Saturday Summary: My Week in Books

bookshelf

New arrivals

  • Books
    • A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
  • eBooks
    • The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
  • ARCs
    • None – not requesting any more until I get to that 80% ratio!

Blog

Challenge updates

The week ahead…

  • Currently reading
    • The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
    • At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
    • The Queen of Katwe by Tim Crothers
    • Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and his Nation by Susan Williams
  • Planned posts
    • From Page to Screen: The Light Between Oceans
    • Literary Lists #8
  • NetGalley reviews
    • The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman by Mindy Mejia
    • The Executioner Weeps by Frederic Dard
    • Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
    • Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik

  • What does your week ahead hold?

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Review: The Good People by Hannah Kent

good

Tragic tale of desperation, superstition and fear in 19th century Ireland

About the Book

Publisher’s description: The Good People is Hannah Kent’s startling new novel about absolute belief and devoted love. Terrifying, thrilling and moving in equal measure, this long-awaited follow-up to Burial Rites shows an author at the height of her powers.

My Review

Still mourning the death of her daughter, newly widowed Nora finds herself alone and trying to care for her grandson, Michael. She cannot understand what has happened to turn him from a healthy child into one who cannot speak or walk. Ashamed and fearful of what neighbours will say about the afflicted child, Nora hires a young girl, Mary, to help care for him out of the public gaze. However, rumours about the circumstances of her husband’s death and the presence of an ‘unnatural’ child soon start to circulate. Nora becomes convinced Micheál is a ‘changeling’ – a child of the fairies or ‘Good People’ substituted for the real Michael. In the hope of restoring what she believes is her ‘real’ grandson, she enlists the help of Mary and the local wise-woman, Nance, embarking on a path that will have far-reaching consequences for them all.

The author creates an evocative and moving picture of what life was like for people eking out a subsistence existence in 19th century Ireland where famine and homelessness was only ever a short distance away: a cow that stops giving milk; a crop that fails; inclement weather; illness or bereavement.

‘They’re worried about the butter. About being forced on the road. About having no money to pay the rent with. About neighbours turning on them, wishing them ill. Wishing sickness and death on them.’

How it can lead to a community seeking answers in the supernatural – in this case, the Good People or fairies who dwell amongst them and who it is believed can bring good or bad luck. The story of Nora and Michael shows the desperate actions to which people can be driven by grinding poverty, ignorance and fear and the hatred and suspicion of anyone who is different, like Nance Roche, or afflicted with physical or mental illness, like Michael.   Nora is a woman driven mad by grief and although she does some very terrible things, she never loses the reader’s sympathy completely. The fact that the story is inspired by actual cases adds to the sense of realism.

I felt the author created a fully realised picture of a community of that time and its rituals – the customs associated with wakes and burials, gatherings around the well or at the blacksmith’s forge.  I thought she captured the lilt and rhythm of the dialect without trespassing into “Oirishness”. There was some wonderfully lyrical writing, particularly descriptions of nature:

‘December arrived and bled the days of sunlight, while the nights grew bitter, wind-rattled.’

‘She thought of how , in the valley, the people would soon pluck the yellow flowers for the goodness they drew from the sun, pulling primrose and marsh marigold and buttercups, rubbing them on the cows’ udders to bless the butter in them, placing them on doorways and doorsteps, those thresholds where the unknown world could bleed into the known, flowers to seal the cracks from where luck could be leached…’

I have not read Hannah Kent’s first novel, Burial Rites, but on the strength of this book, it will definitely be going on my TBR list.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers, Pan MacMillan, in return for an honest review.

Book facts: 320 pages, publication date 9th February 2017

My rating: 5 (out of 5)

In three words: Emotional, lyrical, enthralling

Try something similar…The Signal Flame by Andrew Krivak (see my review here)

About the Author

Hannah Kent’s debut novel, the international bestseller Burial Rites was translated into 28 languages. It won the ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year, the Indie Awards Debut Fiction Book of the Year and the Victorian Premier’s People’s Choice Award, amongst others. Burial Rites was also shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize), the Guardian First Book Award, the Stella Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. It is currently being adapted to film. Hannah co-founded the Australian literary journal Kill Your Darlings, where she is currently publishing director. The Good People is Hannah’s second novel. Author Website

Literary lists #7

sun

As we’re in sore need of this in the UK at this time of the year, here are some book titles on the theme of “sun”:

 

 

 

  1. Empire of the Sun – J.G. Ballard
  2. Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  3. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
  4. A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
  5. Circling the Sun – Paula McLain
  6. The Sun is Also a Star – Nicola Yoon
  7. Evil Under the Sun – Agatha Christie
  8. The Sunne in Splendour – Sharon Kay Penman
  9. Midnight Sun – Jo Nesbo
  10. Staring at the Sun – Julian Barnes

Do you have a suggestion for a theme for the next list?  Or, click below to revisit previous lists…

List #1     List #2     List #3    List #4    List #5   List #6

Why books (and readers) need breathing spaces

chapter

‘From letters words are formed, from words sentences, from sentences chapters, and from chapters stories.’ Michael Ende, The Neverending Story

 

I love my Kindle and, in particular, that little message at the bottom of the screen telling me how much reading time I have left in the current chapter. It lets me plan whether to read another chapter before doing something else – like going to sleep! And, just occasionally, if I’m finding a book a bit slow, it depresses me by telling me I still have a bit of a slog ahead.

This got me to wondering – why do books need chapters? Here are some thoughts:

  • Well, as I’ve already suggested, they provide the reader with convenient reading breaks –  a chance to go and make a cup of tea, turn over and go to sleep or simply do something else.
  • They bring structure to a book which would otherwise be just continuous prose (although some authors have of course utilised this form).

Sherlock Holmes: ‘You will, I am sure, agree with me that…if page 534 finds us only in the second chapter, the length of the first one must have been really intolerable.” The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

  • They provide the reader with a chance to pause for thought, to take in what the author has been trying to communicate. Sometimes that might mean giving a deep sigh, wiping away a tear or taking a deep breath before continuing.
  • They help to set the pace of a book. It’s no surprise that thrillers tend to have short chapters, creating a sense of momentum that is in keeping with the events taking place.  On the other hand, books that might be classed as “literary fiction” or “classics” tend to have longer chapters, although of course there are always exceptions.
  • Chapters allow authors to construct the narrative so as to distribute cliff-hangers or twists throughout a book in order to “hook” the reader.

‘Usually, when people get to the end of a chapter, they close the book and go to sleep. I deliberately write a book so when the reader gets to the end of the chapter, he or she must turn one more page.’ Sidney Sheldon

  • Chapters alert the reader to a change of narrator or time period.
  • They enable the author to create inventive chapter headings or numbering systems. For instance, in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the chapter numbers are all prime numbers.
  • But probably most importantly for readers, they allow us to say, “I’ll just read one more chapter….”

 

Saturday Summary: My Week in Books

bookshelf

New arrivals

  • Books
    • Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis (birthday gift)
    • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (birthday gift)
    • Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult (Love Books Group giveaway prize!)
  • eBooks
    • Katherine by Anya Seton
    • The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West
    • Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
    • Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and his Nation by Susan Williams
    • The Queen of Katwe: One Girl’s Triumphant Path to Becoming a Chess Champion by Tim Crothers
    • At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
  • ARCs
    • None – not requesting any more until I get to that 80% ratio!

Blog

Challenge updates

  • Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge – 9 out of 78 books read
  • Classics Club – 2 out of 50 books reviewed
  • NetGalley and Edelweiss Reading Challenge 2017 – 6 ARCs reviewed out of 25
  • From Page to Screen – 1 book/film comparison completed

The week ahead…

  • Currently reading
    • Saying Goodbye by Abigail Drake
    • Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and his Nation by Susan Williams
  • Planned posts
    • Review: The Good People by Hannah Kent
  • NetGalley reviews
    • Mussolini’s Island by Sarah Day
    • The Executioner Weeps by Frederic Dard

What has your week in books been like?