‘The Devil’s Music’

‘A haunting, lyrical story of love, betrayal, and family secrets buried in the shifting landscape of memory’

‘The Devil’s Music’ by Jane Rusbridge is a haunting yet subtle story about a family whose secrets are never quite realised until the last few pages. The theme of memory is so poignant throughout that although initially you feel a bit confused as to the use of various knots and ropes…when you realise that people used to tie knots in handkerchiefs to remind them of things, it’s actually very clever.

The plot focuses around 3 different narratives, Andy (the protagonist) as a child, Andy as an adult in the present day and also, his mother’s perspective throughout his childhood. Rusbridge clearly distinguishes the child narrator from the adult and from a combination of all three, we can begin to piece together what happened that day on the beach, but also what happened in Andy’s life that he has forgotten (knowingly or not…)

Although I initially found all the talk of ropes, knots and Houdini quite hard to gather; I soon became engrossed and subsequently entwined within the narrative that Rusbridge (and Andy) were weaving. I actually found myself getting quite emotional towards the end of the book, revisiting memories of my own and reflecting them back onto the narrative!

You simply get swept away into the confusion and the mystery until you find yourself at the end of the book, finding out that what you’d assumed all along was incorrect but realising that, the reason for that was that you were looking through a child’s eyes. The various chapters through his mother Helen’s eyes give just enough information that we get a sense of the truth but are still unsure, her character is empowered at the end, which is lovely to read after witnessing her troubles throughout.

This is a great book, better as a holiday read than a commute-read I think…full of secrets, mysteries and subtle symbolism.

‘Sex and Stravinsky’

Wow! Yet another book that I had absolutely NO idea about…but absolutely loved! As well as having a title that intrigued many people on the tube…Barbara Trapido’s ‘Sex and Stravinsky’ was a fascinating look into the complexities of family and how easy it is to overlook important things that are right infront of you.

We are introduced to a variety of characters in various countries, all of whom are linked in some way…even though some of these relationships are unclear at the start, they unravel throughout and come together towards the end.

From the beginning, we become aware that not everything is right…Josh and Caroline are a strange couple, constantly burdened by her ungrateful mother and subsequently unable to pay for their daughter to have ballet lessons, while simultaneously Hattie is leading an uninspiring life with Helman and fighting her daughter Cat, all the way…wrongs need to be righted…it is an EPIC moment when the ball drops and suddenly everything changes! It even makes YOU (the reader) feel empowered!

Trapido paints an astounding picture of life, family struggles and triumphs. I am still undecided as to whether I like the ending…I know I loved the book but, something about the ending left me wondering…it’s a great book filled with brilliant characters, perhaps it was Trapido’s intention to leave us questioning how easy it is to change your life? How easy it is to be happy, fulfilled, content…even how easy it is to be in love…

‘Sex and Stravinsky’ is an intriguing look at family life and how even the happiest families can be hiding behind a mask of compromises and self-sacrifice in order to appear in control. There are moments that make you want to say to the person next to you on the tube… ‘I can’t believe what this character has done! How can one person be SO cruel!?’…and people don’t like to be talked to on the tube…at all! They don’t even like it when you look at them…anyway, it’s a great book filled with insight and I definitely recommend it!

‘The Pindar Diamond’

Hello there! I’ve just returned from a lovely holiday in the South of France visiting my parents on their Dutch Barge. Due to lots of sightseeing, sunbathing and Sauvignon…I only managed to read two books in the week! Shameful I know! Anyway, the first book that I read was ‘The Pindar Diamond’ by Katie Hickman…

It took me a while to get into this book but I’m not sure why…but I soon became engrossed in the secrets and mysteries that surround the plot. It is a fantastic holiday read, full of gambling, scandal, mermaids and nuns! Hickman’s writing draws you in to various narratives and then slowly begins to sew them together, it’s beautifully written despite being filled with darkness and deceit.

Hickman’s style has been likened to Phillipa Gregory’s and it is clear to see why. Delving into history and giving voices to previously unheard characters is her strong point and now it appears that she has a competitor!

From Maryam and her troupe of acrobats, to the convent, to the dark streets of Venice…this is a great book filled with interesting characters, secrets and a fly-on-the-wall view of the dark underbelly of Venetian society. I look forward to more Hickman novels in the future!

‘The Spy Game’

It took me longer than usual to finish this book, but not because I didn’t enjoy it…just because I’m not commuting everyday at the moment and trains are where I do a lot of my reading haha!

‘The Spy Game’ by Georgina Harding is enthralling but subtle and I really enjoyed it. It is set in the Cotswolds and tells the story of two children, Anna and Peter and their quest to find clues as to their mother’s whereabouts in the years after WW2, when she mysteriously vanishes. At the time they were only told that there was an accident and she died, but Peter’s curious nature prompts him to create a spy game, in which he and his sister try and piece together the truth and their mother’s mysterious identity. The idea of creating games and becoming spies is something that I’m sure most adults can relate back to their own childhood. It allows you to escape into a world where it is possible to find out the impossible, which is endearing to read. The novel also shows the way that sibling relationships change over time and demonstrates how difficult it is when one of them moves away and refuses to remember the past. We empathise with both of the children and relate to the desperation to find the truth.

The only thing I would have liked to see at the end of the novel, was more of a conclusion of the plot…that’s not to say that I didn’t like the ending, I thought it was lovely to see a snapshot of the past, a snapshot of love, if you will…but throughout the novel there is this desperation to find the truth, to find out what happened to Peter and Anna’s mother all those years ago. All the suspicion, all the unanswered questions…perhaps I’m too curious for my own good, but when Anna goes to Germany in search of answers…a big part of me thought that she would find her mother, or at least something…but I suppose Anna’s story reflects the reality facing many people in the aftermath of the Cold War.

This is a really good read, which would be great to read on the train or on holiday! It takes you right into the heart of a family struggling with their mother’s death (or disappearance…) and shrouds you in the suspicion and doubt that faced people in lots of countries for years after the war.

‘The Spy Game’ is a brilliant book, beautifully written and a fascinating look into the existence of spies in England and around the world.

‘Burnt Shadows’

After reading ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ and being completely enthralled, I was keen to read something in the same vein…so I chose ‘Burnt Shadows’ by Kamila Shamsie and was not disappointed. Described on the jacket by the Daily Telegraph as ‘A historical novel for our times’ and Emma Thompson as ‘Completely authentic, complex and breath-stopping’; I was really looking forward to reading ‘Burnt Shadows’ and for good reason!

The novel opens with two thoughtful poems, which hint at the story to come. One, by Agha Shahid Ali from A Nostalgist’s Map of America, which invokes a fear of loss and realisation of everything that is lost and the other by Sahir Ludhianvi called Parchaiyann, which notes the fact that ‘in past wars only homes burnt, but this time…don’t be surprised if even shadows ignite.’ Both poems leave you feeling reflective and the words remain in the back of your mind as the novel begins…

Our protagonist in ‘Burnt Shadows’ is Hiroko Tanaka, a young Japanese woman who is on the verge of marrying Konrad Weiss. She is 21 when suddenly a bomb is dropped on Nagasaki and extinguishes everything and everyone she has ever known. All that remains are bird-shaped burns on her back as a permanent reminder of what she has lost.  Hiroko travels to Delhi to find Konrad’s relatives and finds a friend in Konrad’s sister, Elizabeth Burton and finds herself in love again with one of Elizabeth’s employees, Sajjad.

So much happens in ‘Burnt Shadows’ and we follow Hiroko from Nagasaki, to India, to New York and then to Afghanistan after 9/11. But at no point, do we feel lost. In fact, the shadows of history that reverberate throughout the novel, link Hiroko and Elizabeth’s families and it becomes clear that in the face of adversity, you can find love and happiness again, although the burnt shadows will always be there.

This is a fantastic book, which takes you on a fascinating journey through key moments of history, through the eyes of someone who had experienced them first-hand and yet continues to look to the future, for the sake of her family, her friends and her sanity. An amazing selection of characters, an incredible book!

‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’

‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ is the second novel by Khaled Hosseini and I absolutely LOVED it! The novel focuses around the lives of two women, Mariam and Laila, two Afghan women from completely different backgrounds who are forced to share the same house with the same cruel man, Rasheed. They endure tragedy, pain and heartbreak in more ways than it is possible to imagine…some moments are difficult to read because it is hard to comprehend that the human body can bear such cruelty. 

Throughout the novel, Mariam and Laila’s lives become further entwined and they find comfort in each others company and strength against their mutual enemy. There are so many facets of human nature explored in this book, Hosseini identifies the underlying issues that plague Afghan households as well as showing the effect of years of war, political conflict and the increasing threat of the Taliban.

‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ is a beautifully tragic novel which undoubtedly shows the triumph of love and heroism in the face of death, destruction and unbearable heartache and it is a must-have for every bookshelf!

‘The Calligrapher’s Daughter’

This enchanting novel by Eugenia Kim is set in early twentieth century Korea and tells the life of Najin Han, the priveleged daughter of a calligrapher. Set over a thirty-year period, the novel shows both Najin’s progression from unruly daughter into a brave woman, who her father can be proud of.

From the outset, the traditional Korean values and the increasingly intrusive Japanese presence become very apparent. We play witness to a series of terrifying events in Korea and subsequently empathise deeply with the Han family and various other characters whom we encounter, like Najin’s friend who falls in forbidden love with a Japanese doctor…

The way that Eugenia Kim writes is very pleasing as it reflects the gentile nature of Korean women and all of the prose is written as such and is very respectful. Thereare times throughout where Najin punishes herself for thinking certain things, which reinforces this idea of repression which recurs throughout the novel in various different ways.

Before reading the book, I wasn’t really aware of the problems in Korea/China/Japan but after reading this book (and the handy historical notes which accompany it) I know a little bit more about the world and the relations between the countries but without feeling preached at.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading something a little bit different. It is cleverly and brilliantly structured (in chronological order…for anyone who fears the disjointed narratives) and there are a number of twists and turns along the way which I definitely didn’t expect! As the book spans such a large period of history, we are able to watch Najin grow up and strive for her father’s respect, her chosen career and a marriage on her terms. Najin is a modern woman trapped in a traditional time and it is really interesting to follow her life as she never loses sight of her ambitions, whilst simultaneously doing everything she can to please her family.

The Final Chapter and the 109th Bead…

So, I’ve finished ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ and genuinely enjoyed it all the way through. There were some occasions where the spirituality and religious terminology threw me off a bit, but it didn’t take away from my enjoyment…it simply encouraged me to re-read any confusing bits or google them.

It is a book that describes one woman’s journey, whilst simultaneously taking the reader on a journey through different countries, cultures and emotions.

I would recommend this book for holidays, lazy days and really any days that you want to spend on a whirlwind adventure across the world. Knowing that the structure of the book reflects the japa mala beads means that through all the tears and troubles, we subconciously know that there will be a 109th bead, a happy ending, a release; which is inspiring and carries us through any hardships in our own lives in a more hopeful way.

‘Attraversiamo’

I’ve now finished the first section of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ which depicts Liz’s time in Italy. I can honestly say, I am really enjoying the pure, unadulterated honesty of Gilbert’s writing! Her experiences are so relatable, perhaps not on exactly the same levels, but most people have experienced heartbreak, loneliness and depression and Gilbert doesn’t mince her words to make them less hurtful, which I’ve always found more refreshing in a writer.

The book, as she explains in the preface, is split into 108 small chapters to echo the japa mala which are the strings of beads that devout Hindus and Buddhists use to help them stay focused.

It is clear from the outset what Elizabeth wanted to achieve by travelling to the three countries and throughout, as we work our way through the 108 chapters; we soon become aware that however difficult this time was for her, all her experiences are leading up to that 109th bead. Every japa mala has this extra bead and apparently, in meditation when your fingers reach this final bead…you are meant to pause and thank your teachers.

From this introduction, I already felt like I was becoming more cultured! It also gave me an intriguing idea as to her mindset when she started this journey, and a smudge of hope that as the book progresses, she finds what she is looking for.
As I mentioned, I’ve only read what I now realise is the ‘Eat’ section…and her descriptions of Italy, the food, the culture have given me such a strange desire. I’ve always been keen to learn Italian and to travel the world and Gilbert’s beautiful depictions of the country and the language has confirmed my passion.

After the first section, I feel that ‘One Woman’s Search for Everything’ (as written on the title page) is undeniably honest, but also it can be turned around…in some way, this journey is ‘Every Woman’s Search for…something’.

Granted,  it doesn’t have the same ring to it…but it’s becoming more and more clear why ‘Eat, Pray, Love has been passed from woman to woman like the secret of life’.

p.s Attraversiamo means ‘Let’s cross over’… like Liz, I just liked it!

Eat, Pray, Love

So, after three years of studying English…reading hundreds of books for consumption, I finally went into Waterstones and bought 3 random books that I actually wanted to read! Now, this is not to say that I didn’t want to read or enjoy reading any of the books from the curriculum…but when you know you have to read about 4 different books from completely different genres every week to a deadline, it does tend to take some of the fun out of reading.

Anyway, I spent ages wandering around Waterstones trying to find three random books that interested me and ended up with…

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Lovely Bones by Alice Seabold

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

…and for spending over £10 I got On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (for about £4…)

At the moment, I’m reading Eat, Pray, Love and already am feeling both thrilled to be reading for pleasure again, and utterly inspired! I’m only a quarter of the way through but find myself completely drawn in!

An introduction to the story, for those who haven’t read it yet…Liz is thirty-something, married and desperately unhappy. After finally making the decision to leave her husband, he makes the divorce extremely bittter and difficult for her, this perhaps being the reason for her fling with David. She soon embarks on a life and faith altering journey and although I haven’t read much further than this…already I’m engrossed. Her strength and courage, along with a variety of interesting characters makes it clear why it’s “The Number One Bestseller that everyone is talking about”.

Anywho, I will do a more detailed review when I’ve finished it! So far, I would definitely recommend it…in fact, I already have done, to my housemate!