Happy May Day everyone, here's wishing everyone plenty more sunshine and plenty good books.
Every so often a real glut of books I absolutely want to read arrives in the post. I shelve the books them in Month of Publication order, taking a look ahead every few weeks to see which I will put in the Anticipating Column over here >>> before moving them and a stack of others to The Table next to The Reading Chair for a closer perusal. It all sounds very organised but over the years I have found this is the best and only way. If I open the new and bright shiny temptations the minute they arrive, chaos reigns and I find I am reading ten books at once.
Some books then graduate from The Reading Table to Being Read.
I am still battling (feels like) my way through Ursula's reincarnations in Kate Atkinson's Life After Life and with less than a hundred pages to go am wondering how many re-deaths there can be. To my complete surprise I have also been ambushed by the sheer beauty of Melvyn Bragg's writing in his new novel Grace and Mary. I have to confess that having failed so miserably with some of Melvyn's other books I had accepted that he and I were just not meant for each other. This book is proving me hopelessly wrong so I was pleased to think I had a few others on the shelf. Expect I hadn't, and it was bound to happen, those others went to the charity shop in my latest clear out and now I will probably have to go and buy them back.
It was only when I had pulled down the five books I really want to read next that I realised they were all written by women, and conveniently alphabetical from D-H. I do like an occasional bit of synchronicity.
Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant
I have been fan of Sarah Dunant's novels since reading Mapping the Edge way back when. I then read The Birth of Venus...loved that too and yet somehow Sarah Dunant slipped off my radar and I missed out on In the Company of the Courtesan and Sacred Hearts. The arrival of Blood and Beauty a reminder that this is an author I need to catch up with.
"Acclaimed novelist of the Italian Renaissance Sarah Dunant now takes on the era's most infamous family: the Borgias.
By the end of the fifteenth century, the beauty and creativity of Italy is matched by its brutality and corruption, nowhere more than in Rome and in the Church. When Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into the papacy as Alexander VI, he is defined not just by his wealth or his passionate love for his illegitimate children, but by his blood: he is a Spanish Pope in a city run by Italians. If the Borgias are to triumph, this charismatic, consummate politician with a huge appetite for life, women and power must use papacy and family to succeed.
His eldest son Cesare, a dazzlingly cold intelligence and an even colder soul, is his greatest - though increasingly unstable - weapon. Later immortalised in Machiavelli's The Prince, he provides the energy and the muscle. His daughter Lucrezia, beloved by both men, is the prime dynastic tool. Twelve years old when the novel opens, hers is a journey through three marriages: from childish innocence to painful experience, from pawn to political player.
Stripping away the myths around the Borgias, Blood & Beauty is a majestic novel that breathes life into this astonishing family and celebrates the raw power of history itself: compelling, complex and relentless."
The Round House ~ Louise Erdrich
I had been hearing good things about The Round House so I can't deny I did a little jump for joy when it arrived. My introduction to the writing of Louise Erdrich came with the recommendation of The Last Report of the Miracles at Little No Horse back in 2005, I'm sure I read Pigs in Heaven and I know I always meant to read The Master Butcher's Singing Club (again highly recommended by someone) and I also bought The Plague of Doves...because I felt I ought.
"Hailed in the US as a Native-American To Kill A Mockingbird, and winner of the US National Book Award, The Round House is Louise Erdrich's undeniable - and unmissable - masterpiece.
One Sunday in 1988, thirteen-year-old Joe Coutts learns that his mother has been the victim of a brutal attack by a man on their North Dakota reservation.
Joe's mother is traumatized and afraid. She takes to her bed, and refuses to talk to anyone - including the police; meanwhile his father, a tribal judge, endeavours to wrest justice from a situation that defies his keenest efforts; and young Joe's moral and emotional landscape shifts on its child's axis.
Frustrated, confused and nursing a complicated fury, Joe sets out with his best friends Cappy, Zack and Angus in search of answers that might put his mother's attacker behind bars - and set his family's world straight again. Or so he hopes.
The Round House is a powerful and deeply humane story of a young boy pitched prematurely into an unjust adult world. It confirms Louise Erdrich as one of America's most distinctive contemporary novelists."
The Hired Man ~ Aminatta Forna
I just like the sound of this one and have kept an eye out for Aminatta Forna ever since I heard her speaking at Dartington, many years ago, about her childhood in Sierra Leone. If ever a writer wonders whether appearances at these literary festivals make any difference...yes, if you talk from the heart, as Aminatta did that day, it most certainly does.
"Gost is surrounded by mountains and fields of wild flowers. The summer sun burns. The Croatian winter brings freezing winds. Beyond the boundaries of the town an old house which has lain empty for years is showing signs of life. One of the windows, glass darkened with dirt, today stands open, and the lively chatter of English voices carries across the fallow fields. Laura and her teenage children have arrived.
A short distance away lies the hut of Duro Kolak who lives alone with his two hunting dogs. As he helps Laura with repairs to the old house, they uncover a mosaic beneath the ruined plaster and, in the rising heat of summer, painstakingly restore it. But Gost is not all it seems; conflicts long past still suppurate beneath the scars."
Last Friends ~ Jane Gardam
Well what is there to say... the final book in the trilogy following Old Filth and The Man With the Wooden Hat...
Old Filth and The Man in the Wooden Hat told with bristling tenderness and black humour the stories of that Titan of the Hong Kong law courts, Old Filth QC, and his clever, misunderstood wife Betty. Last Friends, the final volume of this trilogy, picks up with Terence Veneering, Filth's great rival in work and - though it was never spoken of - in love.
Veneering's were not the usual beginnings of an establishment silk: the son of a Russian acrobat marooned in northeast England and a devoted local girl, he escapes the war to emerge in the Far East as a man of panache, success and fame. But, always, at the stuffy English Bar he is treated with suspicion: where did this blond, louche, brilliant Slav come from?
Veneering, Filth and their friends tell a tale of love, friendship, grace, the bittersweet experiences of a now-forgotten Empire and the disappointments and consolations of age.
Clever Girl ~ Tessa Hadley
Now then, though I read The London Train I didn't write about it, which tells you that I was the wrong reader for it; wrong time, wrong place. Others loved it I know, and perhaps I will go back to it, and Married Life, the volume of short stories that have been published since. Having shown my hand it's hard not to sound patronising, but I had certainly recognised that 'subtly subversive talent', as quoted on the cover of Tessa's latest novel Clever Girl. Remembering how long it took me to fall in step with Ali Smith's writing I am looking forward to trying harder and a fresh start with Tessa Hadley.
"Tessa Hadley's brilliant new novel Clever Girl follows the story of Stella, from her childhood as the daughter of a single mother in a Bristol bedsit in the 1960s into the mysterious shallows of her middle age. The story is full of drama - violent deaths, an abrupt end to Stella's schooldays, two sons by different fathers who aren't around to see the boys grow up - but as ever it is her observation of ordinary lives, of the way men and women think and feel and relate to one another, that dazzles. Yes, you think. This is how it is."
And I have to say it, the cover design is splendid, I feel like I know Stella already.
All thoughts on any of these authors, or others I should be keeping an eye out for, would be most welcome as always...