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Here you' will find reviews of the latest books I've been reading. You can even add some of your own comments underneath.

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By Aimee Fry, Mar 17 2014 05:00PM

I am going to review two books written and illustrated by an artist (and writer) who's very well-known but who somehow, in spite of her talents and productivity, seems to me to be not as much appreciated as she ought to be.

Jackie Morris is on Twitter, where she frequently posts lovely 'work in progress' which delights her many followers and I do urge any of my readers who tweets to follow her. She lives in Wales with many animals and it's perhaps as an artist who both loves and properly sees animals that she's at her best. The first book I'm going to talk about is called I AM CAT and it's not much bigger than an iPhone. While watching her ginger cat, Pixie, sleeping ("curled in warm places, ammonite-tight") Morris was inspired to think of what her pet might be dreaming about. The answer is: other cats. Every kind of feline appears in the unscrolling dreams: cheetah, puma, snow leopard and many others.

Morris paints each creature in delicate colours that sing to us from the page. Even though the scale of the book is small, she manages to convey the grandeur and beauty of every single cat she describes. And she accompanies each spread with her own words which are both simple and poetic. Here is an example, describing the tiger: "s...bright, flame cat of the forest, striped like the shadows, sun-scorched." I can't think of a better way to spend a fiver. Frances Lincoln have published it most beautifully. This is a gem of a book.

The second book is SONG OF THE GOLDEN HARE, also published by the admirable Frances Lincoln. It's a much grander production, and it tells a mysterious, entrancing story of a boy and his sister. They come from a family who protect the Golden Hare, because there are others who would hunt and kill it. The story unfolds with all the mystery and suspense you could wish for. The children find the Golden Hare and in the end, the creature is safe for who knows how long on a special magical island, to which it has been carried by an army of obliging seals. It's a lovely tale and again, told in Morris's poetic style, but the art is the real glory of this book. The Golden Hare itself is a wonderful creation, but greyhounds and people and birds and butterflies, not to mention the detailed landscapes, fill every corner of every spread. The colours are glorious and you can spend hours just admiring them and marvelling at the skill of the artist and wishing you could frame certain images and put them up on a wall. As it is, you'll have to be content with turning the pages, preferably with someone young on your lap, listening as you read aloud the story of the mysterious Golden Hare and the lucky children who are called to care for it.


Written and illustrated by Jackie Morris

pub Frances Lincoln hbk £4.99

ISBN: 9781847805072


Written and illustrated by Jackie Morris

pub. Frances Lincoln hbk £12.99

ISBN: 9781847804501

By Aimee Fry, Mar 14 2014 10:00AM

This novel, the second from the writer of the thrilling and very popular THE THIRTEENTH TALE is shorter, less thrilling but oh, how much more haunting and moving and altogether more memorable than its predecessor.

I have been haunted by it since I read it for the first time some weeks ago. I don't often reread books. There are too many new and exciting things being published all the time for me to want to go back to something I already know.

By Aimee Fry, Jul 11 2013 01:00AM

Last month on normblog there was a post about this book by Norm himself. The post does a good job of saying what the book is about, so I won't go into that again. Norm also outlines many of its excellent qualities. Still, there are things I want to say about Stoner and I'm going to start by quoting a passage from it. It's taken from very near the end, both of the book and of Stoner's life and it's about love.

In his youth he had given it freely, without thought; he had given it to the knowledge that had been revealed to him - how many years ago? - by Archer Sloane; he had given it to Edith, in those first blind foolish days of his courtship and marriage; and he had given it to Katherine, as if it had never been given before. He had, in odd ways, given it to every moment of his life (my italics), and had perhaps given it most fully when he was unaware of his giving. It was a passion neither of the mind nor of the flesh; rather, it was a force that comprehended them both...

There are three things I want to say about this novel. The first is, it's plain and this is one of the best things about it. By 'plain' I mean there is no whizzy, exciting, shocking, mind-blowingly original, postmodern, out of left field aspect to it whatsoever. Writers are often exhorted to think of what's known as 'the two-minute elevator pitch': a summing-up of their novel with which, in an imaginary lift, they will persuade an agent or a publisher that their book is THE ONE. John Williams's elevator pitch would be: 'A man lives a life dedicated to teaching he loves and then dies. This life has lots of unhappiness in it but also some happiness.' I can't see a modern fiction editor being persuaded by that.

Second, the unadorned and rather formal style may seem old-fashioned for a book written in the 1960s, yet to me it feels as if the prose hasn't been 'composed' or 'worked at' but to have grown organically and naturally. There are no writerly tricks. There is no juggling with time, no first person/present tense, no attempt to make the book more like a film script. There is not the faintest hint of the exotic or the Baroque. What you have is the story of a life and what this book demonstrates (even though Stoner's God isn't the traditional deity but rather Literature) is the truth of George Herbert's lines: 'Who sweeps a room, as for Thy laws / Makes that and th' action fine.' Stoner's life, his unhappy marriage and his failed relationship with his daughter notwithstanding, is a worthwhile one and one, moreover, which has had its share of glory and love.

Thirdly, he is not afraid to write about emotions. The women in the book are a contrast with one another. Edith, Stoner's wife, is not a pleasant character. Slightly mad, unpredictable and the exact opposite of a soulmate, she is still fairly and unresentfully depicted. The dealings between husband and wife, the way Stoner's love turns into something else; the way he shoulders the burden that his wife has become: all these become the stuff of real page-turning drama. Testament to Williams's skill is the fact that you are always longing to know what happens next.

The shining heart of the novel is Stoner's love affair with Katherine. She is the ideal lover: beautiful, kind and able to share fully her teacher's love of literature. The affair ends and the lovers separate, but there is a touching coda to their story, so that the Stoner/Katherine relationship is like a self-contained jewel of a story embedded in the larger book.

Almost the most tragic aspect of the novel is the gradual souring (because of the malign influence of Edith) of Stoner's dealings with his daughter. They end the book virtually estranged. The fact that Williams can write three such different women into the narrative and bring each of them so much to life, take such care to show us subtle changes and developments in their characters, shows that he's interested in them, pays them proper attention and does not write about them in a perfunctory way. He is careful with even the most unsympathetic of them.

Some readers have said that the book is depressing, or too gloomy, or that it emphasizes too much the 'lives of quiet desperation' lived by its protagonists. To me, though, it's a story about someone doing the best he can in a profession he loves and is happy in. He deals with the hard things; he suffers. He is stoical in the face of many tribulations, but he has known love and its transcendent power and, more than this, he has delighted in teaching others to love the things which he considers make life worthwhile. In my opinion, as well as being gripping and superbly written, it's life-enhancing, too. (Adèle Geras)

What I'm Reading

Adele Geras Author