I’m so glad I gave Jessie Burton another chance with her new book The Muse

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In 1967, Odelle Bastion gets a new job in an art gallery, where the eccentric and enigmatic Marjorie Quick takes her under her wing. But when Odelle’s boyfriend brings a painting to be valued, Quick becomes even more mysterious, and Odelle becomes determined to discover the secrets. In 1936, Olive Schloss moves to rural Spain with her family, and they become involved with a local painter and his sister; and it is the events here that bring about the painting and it’s secrets.

This was an exceptionally pleasing book. There is a feeling I get a few pages into a book when I know it’s going to be a good one; supreme smugness and anticipation of enjoyment, a relaxing and trust that the author is going to be trustworthy to take me on a worthwhile, enjoyable and satisfying journey. Like sinking into a hot bath, or the first taste of a truly terrific meal. It really wasn’t long into this book that I felt this feeling wash over me, and settled back to enjoy myself.

Secrets of the deep and bizarre beings in Riverkeep by Martin Stewart

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When Wulliam’s father, the Riverkeep, is attacked by a monster from the deep which takes over his body, Wulliam is desperate to save him. Abandoning the piece of river his father has kept his whole life he starts to journey down the river through land he has only heard of to find the Mormorach, the legendary and magical beast that could cure his father. But he’s not the only one looking for it, nor the only one on a journey, and William’s trip turns out more colourfully than he ever would have imagined.

For me, this book seemed to have two very clear sections. The start was fairly slow, fairly tedious world building, telling us much too much information about the Riverkeep and the river etc etc etc. It was fairly dull, dark and dense. Then suddenly Wulliam embarks on his quest, and everything starts being faintly ridiculous and completely bizarre. In an enjoyable way – but it was just totally unexpected!

Finally a fictional experience of motherhood I can relate to in Bishop’s The Other Side of the World

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Charlotte and Henry married, and had a child, then another. Charlotte is run down by the monotony of motherhood and Henry by the English weather as opposed to childhood memories of India. Henry decides to move them to Australia, where Charlotte continues to struggle, and their marriage becomes less and less close as they refuse to recognise what each other needs.

After my recent revelations of the lack of realistic mothers in fiction, this book was refreshing. Here was a young mother facing what I do every day; the relentless needs of (admirably adorable) children, the sacrifice of self that you aren’t quite sure you signed up for, the challenges of being at home on your own. Though for me this was the most compelling as it is the closest to my current experience, the rest of the book was excellent too, with the themes coming through the sparse prose almost between the words rather than through them.

And it’s rather lucky that I enjoyed it, as I’m going to an event with author Stephanie Bishop tomorrow, as well as Eowyn Ivey, author of one of my all time favourite books The Snow Child and new release To the Bright Edge of the World. Exciting!

Back to the book.

So apparently people had sex in the olden days – The Vatican Princess by C W Gortner

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When Lucrezia’s father, with a mixture of force, bribery and persuasion, is made Pope, Lucrezia becomes a pawn in the power games always going on all around her. And her beauty is her chief weapon; but this works against her as often as for her. Trying to navigate between her brother’s deadly rivalry and desire for her, the husbands who try to wrest her loyalty away from her father, Lucrezia finds herself right in the middle of huge historical events as well as her own personal trauma.

I was hoping here to find out some more about a historical period. To discover more about the life of a historical figure I hadn’t heard of before. And, this kind of happened. But mainly this book seemed to be making the oh-so-laboured point, people in the olden days actually had sex. I mean, it was pretty much all the book was about: Lucrezia and the many men she attracted. I was hoping for a fuller picture. 

Why can I only find these two great literary apps?

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The world of literature has always evolved, changed, innovated and experimented. And so I have been hoping over the last few years that with apps popping up all over the place, we’d be treated to some new, exciting and experimental literature. Telling stories in new ways, using words in new ways.

But so far, I’ve only seen it done well in these two apps:

Too much prose too little magic (but a great end) – David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks

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(It’s a long time since I read this so please forgive slightly vague summary… ) A teenage Holly Sykes runs away from home, and in a slightly odd conversation with an old woman, becomes a part of an eternal conflict between magical forces of good and evil. Throughout her life she is drawn into their battles, as she (and many other characters) also just lives her normal life.

I read Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell a few years ago and was enthralled. The masterful skill of weaving the different stories within one book, making them link together and above all making each and every one of them completely and utterly compelling astounded me. Here, Mitchell attempts the same sort of thing but, disappointingly, to lesser effect. I found myself ploughing through some of the stories in order to get to the plot bits, rather than actually enjoying them. Arguably, it is showing that the magic bits are just a part of a whole life; we’re giving the boring, normal and human bits as well, but I feel like such a masterful storyteller could have made them a bit more interesting.

Four lesser known awesome literary Mothers

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I recently realised how few Mothers with great characters could be found in literature. Two of my fellow English Literature graduates and I compiled a list of eight awesome Mothers which was about all we could think of, and I posted about four of them last week.

These next four are not as well known. Have you heard of them?

I was not expecting this from The Ballroom by Anna Hope

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In a mental asylum young attendant Charles Fuller dreams of helping people get better by the power of music, and puts on a ball each Friday. And in the Ballroom, John and Ella, usually kept apart in the strict gender separation of the oppressive asylum, meet. And gradually, despite the other residents, the circumstances, their own difficult pasts, they fall in love. But meanwhile, Charles is becoming disillusioned, angry and bitter; to ends that will threaten all of the characters.

I was very pleased to win this book in a twitter contest. From the title I was expecting something a little more frivolous, and at first was disappointed to find myself reading about a mental hospital. This soon changed as I was drawn into the plot and came to care about the characters and find the setting more and more interesting.

Where are the Mums in books? Like seriously.

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I had a baby! Almost eight months ago now. I’m still pretty proud of myself. And totally overcome still by how wonderful Kezia is. But when I come to connect my new parental status with my life in literature I am suddenly hit with a problem. It seems that mothers are hugely absent from books – in almost all stories they are either dead or completely useless.

Maybe I was just too stupid for this book? – Numero Zero by Umberto Eco

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Colonna, a writer, is offered a job at a paper, chronicling it’s creation and activity. But the paper itself; designed to tell tomorrow’s news, a year later (I think?) is a scam, a plot to scare people to pay for it not to be printed. Conspiracies and stories abound, with history being thrown about. Colonna makes a connection to a female member of the staff – but suddenly the theories invade into everyday life, and their future and the newspaper is in peril…

Again, I read this a fair while ago so don’t remember it too clearly. It is, obviously, Umberto Eco’s latest and last book. The only other I’ve read was the famous The Name Of the Rose, which I enjoyed despite finding it pretty dense. This, too, was not the easiest read. At it’s heart the story was pretty simple, but so obscured by so many ideas and theories that I didn’t quite get the references for that I’m not quite sure that I understood it.