Thursday, August 04, 2011

What I Read on Holiday

No, I haven't stopped thinking about my holiday. Another week would have been nice, but, hey, I have a job to keep going!

As it happens, I have most of next week off, but it will be spent at home. The Boy is coming to stay (with His Girl) and The Girl returns from London. I will have a full house and I will have to buy and cook food - lots of it! And I need to weed the herb garden. Calling it a "wildflower meadow" only works for so long ; )

Oops - got distracted! This is supposed to be about What I Read last week.

The holiday cottage had a small bookshelf. There was a copy of "What I Loved" by Siri Hustvedt! That felt strange - like finding an old friend in an unexpected place! But nothing else appealed.

Luckily, I had my library book: "The Hand That First Held Mine" by Maggie O'Farrell. It turned into one of those compulsive reads. I had been dipping in and out for a couple of days when I realised that I needed to swallow the rest whole and digest it later. FL was asleep, so I curled up in the sun porch and read and read and read until I was done. I may have stopped for chocolate.

I then texted my daughter and told her to get a copy for her Other Grandma (OG), because she MUST read it! I feel a bit sheepish about that now, but I think OG will understand. A fair portion of the novel is set in London in the late 1950's / early 1960's and it reminded me so strongly of the bohemian community that OG describes drifting in and out of at that time. And when it became clear that some of the "characters" were real people, that connection felt electric. Did OG know any of these people?!

So much of the novel is about memory and the details that fall between the gaps. Things you don't realise are significant until years later, when it's too late to undo the course of events. How a photograph can be a candid snapshot of a moment or a deliberately "composed" image: and sometimes we don't know which we are looking at.

There is a parallel narrative, set in the present day, concerning a young Finnish woman artist coming to terms with the birth of her first child. I loved this character! I absolutely "knew" her, and loved her for wearing striped tights with the feet cut off and a "looped hem dress"... and meeting "incomprehension" from other more conservative mothers. Oh my! Been there, done that! The passages describing Finland might have been written by Tove Jannson.

It would ruin the novel if I were to "tell you the story". Suffice to say, the plot gathers momentum, and the reader is thrown backwards and forwards in time with flashbacks and more leisurely descriptions of time and place, carefully edited together. Cinematic? Yes, deliberately so, with a nod to the main male character who is a film editor.

When I finished reading, I was in tears. I found it emotionally draining, and yet uplifting. This novel probably won't win any literary prizes... but I know that I now need to read everything else that Maggie O'Farrell has written, because her style pulls me in to a fictional world, and makes me reflect on my own reality. Who the hell am I? Where do I belong?

And where can I buy stripey tights? ;)


Minnado said...

You have reminded me I wanted to read this and haven't! Now I feel very impatient to go and order it from my library!
Have you read "The vanishing act of Esme Lennox" by Maggie Farrell. I thought it was so good, though it made me cry at the end!
Stripey Hang on...surely you can knit some?

Jane said...

Great review of the book, you made me remember what a fantastic read it is. I've read all of Maggie O'Farrell's books and thoroughly recommend them, she's got a real skill at drawing you in. x

didyoumakethat said...

Great book review! I may have to invest... (I've found my library fines often add up to the same it would have cost me to buy the book.)

Annie said...

Thank you for the recommendation :) I could do with a good read. Actually I could do with a good holiday in order to have time to read, but hey ho that's not about to happen.
Stripey tights ... Gudrun Sjoden mail order have some, not cheap though.

blue hands said...

Ha! I was going to say Gudrun Sjoden, but I see I've been beaten to it.
I may have to give this book a go. I found After You'd Gone very gripping, but was annoyed that the central characters had to be so beautiful and striking as if ordinary people can't have great love and passion too.

GrannyPurple said...

Stripey tights are as near as a few balls of self-striping sock yarn, and Elizabeth Zimmermann's directions for nether garments (in The Knitter's Almanac). Winter wear only, of course.
Always grateful for book suggestions!

tea and cake said...

I read this recently, too, and just loved it! It is now on my daughter's bookshelf, and I shall once again urge her to get on and read it. Thanks for the review x

Amy said...

I'm putting this on my reading list now. It sounds wonderful. So do the stripey tights.

Roisin Muldoon said...

Thanks for the review, Roo - I went straight out and bought myself a copy of this after reading your blog! I love the photo in your blog header, by the way - it's ever so beautiful.