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Unravelling the story I'm trying to tell

The final days of life; the first days of life.

The Nonna died, with my pink teddy bear and the Midget’s crying mouse in her arms. Warm, peaceful, painless. Death.

I held a tiny baby in my arms. One week old, the son of a friend, lips twisting ready to smile. Warm, soft, sleepy. Life.

And my mind is twisted by this circle that I so regularly ignore, the inevitable, the potential.

If I knew how to cry, I know I’ve got a world of emotion struggling inside me, but I don’t know how. I don’t know what I feel. First shock. The phone call stating that there was nothing more that could be done, the life support the Nonna’s body depended on would be switched off. Her brain, damaged beyond repair. Her life ended. Her breathing, once the ventilator was removed, steady but raspy. The snoring predicted and normal sounded a familiar imitation of The Mother.

Yet, throughout, her hand in mine was warm. The night passed and the sun rose, the sleepless night exhausting. Her breathing became more laboured. Gentle nurses injected drugs, brushed her teeth, applied lip-salve, and kept her eyes the picture of peace.

The end came eventually, as it does for all of us.

And in another room, a life was only beginning.

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Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose

The Grump bought me this book as my birthday present last year. If you’re head over heels in love with writing, it’s a source of great joy, but for anyone who thinks they would be a better person if they only just read a wider and actually grasped what it was they were reading, then I think this book is also a star.

It’s filled with examples and extracts that land a punch. I scribbled down names of books I’m hungry for more of, and it comes with a suggested reading list in the back.

But for a book with such a general balance of different sorts of story, there was one whole chapter which seemed out-of-place. It was about this guy called Chekhov. Some strange Russian chap whose name floated meaninglessly through my brain.

Francine Prose whittled on about reading Chekhov, teaching Chekhov and falling more and more in love with Chekhov. She talked about reading Chekhov on the bus – and I think if you can read a book on a bus it’s got to be pretty absorbing.

So, when passing through Oxfam, this slender 99p book, A Russian Love Affair by Anton Chekhov, jumped out at me, I thought – why not. After all, Francine Prose knows how to write a good book and she thinks reading this 119 pages is worth my time.

Turns out she was right. I love Chekhov. He uses beautiful sentences like: ‘On the table was a watermelon’, in the middle of a scene of adultery. He’s on my list to Father Christmas.

As a side note. The book is part of a series of books by Penguin called ‘Great Loves’. Oxfam had, past tense, a few. One of these other slim volumes was by a name I recognised but not due to his literary prowess, but the notoriety of his antics in the bedroom. Of Mistresses, Tigeresses and Other Conquests by Giacomo Casanova is sadly only a few extracts from the longer 14 volumes of memoirs.

Another Christmas wish.

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Books by Philippa Gregory

The Little House

Gosh.

I picked this book up from a charity shop, purely on the name ‘Philippa Gregory’. It’s not historical fiction, which is what I normally associate with Philippa Gregory. Instead it’s the story of a seemingly normal woman, living a seemingly normal life in a little house.

After leaving it on the bookshelf for a few weeks, maybe months, I picked it up. Buying books, and then leaving them to mature before I actually open them is normal for me.

I opened the book for the first time mid-morning on an ordinary day. It wasn’t with intention to actually read the book, but as part of an investigation into how the books clustered on my shelves were written. My obsession with writing often leads me to investigate how a certain author writes. On this particular instance, I wanted to see if Philippa Gregory was writing in first or third person.

What a mistake.

Open book midway through, read a paragraph. And then I’m not entirely sure what happened. Hours passed. My legs went numb. I closed the book, shocked.

Quite honestly, I think it’s the best Philippa Gregory book I’ve read. I have no idea what happens in the first third. I’m much too scared to find out.

The Lady of the Rivers

It’s no The Little House, but unlike The Little House I can imagine myself able to reread it  without fearing for my emotional stability.

Character driven, and you couldn’t help but love Jacquetta. Despite the hints of magic and the high relations and influences of a royal court she seemed so incredibly normal. You want to be her friend. The plot was more subtle, there was no great race for a conclusion, and really there is no true conclusion, but the continual plod of history. This, surprisingly, didn’t feel like a bad thing.

The Kingmaker’s Daughter

The Kingmaker’s Daughter, however, was more traditionally structured: it had a clear beginning, middle and end. Anne certainly developed as a character as she grew older and got bashed through history, but there was something tragic about her. I was angry when I turned the final page (I might have sworn loudly), and it got me thinking that sometimes there’s something nice about happy endings. Sometimes I like a likable character and a happy ending.

A happy ending allows you to have closure and finality with a book. Maybe it isn’t as powerful. I don’t know I have as much residual emotion from books that just end happily.

Thinking about The Kingmaker’s Daughter makes me feel a little angry.

It’s party how real the characters feel. I can see myself in both, but whilst you like Jacquetta, I fear  Anne incorporates more of my natural manipulativeness and tendency to hold a grudge. Anne and I hold our feeling close.

Then there’s The Little House. Just thinking about The Little House makes me feel truly horrified and hollow.

That burst of emotion, that comes with the final kick of the last page, tends to stick around. I recall being stunned and not able to think straight when I finished the Little House. I recall feeling like my soul had been twisted and that I wasn’t quite real when I finished The God of Small Things – another stunning book.

Both The Lady of the River and The Kingmaker’s Daughter were recommended to me by The Midget.

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The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

Marian edits surveys. She makes sure that the questions result useful answers. Meanwhile she deals with the questions of love, marriage and babies.

As Margaret Atwood’s first novel,  published in 1969, it doesn’t feel as dated as I feel it ought to.

Whilst this book wasn’t as gripping, or as horrifying as The Handmaid’s Tale, which is the only other Margaret Atwood book I’ve read, it subtly got to me. Like The Handmaid’s Tale, it makes you question your own beliefs and values, but I think it was somehow more personal. It felt written for confused 20-something women.

It seems right that I should read The Edible Woman before embarking on survey work as part of my life’s monotonous 9-5 routine. In all honesty I’m quite intrigued by the challenge, but I can see how on repeat it could easily become deliriously dull.

As a side note, The Handmaid’s Tale is horrifying, but certainly worth a read.

Bought in a charity shop after enjoying The Handmaids Tale also by Margaret Atwood.

 

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Review: The Agincourt Bride by Joanna Hickson

Historical fiction telling the tale of Catherine de Valois who became the Henry V’s Queen of England

I liked this book. I curled up in bed and read it one evening until my eye lids were droopy, and then the following morning until the end. That’s a pretty good recommendation for a book.

It’s the first I’ve read like that in a while, but I don’t know whether that reflects my life, or the gripping storytelling. While I thoroughly enjoyed it, the book was weak in plot. If I was the editor, I’d have sat down and asked why a couple of scenes were in there. What was their purpose? I would have queried who was the protagonist, was it Catherine the princess, or her maid?

But maybe that’s my paranoia about the weaknesses of my own storytelling speaking.

 

Recommended to me by The Midget.

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