There is a standing joke in Birmingham, where I used to live, about the Number 11 bus. They are supposed to run every fifteen minutes but we all know that they are very shy and therefore hunt in packs. It is nothing unusual to wait for three quarters of an hour only to then have three of them turn up at once. Well, I find that books I have on reservation at the library are every bit as shy; they always turn up in multiples as well. I don’t know why. There really isn’t anything scary about coming to stay with The Bears and me. But, this week it happened again, when these five were waiting for me on the held books shelf. Three of them are new publications which are bound to have other borrowers waiting for them and so I shall probably start with one of those.
I have yet to come across a Pat Barker novel that I don’t enjoy and have read such good things about this latest offering, The Silence of the Girls, that I will be surprised if I am disappointed. The inside blurb reads:
When her city falls to the Greeks, led to victory by the god-like warrior Achilles, Briseis’s old life is shattered. Abducted and shipped to the Greek camp on the battleground at Troy, she goes from queen to captive, from free woman to slave, awarded to Achilles as a prize of honour. She’s not alone. On the same day, and on many others in the course of a long, bitter war, innumerable women have been wrested from their homes and flung to the fighters.
As told in The Iliad, the Trojan War was a quarrel between men – over Helen, stolen from her home and spirited to Troy, a voiceless female icon of male desire. But what of the women in this story, silenced by their fates? What words did they speak when alone with each other, in the laundry, at the loom, when laying out the dead?
In this magnificent novel of the Trojan War, Pat Barker summons the voices of Briseis and her fellow women to tell this mythic story anew, foregrounding their experiences against the backdrop of savage battle between men. One of the great contemporary writers on war and its collateral damage, Pat Barker here reimagines the most famous of all wars in literature, charting one woman’s journey through the chaos of the Greek encampment, as she struggles to free herself and to become the author of her own story.
Patrick Gale is another writer who rarely disappoints. His last novel, A Place Called Winter was his best yet, so can Take Nothing With You top even that? Amazon describes it thus:
1970s Weston-Super-Mare and ten-year-old oddball Eustace, an only child, has life transformed by his mother’s quixotic decision to sign him up for cello lessons. Music-making brings release for a boy who is discovering he is an emotional volcano. He laps up lessons from his young teacher, not noticing how her brand of glamour is casting a damaging spell over his frustrated and controlling mother.
When he is enrolled in holiday courses in the Scottish borders, lessons in love, rejection and humility are added to daily practice.
Drawing in part on his own boyhood, Patrick Gale’s new novel explores a collision between childish hero worship and extremely messy adult love lives.
I love novels which are built around music, so there is a double reason to look forward to this.
And then there is Sebastian Faulks’ Paris Echo. I am taking a bit of a gamble with this one. Some of his books, like Engleby I have really enjoyed. Others not so much. Amazon again:
American postdoctoral researcher Hannah and runaway Moroccan teenager Tariq have little in common, yet both are susceptible to the daylight ghosts of Paris. Hannah listens to the extraordinary witness of women who were present under the German Occupation; in her desire to understand their lives, and through them her own, she finds a city bursting with clues and connections. Out in the migrant suburbs, Tariq is searching for a mother he barely knew. For him in his innocence, each boulevard, Métro station and street corner is a source of surprise.
In this urgent and deeply moving novel, Faulks deals with questions of empire, grievance and identity. With great originality and a dark humour, Paris Echo asks how much we really need to know if we are to live a valuable life.
I will give it a try. As another blogger said, I shall probably get on all right with it as long as he has avoided sex. If someone once told him he could write sex scenes well they were misleading him.
The Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grown-Ups, is for my back-cataloging project. I came to Tyler’s work late; I think the first novel of hers that I read was Digging for America, when it turned up as a book group selection. Anything earlier I have still to catch up with and so this volume about newly-widowed Rebecca questioning the validity of life as she has lived it so far, is my first foray into her earlier work. Have I chosen wisely? Is this a good place to start to get to know her output better? What do others think?
Finally, Julia Dahl’s Invisible City. I confess that when I picked this up from the reserved shelf I couldn’t remember why I had asked for it; actually, I didn’t remember that I had asked for it. It was only when I read the blurb that some slight memory came back.
Fresh out of journalism school, Rebekah Roberts is working for the New York Tribune, trying to make a name for herself. Assigned a story about the murder of a woman in Brooklyn, Rebekah finds a case from inside a closed, secretive Hasidic Jewish community – the same Brooklyn neighbourhood her estranged mother was brought up in.
Shocked to discover that the victim is set to be buried without an autopsy, Rebekah knows there is a story to uncover, but getting to the truth won’t be easy – in the cloistered world her mother rebelled against, it’s clear she’s not welcome, and everyone she meets has a secret to keep, most of all from an outsider.
I can only assume that I must have read an excellent review of this, because I don’t normally tackle crime novels set outside the U.K. or Ireland. There are just so many of them and knowing my own weakness for crime fiction I would never have time to read anything else if I didn’t draw the line somewhere. Have you read this? Is it one that I should return unread rather than break my self-imposed ban? Or is it worth making an exception for? I suspect it will depend on whether or not I am able to renew it. I know I want to read the others so they will have to come first.