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Surrey, United Kingdom

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman

Wow. For such a small book, this certainly packs a punch. It's a while since I read something that made me pause to think. These are forty short stories or imaginings (and I mean short, the majority are two pages) of what the afterlife might hold for us. They are like fairy tales for grown ups and raise some interesting philosophical questions. David Eagleman, the author, is a neuroscientist which I found made the whole thing even more interesting - what would someone who has studied neuroscience have to say about faith and death? Well, there are plenty of interesting and thought-provoking ideas: we are already in Heaven but God has stepped outside for a while, we are all actors playing parts in other people's lives, we can choose what we wish to be in the next life or perhaps rather than God being outside and bigger than us, He is actually an intrinsic part of each of us. Each imagining gives just enough detail and suggestion to explain the idea, leaving you to consider and expand on the implications and possibilities. This is not so much a book to sit down and read cover to cover, as one to dip into every now and then and even to return to over time. I am now intrigued to read Eagleman's other book - Wednesday is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia

The Art of Love by Elizabeth Edmondson and The Mesmerist's Apprentice by Lee Jackson

I've had rather a slow start to reading in 2010. The snow has meant I have been working from home for a few days which meant I lost my commute/reading time. I sometimes wonder how I would find time to read if it wasn't for the half hour journey to and from work every day. I try to read a chapter of something every night before bed, but nine times out of ten my eyes start drooping as soon as I pick up the book. It is also a habit - I notice how quickly the evening disappears when I come straight in from work and put the tv on. It doesn't help that hubby and I bought The Sopranos DVD boxset just after Christmas and now watch nothing else. I am surprised by how much I have got hooked on The Sopranos - it's so well written and the characters are all so strong and memorable. I think its secret is that it's basically a soap-opera and concentrates on a few key characters, without trying to spread itself too thinly. We're on series 4 now, so only three more to go after that and then perhaps I can start doing something more constructive in the evenings?

So, the books I have completed are two library books I took out just before Christmas...

The Art of Love by Elizabeth Edmondson follows our heroine as she uncovers her true identity. It's set in 1930s London and Paris and involves devious dealings in the art world. Our heroine (Polly Smith, or as she then learns, Polyhymnia Tomkins) is an artist struggling to make her way. The novel is trying to be about identity and how we are who we are, despite our names, up-bringing or circumstances. It's just that it all seems quite weak and half-hearted. The plot holds no surprising twists (unless I was just lucky in guessing how things were going to turn out, but I am not usually the type of person to decipher a mystery!) The characters are merely sketched - I didn't feel I got to know or care about any of them particularly. One other thing which spoilt the book for me was the number and frequency of typographical errors, from spelling, to grammar and even missing or incorrect words. I try not to be a pedant about such things, but I just kept noticing errors and it became rather distracting. I don't know much about publishing, so not sure where the fault lies and I am not saying that I would have enjoyed the story any more than I did if there were no errors, simply that I found it annoying and it re-enforced my impression of the novel being rather 'slap-dash'. A shame, because I think this story had potential.

The Mesmerist's Apprentice by L.M. Jackson (who also writes as Lee Jackson) is the third of his novels that I have read. They are all set in Victorian London and owe a debt to the detective and sensation novels of the time. What I enjoy about Jackson's novels are his attention to detail and obvious love of the period. The books are littered with interesting historical and social facts. This particular novel also focuses on one of the Victorians' great obesessions - spiritualism. The main character, Sarah Tanner, is our eyes and ears through the novel. She is a strong and independent woman in a time when these qualities were not encouraged and, as with all good heroines, there is a sense of tragedy past about her. There is humour, romance, murder, intrigue and mystery in this novel and it trots along at a great pace. I'll certainly be going back to read the first Sarah Tanner novel A Most Dangerous Woman, as well as following Lee's blog The Cat's Meat Shop and VictorianLondon Twitter updates...

Currently Reading:
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - inspired to read this after seeing Guy Ritchies recent Sherlock Holmes film and the embarrassing knowledge that I have never read any of them...
Becoming Queen by Kate Williams - the biography behind the recent film. There seems to be a theme in my reading at the moment!

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The Shrimp and the Anemone by LP Hartley

This is an absolutely delightful book. There is no huge, romping plot, but it is a beautifully drawn picture of the relationship between two Edwardian siblings, Eustace and Hilda. I distinctly remember reading the opening passage as an exercise in an English lesson at school and it has stayed with me all these years (at least 20!) Eustace is the central character and is such an endearing and loveable character. His worries and terrors are so well portrayed and, while seeming ridiculous are exactly the sort of thing that children do fret about. His fertile imagination is perfectly balanced by Hilda's sensible and reliable nature. For all the wonderful qualities of these two children there is the underlying sense of suffocation which is so well evoked with the opening image of the shrimp and the anemone. In parts it reads almost like a fairy tale, with a heavy emphasis on right and wrong.
I have had LP Hartley's The Go-Between on my TBR pile for some time after picking it up second-hand in Hay-On-Wye last year and am now really looking forward to getting started on that. I've just looked at the customer reviews on Amazon and one reviewer has likened to two books I really enjoyed: Atonement by Ian McEwan and Spies by Michael Frayn. Has anyone else read any of LP Hartley's novels? What are the other Eustace and Hilda novels like (I believe there are two others, The Sixth Heaven and Eustace and Hilda)?

Currently Reading:
The Mesmerist's Apprentice by LM Jackson - I have read a couple of other books by this author (under his other name of Lee Jackson) and they are just wonderfully Victorian and sensational.
Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman - this is my next book club read (suggested by me!)