Wigs on the Green by Nancy Mitford

Depending on your attitude, it’s either wildly inappropriate or absolutely hilarious that I was listening to Nancy Mitford’s Wigs on the Green concurrently with the podcast, My Dad Wrote a Porno. If you’ve experienced both, you’ll appreciate that the frequent mentions of hedge mazes, manicured lawns, horses and duchesses are quite similar in one sense… and also very much not. Anyway, the important thing is that both made me laugh. A lot.

There’s a juicy back-story to Wigs on the Green, notably that the novel was truly about Nancy’s two Fascist sisters, Unity and Diana, and that the relationship between Nancy and her sisters imploded after its publication (I really should read The Mitford Girls, which has been languishing on my TBR stack for over a decade). Nancy never allowed the novel to be printed after WWII, on the basis that jokes about Nazis were not funny in any context. And obviously they’re not, yet the elements of the story related to class and marriage are sharp and very, very funny.

‘Marriage is a great bore. Chaps’ waistcoats lying around in one’s bedroom and so on. It gets one down in time.’ Continue reading

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

A story about the sea, swimming, books and relationships. It’s like Claire Fuller was writing just for me.

Despite the blurb hinting that Swimming Lessons is a mystery, it’s not. It’s a book about marriage – specially that of Gil and Ingrid. Gil is a lecturer and a writer,¬†famous for a scandalous novel. He’s also a collector of books, specifically those with notes in the margins and passages underlined.

“Forget that first-edition, signed-by-the-author nonsense. Fiction is about readers. Without readers there is no point in books, and therefore they are as important as the author, perhaps more important. But often the only way to see what a reader thought, how they lived when they were reading, is to examine what they left behind.” Continue reading

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

The reviews for Zadie Smith’s latest novel, Swing Time, have been glowing. Which is a good thing, because: glowing, but a bad thing, because: expectations.

My expectations were high. And perhaps nudged even a little higher thanks to The Embassy of Cambodia, which is still fresh in my mind.

Swing Time tells the story of two biracial girls growing up in the eighties in neighbouring housing estates in London. The pair meet at a dance class run in the local hall – the unnamed narrator is intelligent but self-doubting, while the other girl, Tracey, is confident, talented and self-destructive.

“There were many other girls present but for obvious reasons we noticed each other, the similarities and the differences, as girls will.” Continue reading

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty

I’ve done a lot of grizzling on this blog about the implausibility, and ultimately the predictability of thrillers (most recently, Second Life and Girl on the Train). So it’s with great excitement that I actually recommend a thriller – Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty. Continue reading

The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss

Do you look at Goodreads ratings when choosing a book? Or when starting a book? I sometimes do, particularly when it’s an author I haven’t come across before. Do I let the ratings influence me? Maybe a smidgen. Which is how I came to read (listen to) The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss – I was lured by its massive 4.17 rating on Goodreads. And no, that wasn’t because there were only six reviews, five of them done by the author’s friends. There was a respectable 443 ratings and 82 reviews. The novel had also received glowing reviews when it was released in July. I was sure I was on a winner. Continue reading

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

I think if I knew more about Greek mythology, anthropology, medusae, father-complex and cultural memory, then Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk would be even better, and more layered with meaning, than it already is.

As it is, I understand enough about hypochondria and passive-aggressiveness to know that what Levy has created in the characters of Rose and Sofia is truly excellent stuff.

“Hello Sofia. I can see that you’ve been having a nice time at the beach.”
I told her the beach was desolate and that I’d been staring for two hours at a pile of gas canisters. It was my special skill, to make my day smaller so as to make her day bigger. Continue reading

Gold by Chris Cleave

Gold, by Chris Cleave, is the story of elite cyclists, Zoe and Kate, whose lives become entangled (on and off the track), in their race for Olympic gold.

At first glance, Gold is a sports story. There’s plenty of cycling action and Cleave does a good job of setting the scene in the velodrome and building tension during race scenes. The action is padded out with the themes of ambition, the price of success, and the sacrifices people are prepared to make for what they love.

“Being chased down by another human being is a very intimate thing. She’d never been caught before.”

But Gold is not a sports story at all – cycling is merely the carrier for a story about two women, described from the outset as friends. And that’s where the wheels fell off for me (boom-tish). Continue reading

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

Truly, there were probably a dozen things about Graham Swift’s Mothering Sunday that could have annoyed me –

  • the cloying “Once upon a time…” opening
  • the Cinderella riff
  • the subtitle, ‘A Romance’, for it’s seemingly a story about a maid being taken advantage of…(or is it?)
  • the lengthy descriptions of stains on sheets
  • the improbability of a maid walking around a stately home, naked, and laying books across her bare breasts
  • the 400-page-price-tag on what is actually a novella*

But all is forgiven Mr Swift because, when you revealed your twist – a small but perfect tragedy – I gasped.

Continue reading