up of, Eleanor Farjeon, James Reeves, E.V.Rieu and Ian Serraillier. There are brief biographical notes and a short introduction to each section suggesting how these poets go to work. Their methods of approach to verse-making prove, in fact, to be so diverse that together they cast much interesting light on the whole subject of composition.”

This little book is probably wholly responsible for my love of poetry. It was given to me when a small child and I loved it. As soon as I could read, I devoured these poems over and over again, revelling in their humour and pathos, and the variety of themes and styles. Of the four poets, I loved James Reeves the best, and having reread the book this week, I can see why. As a musician in the making, I loved his rythmns. In ‘Run a Little’ the rythmn is clear and easy for a child to catch and I remember reading it and then singing it to a made-up tune. Likewise, ‘A Pig-Tale’ had an engaging lilt, like a nursery rhyme, which I found very attractive and read to myself purely for the rhythmn rather than the content.Some of the poems were favuorites because of the subject, like ‘Cows’. Being a country girl, and very fond of cows, this poem really appealed to me along with any poems about animals, such as ‘The Two Mice’ and ‘The Snail’. Young as I was, I also understood the metaphor of the sea maskerading as a dog in the poem called ‘The Sea’. This was perhaps a more grown up poem, giving me a little insight into the possibilities of poetry and preparing me for something a little more complex.

E.V.Rieu had me enthralled by his humourous poems, such as ‘Mr Blob’ and ‘Sir Smashmam Uppe’ and the cleverness of ‘A musical  at Home’ stretched my vocabulary and teased my brain as I realised the connections between the characters, their names and their given attributes. However, not surprisingly for a little girl, my heart went out to the very sad little hippo in ‘The Hippopotamus’s Birthday’. I remember being able to relate to the hippo’s sadness and crying for him. This was the poem I remembered all these years later, such was the impact, when I picked up the book again. Then there are poems that seemed to have little or no effect on me as a child. Perhaps I didn’t understand them on the first reading and didn’t attempt to read and understand them later. One good poem in this category would be ‘The Green Train’ which I have not remembered, as it was a little deeper and more meaningful than some of the others.

‘Mrs Malone’ was my favourite of Eleanor Farjeon’s poems, and I enjoyed re-reading it again. The story is about the generous humanity of a woman who takes in starved animals, even though she is very poor herself. Animals again! Also ‘Cat’…a poem guaranteed almost to be loved by a little girl. Ian Serrailier’s ‘Girls and Boys Come out to Play’ is enjoyable because of the references to nursery rhyme characters, but although it is very cleverly written, I am not sure that children today will recognise some of the rhymes and the fairy tale characters. I grew up with the rhyme about the crooked man, but again, perhaps contemporay children have not. Surely they could not fail to enjoy the story or the repitition of words; or the notion of everything and everybody being crooked.

The anthology was published in the fifties and many of the poems were written before then. As a result some of the poetry is a little dated, but most of it travels well and children can easily relate to poems that are nonsensical or about subjects they recognise, like animals, or houses, or painting for instance. I think most children would find the poems great fun and an easy introduction to poetry, especially poetry that they can read by themselves over and over again. I love this anthology and rate it up there with my beloved Winnie The Pooh! If you find a copy, grab it!
 

Susie 6/1/08

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In the Blood – Andrew Motion

PUBLISHERS SUMMARY:

For most people childhood ends slowly, so nobody can see where one part of life finishes and the next bit starts. But my childhood has ended suddenly. In a day.

In the Blood is Andrew Motion’s beautifully delivered memoir of growing-up in post-war England — an unforgettable evocation of family life, school life, and country life. It also tells the story of how these worlds were shattered when Motion’s mother suffered a terrible riding accident. The tragedy shadows the book, feeding its mood of elegy as well as its celebratory vigilance. Told from a teenage child’s point of view, without the benefit of hindsight, Motion captures the pathos and puzzlement of childhood with great clarity of expression and freshness of memory. We encounter a strange but beguiling extended family, a profound love of the natural world, and a growing passion for books and writing.  

 

This book, on the whole was a disappointment. I am not sure why. Perhaps it was because of Motion’s status as a poet, that I expected more. Perhaps it was to do with how I perceived the advertising literature. I can’t say. However, I felt that although the book was based on a major event, Motion’s mother’s riding accident, it never went anywhere. It felt static. Motion grew up in a middle class, Home Counties country environment. There seemed to be nothing particularly odd or different about his upbringing…I suspect many will recognise his descriptions of hunting, and boarding school etc. Equally many will have no experience of these things themselves, but will be familiar with them from numerous other writings on such topics. His detail is well written and poetically descriptive, as you would expect, yet somehow boring, and I wondered what his point was. Why did he feel the need to write about his childhood in such poignant detail? Was it because of his mother’s accident, or in spite of…some sort of justification for the tragedy which was her life. Was he trying to convince himself that he had been the model son, despite the events which shaped his growing years?

He felt that his life changed overnight, and childhood ended abruptly. This obviously marked him, even traumatised him. He seemed not to be able to cope as well as his younger brother, who seemed to be philosophical about everything. I was not sure about the reasons for this. His relationship with his mother seemed ambivalent to me, though I could never fathom why. They seemed to become closer as he grew older and confided in her, telling her about his desire to write, but even then, I felt a coldness between them. When the book ends we don’t know what happened to Mrs Motion. Did she live or die? How did Andrew feel about her in the years after the accident?

There seemed for me, to be more questions at the end of the book, than had been answered during it, which surprised me. I was frustrated because of the lack of direction. Why was he telling us this story? Had he learned anything from it? I felt that in reality, he had not divulged all, either to his readers or himself, and this felt like a very loose end. Even though it was written from the perspective of a confused teenager, it didn’t work for me.

Strangely though, the book stayed with me for days after I had read it, and again there was nothing I could pinpoint or refer to particularly, but just a vague feeling of it not being finished…and I wanted a conclusion. I didn’t feel as if I had got to know the real Andrew Motion at all.

Overall a disappointment, but I do not regret reading it, as I believe there is food for thought there, which will be useful when reading his other works.

Susie. 

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