There's an ever growing pile of books I want to read…
If you follow me on twitter, you might know that I recently spent a blissful week in North Norfolk where I ate lots of delicious food, took long walks in the sunshine and read and read and read. If you don’t follow me on twitter, well, you know about my holiday now. Here’s a photo of some seals that I took while I was out there:
Seals are awesome!
I had some trouble deciding which three books to take with me (I always take three books with me when I go on holiday – four is too many to carry but two definitely won’t last me long enough!) and I went with two from recommendations and one that I picked up from the pile at the last minute because I just fancied reading it.
Book Number 1: Skios by Michael Frayn
Skios is a book about two men who accidentally and not-so-accidentally switch lives, whilst travelling through an airport with similar-looking luggage. The switch is played for comedic effect and I laughed a lot at the shenanigans that followed from mistaken identities, interrupted trysts and muddled suitcases. It reminded me a lot of David Lodge’s Changing Places (a book that I loved!).
Although Skios was funny, I think it fell a little flat at the end. Frayn even makes a point of writing about the humorous things that the reader is probably expecting to happen at the climax before having something else happen instead. It didn’t work for me. I had been looking forward to the series of silly things and was disappointed that they didn’t happen. Maybe it’s a more literary book the way Frayn wrote it but I genuinely feel that it was a less enjoyable one too. The ending left me with a disappointed feeling as I put the book down.
Skios was my impulse choice and I read it first. When I had finished, I left my copy at the holiday cottage for someone else to pick up and read during their time away. It wasn’t bad but I didn’t love it and I definitely won’t reread it.
Book Number 2: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth
The people at Allison and Busby are the nicest and most generous people I know. Susie and Graham are always prepared to offer proofs to eager booksellers and I was thrilled that my store received a copy of Bitter Greens as I love to read different takes on traditional fairy tales.
Bitter Greens is a reworking of the story of Rapunzel. It centres on three female characters Charlotte-Rose, a real historical figure and one of the earliest writers of the tale, Margherita, the girl in the tower, and Selena, the woman who put her there. At the beginning of the novel, Charlotte-Rose has been banished from the court of Louis IV to a convent and it is there that she hears Margherita’s story from one of her fellow nuns.
I have to be honest: although I was grabbed by the premise, I didn’t love this book either. It felt a little like three books that were quite tenuously linked together. The only parts that I really enjoyed were the sections about Margherita. I found Charlotte-Rose incredibly stupid for such a clever person and, reading the flashbacks to her earlier life, I was surprised she lasted as long as she did before being sent to a convent.
This book was also really long. I don’t mind long books – one of my all time favourites is The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber – but I think if a book is long, it’s extra important not to have sections that drag. This book did, in places. I think I would have preferred less flashbacks to Charlotte-Rose’s previous life and more about her life in the convent or about Selena and Margherita. I also found that I didn’t feel done at the end of the novel because the ending felt rushed.
That said, I did quite enjoy reading about Selena and I really enjoyed reading about Margherita. As a retelling of the Rapunzel story, it is very well done. I also thought Kate Forsyth’s descriptions of court life in Paris and Versailles and of Venice were beautifully done and, although I didn’t always like her characters, they were well portrayed and believable.
If you like historical books and want to read a fresh take on Rapunzel, you should definitely give this book a go. I’ll definitely be interested in reading Kate Forsyth’s next book, The Wild Girl. It’s the story of Dortchen Wild, lover of fairy tales and Wilhelm Grimm.
Book Number 3: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Gone Girl has actually been on the to-read pile for a really long time: the lovely people at Orion Books were kind enough to send me an advance reading copy at the time of the hardback release. I also found, rummaging a little further down the pile, an advance reading copy of one of her earlier books, Dark Places, which I failed to connect to Gone Girl because she’s had a bit of a cover redesign since it was originally released.
So many people have raved about this book to me. It’s been at (or near) the top of our charts for months and it has some massive word-of-mouth advertising going for it. It seems like it’s only getting more and more popular as people recommend it to their friends.
I can’t tell you too much about the plot without spoiling it for you but what you need to know is this: Nick’s wife Amy has disappeared. They’ve both been keeping secrets. Nothing is what it seems. To find out more, you’ll have to read it for yourself.
I started this book on Friday and kept picking it up at every opportunity, finishing it on Saturday afternoon. It’s compellingly written and the central mystery kept me guessing, not sure who to trust. I enjoyed reading from the two perspectives of Nick and Amy and the ways in which they were both unreliable narrators. It’s definitely a book that makes you think about how well you really know the other people in your life.
Despite how well written it was, there was something almost repulsive about this book. At least one of the characters is completely despicable and some of the things that happen are incredibly messed-up. I feel like the inside of Gillian Flynn’s brain must be a pretty scary place.
I’d definitely recommend reading Gone Girl but I wouldn’t like to live in its fictional universe.
None of my holiday books get 5/5 but they were all still fairly enjoyable and my holiday itself was just what I needed, so here’s a picture of me on the beach (in my wellies!) with two thumbs up. Because doesn’t that seem like the best way to end this blog post?