Review-ish: The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall

electric

‘People went through life like well handled jugs, collecting chips and scrapes and stains from wear and tear, from holding and pouring life.’

The above isn’t even my favourite passage from this beautifully written book, but I was just keen to not give too much of the story away through my eagerness to share. This book was found during the same charity-shop binge of a few months ago, which has provided some real treats. Yet again, this isn’t something that I would normally have picked up, but the bloke-at-home found it, and raved about it so much (he’d be pretty excited to learn that Hall is an Aberystwyth Uni alum) that I had to give it a go.

It’s not often that you read a book with pretty-much perfect pacing. That grabs you from the first word and ensures that you finish it with a satisfied sigh. I so rarely get to the end of a book and feel like it was the ideal length but I really felt this with The Electric Michelangelo. 

Hall creates such evocative scenes, from Morecombe Bay to Coney Island and through the most complex, complicated but often-times loveable characters. Grace is one of the most exquisitely written characters that I have encountered for a while, and even with my limited imagination, I felt like I knew her.

The book explores themes of family, the family you’re born into and the family you choose, peoples desire to re-invent themselves, the traditional sea-side town on both sides of the Atlantic, and migration. All through the microcosm of tattoo.

I can only speak for The Electric Michelangelo, as I haven’t read any of her other books, but in this, Hall’s writing is never over-done. I don’t want to say much more as its just going to be general gushing and I really don’t want to give away too much of the story-line. Its too beautiful. Go. Read. Come back and tell me how much you adored it.

Kelly

 

Brilliant Books Festival @ Insole Court – Short Story Book Club

The Ones Who Walk Away From the Omerlas by Ursula Le Guin.

Available to read online for free here or in various anthologies; including The Winds Twelve Quarters, first published in 1975.

I was really thrilled to play a small part during Insole Court’s very first Brilliant Books Festival, which celebrated literature for all ages, between the 2nd and 9th March 2019. They asked me to run a short story book club and gave me free-reign, which is brave of them. It really challenged me as although I appreciate short stories as an art form, I don’t read a whole lot of them myself. So I thought I would find something written by an author that I was familiar with.

My love of Ursula is no secret. See here for when I went to a Cardiff Book Talk discussion about her work. Omerla’s was ideal for many reasons; it was available for free online, it had depth and the themes were very in-keeping with other work of hers that I was familiar with.

The short story explores the moral conundrum of one person’s suffering vs the happiness of many. Le Guin explains that she was inspired by William James and The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life, although she also admits that she was influenced by Dostoevsky. We discussed this theme at length, as well as the uncertain narrator, utopia/dystopia, balance in the world and exploitation. We also explored how Le Guin breaks the fourth wall, and the impacts of it (some of us liked it, others didn’t!).

We also discussed many books, films and TV shows that we thought were similar is someways or were recommend further viewing or reading:

  • The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula Le Guin
  • Golden Apples in the Sun by Ray Bradbury
  • Brain Pickings by Maria Popova – Blog/E-newsletter
  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • East West Street by Phillipe Sands
  • Carnage on Netflix
  • Roma on Netflix
  • They Shall Not Grow Old (Peter Jackson)

It was a really interesting discussion and I would love to hear whether this is something people would like more of… And can anyone else recommend any other compelling short stories?

Kelly

 

insole court book club – february

Becoming by Michelle Obama

This book is the first of our group recommendations and the first non-fiction novel that we have delved into as a group. Luckily, many of us received it as a Christmas gift as it wasn’t quite out on paperback at the time of reading. There was a very interesting split in the room of people who enjoy autobiography and people who don’t. There was also an interesting split between people enjoying particular sections of the book more than others. Once again, lovely to welcome some new members!

As always, I’ll share some of our general thoughts and musings, and some further reading/watching. All of us, I think, found it hard to offer up comments or critique as it’s not about a narrative, its her life. So please bear with me. As always, I’m interested to hear your thoughts as well so join in the discussion in the Comments section. Like the physical book club, it’s a friendly place, we don’t bite.

Surprised by how unexceptional her early life was.

Race wasn’t acknowledged as much as expected.

Some disagreed with that.

Appreciated the strength that she needed to keep up with the campaigning.

Interesting and inspiring.

Coming of age shift was interesting to those of a similar age.

White House stuff was a bit glossy. Were her real feelings edited?

She spent a lot of time justifying herself. Had to make an impact.

Extraordinary intelligence.

Her passion for education is infectious.

Ability to excel in life is down to you, and your attitude.

Very charismatic.

Interesting that she leap-frogged her own city’s University.  Didn’t see her place there.

Moving from an individualist view-point to wider perspective.

The need to over-achieve. Especially when you are very visible.

The privilege that comes with wealth.

Different up-bringings in the relationship. Sometimes opposites work. They took a chance with each other.

Awareness of the sacrifices of all of the family members.

Some cultural references that require some knowledge – don’t necessarily translate for UK readers.

‘When they go low, we go high’

Powerful.

  • The West Wing
  • Veep
  • Dreams of My Father by Barack Obama
  • The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
  • Lemmy’s autobiography
  • Nile Rogers autobiography

Our next book club book is Homegoing by Yas Gyasi, meeting on Tuesday 26th March, 7 – 8.30pm in the Reading Room of Insole Court House.

I am also doing a one-off short story book club on Tuesday 5th March as part of the Brilliant Books Festival at Insole Court. We’ll be discussing The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula La Guin. It is available to read for free here. The event is free but ticketed. You can find out more on the Insole Court website.

Kelly

 

Review-ish: The Assassins Apprentice by Robin Hobb (#1 of the Farseer Triology)

apprentice

‘Most prisons are of our own making. A man makes his own freedom too.’

I fought my corner on this one for awhile, despite the live-in boyfriend wanging on about how good it was, purely because I had wrongly assumed that it was written by a British male, and therefore counter to this blog. So I am quite ashamed at my own unconscious biases and will dig deeper before entirely judging a book by its cover. Lesson learnt.

Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden writes under the pseudonym of Robin Hobb and this is the first novel in her Farseer Triology. She’s a prolific writer and it seems that there are several more series set in this world. Her most recent book was only published in 2017.

I love a good fantasy novel, I really do. And I am intrigued to see where this one goes and learn more about Hobb’s world. However, it was slow in places and wouldn’t have suffered from losing some chunks. As the first in a series, I think that The Assassins Apprentice does a good job of introducing the characters, the laws and the environment, and the characters are fairly typical of this sort of book. Which offers comfortable reading, with the odd twist and turn to keep things interesting.

I enjoyed Burrich’s character immensely. I love a gristled, grumpy, father-figure role. I have such a clear image of him in my mind. There’s a couple of interesting female characters, which I hope will be further developed in the next book.

We are introduced to the concepts of The Wit and The Skill at this stage, although not a deeply as I would have liked. But this could be my impatience.

For me, it offered exactly what I look for in fantasy novels; escapism and an opportunity for compulsive reading. I will pick up the next book, but can already tell that if the pace isn’t quick enough, I probably won’t pick up the third. I’d be really interested to hear what other people think. Sometimes can read a good book at a bad time and this could have been one of those situations.

This is not going to be one of longest reviews because, in all honesty, I read it months ago, and am only now getting around to writing it up. I’ve been focusing on advance reading for the book club. Naughty me. So I have dropped the ball on this one. But we’ve got some really good book club reads coming up that we’ll be discussing very soon.

I’ll give myself a C+ for this effort, with a promise to try harder next time!

Kelly

Insole Court Book Club – Spring Reads

spring

Springs Book Club picks are:

  • Tuesday 26th February – Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • Tuesday 26th March – Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  • Tuesday 30th April – Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Tuesday 28th May – Eight Months on Ghazzah Street by Hilary Mantel

Read along, join us at Insole Court or share your thoughts here on the blog.

Happy reading!

Kelly

insole court book club – january

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

Another whopper of a book for this months book club. But generally well received, some found it gratuitous, some unputdownable. One book club member read us her favourite passage which can be found on Page 323, beginning with ‘Clara was still young…’

Really chuffed with how many people made it along considering the weather that was fore-casted and the bugs that have been going around. It was also lovely to welcome some new faces! As always, I have tried to capture some of the discussion points and suggested further reading, so feel free to join in the conversation in the Comments section below.

Secret, dark core of the Latin psyche.

So much in the book; politics, class, a family saga.

The political crescendo at the end.

Esteban Treubo: emotionally stunted.

Larger than life characters, not necessarily relate-able. Mythical.

Women’s roles in South America at the time (late 1890’s through to 1960’s).

Catholicism and the traditional society.

The fact that the country is never named.

The struggle for power. Venezuela today. Contemporary resonances.

Similar to Gothic novels and Victorian melodrama.

Men like Esteban can be found in Western literature. Very Dickensian.

Last line of the book being the same as the first. Symmetry and the cyclical nature of the story.

Strength of the women in the camp, a ray of light in the dark.

Clara, Blanca and Alba: all names suggest purity, clarity and innocence.

Nine years of muteness! Strength of character.

Suffragettes and corsets. Would like to have heard more of Nivea.

Symbolism and darkness reminded us to Kafka.

 

  • Love in the Time of Cholera, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor and 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Maria Marin the play
  • Midnights Children and Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

Have any of our lovely followers read any other books by Isabel Allende of any other female Latin authors? Would appreciate any further recommendations!

Our next book club book is Becoming by Michelle Obama, meeting on Tuesday 26th February, 7 – 8.30pm in the Reading Room at Insole Court House.

Kelly

review-ish: A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman

marvellous

“It was as if a blade had shucked his heart like an oyster and stolen the beauty within. He said his heart never started beating again, it just started working and I never understood the difference, not until I was much older anyway, when I learnt that coming back from the dead is not quite the same as coming back to life.”

I love Sarah Winman’s writing so much. I read When God Was A Rabbit, Winman’s debut novel, many, many moons ago and just couldn’t believe how much it stayed with me. Not specific plot points but the magic and the feelings that she evoked. I highly recommend it as a quick read with depth. So when I saw A Year of Marvellous Ways in a charity shop, without even knowing that she had published other books, I did a little squeal and took it home with me.

Maybe it’s that I work with older people in my day job. Maybe it’s the writing.  Either way, Marvellous is a corker of a woman that I wanted to know, live with and go on adventures with. She’s such an incredible character and presents an unusual and very positive view of ageing well and challenging stereotypes. She is written to have a different view of the world, and seeing things through her eyes, just for a little time, was deeply moving. The other characters are also well developed and  naturally contradictory, and didn’t suffer when compared to the marvellous Marvellous.

I don’t think you need to have lived in the West Country to see the Cornish landscape that Winman paints because her writing is so poetic. She could describe the centre of the Earth to you and you’d feel like you had grown up there. But I did have such vivid images in my head of the South Hams in Devon when reading this book, (limited imagination of mine…) but that was lovely as it reminded me of many a happy time. Particularly when reading it in the middle of that endless grey that we have lived through in Wales recently.

I’m currently reading The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende for the Insole Court Book Club, and when I mentioned this to a friend, she described Allende’s work as magical-realism and something clicked. So many books that I adore are like this. Sarah Winman’s work, The Buried Giant by Ishiguro and Murakami. Now I have discovered another vice of mine I will actively try to read outside of this genre, but it’s nice to know that its always within reach when I need to feeling something to the point of emotional exhaustion.

Love having a little cry.

Anyone wanna recommend some magical-realism? Not for me I’m trying to diversify, but for other followers.

Kelly