Friday, 30 January 2015

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

"I must try to be happier, I told myself. For the sake of the hawk I must."

I love the cover of this book. I noticed it immediately on the display stand in the library. I have also recently read a glowing review of it. So despite my New Year's resolution to bring fewer into the house and read more from the TBR - I checked it out of the library and brought it home.

I enjoyed reading it very much. It is a memoir about recovery from loss; Helen Macdonald's father dies suddenly and she is absolutely grief stricken. I loved the tone of it, it is not at all maudlin or self pitying - just honest. Helen is almost unhinged by her loss and she makes the seemingly rash decision to buy and train a goshawk. She has some experience because she's worked in a falconry centre in the past and it's always been a fascination of hers. On the other hand she's not thinking clearly because she's so sad, her job is about to come to an end leaving her without a regular income, and she will have to move house.

She buys the goshawk, who is called Mabel, and sets about training her. Birds of prey seem to be quite solitary creatures and I wondered if that was the attraction. Grief can be quite isolating, perhaps it was comforting to spend time with another creature who is alone.

One of the books she read about falconry when she was young was The Goshawk by TE White. H is for Hawk is interspersed with quotes from this book and Helen Macdonald's observations about White. He was a very troubled man, and it was interesting to compare his experiences with Helen's.

She flies Mabel on farmland near her home. There is some lovely writing about this. Gazing at a hill in the distance:

I feel I might be up there, because now the hill is home. I know it intimately. Every hedgerow, every track through dry grass where the hares cut across field-boundaries, each discarded piece of rusted machinery, every earth and warren and tree. By the road, half an acre of fenced-off mud, scaled with tyre tracks and water reflecting pieces of sky. Wagtails, pallets, tractors, a broken silo on its side like a fallen rocket stage. Here is the sheep field, there is the clover ley, now mown and turned to earth. Further up the track are tracts of mugwort: dead now from frost, seeds clinging to stems and branches like a billion musty beads on ragged Christmas trees. Piles of bricks and rubble run along the left-hand side of the track, and the earth between them is soft and full of rabbits. Further up the hill the hedges are higher, and by the time I get to the top the track has narrowed into grass. Cow parsley. Knapweed. Wild burdock. The argillaceous shimmer of tinder-fire clay. Drifts of chalk beneath. Yellowhammers chipping hedges. Cumulus rubble. The maritime light of this island, set as it is under a sky mirrored and uplit by sea.

Mabel is good for Helen. She needs taking care of so that gives Helen a reason to be up in the morning. She needs to be exercised so that gets them both out of the house. And because Helen needs advice about Mabel she has to interact with people even when she feels like locking herself away. Gradually things get better for her and the initial intensity of her grief begins to lessen.

This is a lovely book, I think it is one I will return to.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

I think I picked the wrong time of year to read this novel. It's a chunky book with lots of characters and a plot the reader has to concentrate on. I started it in Christmas week when my brain was all over the place and I don't feel that I ever really got to grips with the story.

I would like to give it another go, at a time when I can concentrate on it more, because I think I would really love it. It's just the kind of story I enjoy. It's set in New Zealand in the 19th century during the gold rush there. I didn't even realise that there had been a gold rush in New Zealand, so basically all the history was new to me.

Walter Moody is newly arrived from England, with the intention of making his fortune on the goldfields. Exhausted and traumatised after his harrowing voyage he enters the smoking room of his hotel to relax and calm himself. There are other men in the room, all seemingly engrossed in their own pursuits, but Walter comes to realise that they all know each other and he has inadvertently interrupted a secret meeting.

They confide in him that they have come together to discuss the disappearance of a wealthy prospector and the attempted suicide of one of the town's prostitutes. There is also the puzzling matter of the fortune which has been found in the home of a man they all believed to be a drunk and a loser.

Each of the twelve men knows part of the story, and the book pulls their tales together. Some stories shed light on events and others cast shadows. It's not until all the stories are told that the solution emerges. I should've read it with a paper and pen beside me so that I could keep everyone straight in my head.

I know that this book has been very popular, and I'd love to know what others opinions are. Am I right in thinking it's worth another read?

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Capital by John Lanchester

This novel is a snapshot of London around the time of the financial meltdown. The characters are all connected by the fact they live and work in Pepys Road, a Victorian residential street. Pepys Road has seen many social changes over the years, and in 2007 it was a desirable place to live, and you would have to be wealthy to buy there. Wealthy like Roger and Arabella, but Roger, a banker, desperately needs his bonus to be a big one to keep the the lifestyle they aspire to. When it isn't, things start to unravel. Petunia has lived in her house on Pepys Road all her life (apart from when she was evacuated during the War). Her daughter has moved out of London and Petunia's health is failing. Zbigniew is a builder from Poland who often works for residents of Pepys Road as they endlessly remodel their houses. He doesn't intend to remain in London, but to earn enough money to return to Poland and set up a business with his father. There are other characters, all of whose lives bring them into contact with Pepys Road.
Postcards start arriving at every house on the road, postcard which read 'We Want What You've Got'. At first residents assume that it is advertising from an estate agent, but the postcards keep coming and gradually become more sinister.
A snapshot of life in London is the best way to describe this book All the characters have their own stories going in, stories which don't have anything to do with the other characters. Lanchester uses them to examine the issues which many people are concerned about; the integrity of our financial systems, immigration, the fear of terrorism. He does it in a fantastically easy to read way. I enjoyed it and look forward to reading more by him.


Thursday, 1 January 2015

Books for 2015

Every year I choose six books to re-read, and twelve books from my TBR shelves to read over the coming year. This year the choices are:

Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Wicked by Gregory Maguire
Manly Pursuits by Ann Harries
Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold
Air and Fire by Rupert Thomson

TBR shelf reads
The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann
Cinema Lumiere by Hattie Holden Edmonds
The Ninth Daughter by Barbara Hamilton
The Great Fortune by Olivia Manning
White Corridor by Christopher Fowler
Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle
The American Boy by Andrew Taylor
Settled Blood by Mari Hannah
The Convictions of John Delahunt by Andrew Hughes
The Real Jane Austen by Paula Byrne

I am determined to be a more conscientious blogger in 2015 - I was horrified to realise that I haven't blogged since March. It's been a busy year! I haven't been very good about reading other people's blogs either, and I've missed it. So I'll make time for both things.