REVIEW: Sebastian Faulks – A Possible Life (Review by Catherine Horne)

The day after I finished Sebastian Faulks’s astonishing new novel I sat down to a few episodes of Mad Men. In one of his many moments of boozy insight, Don Draper offers this pearl of advertising wisdom to his protégé Peggy Olson:

‘You are the product. You feeling something. That’s what sells.’

This quote momentarily shattered my nostalgia-fuelled swoonfest as I realised that this is exactly how I feel about Faulks’s writing. It is so popular because it stokes our emotions to such an extent that we become embroiled in the drama of his characters; we become hyper-receptive to the message that he sends; and we want more of it. And I want more of A Possible Life. So much more. I cannot recall ever being so emotionally invested in a novel and that is such an exhilarating experience.

A Possible Life has a unique structure, which serves its purpose very well. The book could possibly be thought of as 5 short stories on a similar theme, however it is probably more apt to consider the theme as the main character, and the 5 stories as examples of this particular theme in action. (Faulks himself refers to the structure as ‘symphony’- distinct movements that contribute to the whole). The novel starts out with Geoffrey, a young English schoolteacher who becomes trapped in some of the most harrowing experiences of the Second World War. We then meet a nineteenth-century British lad with a Dickensian childhood; an Italian neuroscientist from several decades in the future; a maid in Napoleonic France and, finally, a Joni Mitchell-esque music star in the early 1970s.

Although these scenarios may appear to have little in common, they are all ruminations on the directions that our lives take and the experiences that make us who we are. Some form of hardship, loss or tragedy affects each character to a significant degree. However it is their resolve to move on and create new possibilities for themselves – the ‘possible life’ of the title – that gives the novel its thematic punch. Faulks is perhaps at his most brilliant when he writes the more life-affirming segments; they never seem glib or cheesy, but rather recognise the complex layering of experience that forms the basis of the characters’ identities and lives.

And this is why A Possible Life struck such a chord with me. Ultimately we all live with regret, with loss and with heartache, but it is our ability to be affected by these experiences and to move on from them simultaneously which shapes our lives. Sebastian Faulks has an astonishing ability to capture these feelings and mirror them back so that even though you are, on the surface, reading about the fortunes of a 1970s folk star, as you delve a little deeper more your own feelings and memories become intertwined with the characters on the page. It is this personal connection that brings me back to Draper’s quote; the product is not the book itself, but rather your experience of it.

Review by Catherine Horne

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Swannies Guernsey and Cap Signed by Micky O Up For Grabs!

Swans jersey and cap signed by Micky O up for grabsIn time for AFL Grand Final Day, Booktopia has a Swans guernsey and cap both signed by Micky O to give away.

Just order Micky O: Determination. Hard Work. And a Little Bit of Magic from Booktopia before midnight Tuesday 2nd October 2012 to go into the draw.

How does that sound?

Oh, and may the best team win…

(Go Swannies!)

Click here to order Micky O from Booktopia,
Australia’s No. 1 Online Book Shop


Click here for details or to orderMicky O: Determination. Hard Work. And a Little Bit of Magic

When Michael O’Loughlin was drafted by the Sydney Swans at just 17 years of age, he was the no. 40 selection and the last player picked. Back then he could not have imagined the extraordinary future that awaited him: the numerous awards and accolades, the respect and admiration of fellow players, a huge number of personal supporters, and a record-breaking 303 games in the red and white.

This is the inspiring story of Michael’s life from the childhood lessons of hard work and self-belief imparted to him by his mother, Muriel, to the discovery of the stunning sporting ability which would take him into the elite legions of AFL.

By 2009, Michael had broken the Swans’ games record. He had kicked more goals for the club than anyone except the legendary Bob Pratt. Swans jersey and cap signed by Micky O up for grabsHe played more finals for the Swans than any other, and became one of just three Indigenous players in the history of the sport to reach 300 games.

Micky O is the extraordinary story of a kid who combined his talent with sheer determination to become one of the greatest AFL players of all time.

Click here to order Micky O from Booktopia,
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Jacqueline Harvey, author of Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor, answers Six Sharp Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Jacqueline Harvey

author of Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor and The Alice-Miranda Series

Six Sharp Questions

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1.    Congratulations, you have a new book. What is it about and what does it mean to you?

Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor sees the launch of a whole set of new characters; who I completely adore.  Clemmie, as she’s affectionately known has some lovely quirks.  She recites poems that Uncle Digby, the family butler (but more like a beloved great uncle) teaches her and she can frequently be found performing for her grandparents (well, at least their portraits on the wall).  Clementine has a penchant for fashion and an unfortunate way of getting into trouble despite the best of intentions.  She also has a very sweet tea cup pig called Lavender.  When her scary great aunt Violet arrives unexpectedly, the household is thrown into disarray. What is it that Aunt Violet really wants and what is she carrying in her mysterious black bag?

This book is the start of a new series and there will be some interaction between these characters and the characters in the Alice-Miranda series.  Clementine lives in a village called Penberthy Floss and avid readers of Alice-Miranda will know that name from the second Alice-Miranda adventure, when she goes home for the holidays.  Clementine will also attend Ellery Prep School, where Alice-Miranda went before she took herself off to boarding school.  One of Clemmie’s best friends is Poppy Bauer who lives on the farm at Alice-Miranda’s parent’s property, Highton Hall.  I’m looking forward to writing Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose’s first meeting, which I anticipate happening in Clemmie’s fourth book and Alice-Miranda’s eighth. Click here to buy Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor.

2.    Time passes. Things change. What are the best and worst moments that you have experienced in the past year or so?

This year has been an extraordinary one as I took four months leave from my full time job and travelled, first in Australia promoting Alice-Miranda and then to the United States and United Kingdom, where I worked in 37 schools and met thousands of students.  I have been fortunate to secure contracts for the Alice-Miranda series in the US and UK (and translation rights in Indonesia and Turkey) and Clementine Rose will also be published in the UK too.  Having the opportunity to travel and write and meeting amazing people has been an obvious highlight of the year.  When we were in the UK we stumbled upon the derelict mansion that I’ve used as inspiration for Caledonia Manor in the Alice-Miranda series.  It was definitely one of those ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ moments as I had no idea where the house was, other than somewhere in Shropshire – which is a fairly large county with an abundance of derelict mansions.  We were ultimately able to look through all 100 rooms of the house and tour the grounds as well.  We were there four times and it really felt like there was a very strange connection between us and the house.  We then spent a week in Paris on the way home which was fantastic as I’m currently writing Alice-Miranda in Paris.  I blogged about the trip at http://jacquelineharvey.blogspot.com

It was a wonderful surprise to return home and find that Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor has been included in the Get Reading Program for 2012.  I’m so grateful for the momentum of the Alice-Miranda series and the opportunity to continue writing her books and now Clementine Rose as well.

3.    Do you have a favourite quote or passage you would be happy to share with us? It doesn’t need to be deep but it would be great if it meant something to you.

It’s really a quote that I’ve stolen from a very good friend of mine who is oft heard to say, ‘don’t waste a minute,’ and I suppose it’s become a bit of a mantra of mine too.  Life is short and you really don’t want to wake up in ten or twenty years’ time and wonder why you didn’t give something a go or why you wasted time on something that you didn’t love doing.  It’s not about filling every moment of your day, but it’s about deciding what’s important to you and making sure that you focus on those things and do what makes you feel happiest and most fulfilled.  To that end I’ve recently made the big decision to become a full time writer and speaker, giving up my job as Director of Development at Abbotsleigh at the end of October.  I adore working at the school and have been there for over 11 years but after touring the US and UK and meeting loads of kids and visiting many schools, I realised that this is what I really want to do.  It has taken a long time to get to the point that I could contemplate writing as a full time career, and I feel so fortunate that I can take that path now – I’m not going to miss a minute and fully intend to make the most of every opportunity.

4.    Writers have often been described as being difficult to live with. Do you conform to the stereotype or defy it? Please tell us a little about the day to day of your writing life.

I don’t think I conform to the stereotype at all – well most of the time anyway.  Up until now my writing life has always happened in the evenings, on weekends and in break times.  When I’m working on a book, I tend to be extremely focused.  I like to write away from home if I can, so for the past couple of years my husband and I have gone to Port Macquarie, where we stay in an apartment overlooking the ocean.  I usually settle to a routine fairly quickly and if I’m distracted or stuck, I can go for a walk and get some sea air.  It seems to help.  When I’m in the zone I can write for hours and hours at a time and I definitely get caught up in the emotion of it all.  There are often tears and laughter and I love the feeling of being completely consumed by the writing.  I suppose there are times that I live a little through my characters – and that could be a somewhat strange thing.  My husband will invariably catch me when I’m reading aloud and using all the different voices, or laughing because for one moment I thought I was terribly funny.  But he keeps me grounded!

5.   Some writers claim not to be influenced by the needs of the marketplace, while others seem obsessed by it. Would you please describe how the marketplace affects your writing (come on, tell the truth!).

I think ultimately all writers want to be read and certainly commercial success makes it easier to contemplate having a career in writing. I’m happiest with my writing when I’m completely in love with the characters and the stories.  Clementine Rose, like my previous character Alice-Miranda, is great to write because I adore her and I think that when you treasure your characters and really care about them, then hopefully that will be apparent to the readers too.  With the Clementine Rose and Alice-Miranda series’ I wanted to write stories that I know I would have loved as a child; with adventure, empowered kids, lots of food and some mysteries to unravel.  I don’t think I was looking for a gap in the market but I feel really fortunate that the books have been well received and children seem to connect with them.

6.   Unlikely Scenario: You’ve been charged with civilising twenty ill-educated adolescents but you may take only five books with you. What do you take and why?

That’s a tricky question as there are so many amazing books.  I think I’d take The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, because I could help the students understand the power of language in the context of world war – and I wrote a really in-depth unit on the book a few years ago for the Quality Teacher Project so I know it well; The Bible, because no matter what you believe, there are so many universal stories played out and it would certainly allow for some interesting discussions on ethics, morality and belief systems;  To Kill A Mockingbird, because Atticus Finch is a man to admire and in that story there is a lot to talk about; a new book, that I read recently and loved called Wonder by RJ Palaccio, because Auggie is going to teach lots of kids about compassion and understanding and the not even yet thought about, Big Book of Clementine Rose and Alice-Miranda, because every day we’d need to be reminded of the power of positive thinking, the importance of friendship and the fun that can be had when there’s a mystery to be solved and a Devil’s Food cake to be consumed.

Jacqueline, thank you for playing.

Click here to buy Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor from Booktopia,
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Trudi Canavan, author of The Traitor Queen, Book Three of the Traitor Spy Trilogy, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Trudi Canavan

author of The Traitor Spy TrilogyThe Magician’s ApprenticeThe Black Magician Trilogy and The Age of the Five Trilogy

Ten Terrifying Questions

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1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born, raised and schooled in Melbourne, mostly in and around the foot of the Dandenong Ranges.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

Twelve: I wanted to make films, something I had decided after seeing the Empire Strikes Back.

Eighteen: a writer AND something to do with art and design. Writer because of the Lord of the Rings, which I read at fourteen, and something to do with art because I love art and design and I knew that writers didn’t make much money.

Thirty? Still a writer, but I was hoping to be a published one so I could afford to spend more time doing it.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That I was too shy to ever try, let alone enjoy, public speaking. The thought of it used to repel me, probably thanks to being humiliated during ‘drama’ classes at school, but since being published I’ve gradually done more of it. While I still get nervous before hand, once I get before an audience, if I’m well prepared, I find I relax and have fun.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

The original The Little Mermaid. I was aghast that a fairytale could have a tragic ending. But when about twelve or thirteen, when challenged by a librarian to come up with a story on the spot, I made up one about a man who paid a witch to turn him into a merman so he could pursue a mermaid he’d fallen in love with, but when it came to the ending I realised ‘happily ever after’ didn’t cut it as a good ending.

I have quite eclectic tastes in music, and there are too many songs or pieces of music to list that have become soundtracks to stories, or simply motivation to pursue my dreams. The same is true of art and other imagery. I have a pinboard in front of my desk covered in postcards, photos and pages torn from magazines that I find inspiring.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

It seemed a large and worthy challenge. I changed my ambition from making films to writing books after reading The Lord of the Rings. It was the fact that Tolkien had invented such a fleshed out world that inspired me. Also, my father used to write down little notes for a book he wanted to write, and it seemed like a mysterious and worthy thing to do. That said, I didn’t think that I would have to choose between all my artistic, creative interests. When you’re young, you think you have all the time in the world.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel …

Traitor Queen is the third and final book in the Traitor Spy Trilogy, which is a sequel to the Black Magician Trilogy (but you don’t have to read the Black Magician Trilogy first). Everyone’s plans are stymied when the Sachakan king imprisons Sonea’s son after Lorkin refuses to agree to a mind read to find out what he knows of the Traitors. Dannyl’s friendship with the Sachakan adviser, Ashaki Achati is tested, Sonea must add negotiating her son’s release to her plans to meet with the Traitors. And Cery, Gol and Anyi have nobody left to call on to hide them from the Rogue Skellin, except Lilia.

Click here to order The Traitor Queen from Booktopia,
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7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I hope they have been entertained, moved and perhaps left with something to think about, be it some aspect of the world and the issues people face in it, or wondering what might happen to the characters next. And I hope they like my writing enough to meet the other characters and worlds I write about.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

I admire anybody with enough motivation and love of writing to finish a novel, because I know how much work is involved. I admire both publishers and people who self publish, for their belief and love for books whether their own or someone else’s. I admire booksellers who stick to selling books despite it being an industry with constant shifting boundaries and new challenges. Of writers I admire most those with the courage to be opinionated and vocal, especially women and writers who experience discrimination and disadvantage.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

To never stop trying to improve my writing. To write more short stories. To find the time for more art and perhaps one day do an illustrated book.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Read a lot. Write a lot. Get a lot of feedback. And most of all, enjoy it!

Trudi, thank you for playing

Click here to order The Traitor Queen from Booktopia,
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REVIEW: The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (Review by Patricia Purcell)

From the intriguing title (which, incidentally, pretty much sums up this wonderful novel) to the tantalizing epilogue, this book totally captivates.

The writing flows at a wonderful pace – it is hard to put down. Although it has numerous characters both current and historical and flicks back and forth between his “escape” and his early life it does not puzzle or confuse the reader.

Allan Karlsson – the said one hundred year old man – is totally believable and quite endearing in the present but has plenty of incidents in his early life to give his character an edge which shows how his own self-absorption has allowed him to survive his past and to cope with his current adventures.

His links to so many of the major events in the twentieth century beggar belief but you do so want them all to be true. The telling of each event is very clever and makes the reader feel part of history.

This is a book for everyone. It raises so many issues – both historical and modern day – that I can see it becoming a “classic”.

It will be the kind of book that everyone says “Have you read…….?” Book clubs be warned!

Review by Patricia Purcell

(BBGuru: Thanks mum!)

The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

by Jonas Jonasson

After a long and eventful life Allan Karlsson is moved to a nursing home to await the inevitable. But his health refuses to fail and as his 100th birthday looms a huge party is planned. Allan wants no part of it and decides to climb out the window… Charming and funny; a European publishing phenomenon.

Sitting quietly in his room in an old people’s home, Allan Karlsson is waiting for a party he doesn’t want to begin. His one-hundredth birthday party to be precise. The Mayor will be there. The press will be there. But, as it turns out, Allan will not . . .

Escaping (in his slippers) through his bedroom window, into the flowerbed, Allan makes his getaway. And so begins his picaresque and unlikely journey involving a suitcase full of cash, a few thugs, a very friendly hot-dog stand operator, a few deaths, an elephant and incompetent police. As his escapades unfold, Allan’s earlier life is revealed. A life in which – remarkably – he played a key role behind the scenes in some of the momentous events of the twentieth century.

The One Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is a charming, warm and funny novel, beautifully woven with history and politics.

Click here to buy The One Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared from Booktopia,
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Top 5 Books for Downton Abbey Addicts by Sarah McDuling

I was supposed to be born in England some time in the late nineteenth century. I firmly believe that. Sadly, by virtue of a cosmic accident, I was born in Australia about a hundred years behind schedule. In hopes of rectifying this obvious mistake, I have written several strongly worded letters addressed to Fate and The Powers That Be.

I am still anxiously awaiting a response.

Another thing I’m anxiously awaiting is Season 3 of Downton Abbey. There’s nothing quite like sitting down with a cup of tea, a plate of cucumber sandwiches and an episode of Downton. For anyone who has spent the past two years in a coma or stranded on a deserted island (these being the only two reasons I will accept for not being a confirmed Downton Addict) Downton Abbey is a TV show about an aristocratic English family and the army of servants who run their household.  It is a show that has everything. Star crossed lovers, long lost family members, unexpected deaths, back-stabbing sisters, murder trials and blackmail schemes and Maggie Smith (who absolutely owns every scene in which she appears as the indomitable Dowager Duchess of Grantham).

It is largely thanks to Downton Abbey that I’ve recently found myself reading lots of books set in pre/post war England – the time period and homeland of my soul. And so, for all my fellow tea-totalling Anglophiles out there, here are some great reads to tide us over while we wait for the next season of Downton Abbey. Each book listed will receive a “Downton Award”, to be presented by a character from the show.


The Remains of the Day

by Kazuo Ishiguro

 Winner of the Downton Award for “Most Dignified Butler” – to be presented by Carson.

Have you ever found yourself wondering what it would be like if Downton Abbey’s dour-faced butler, Carson, was secretly in love with Mrs. Hughes? The Remains of the Day will satisfy your curiosity and then some. This is a heart rending tale of love gone unspoken between a butler and a house keeper, told in the subtle yet emotionally fraught style of Kazuo Ishiguro.

I come back to this book time and again and with each re-read, I get so completely caught up that I inevitably find myself hoping that it will end differently – only to be struck anew by the perfectly bitter-sweet conclusion.

BUY


I Capture the Castle

by Dodie Smith

This is one of my all-time favourite books, one that starts with what I think is the best opening line ever –

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink”.

So begins the diary of Cassandra Mortmain, hands down the most charismatic narrators I have ever encountered. Cassandra and her family live in the crumbling ruins of a castle in the English countryside. The Mortmains are very poor and wonderfully eccentric. Cassandra’s father is an author suffering from writer’s block. Her stepmother is a former artist’s model and occasional nudist who goes by the unlikely name of Topaz and her sister, Rose, is very beautiful, somewhat selfish and (much like Lady Mary of Downton Abbey) extremely good at getting her own way.

When an American family moves into a neighbouring property, both the Mortmain sisters fall in love and what ensues is a perfectly charming, often hilarious and overall very touching coming-of-age story. A must read for anyone who had ever dreamt of living in a castle and getting to swim in the moat.

Cassandra Mortmain lives in the shadow of a beautiful older sister. She is somewhat shy and awkward, the kind of girl who constantly ends up blending into the background rather than stealing the limelight.

As such I Capture the Castle wins the Downton Award for “The Most Often Overlooked Younger Sister” – to be presented by Edith Crawley.

BUY


Atonement

 Winner of the Downton Award for  “Star-crossed Lovers” – to be presented by Anna and Mr Bates.

 Ahhhh Atonement. Here is a book that is bound to enthral any Downton fan – a beautifully imagined tale of tragic romance in which a pair of lovers are cruelly separated by misfortune (much like Anna and Mr Bates.)

Atonement is a sweeping family drama, taking place in wartime England. Our narrator, Briony Tallis, begins the novel as a very foolish young girl who makes a terrible mistake, one that ends up having devastating consequences. As she grows up in a country ravaged by war, Briony’s memories of the past shift like a kaleidoscope till she is forced to face a terrible truth.

In Atonement you will find all the key elements that make Downton Abbey the greatest show in the history of television. Secret affairs, a hero wrongly accused of a crime, young lovers torn asunder, sisterly betrayal and brave young men marching off to war. Briony even trains as a nurse, just like Downton’s Sibyl Crawley!

Warning: Do not read without access to a box of tissues.

BUY


Cold Comfort Farm

A delightfully comical story following the adventures of Flora Poste, a very modern and extremely confidant young woman who takes it upon herself to improve the lives of her rustic country relatives.

I adore Cold Comfort Farm, however, it does happen to include one of my pet peeves – i.e. people marrying their cousins. It might have been socially acceptable for people to marry their cousins in ye olde English times, but that kind of thing simply doesn’t fly these days. So whenever I encounter a story featuring cousins getting married, I’m forced to imagine fake backstories for the characters in order to make it less icky. For instance, even though in Downton Abbey Lady Mary and Mathew Crawley are (distantly) related, I still like to pretend that Mary was secretly adopted.

Cold Comfort Farm was a runner up for the Downton Award for “Kissing Cousins” however it lost by a narrow margin to Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park*.

Instead, it wins the Downton Award for “Most Hilariously High-Handed Busy-Body” – presented by the incomparable Maggie Smith AKA The Dowager Duchess of Grantham.

I imagine that when the Dowager Duchess was a young woman, she would have been exactly like Flora Poste, taking great pleasure in micromanaging the lives of all her relatives so as to ensure that everything and everyone is settled in just the way she thinks best.

*Unbeknownst to her parents (and Jane Austen) Fanny Price was accidentally switched at birth and is therefore not really related to Edmund.

BUY


The Forsyte Saga

Also a runner up in the “Kissing Cousins” category, The Forsyte Saga wins the Downton Award for “Most Scandalous Family” – to be presented by Sibyl Crawley and Tom Branson.

Although no one in the Forsyte family does anything quite so outrageous as to elope with a chauffeur (or smuggle a the body of a recently deceased Turksish Ambassador out of their bed in the middle of the night) they certainly give the Crawley family a run for their money when it comes to dark family secrets and scandalous liaisons.

The Forsyte Saga is three novels worth of epic family drama. Beginning in 1906 and ending in the 1920s, it covers much the same time period as Downton Abbey. This is 20th century  English melodrama at it’s best.

BUY


And for those who prefer a more non-fictional read I highly recommend Life Below Stairs and Lady Almina and the Story of the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle.

I do not believe I am alone my Downton addiction. In fact, I’m pretty sure that there are plenty of Downton addicts out there who secretly believe they have been displaced in time – people who, just like me, are patiently waiting for someone to invent a time machine so they can finally get back to their real lives as auxiliary nurses and suffragettes (ladies) or fox-hunting English lords and Communist chauffeurs. Personally, I am rather anxious to return to my country estate and claim my title as Duchess of  ______shire.

So I implore you, kindred spirits – I know you’re out there – Tell me, what books have I missed? Which authors do you turn to when you’re hankering for a good Downton fix?


And because without him there would be no Downton Abbey…

Snobs/Past Imperfect Omnibus

by Julian Fellowes – writer and creator of Downton Abbey

SNOBS:

Edith Lavery is a woman on the make. The attractive only child of a middle-class accountant, she leaves behind her dull job in a Chelsea estate agents and manages to bag one of the most eligible bachelors of the day – Charles Broughton, heir to the Marquess of Uckfield.

But is life amongst the upper echelons of ‘good’ society all that it seems Edith soon discovers there’s much more to the aristocracy than dancing in Anabel’s, shooting small birds and understanding which fork to use at dinner. And then there is Charles’ mother, the indomitable Lady Uckfield, or ‘Googie’ to her friends, who is none too pleased with her son’s choice of breeding partner.

With twists and turns aplenty, this is a comical tale worthy of a contemporary Jane Austen.

PAST IMPERFECT:

Damian Baxter is very, very rich – and he’s dying. He lives alone in a big house in Surrey, looked after by a chauffeur, butler, cook and housemaid. He has but one concern: who should inherit his fortune…

PAST IMPERFECT is the story of a quest. Damian Barker wishes to know if he has a living heir. By the time he married in his late thirties he was sterile (the result of adult mumps), but what about before that unfortunate illness? He was not a virgin. Had he sired a child? A letter from a girlfriend from these times suggests he did. But the letter is anonymous.

Damian contacts someone he knew from their days at university. He gives him a list of girls he slept with and sets him a task: find his heir…

BUY

Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Or How Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford Kept Me From Springsteen) by Hayley Holland

I arrived back from a week’s leave on Monday to find an advance copy of Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin sitting on my desk, absolutely begging to be read. This is where I should admit to being just a little bit of a Springsteen fan, so having the chance to read a new biography before the publication date was like having Christmas arrive early.

Here was my dilemma though; I was already just over half way through a book. I don’t usually read more than one book at a time for two reasons, a) I get confused, and b) I always worry that I’ll put the first one down and never pick it up again. For 3 days Bruce sat next to my bed before I hit on a solution. The book I am currently reading is Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford, a tetralogy of books. I had 50 pages to go in book two – No More Parades, so I figured I’ll finish book two, put it aside, read Bruce and then go back and read A Man Could Stand Up and The Last Post. Too easy, I thought… How wrong I was!

I have never read anything by Ford Madox Ford and I will freely admit that the only reason I started Parade’s End is that along with my Springsteen obsession, I am also obsessed with Benedict Cumberbatch. Benedict plays the lead character (Christopher Tietjens) in the BBC adaptation of Parade’s End and I am one of those ‘read the book before I see the movie’ people. I’d bumbled my way through what I had already read and to be honest, did not really understand everything that was going on. I even had to download a dictionary app to help me understand some of the words that no one seems to use any more, (‘congeries’ springs to mind) and was counting down the pages until the end of No More Parades.

Then, I found it, that magical scene where you can picture exactly what the character is seeing and can imagine yourself there, right next to them. For me, it was when Christopher is being interviewed by General Campion in regards to the state of his (Christopher’s) marriage to Sylvia. His mind wanders and takes him back 19 months to where he is sitting on some tobacco plants in a field in Belgium, “waiting to point out positions to some fat home general who had never come”. The guy who owns the tobacco had screamed at him due to the ruined plants, in the distance he sees the dark lines of the German trenches and the “white puffs of cotton-wool” that existed on the dark lines – the Allied artillery practicing. He also sees “beneath the haze of light that, on a clouded day, the sea threw off, a shaft of sunlight fell, and was reflected in a grey blur….”, and of course as it happens during war, there are planes and shells and all of the horrid things that follow.

Oh, I thought, this Ford bloke is actually a pretty good writer.

I finished No More Parades and was then torn…. Carry on, or pick up Bruce instead?

I read the first paragraph of A Man Could Stand Up, a paragraph that consists of only one sentence, but my, what a sentence!

“Slowly, amidst intolerable noises from, on one hand the street and, on the other, from the large and voluminously echoing playground, the depths of the telephone began, for Valentine, to assume an aspect that, years ago it used to have – of being a part of the supernatural paraphernalia of inscrutable Destiny”.

“Supernatural paraphernalia of inscrutable Destiny”…..I just love the way those words roll off the tongue. So as you may have guessed, Bruce is just going to have to wait – Christopher, Sylvia, Valentine and the (I now realise) brilliant writing of Ford Madox Ford win this round. I am so thrilled I had the courage to give Parade’s End a go – I’ve even gone as far as adding The Good Soldier to my wishlist.

Review by Hayley Holland

Benedict Cumberbatch

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