Posts Tagged ‘Anthony Quinn’

Emilybooks of the Year

December 14, 2017

It has been The Year of Ezra, for me, as his first birthday is this coming Sunday. It is uncanny to think back to this time last year when he was overdue and I was willing the labour to start, with hopes for the full moon, curries, sweeps, walks and the rest of it… Just think that there he was, all curled up and snug inside, and now he is out, roaring his way through the world, climbing on anything, raspberrying at anyone. Here he is, asleep (!), drawn by my mother-in-law, Xanthe Mosley.

Ezra asleep

Or perhaps it would be better to think of it as The Year of Two – of having two little people to care for, not sleep for, and, increasingly, have fun with.

The Sound of MusicI used to look back on a year and see it through a prism of books – various titles that coloured various times, remembering, for instance, the mood of a certain book read on holiday, or being transported by another one lazy afternoon, or gripped by a story into the small hours. Looking back on 2017, I seem to hear the year through film soundtracks, as Spotify has sated Vita’s appetite for, variously, The Jungle Book, The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, Annie, and – now we have caved into peer pressure – Frozen and Moana. The other night, trying to soothe Ezra through a new tooth, I wondered why he seemed so completely unimpressed by a sleepy rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, only to realise that he has barely listened to a nursery rhyme, instead the music of his babyhood has been a peculiar mix of Julie Andrews and Disney.

And when I think of books, it is mostly children’s books that spring to mind, as they have been read so often. Funny isn’t it, how children like to read the same thing over and over, whereas once we finish a book, we rarely pick it up again. Many of this year’s special moments have been during ‘quiet time’ with Vita, lying on the sofa with tiny toy teacups of chocolate, a strong coffee, and reading together. Here she is, ‘reading’, sketched by Xanthe a few months’ ago:

Vita quiet time

We have especially enjoyed Mog stories, Alfie stories, various Meg and Mogs, Blue Kangaroos, Beatrix Potter, and – wonderfully – The Greek Myths and now Shakespeare. Usborne shakespeareThank you Usborne for producing these wonderful editions which have allowed me to share these truly great and important stories with Vita. Currently we are very into Hamlet. Sometimes I worry that Ezra is going to suffer from a multiple personality crisis as he is forever being addressed as either: Horatio, Lord Ross, Kurt, Apu or Heihei – depending on what on earth we are ‘playing’.

I have certainly read fewer grown-up books this year than usual, but I am so glad that I have kept up some reviewing work and Emily’s Walking Book Club – two things that have meant I’ve HAD to keep reading, and thinking about books a little bit. So, for a rather abridged Emilybooks of the Year:

Madame Zero 1I still can’t stop thinking about Madame Zero by Sarah Hall. An electric collection of short stories, so alive, so wild, so current, so unexpected. It totally blew me away, and various stories in the collection continue to haunt me – I can’t recommend it highly enough. (Here is my review for Country Life.)

Other really good novels published this year, include:

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (here is my Spectator review) – a masterful portrait of village life disguised as an unresolved crime story. Very clever, very unusual, and it deservedly made it onto a few Prize shortlists this year.

Eureka by Anthony Quinn (here is my Spectator review) – brilliant fun romp of a novel set in 1960s London, which is actually making all sorts of intelligent points about Henry James.

Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan (here is my Guardian review) – a fresh talented voice: part coming-of-age in 1960s New York, and part struggling to be a parent in the present day. A very enjoyable, engrossing read.

Black Rock, White CityI also seem to have read quite a few novels in translation, which have been a treat. Particularly good discoveries have been two excellent debut novels that have sprung from the former Yugoslavia: Black Rock White City by A.S. Patric and My Cat Yugoslavia by Pajtim Statovci. (Here is my Spectator review of them both.)

Two older novels, newly translated and published in English, that I loved are A Broken Mirror by Merce Rodoreda, which is a surprising Catalan classic and newly relevant, given recent political events; and The Last Bell by German-Czech writer Johannes Urdizil, brilliant short stories mostly set in Prague. (Here is my review of them both for Country Life.)

Lolly WillowesEmily’s Walking Book Club has been a saviour in what has, at times, been a very challenging year. Just knowing that I will be out on the Heath with a group of friendly readers, talking about a good book in the fresh air, once a month, has been an important thought to grasp in difficult moments.

For this, I have had the great delight of reading Loly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner. Oh what a wonderful novel – a sort of fictional Room of One’s Own, but it veers off into great wackiness when Loly, a spinster, actually makes a pact with the devil and becomes a witch! It sounds mad, but it is actually highly political and extremely brilliant.

Other great walking book club books this year have included Elizabeth Taylor’s minor masterpiece A View of the Harbour – oh how good she is at observing the small things, and Diana Athill’s memoir Stet – essential reading for anyone who has ever had anything to do with ‘the book world’.

Earth and High Heaven 2

My ultimate book of the year has got to be Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham, newly published by Persephone Books with a Preface by me (which you can read in full here)!! This is such a beautiful, gripping, important and newly relevant book about a love affair between a Jew and a Gentile during the Second World War.

A final word for podcasts, which have lightened the load of so much of motherhood, being there to listen to when hanging up the umpteenth load of laundry, clearing up the insane mess of a baby-led weaning tea; pushing and pushing and pushing the pram while the baby refuses to fall asleep; and during the night feeds too. In Ezra’s first week or two, I listened to various Radio 4 Reith Lectures. Through the fug of wonder at this brand new life, Atul Gawande was in my ear talking about dying, and checklists, and everything felt extremely profound.

I have, unashamedly, mostly stuck to literary podcasts, as a way of trying to cling on to that world, while feeling so immersed in another. The Guardian Books, Spectator Books (especially this one with Claire Tomalin), Vintage Books, and The Book Club Review podcasts have all been a treat, but a special shout out must go to the London Review Bookshop podcast, where you can listen to their exceptional, inspiring talks (like this one with Ali Smith and Olivia Laing), and Backlisted – which is a delight for all literary nerds, and has given me several titles for future walking book club books.

Happy reading, happy listening, and happy Christmas. Looking forward to more reading with you in 2018.

2017-11-05 11.55.50

 

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Eureka by Anthony Quinn

July 27, 2017

I know I know … I have been worse than useless at writing my blog and it feels too boring to apologise (again) or list the many reasons why (well, in fact, the many reasons all sprout from just two – Vita and Ezra). So I thought I’d try changing tack here and publishing links to things I’ve written elsewhere, or indeed Emily’s walking book club news. The thing is, I am managing to write a little bit, but all the links are currently somewhat buried on different pages of this website, whereas I thought if I were to try to make this more of a ‘feed’ as they say, it might work a little better. See how you like it? Let me know? Forgive me?!

Ahem, so kicking things off with my review of Anthony Quinn’s dazzling new novel Eureka for this week’s Spectator. Click on the cover pic below for the review.

Eureka