Wednesday, 26 July 2017

FIRST ANNIVERSARY - reading pile roundup: Linda Newbery

A side-effect of hosting WRITERS REVIEW is that my to-be-read pile (both virtual and actual) is out of control, with new additions almost every week. I have two overcrowded shelves of books-in-waiting: charity shop bargains rubbing shoulders with overdue library books, loans from friends, occasional advance proofs, impulse buys and the next choice for Reading Group. Inevitably, some books wait there for a very long time, as others jump the queue - and that's without including the titles lined up on my Kindle. At least I shall never be short of a good read. 

One that will go straight to the front is Alan Hollinghurst's The Sparsholt Affair, due in October. I particularly enjoyed his most recent novel, The Stranger's Child, and this one - beginning in Oxford in the Blitz and following three generations to the present-day - promises everything Hollinghurst is known for: elegance of style, insights into social mores and changing times, a focus on art and architecture. 

Time Will Darken It, by William Maxwell, is the book I've chosen for my Reading Group. I have yet to read anything by Maxwell, but his reputation gives me high expectations. Tom Cox, of the New York Times, listed it as an underrated classic of American literature, a "quiet, mid-career masterpiece". ("Quiet" is the kiss of death to marketing departments these days, making me wonder if the novel would even find a publisher today.) Nicholas Lezard, whose Paperback of the Week feature in the Guardian has sadly come to an end but was such a reliable source of books otherwise at risk of being overlooked, said of it: "This is such a good novel that I'm still shaking thinking about it ... A novel not to be recommended to people but to be pressed on them, urgently." So I am pressing it on my Reading Group, for September.

Longbourn, by Jo Baker, unaccountably had a long wait on the shelf before I started it this week. Such a clever idea: Pride and Prejudice from the viewpoint of the family servants - a sort of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead set in Jane Austen's world, or at least the long hours and repetitive toil behind the scenes which allow her main players to lead their lives of comfort and leisure. Of course the servants have their own secrets and desires, and in one case a background that takes us far beyond the confines of Longbourn. I'm already hooked, by the writing as well as by the premise. Jo Baker is certainly a striking talent; far from imitating Jane Austen she has found a distinctive style of her own, and a sense of wild landscape in some of the scenes which is more reminiscent of Charlotte Bronte. 
There's usually some nature writing on my waiting pile. Currently heading that section is The Seabird's Cry  by Adam Nicholson, from which I expect eloquent writing on marine ecosystems, the lives of birds and how we're casually destroying the environment.

I enjoyed Rachel Joyce's The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry,  was even more impressed by The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, and am looking forward to her new novel, The Music Shop. She has a wonderful way of combining simplicity and profundity in writing about unexceptional lives. For a taster, catch it on Radio 4's Book at Bedtime last week and this.

What are you looking forward to reading? Please tell us in the comments!


  1. I also have a big reading pile, organised in the same serendipitous way. I would also add Books Reviewed on WritersReview that I now can't wait to read! I will be looking forward to the Alan Hollinghurst, having enjoyed Line of Beauty and The Stranger's Child. My husband is a big fan of William Maxwell, so it will be inreseting to see what you make of Time Will Darken It, can we look forward to a WritersReview? Longbourn is on my pile, too, after our recent History Girls Austen Fest. So much reading to do!

  2. Thanks, Celia. I know - sometimes I feel I could easily spend my whole time reading, and not writing at all! I think you'll love LONGBOURN and I'm quite sure it will be reviewed here before long.

  3. I've got Longbourn on my Kindle. Also The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald. Both recommendations. And, in paperback, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. My husband recommends that, so I shall give it a try, though it looks a bit daunting. Also in paperback, and not at all daunting, The Herring Girls by Theresa Tomlinson (though perhaps I shouldn't mention that as it's not 'Adult'!)

  4. Theresa Tomlinson is excellent - I'm pleased to see that her early books have been reissued, with lovely covers.