Insole Book Club Notes – April

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

We have to thank our friends at NDCWales Book Club for this recommendation, it was great to share recommendations with another book club. In turn, we suggested My Sister the Serial Killer for them, which is a quick read that we’d pretty much all enjoyed.

It was great to get together again with the lovely Insole Court Book Clubbers, albeit digitally. It was interesting to talk about how our reading habits had changed over the past month, during lockdown.

Some found The Seven Deaths easier than others. It seemed to quite often hinge on whether you could give it a few hours of solid reading at a time. Reading or listening to it in short bursts made it quite difficult to follow.

We talked about the various different tropes that the author used, body swapping, etc, but how it may have gotten a little overly complicated. In particular, revelations about Anna felt a little tacked on. Especially as the twist had already been revealed at that point.

For some of us, the twist felt a little bit rushed and could have benefited from fleshing out for us to buy into it. But we also chatted about the fact that the reveal didn’t leaving us with too many questions, so the author achieved an entertaining murder mystery.

We all were intrigued by the descriptions of the various personalities and how they were cumulative, pushing in more and more as the book developed. This was cleverly done and unusual. We were interested in which of the physical behaviours ‘stuck’ from each character and how this helped with the plot. This reminded us of The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; how much of who you are is made up of your memories?

We made comparisons to The Good Place, and Dante’s Hell – and the premise of a hell of your own making. The vividness of the world was captivating, and probably successful because of how you relive the world through so many different perspectives. The image of the ramshackle stately home is also well-known in mystery novels, so quite easy for us to grasp.

We spent some time discussing the title after discovering that it is published as The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle in America. It doesn’t appear that the number in the title relates to deaths in the novel, but is more about sensationalism.

Generally we would recommend this to our friends/family – reviews are good, and its been well received. We felt that the violence, although dark, wasn’t voyeuristic or gratuitous. And its a solid enough mystery to keep you going through, at least until the reveal.

I thought it might be interesting to share what we’ve been reading, as we normally finish our meetings with recommendations. So to continue the tradition, whilst quarantined, many of us are comfort-reading Bill Bryson, as well as:

  • Hillary Mantel
  • Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
  • My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to comment along below!

Kelly

Review-ish: The Liveship Traders Trilogy by Robin Hobb

‘Many will rant and rave against the garment fate has woven for them, but they pick it up and don it all the same, and most wear it to the end of their days. You… you would rather go naked into the storm.’

As my Robin Hobb reviews tend to be overly gushy, I thought I would review them as a trilogy, so any readers out there who aren’t fussed on fantasy can skip over this one! I really enjoyed one reviewers point that it only takes two readings for these books (that are huge by the way) to look battered. Me and the bloke mostly read these on holiday in Portugal so they really suffered from being stuffed in bags, and half buried in sand (and wine). I briefly wondered whether they could have been a quartet instead of a trilogy, but the stories work so well in the current format. So I will accept the size and the wrist-ache that came from reading them one after the other.

There was some googling required after finishing the Farseer series; it seems that some people crack straight on with the Tawny Man Series, which follows on from Farseer. But I was well-convinced that it was worth leaving Fitz behind for a while, to focus on Bingtown and its inhabitants. If anyone else is debating this, it seems a matter of preference. Some people enjoyed taking a break from the intensity of the Farseer storyline, and others were so into it they wanted to jump forward and then come back to Liveships. I’m a purist, so always want to read things in the way that the author intended.

There are wayyyy to many story-lines to begin to even touch on them (think Game of Thrones style, multiple plots that cross-over) but one of the significant plotlines is around the Liveships, a concept that I have never read about in fantasy books before. The Liveships are sentient ships, that are owned by trading families, and infused with the memories of their Captains. Its just fascinating, and develops in fantastic way over the trilogy.

I also loved that this trilogy was fantasy-at-sea. I always loved the sections of the Earthsea Quartet by Ursula Le Guin where Ged, the hero, travels around the islands of the archipelago. So this felt a little like coming home. It makes it quite low-level fantasy, particularly in the first book, but is handled deftly and with respect to an audience that is looking for some magic. 

Other themes include morality, seeking refuge, family, class, race, rule, gender roles and expectations, tradition and obligation. But Hobb doesn’t smash you over the head with any of these, and doesn’t present a black and white view of any of them. 

As with the Farseer series, this trilogy is heavily character driven, introducing us to some of the most wonderfully complex, frustratingly flawed characters. One reviewer points out Hobbs use of perspective, with the action being seen through one characters eyes at at time, you can find yourself constantly switching allegiance.  Its a classic example of there being numerous sides to every story, and is refreshing in this format, allowing the reader to empathise with all of the characters and the decisions that they make. I surprised myself by doing a full 180 degree turn on one character, and I am very stubborn. Althea is a wonderful main character; spirited, flawed, and rallying against a society that would have her playing a role she can’t bear the thought of. 

Hobb manages to retain enough mystery to keep you rapt until the last page, with many of the twists and turns coming out of the blue (for me at least). There was one reveal that I genuinely didn’t notice until another Hobbnobb pointed it out to me. Goddamn my skim-reading.  To me, it is faultless writing. Unlike the Farseer trilogy where I found the pacing a bit patchy between the first and second books, this trilogy I found to be more consistently paced. I’m just grateful that I was mostly reading them on holiday because I really couldn’t put them down. I also had some very epic serpent-related dreams!

The trilogy ends in a particularly satisfying way, which is no mean feat when you consider the intricate story-lines that have been woven. I found the ending less emotionally exhausting than the end of the Farseer trilogy, but this is perhaps to be expected when you are reading the fates so many characters from their own perspectives, rather than the main character narrative of Fitz. 

I really couldn’t recommend these highly enough, even if you’re not a huge fan of the genre. If you’re into escapism and strong narratives, then the Livership Traders trilogy is a great place to start that journey. 

You can read my previous reviews of Hobbs work here:

The Assassins Apprentice

The Royal Assassin

The Assassins Quest

Kelly x

Review-ish: One Night, Markovitch by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

Translated by Sondra Silverston.

‘What they were about to see was not something you hurry towards’.

This book is another beaut of a find from a charity shop book collecting mission, which has become a regular part of weekends for me and an obsession that I’m sure will one day kill me. I also do buy new, but there is a certain satisfaction that comes from finding a gem second hand. Last weekend, I found a John Irving that I had never heard of, in the same style of book covers that I have been collecting, lurking in the second hand book shop in the arcade in Cardiff. Reader, it is a compulsion. 

I have never really read anything about Israel before, in particular how the second World War effected events, so this was refreshing and informative. The experience of reading this has really confirmed to me how much I enjoy reading fictionalised history. 

I’ve been a fan of magical realism since falling in love with Louis de Bernieres and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but this time it was really interesting to read magical realism where the evocative background is Israel, rather than the South America or Europe. There is historical realism there, certainly, but it isn’t held to ransom by it. It provides some context rather than driving the narrative. And it did make me more aware of how Israel was formed and the effect that the second World War had on it and its people.

It is truly, bloody lovely. Even with my fairly rubbish imagination, I could see the homes in the kibbutz and had really vivid images in my mind of the characters. 

Although the main bulk of the story is about the eponymous Markovich, and that story is beguiling, it is the journey of Zeev Feinberg that really drew me in, and has stuck with me since. How the other characters respond to Zeev and his impulses are fascinating. The various other characters are just fantastic, in particular, the Deputy Commander of the Irgun. Little moments like how many children get named after him, are just wonderful.

The last third of the book, where the narrative focused on the children, felt a little less well-developed,  event though I enjoyed the more exciting parts of that narrative. The build-up was perhaps just a little too long. But the ending was beautiful wrought. I quite often HATE endings if I have loved the book, I never find them satisfying, but this ending felt right and did justice to the rest of the book. 

Reviewers on Goodreads have RAVED about her next two novels, some saying that this one is weaker in comparison so I will definitely be keeping an eye out for them.

Happy reading!

Kelly

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