Hastings District Libraries

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Old Filth by Jane Gardam

In her novel, Old Filth, Jane Gardam tackles a little regarded aspect of British colonial history: the plight of what were called Raj orphans. These were children born in distant parts of the British Empire who were sent ‘home’ for schooling and care, often with strangers.

Edward Feathers, or Filth as he becomes known (Failed In London, Try Hong Kong), is born in Malaya, but shipped off to England at a young age to board with the unpleasant Ma Didds in Wales. The reader gets a hint early on of some terrible events here which colours Edward’s relationships with people for the rest of his life. Virtually abandoned by his family, Edward’s attempts to make a life for himself are at times poignantly sad.

Thank goodness for ‘Sir’, the headmaster who takes him under his wing, and the Ingoldby family who adopt him for holidays, but with war just around the corner, Edward’s future is up in the air again. By 1945, London is still rebuilding after the Blitz and Edward jumps at the chance to better himself in Hong Kong.

While Old Filth concerns serious matters, it is written with Gardam’s usual droll wit, brilliantly batty characters and quirky dialogue. If you haven’t read Gardam before, I suggest you start with Old Filth before tackling the rest of the Filth trilogy, The Man in the Wooden Hat and Last Friends, which fill in some gaps and provide the stories of Filth's wife Betty and his arch rival, Terry Veneering. A wonderful series from a very unique voice.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue Link: Old Filth

Thursday, November 26, 2015

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

State of Wonder is one of those books that seem to have everything: an original and at times jaw-dropping storyline, an engaging and bewildered heroine, sharp and witty prose plus plenty to make you stop and think about - I was in a state of wonder at its cleverness.

When Anders Eckman dies of fever in the Amazonian jungle the details of his death are scantily noted on an Aerogram sent to his employer at Vogel pharmaceuticals. Is maverick scientist, Annick Swenson, who has been using up a ton of Vogel capital on her own research project, hiding something?

Anders’s colleague, Marina Singh, the narrator of the story, makes the journey to Manaus to track down Dr Swenson and discover the truth. She has her own murky past involving Dr Swenson, is reluctant to leave Minnesota, loses her luggage and has to cope with nightmares caused by the anti-malarial drugs she takes.

In the Amazon tributary where Dr Swenson conducts her research, Marina will face a raft of new challenges, including encounters with anacondas, poison arrow shooting tribesmen as well as winning the confidence of Dr Swenson, before she finds out what really happened to Eckman. The research Swenson is undertaking also creates some startling plot twists.

Marina is a complex but likeable character, Swenson a terse and difficult colleague and the Amazonian tribespeople as mischievous as they are mysterious.The possibility of a wonder drug throws up some interesting moral dilemmas, while Marina has her own emotions to navigate. State of Wonder is a rich, amusing, vastly entertaining and intelligent novel. I enjoyed this book so much I was sorry to finish it - one of my top reads for 2015.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue links (print copy): State of Wonder

Ebook: State of Wonder

Monday, November 23, 2015

Misconception: A true story of love and infertility by Jay-Jay Feeney

This book was written a couple of years ago, but when I saw a new copy I picked it up and then could not put it down until it was finished!  Jay-Jay Feeney is part of the top rating Edge breakfast radio show, alongside her husband Dom Harvey.

After her husband's fertility was affected by testicular cancer, the couple begin IVF treatment. Feeney wrote the book partly because she could not find information about this experience written by someone actually going through it.

Jay-Jay holds nothing back in sharing this very personal and at times heart breaking journey. Feeney describes her harrowing childhood - finding her father was not the man she thought, time spent in women's refuges, and sexual abuse from the age of six. Later she takes on care of her young nephew when her drug addicted brother is sent to jail. She also gives an insight into the busy and stressful world of breakfast radio: the early starts, maintaining ratings, and being cheerful when IVF is not working.

She describes with honesty and humour the medical procedures involved for the couple as well as the decision to share their experiences so that others going through a similar situation have somewhere to turn for insight and companionship.

Catalogue link: Misconception

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Death of the Poet by N Quentin Woolf

This book almost needs a red-stickered note of caution on the cover warning that parts of it are very scary and difficult to read.

It describes the relationship between a woman and a man with (female on male) serious domestic abuse over many years, portraying throughout in chilling detail the woman's actions (while obviously within the grips of mental illness) and the descent of the life of her partner.

He, at the beginning of the book, is a well-known, successful DJ in California; he meets his partner through his job and falls in love with her firey nature when a political debate boils over in his studio, and he makes a promise never to leave her. Their life, their child, the woman's past life, partner and child are all wound up within - the latter in an endearing section in the latter part of the book.

The story also unexpectedly involves a World War 1 poet and how this is woven together is intriguing. It is a complicated, devastating book which even now, several weeks after I finished it moves me with its violence and it's passion.

The author is a writer and broadcaster who has previously published short fiction, runs a number of literary groups, presents a weekly talk show for londonist.com and also hosts literary podcast The Wireless Reader.

Posted by CC.

Catalogue link: The Death of the Poet 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Life Class by Pat Barker

Pat Barker must surely be the master of World War One fiction, being the author of the acclaimed Regeneration trilogy. Her more recent war-themed series features three young artists who meet at the Slade school of art as war clouds are gathering. The first in this trilogy is Life Class which begins in the lazy balmy summer of 1914.

Paul Tarrant is struggling to impress his life-class teacher, while he is attracted to the infinitely posher and more talented Elinor Brooke, who remains friendly but aloof. Paul throws himself into an affair with a life model with disastrous results. Kit Neville has made a name for himself with his avant-garde style of painting, and is besotted with Elinor as well. A country house party is full of sexual tension between the three, but all anybody can talk about is the coming war.

Both Kit and Paul find themselves at the front, Paul working as a Red Cross orderly while Elinor steadfastly refuses to think about the war effort and concentrates on her painting. And yet it is the horror of what Paul must confront every day that encourages him to draw – but is what he creates fit for public viewing?

Barker recreates the atrocities and dreadful ironies of the front – the language is sparse and direct leaving the facts to speak for themselves, amplified through the empathy she creates in the reader for eye-witness Paul. The question of what the role of art should be in times of war runs through the book adding another layer. There is more to tell, and the characters have more to learn about life, love and art, as well as war. The follow-up books are Toby’s Room and Noonday; the last of these was released earlier this year.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: Life Class

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

An excellent debut novel from Mindy McGinnis, an author I hope we will see much more from. She is a Young Adult librarian who lives in Ohio, USA. She dedicated this book as follows: "For my parents. They read to me. "

This is another Young Adults dystopian novel which could easily sit on the adult fiction shelf; I loved it. It's main theme of the need to protect one's own water source in a completely deconstructed and messed-up world is a very real one, and the way it is handled in this gave me pause for thought. I hope more people read it and think about it.

It is a story of survival, and what it takes to do that in a world that has forgotten most of what their parents, and certainly their grandparents knew. It is a deeply human, moving story beautifully written.

Posted by CC.

Catalogue link: Not a Drop to Drink 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Books Change Lives!

Recently we had a library customer tell us that while reading a memoir she realised that the author was an unknown relative. Her decision to read that particular book and subsequent decision to contact the author has indeed been life changing.

“In books I have travelled, not only to other worlds, but into my own.” - - Anna Quindlen

A colleague of mine was kind enough to share how her love of reading began at the age of eight, when a family friend dropped off a sack full of old books to her home. Classic children’s stories like Anne of Green Gables and The Famous Five were read and re-read countless times. They opened up her world and imagination.

We see this every day in our libraries too as children rush in clutching their returns and race off to find their next book. These are children that are curious and questioning and excited to see and do and think.

“I read because one of these days I'm going to get out of this town, and I'm going to go everywhere and meet everybody, and I want to be ready.” - - Richard Peck

I was also told how thrilled a friend’s children were when writer Margaret Mahy answered their letters in her own hand and with illustrations! This is a memory and keepsake they will have for life.

For me, as a collector of books, their physical presence on my bookshelf (or should I say shelves) is important in itself. For each one reminds me of a person, place or moment in time. When a loved one died a few years ago many books that were important to her became important to me. I shall be happy to be surrounded by these memories for many years to come and curse my collection only when I move house!

“To build up a library is to create a life. It's never just a random collection of books.” - - Carlos María Domínguez

Books may profoundly affect us with their message, teach us a new skill, or simply let us escape to another world for a brief period of time. Whatever their impact, for us as readers, our relationship with books and their authors is significant and lasting.

Books really do change lives!

Please let us know how books have changed your life.

Posted by CP.