28 August 2011

Robin Hood's Cave

Ever since moving from Derby up to the bright lights of Manchester I have thrived on the buzz of big cities; people, parties, galleries, restaurants...the advantages to living in such a thriving hub of activity are endless and I have loved every minute of it. However, as I get older and a little more settled I can also see the beauty of the more peaceful corners of world and, particularly after having been in a relationship with Mr Outdoors himself for quite some time now...of long days out in the countryside, the nicely buff Mr Monty Halls and perhaps one day even the prospect of living on a little croft in the remote regions of Scotland....

For now however I am still a city-slicker at heart and not ready for rearing pigs and digging up turnips quite yet. Weekends to our beautiful green patches walking and climbing gets me out and today was no exception. If you're heading over to the Peak District this Bank Holiday weekend and are around Hathersage-way, head over to Stanage Edge. It's one of the most popular locations for rock climbing in the area and the views are gorgeous (particularly when you get bored of watching bobbing-bums hanging off the side of the rock face :-))

(Robin Hood's Cave is a particularly nice little secret hidey hole that you can climb into from the top of the edge and out onto a naturally formed 'balcony' where people have quite sweetly carved love messages into the wall and you can see the wax left over from romantic nights out under the stars...)

 © Copyright John Fielding and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

24 August 2011

The History of Love

During a frenzied charity-shop-bag-drop at Oxfam a couple of weeks ago I was delighted to see Nicola Krauss' The History of Love perching snugly on the shelf, just a day after listening to her on the Radio 4 Bookclub. Woopee. It immediately went on my Wish List and after reading this beautiful story I am looking forward to delving into her other offerings when I get the chance.

The only less-than-perfect comment I have to make is that the plotline is ever so slightly convoluted, and I couldn't even begin to summarise the many twists and turns, and thrilling highs and lows that we are treated to as we dive into the colliding (though they don't yet know it) world of Alma Singer and Leo Gursky.

Alma Singer is a loving, imaginative, resourceful child growing up without a father in New York. Desperate to fill the gap that this terrible loss has left in her mother (and brother's) heart, Alma embarks on a mission to make a connection with a mysterious writer who commissions her mother to translate The History of Love.  This profound and eccentric book that Alma's father bought for her mother on a trip to South America (portions of which we are fortunate enough to be able to read here) inspired the name for their daughter and now it seems, holds the potential to carry her family a little further...

Meanwhile, on the other side of the city, 80-something pensioner Leopold Gursky is living out the final years of his life, milking this quiet period by spending time with his 'friend' Bruno and sitting for life drawing classes whilst musing on the more painful experiences in his life; the great losses he suffered during the Holocaust and the lack of relationship with his unwitting son, Isaac, a bestselling novelist.

At the risk of delving into any convoluted storylines myself, all I will say is that the object that essentially brings these two wonderful characters together is The History of Love (this is a book within a book - now concentrate please!) and this concept alone is simply perfect for a book FIEND such as myself. How utterly romantic. Weaving and wiggly as the storyline is, everything does come together at the end and Krauss' style of writing at least kept me on my toes over my morning coffee on the way to work. Love, loss and finding the words to express these powerful emotions seems to be the focus here and it makes for compelling reading.

This was a bittersweet experience and the closing (I want to say 'scene'? I regularly found myself imagining what this is going to look like as a film next year) ...the closing scene actually moved me to tears. Along with this I found myself belly laughing at some of Leo Gursky's antics - growing old with gusto and not much grace, I found him the most compelling character of the book whose lonely but equally hilarious ramblings were simply wonderful. He is massively vulnerable yet has huge amounts of love and grief and comedy within him and I LOVED him. LOVED him. 

20 August 2011

Books that make you go 'oooo'

I'm not keen on focusing too much on a specific company/brand in any of my posts, however, I read an article on the Tesco Books Blog today talking about the innovative new way that the uber-supermarket brand have decided to market the latest must-have reads; by grouping them not alphabetically or by genre but simply by how they make us feel.

I don't know what everyone else thinks but I couldn't think of a more inspired way to sell books. Since starting this blog I have tried to branch out from my strict charity shop-no book above £1.50 rule and shop not only at little individual bookshops but at high street chains (including the supermarkets, however uninspiring their displays might be) as well, as I want to support the industry on every level I possibly can. Whilst the charity shop technique of throwing everything onto one shelf still works for me as it throws up countless surprises, the main obstacle I find when faced with your standard A-Z or Bestseller stand is .... well, what am I in the mood for? And if all I have is the blurb on the back to base these choices on then how can make the right decision?

16 August 2011

My Name is Red


These are the first four, attention grabbing words that title the first chapter of Orhan Pamuk's My Name is Red, and my attention was well and truly grabbed.

My Dad bought this book for himself months and months ago and from the moment I saw the cover I was absolutely itching to discover it. I'm a true medievalist at heart and the thought of exploring the world of 16th century Istanbul through the eyes of its master-artists was a tantalizing prospect.

In reality, and I feel like such a heathen saying this, this book was hard work. We begin with the murder of one of the brightest stars of the Ottoman Empire, one the master miniaturists, killed whilst working on a controversial new book for the Sultan under the guidance of Enishte Effendi; a man tasked with managing the creation of this new masterpiece and heavily inspired by the techniques and styles emerging from the West, art that favours more realistic portrayals of perspective and individual people (seen as utter sacrilege to the Ottomans.) Enishte's nephew, Black, arrives in town, keen to impress his Uncle and win the affections of his daughter Shekure, a beautiful young widow he has adored since childhood. Instead he finds himself thrust into the controversy surrounding this manuscript and the murder mystery that has arisen because of it.

I was hooked from the first chapter however by the fifth I knew that I was in for a slog, and by the tenth (out of 59 chapters!) I have to say...I couldn't really have cared less who killed who and had to ensconce myself in the conservatory on Sunday evening with no phone and no boyfriend to fight to the final chapter (sorry Dad!)

I was really excited about this book and there are moments of true greatness here that betray a Nobel Prize winning author. The lengthy monologues on the nature of life, art, religion, death, the threat of the West and a whole host of heavy subjects are exquisite and the medium of art and colour the perfect way to begin these discussions. However, these monologues quite often felt like lectures and the subject matters incredibly repetitive, to the point where I had to force myself not to skim read paragraphs as this often felt like Groundhog Day à la Ottoman Empire.

There is also great beauty to be found in the first person perspective Pamuk writes from ... seeing the world through the eyes of the people loving and living in Instanbul in the 16th century, and the constant change of perspective (particularly some very intriguing chapters written from the perspective of 'a coin' or 'a tree' etc) kept things flowing, and I appreciated the occasional glimpse of the more everyday, human aspects of life through the female characters of the tale. However, all of the characters, particularly the artists and murder suspects were quite similar and began to blur into one by the final chapters.

Although the ideas in this book are incredibly profound and some of the descriptions absolutely stunning, I just felt a little bored at times I'm afraid. You're a special writer Orhan Pamuk, but not for Literary Relish at this moment in time, perhaps I'll revisit you when I've grown up a bit.

12 August 2011

Bookmarked Manchester Debut Night!

We've all been a little bit distracted Manchester-way this week with the terrible riots that have blighted our fair island these past few days. Happily we seem to have missed the worst of it in Manchester and luckily no-one (touch-wood) has been hurt, although our lovely city centre is looking a little worse for wear at the moment. I think I echo most people (and blogger's) sentiments when I say that we have all felt heartened by the actions of those who, the very next day, got to work clearing up the mess in a true show of solidarity. It in't so grim up North!

Now, back to books! Before the drama of Tuesday I was fortunate enough to grab a ticket for blogger Simon Savidge and author Adam Lowe's new literary salon BOOKMARKED, hosted at Waterstones Deansgate. These chaps rightly identified that, for a large, cosmopolitan, hip happening city such as MaDchester, we have embarrassingly few independent bookshops/literary events in the city centre. 

The promise of a literary event full stop, never mind one featuring the wonderful Sarah Winman, whose novel, When God was a Rabbit, has been a beloved holiday read this year, was enough to get me excited, and I certainly wasn't disappointed. There were a lot of like-minded people milling around to see both Winman and SJ Watson (author of Before I go to sleep) and I would have loved to have more opportunity to those bookish types sitting around me... Sarah Winman's reading of a particularly hilarious portion of her book was side-splittingly funny. The life she brought to her characters, even putting on completely plausible voices for each one, were brilliant, and I wasn't surprised to find out she actually used to be an actress. I, of course, for want of anything intelligent/endearing to say made a complete fool of myself in front of her as I shuffled forward sheepishly for a book signing, making a lame comment about dropping all of my books in the bath before blushing and backing away. She was wonderful, enigmatic and cool as cucumber.

Another great discovery was SJ Watson, whose novel is being lauded as a psychological thriller... a genre that doesn't usually float my boat. However, to be honest I realise that I've never really given it a go. What better opportunity than now. He was an incredibly engaging, down-to-earth guy and you simply cannot hear the first few pages of this book without rushing out to buy it immediately. I'm curious to see how I find this groundhog day-style tale of a woman who loses her memory every time she goes to sleep and therefore can never really trust those around her....

Although I can't be there for the next BOOKMARKED session with Val McDermid in September I will certainly be there for October. Thankyou very much to Simon an Adam for hosting!

7 August 2011

Dreams of Old Delhi

With everything almost finalised for India (with the first set of jabs tomorrow eek!) whilst planning the actual trip I have been having serious thoughts about holiday books and the fact that I have two very long flights to indulge in some hardcore reading. My Dad has lent me Salman Rushdie's classic Midnight's Children and I have A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry sat on the TBR. However, I am particularly excited about my next purchase; hopefully the City of Djinns by William Dalrymple, which sounds like the perfect read for our first time in this scintillating city. Djinns are figures that fascinates me; spirits that appear in many novels set in the East (including my current read) and seem to be particularly prevalent in Indian culture. This book promises a lot - part-memoir; encompassing not only Dalrymple's personal experience of the city but also an exploration of its rich history. How exciting! 

5 August 2011

When God was a Rabbit

Do any of you have a dilemma when it comes to choosing books to take away with you?  There you have it, a few days of uninterrupted reading-bliss, no blogging, no phone, just a bit of sightseeing and a lot of eating and drinking in between. What do you plump for?  Do you do go for for a Count of Monte Cristo/Ulysses-style readathon? Or do you focus on books that you can just dip into easily but that are profound and engaging enough to have something to talk about afterwards?  Both approaches work, and the bf and I were only saying the other day that holidays (of the beachy/swimming pool kind) are often the only time you have to really immerse yourself in classics that have been propping open your doors for years.

This has been a busy year so I have been glad for the easier route this year. (But yes, I will read Anna Karenina one day...) When God was a Rabbit was the perfect choice. It is a comfy read and a charming book which, like all great books, has the great theme of love at its heart. I can't necessarily lay out the 'plot' here as, although many things happen in this book I wouldn't say that there is any solid plot or clear 'action' of any sort. This story is about the people. The love between friends and family but ultimately the love between a brother and sister; very best friends and two people who hold each others secrets, pain, worries and joys deep in their hearts and whose paths into adulthood merely lead to an even deeper and richer friendship.

Without getting too cheesy and sentimental here, as I've said in many previous reviews, one of the most important things for me when reading any story is to sympathise with the main characters and here I happily can, a million times over. Although I am the older sibling in  my family, I could identify a great deal with the close relationship between Elly and her big brother Joe in this story as I am very close to my own brother (also a Joe!). It is a relationship that is completely unique and extremely special and I feel very lucky to have it . :-) ah. 

We are plunged back into the magic of childhood, where thoughts and feelings are relatively uncomplicated and where God is, well, a rabbit! However, don't be fooled into thinking that is a simple sweet tale of bunny rabbits and children's games. There are some serious and quite shocking underlying themes/events in this book that I won't reveal but that, although traumatic, are very sensitively and appropriately dealt with and Winman manages to maintain the tone of her book whilst keeping us aware of these more serious topics. 

This slightly oblique approach leaves us to fill in the gaps and I was really glad of it. I was also happy that the shine wasn't taken off the other important topics in the book, particularly the relationships. As well as Elly and Joe we are introduced to some wonderful, incredibly eccentric British characters. Creative and sparkly Aunt Nancy reminds me of my own sparkly bohemian auntie, the delightfully gay and melodramatic Ginger and Arthur put me in mind of myself and my gay-boyfriend and finally, who could forget Jenny Penny. Elly's quirky childhood friend with unmanageble hair and distinct smell of chips whose fate surprises us all...

Ah...I feel all warm and fuzzy inside...

3 August 2011

The Lantern

A couple of weeks ago my Mum called to enthuse about a new book she was reading. When she finally revealed that this new masterpiece she'd discovered was The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson I was delighted.

I became aware of Deborah initially as a blogger when her smiley face first popped up among my Google friends; a hugely exciting experience when you've just started out. Having a click around and acquainting myself with her marvellous blog I was doubly excited to discover that she was a published author in her own right and, even better, writing and living in a part of the world that holds a special place in my heart; a world that plays the starring role in both in her blog and in The Lantern.

Lawrenson transports us right into her world from the word go as we follow couple Eve and Dom as they make the brave move to install themselves permanently in a beautiful, tumbledown farmhouse (Les Genévriers - Juniper trees! I even learnt a new French word) in the heart of Provence, removing themselves without much difficulty from their executive lifestyles. Provence. Tick. Love story. Tick. Now, to give this tale a splash of the extra special? How about a great big mystery and a ghost story to boot? Perfect.

Eve and Dom's first months at Les Genévriers seem oh so cosy. There was so much to connect with in this book for me; a cosy relationship where you are both more than happy to close yourselves off from the world in a happy bubble...a love of France, literature and music...a languages specialist inspired to begin writing a book of her very own... This connection I felt with the main protagonist, a woman roughly my age who craves good conversation, good wine and a good book meant that I found this an even more enjoyable portrait of Provence than the Marcel Pagnol classics.
However, this sedate existence soon begins to alter radically as Eve finds it increasingly difficult to understand the caginess of her partner towards certain aspects of his past life without her, most particularly his ex-wife Rachel, who we become more and more suspicious of as the story progresses and the mood of the tale darkens...

Wonderfully interspersed with this modern drama is the tale of Benedicte and her blind sister Marthe, young women who inhabited this very same farmhouse (and perhaps still do) in the first half of the twentieth century and whose stories will eventually collide in the most spectacular fashion with that of Eve. This change of perspective/tone every other chapter really kept things going for me and kept the story even more fresh and exciting.

It is in the striking hills, lavender fields and flora and fauna of a provençal garden where Lawrenson's singularly sumptuous and florid prose really comes into its own. I just found myself wanting to taste/bury my nose into everything she described, even the most mundane everyday objects:

'Bénédicte drifts through the rooms of the lower floors, into the dust of venerable scents:flecks of the lavender held in the corners of drawers; flakes of pinewood armoire; the soot of long-dead fires; and, from the present, the deep mossy aroma from cloud formations of damp above the rose-tiled floor; the sharp white smells of late-spring flowers outside.'
     p. 9

Anyone who is familiar with this part of the world will understand just how well such a passage evokes the nature, heat and history of the old farmhouses, cicadas and lavender of Provence. I can also think of no better writing style to tell the story of a blind young girl who harnesses her extraordinary sense of smell to forge a career as a perfumier in Paris, periodically sending her sister dried flowers and other tokens that evoke memories of childhood, love...a wealth of different things depending on the recipient. For me, it evoked childhood holidays in the South of France, spooky farmhouses, gorgeous food and the white heat of the midday sun.

This is a beautiful story with exquisitely dark undertones. Who haunts this beautiful section of countryside? Is Dom really who he first appeared to be? Lawrenson pulls you first in one direction and then the other as you attempt to unravel the mysteries of Les Genévriers for yourself. I found myself texting my Mum throughout with exclamations and ideas as to where the story could be going. She, who always always figures out the plot of any book/film/TV drama right from the very beginning, was as gripped with suspense and excitement as myself until the very last page.

Do go out and read this right now. This book is great and the rather wooden (sorry!) TV Book Club review was far too lackluster to review such a fantastic novel. Top marks!

This was a lovely ending to Paris in July and I'd just like to thank Book Bath and Thyme for Tea first of all for hosting this exciting event and to all of you bloggers out there who participated and have provided me with some top notch reviews and entertaining frenchie posts to read this month. I only wish I'd had time to post more! 


l'année prochaine! 

1 August 2011


**Sigh** I am back in sunny Manchester (?) following my very relaxing and characteristically scorching stay in Sevilla. After quite a series of planes, trains, and automobiles I can finally sit back and reflect on what I've seen/read/ and...well, I was going to say learnt but what I really mean is ate/drank whilst I was there.

Although this was a distinctly un-Paris in July/French holiday I did get to meet Mérimée's Carmen...

See the bullring where the object of her affections did battle...

And drink lots of cócteles!...

Whilst relaxing I finished and loved The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson (watch this space) and When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman, which I read in preparation for a little something special next week...(more to come soon!!)

Hanyway...back to the tail end of my own personal Paris in July; rather than being sensible and packing for my holiday I decided to curl up under my duvet and, much to the bf's dismay, reacquaint myself with the wonderful Delicatessen by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. 'Why do you want to watch such a grisly film' says he. 'No no no, you just don't understand' say I. This film is sublime. Set in post apocalyptic France we meet the completely skew-whiff and quirky tenants of an anonymous, shabby building and their charismatic landlord and local butcher, who we know is up to something from the very beginning, his chopping boards smelling distinctly of something other than your standard beef steak.

This film is both hilarious and completely dark at the same time, exploring themes such as cannibalism and suicide in such a way that I challenge any one of you not to completely crack up. Dominique Pinon (above) is so very versatile and adorable in this story and worlds away from grumpy Joseph in Amélie (although both explore the wonders of love in their own special way.) It is beautifully shot, atmospheric, creepy and quite scary towards the end. It is a film with many layers and I notice something new every single time I watch it...so please watch with me...et bonne nuit!