Sunday, November 25, 2012

Literary Ramblings II: CK Stead, Diana Neutze, Rachel Joyce …

Mark Hubbard reports in from the south on a sunny Sunday morning:

Mrs Hubbard and I buy our books through the same Amazon account so we can read all the books in the single account on either of our iPads; an exclusive library of our own making. You might be reading this and thinking what a good idea, although in truth it's pointless. We both like different fiction, so what it tends to mean is Mrs Hubbard reads through, at times irritatingly reads out, over a cup of tea, the one star Amazon reviews of the literary fiction I've just bought, then tells me how I've wasted our money. Which brings me to UK writer Rachel Joyce's wonderful novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which the one star critics found to be, apparently, depressing. The thing about so many of the one star reviews, is they tell you more about the reviewer, than the book in question.

Confession first: I can’t review this yet. I’ve only started reading it this morning, but I know I’m going to love this novel. It's a great concept: retired Harold Fry after an ordinary life, receives a letter from a dying friend in a hospice and as he goes to post a letter in return, he can't, and instead keeps walking, post box to post box, the length of England to her. Already in the first chapter Joyce has in crisp, succinct words created for me two clearly drawn characters, Harold and his wife, Maureen, writ with a humour and tangibility which will see them easily through the narrative. So this novel awaits, an enjoyment of anticipation, a philosophical read. I’ve decided to make these irregular literary ramblings a regular on my blog, so a review will no doubt be forthcoming. Note I won’t trap myself inside a timetable, ramblings will be ‘happenings’, following the ebb and flow of my reading around the half-life of the day job, and another pointer is whenever you see a book or film review on this blog, I've liked it, very much. It's not that I'm undiscerning, it's because my father had the first of his open heart surgeries when he was younger than I am now, a reminder that life is short, therefore I don't intend to spend what free time I have, reviewing something I didn't enjoy. In the absence of a fee, that would be pointless.

So to a book, Mr CK Stead's Risk, I did read this month, and most unsociably in the two days Mrs Hubbard and I were away for a weekend and I was supposed to be sociable in the company of friends. I've written on Mr Stead in my previous ramble, he’s one of my favourites, and Risk didn’t disappoint. Good story telling, clever allusions, and – spoilers coming - I have a new fictional hero: Tom Roland. If I was to stab at Tom’s gestation it would be when researching his earlier novel, My Name Was Judas, Mr Stead happened upon the Book of Job. First Tom is that combination that will guarantee a life of dissatisfaction and social proscription – poet by night, banker by day. He works his corporate half-life, while plugging away at his love of words in the early hours of the morning; unpublished for almost all his life, until he’s blown up on a bus in the London bombings, two days after finally receiving notification of his first placement of a poem in a major arts magazine. Though as if that’s not enough, turning expectation back on itself, the bomb doesn’t kill Tom; Mr Stead cruelly keeps him on a life support of words long enough to realise his dream of leaving the day job, then in a vividly written scene, kills him again with a heart attack.

I have no idea why such a character would resonate with me :)

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