Sunday Retrospective ~ May 5th 2019

It’s been rather quite round here lately.  Since I last posted I have spent another seventy minutes in the dentist chair, with the inevitable aftermath, and then had the household disruption of having my old boiler and the associated hot tank ripped out and a new, more ethical boiler, installed.  In fact, the father and son team who carried out the installation were superb and caused minimum mess and disruption, nevertheless, having someone else in the house, chatting and singing and generally being there when you’re used to being on your own, isn’t conducive to either reading or writing.  The up side of this is that the hot tank (far too big for a one bedroom flat) occupied a cupboard five foot by three.  This is now empty – but not for long. The walls aren’t strong enough to take shelves to be loaded down with books but the space is more than big enough for bookcases to go in there.  I reckon I am going to get another fifteen foot of shelving.  Given that since I moved it has had to be a case of one book in, one book out, this is a cause for celebration. The Bears are taking bets on just how long it is going to take me to fill it.  Let them know your predictions and they will quote you odds.

Where books are concerned I’m part way through two novels neither of which I am really sure about.  Jill Dawson’s The Language of Birds is clearly a retelling of the Lord Lucan affair and as such there was always going to be a question over the narrative voice.  You can’t tell it from his point of view because you would have to take a stand on what happened to his lordship, but telling it from the nanny’s perspective is problematic as well, given that she is presumably going to end up dead.  It is Dawson’s solution to this which worries me.  At the moment I can’t see how the device she’s chosen fits with the rest of the narrative.  Maybe all will become clear if I get to the end of it.

The other novel is for a book group meeting tomorrow, so I must finish it tonight despite the fact that I am not at all convinced by it.  Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black has been much lauded and it appeared on the long and short lists for several awards but I just can’t see why.  It seems like a ragbag of ideas to me.  If I’m meant to take it seriously as  a slave narrative I can’t do that because so many elements are randomly unbelievable and I can’t find any other idea that serves as a focal point to hold the story together.  I’m hoping that someone tomorrow is going to show me where I have gone wrong with this book because at the moment I am flailing badly.  What do other readers think?



26 thoughts on “Sunday Retrospective ~ May 5th 2019

  1. heavenali May 5, 2019 / 4:05 pm

    Oh dear sorry about the boiler problems. It can be unsettling having work done. Though your fitters sound nice. I have yet to read anything by Jill Dawson, though have something from her back catalogue on my kindle. I am attracted by the idea of The Language of Birds so will be interested in your thoughts.


    • Café Society May 5, 2019 / 4:20 pm

      The boiler itself was fine, it was the hot tank. Whoever built this place clearly got a job lot of old stock and so as well as being far too big for their purpose they are also now beginning to rot. Apparently if mine had been in place for another couple of months it would have split and that would have been a real mess. You would not believe the filth that came out when it was drained.

      I’m hoping to finish the Dawson tomorrow; I must give this evening to Washington Black. If I can, I’ll write about it during the week.


  2. Liz May 5, 2019 / 4:09 pm

    Your new shelf space sounds like a welcome silver lining to all that life is throwing at you at the moment. What fun you are going to have filling it all up. I haven’t been attracted to either of the books you mention, for exactly the same reasons you mention. It will be interesting to see what your bookclub thinks of WB.


    • Café Society May 5, 2019 / 4:22 pm

      I’m trying to remember which of the group recommended it, Liz. I can’t recall whether they had actually read it or had just been attracted by reviews. You always have to tread carefully if there is a possibility it is someone’s ‘read of the year’.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Liz May 5, 2019 / 4:32 pm

        Indeed – huge eggshell alert!


  3. BookerTalk May 5, 2019 / 4:32 pm

    More shelf space for books – always a cause for celebration! As for Washington Black, I’ve not read it but I’m not keen to do so, doubly so now that I know you’re not enamoured.


    • Café Society May 5, 2019 / 4:47 pm

      I think I’m annoyed with it Karen. I sense a talent for storytelling there, but I can’t see the purpose to which it is being put.


  4. Margaret May 5, 2019 / 4:57 pm

    I sympathise about having work done in the house – it’s always a bit of a trial for me and I can’t settle until it’s all finished. Good news about more bookcase space though! The retelling of the Lord Lucan affair sounds strange – I hope you’ll let us know how it works out – and Washington Black sounds a bit of a mess.


    • Café Society May 5, 2019 / 8:20 pm

      I hope I’ll be able to finish it tomorrow after book group, Margaret. The trouble is it’s already overdue at the library !


  5. kaggsysbookishramblings May 5, 2019 / 7:04 pm

    LOL! Good news about the shelving – if you’re anything like me it’ll take you about all week to fill the shelves. 🤣🤣


  6. Kerry May 6, 2019 / 5:37 am

    I read Washington Black in March, I really enjoyed both it and the writing style at first, but thought both deteriorated about half way through. I usually love Jill Dawson’s novels, haven’t yet read this one. Will be curious to see your opinion of both novels. Both builders and the dentist! Oh my!!


    • Café Society May 6, 2019 / 5:06 pm

      Hi Kerry, glad to meet you. I think my real problem with the book was that it didn’t seem to me to know quite what it wanted to be or what it wanted to say. When we discussed it in book group this afternoon, all but one person had felt the same. It’s lack of thematic cohesion destroyed any empathy I might have had for the characters.


  7. Annabel (AnnaBookBel) May 6, 2019 / 10:07 am

    I loved WB – I treated it primarily as an adventure and it worked really well on that level. I’ve read several books by Jill Dawson and enjoyed them all too – I think she writes really well, and I’m intrigued by her new one. Her previous one, The Crime Writer, was based on Patricia Highsmith – but I’ve yet to read it.


    • Café Society May 6, 2019 / 5:08 pm

      I suggested seeing it as an adventure story to the group this afternoon, Annabel, and we all felt we might have appreciated it better if we had gone into it with that in mind rather than trying to take it seriously. Only one person had actually enjoyed it. I meant to read The Crime Writer but it got away from me. I must put it on that ever growing list.


      • Annabel (AnnaBookBel) May 6, 2019 / 6:22 pm

        It so reminded me of Treasure Island which is an adventure – but full of that moral ambiguity if you do want to get serious.


  8. Elle May 6, 2019 / 12:43 pm

    I read WB as an adventure too (with a dash of the science fictional or steampunk, given the escape by balloon from Barbados)—I think it works much better as a genre read than as a strictly realist historical novel.


    • Café Society May 6, 2019 / 5:09 pm

      Yes, Elle, I wish I had gone into it with that sort of expectation. As it was I was looking for a serious slave narrative and certainly didn’t get it.


      • Elle May 6, 2019 / 10:01 pm

        Oh, I don’t know – I think her points about Titch only seeing Wash as a tool, even if a clever tool and one worth respecting, are well made. But no, it’s not telling a story along the same lines as, let’s say, The Book of Night Women, that’s for sure.


  9. FictionFan May 6, 2019 / 5:45 pm

    Well I abandoned Washington Black on the grounds that I thought it was terrible. Don’t know if that incisive analysis helps! 😉 No emotional shading, unrealistic characterisations, monotone of woe, and too much tub-thumbing point-making. Plus all tell and no show…


  10. Jeanne May 6, 2019 / 6:07 pm

    15 feet? You get points for self-restraint if it’s not filled up in 15 days!


  11. Helen May 6, 2019 / 7:39 pm

    I’m sorry to hear Washington Black was disappointing. I have an unread copy of one of Esi Edugyan’s other books, Half-Blood Blues, so I will see what I think of that one first.


    • Café Society May 8, 2019 / 11:30 am

      I haven’t read that either, Helen, and I’m not sure now if I would. There was something about her style that really didn’t appeal.


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