Tess Hadley – The Past (2015)

the pastAfter the trauma of reading The Tidal Zone, Tessa Hadley’s The Past was a welcome retreat.  A mildly dysfunctional family in a cosy, mildly dysfunctional setting.  It was a charming, knowing read.  It understood the point of fiction and the number of roles it can play.

One aspect of the story is the romantic relationship between Molly and Kasim, in which the slightly older Kasim casts himself as knowing seducer. Of course, it is not as simple as that:

“Don’t be anxious about this, he said – I’ll be very gentle.  I’ve had quite a bit of experience.

– I’ve had some too, Molly said, – so I’m not anxious”

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Anne Tyler (2015) – A Spool of Blue Thread

CALAM1I like Doris Day films.  Sometimes, life is ugly and injustice leads me to rail, so I escape into a Doris Day rom-com.  I choose Doris, however, because despite the whimpering-simpering storyline, she always sets her chin defiantly, pulls a funny face and provides character.  She is not alarmingly beautiful, but a talented comedienne who can belt out a tune and looks great in chaps.  This is also how I feel about Anne Tyler.  She is often accused of being ‘cosy’.  The world of her books is ‘small’ and ‘everyday’.  But Tyler can also poke her tongue out, display great comic timing and draw attention to strength as well as frailty. Continue reading

Helen Dunmore – The Lie (2014)

The Lie

The blurb for this short novel reads:

Cornwall 1920

A young man stands looking out to sea.

Behind him the horror of the trenches, and the most intense relationship of his life.

Ahead of him the terrible unforeseen consequences of a lie.

I picked up this book for two reasons. First I had read previous books by Dunmore and her flair for recreating an historic moment through careful research but few words is a pleasure. Second, it is about the First World War, an era that fascinates me by being both near and far in the public imagination.

L P Hartley wrote as the first words to The Go Between:

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

Contrast this with Eric Midwinter (1994: 11) writing about history and social policy:

It is more than a passing or antiquated interest which should prompt an appraisal of medieval England. Apart from the discovery there of the origins of some present day welfare mechanisms, it serves the other purpose of demonstrating how societies different in style from our own are faced with basically similar problems

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