Because of the Lockwoods


Persephone books have been luring me with their siren song for some time. Their plush, classy, anonymous grey covers and beautiful individual endpapers (with matching bookmarks!) are startlingly enticing, even for a shameless judge of covers like myself. With various titles floating on my periphery for many years, the promise of cosy, quality writing from lesser known female authors has finally proved too tempting to resist. Enter Dorothy Whipple’s heartrending Because of the Lockwoods (big thanks go to Rachel at Book Snob and Thomas at Hogglestock for their ever-valuable recommendations).

BOTL explores the lives of two families; the Lockwoods and the Hunters, growing up alongside each other in a gritty Northern industrial town. Following the death of Mr Hunter, his wife and three children are forced to leave their comfortable family home for a less salubrious part of town. Ousted out of the cosseted social circles of her former neighbours, young Thea Hunter seethes with anger towards her pompous young Lockwood peers. Coupled with her mothers’ deference in all things important towards the devious Mr Lockwood, Thea’s frustration pushes her to escape her narrow existence, expanding her horizons to terrific effect. Will the pompous patronising Lockwoods ever get their comeuppance? Only Whipple can tell.

This human story of the almost overwhelmingly ‘ordinary’ injustices in life 16177438and how people strive to overcome such obstacles struck me more than I expected. Thea, our unwitting heroine, is very much a ‘real’ woman, so very flawed in her jealousies, passions, fatalism and untimely outbursts; a character to be frustrated by but who is all the more charming for her imperfections. The injustice of the unattractive, devious Lockwoods publicly lording it over a family less fortunate and, in the case of Mrs Hunter, far weaker than themselves, was almost too much to bear at times, making it all the easier to fly through this wonderful novel to its dramatic conclusion.

Choosing a bit of Whipple for my first Persephone read turned out to be a wise move. Not only is she their most published author (i.e. a safe bet) but her masterful management of her characters and cosy, gently progressing narrative made this an easy one to sink into. Thea’s flight to France gives us a welcome change of mood and scenery and allows, in her absence, peripheral characters such as neighbour and admirer Oliver Reade to transform himself from grade-a sleazeball to working-class hero. Mrs Hunter, on the other hand, I would have been quite glad to slap at times and I did find this novel, overall, difficult to place in time, something my hungry mind can’t help but find frustrating.

Perhaps the compelling characters drew me in, maybe it was the pleasing humdrum nature of the Hunters’ lives, or perhaps Whipple’s Northern setting spoke to my Mancunian soul. Whatever it was, I loved it, devouring this novel slowly in several sittings. More Whipple to warm me up please!

Reading between the wines…


I can’t quite believe that my little book group; originally set up with the lovely Mr Simon Savidge way back in Spring 2012, is now just over three years young. On the first Tuesday evening of every month, usually following some frenetic last-minute reading, our seasoned group of readers settle down in a cosy Manchester eatery for cake, cocktails and lots and lots of book chat!

My family and my other half are big book lovers and can happily chat for hours on all things literary. There is I realise, however, an upper limit for most people that an addict such as myself simply never reaches…that’s where my fellow book gurus come in. We’ve been everywhere over the past few years; coming through our adventures stronger and bookier than ever. Here are my highlights:

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Although I consider myself a friendly kind of gal, I am a bit of a picky one when it comes to friends, often preferring the company of a cat, good book and a glass of gin (no shame!). The book group provides me with the superb company, at least once a month, of some really very special, enigmatic, sensitive, bright bright people. I bask in their awesomeness.

Novel Ideasbook-759873_640One of the best things about being a big reader, as well the myriad of worlds awaiting you between the pages, is the masses of knowledge you quite inadvertently soak up at the same time. Even for someone with such a penchant for literary fiction such as myself. The only thing that could possibly top this would be drawing on the substantial knowledge of other bookish people from so many difference walks of life. I feel enriched.


We started off with the small stuff; i.e. a school trip or two here and there to local book haunts (e.g. the bewildering Aladdin’s cave that is Sharston Books). Before we even realised what was happening we had been catapulted into ever more surreal and special experiences. From a literary performance for a local artist (standing in a cellar on one of the hottest days of the year reading extracts from Sartres’ The Words), to appearing on BBC 2’s Eggheads. Ooo, it leaves me hungry for more!

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Although I suppose this topic could fall under the more general ‘novel ideas’, the constant discovery of a new author or genre of fiction/non-fiction has transformed my reading to such an extent that it deserves a heading of its very own. Although I have spread my wings over the past few years, it’s hard not to revert to type. I am still an enduring literary fiction lover and the blogs and magazines I read to inspire me follow that same thread. Thankfully my fellow book club members always manage to point me in the direction of something new. Short stories? Crime Fiction? Speculative Fiction? Yes PLEASE.

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I hate to break it to you all but the passions in my life do in fact extend beyond bookish stuff. Enter cocktails and cake. Since we all get on so well and the chat usually flows so easily (apart from when tacking a completely uninspiring book) that our enthusiasm usually runs to other things. Namely; our pet cats and just how delish the cocktails and cake at our venue are. (Pictured: the delectable French 75 cocktail).

Are any of you lovely people in a Book Club? If so, what parts do you love the most? If not, would you ever consider joining one?

The Man Who Remembered The Moon

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I’ve always thought of myself as a strict novel reader. Although a doorstopper can intimidate me as much as the next person, I do like something to really get my teeth stuck into. Apart from being forced to read them at university, short stories (although, contrarily, among some of the most memorable, striking pieces I have ever read) have never been my thing. However, the universe seems to be pushing me in a very clear direction at the moment; with Alice Munro’s Dear Life being selected for October’s book club and, just the other week, this captivating little volume landing on my desk courtesy of astute Canadian author David Hull.

Daniel Hale is The Man Who Remembered The Moon. One evening, following a relatively ordinary day, Daniel casually asks his girlfriend where the moon has gone, having not noticed it in the night sky for a few days. The moon?! She asks, uncomprehendingly. The celestial body that Daniel has supposedly grown up with, it seems, does not and has never existed. Everything else, on the other hand, is just the same as it ever was.

Firmly ensconced in a psychiatric unit, Daniel, along with his effusive doctor; Marvin Pallister, spend their days delving into the possible causes for/meaning of what becomes coined as ‘Hale-Pallister Lunacy’. The results, explored in Hull’s crisp prose, are incredibly thought-provoking…


The philosophical meanderings of this slim little volume, exploring the historical, scientific and sociological significance of the moon add up to one lovely, symbolic, rather melancholy whole. In a world where the psychologist himself begins to doubt his own sanity, ‘moon’ is an archaic, intangible concept used to symbolise, much like Daniel’s imagined object, a whole range of human emotion.

Once I got over Daniel’s rather unbelievable, seemingly unjust hospitalisation (I mean, who cares if he’s made something up? There are far crazier people out there … or is that just in Manchester?) I could begin to really enjoy the challenging questions obliquely posed by this story. What is reality? What is memory? Whose perspective of the world is the correct one?

This is a remarkably well-considered, touching piece of work written in a strong voice that is, most excitingly, all but unknown. Most strikingly of all are Hull’s ideas. His ‘Hidden Track’ at the end of the book is a pre-existing short story (which you can read in full here) which I enjoyed so much it outshone even the poignant title tale. In a mere handful of pages Hull creates an atmosphere of tension to rival the greatest short story writers out there. Sat in a bar one night, our protagonist meets a curious character; a J G Ballard aficionado. Intrigued, he accepts an invitation to go to his flat to see some of his memorabilia, only to discover that things aren’t quite as ordinary as they might seem…

Short story writing is clearly an art, one that arguably requires the crispest of prose and strongest of ideas to really pull the reader in. David Hull writes with both and I really can’t wait to see what he has in store next.

Short stories vs novels? Which do you prefer? Have any of you short story lovers got any perfect recommendations?

Goodbye to All That


Goodbye to All That has, for as long as I can remember, been billed to me as the World War I book. Sod Birdsong. If I really wanted to understand realities and horrors of life in the trenches, Robert Graves’ memoir was the place to start.

Having never read anything by the author previously I had grave (no pun intended!) doubts about reading a ‘war’ book in the middle of summer. Was this the right time? Did I really want to find myself knee-deep in mud and guts in the middle of August? Still suffering from a months-long reading slump I knew that drastic measures were needed and finally put my doubts aside to go down a more esoteric reading route this summer…

Goodbye to All That is a memoir that reaches beyond Graves’ war experiences, also providing a witty account of his childhood; from the terrors of Charterhouse School to accounts of visiting quirky family members out in Bavaria. He is, despite the subject matter, equally British and droll in his sharply realistic accounts of life as an officer of the Royal Welch Fusilliers during World War I. Anyone expecting romanticism from this famous war poet will be disappointed. Graves’ writing is permeated with descriptions of trench warfare so searingly clear and slaughter so commonplace that this could only come from the pen of a man who witnessed it first hand. A man who would suffer from shell shock for the rest of his life.

55428This will always be the World War I book to read; and a bloody good one at that. Far from being maudlin and depressing, this was just the piece of quality writing I needed to haul me out of my reading rut and I haven’t looked back. Graves betrays his genius with a memoir that is, bizarrely, really very uplifting. A portrait of courageous men, women and animals caught up in the most horrifying and inexplicable of circumstances and, for those who remain standing, dealing with it. There is some seriously black humour as Graves and his colleagues crawl over the bodies of their dead friends, some completely nerve-wracking descriptions of battles and no glorification, just realism. A real landscape with real mud and blood you can well imagine (god forbid) your own loved ones having to wade through in the name of what exactly? It didn’t seem many of the Tommies knew either…

The inclusion of Graves’ life both preceding and immediately following the war was both a pleasant surprise and gave much-needed context and contrast with the wartime chapters. Unsurprisingly, the military dramas that take over the majority of the book meant that even the appearance of the notorious T. E. Lawrence (aka. ‘Lawrence of Arabia’) in Graves’ post-war life could not transform the final chapters to anything approaching the interest and intrigue of the former, meaning that the book does fizzle out rather towards the end. You can’t have everything I suppose.

Although Graves obviously survived his ordeal to tell the tale, it is testament to his great skill as a storyteller that, despite knowing this, the reader can still retain a certain suspension of disbelief that leaves us fearing for his life throughout the entire memoir. The fact that I found myself even faintly intrigued by battle tactics (or lack thereof) and the idiosyncrasies of the various regiments Graves found himself shipped off to further highlights the absorbing nature of this wonderful book. Doubtlessly the must-read for anyone wanting to understand a fraction of the shambles that was the First World War. Wonderful.

Which is the ‘best’ World War I novel in your eyes? Do you think reading about war is depressing or that we should use reading to confront subjects that make us feel uncomfortable?

All The Pretty Horses


Book club books will always be easier to review when it comes to putting pen to paper. Logically I suppose, the process of discussing a book out loud (however fruitful or not that discussion may be) never fails to help me compartmentalise my thoughts.

I’m fully aware that all I’ve moaned about lately is the lack of a good simple story and, although Robert Graves’ is helping to remedy that at the moment with his wonderful (and surprisingly uplifting) memoir Goodbye to All That, book club choices are always risky business. A double-edged sword of absolute hidden gems or books that are simply ‘ok’. Given the stellar reputation of The Road, we were all excited to read Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. Although undoubtedly a modern classic, the more I think about it the more I feel like this might just have been ‘ok’.

John Grady; unassuming young cattle rancher from Texas, has just lost his Grandfather and, along with him, the prospect of a future on the family ranch, which with the death of its owner is now due to be sold. Seeing no future for him at home, Grady takes his horse and heads of south towards the Mexican border, taking his friend Lacey Rawlins along for company. Encountering madcap teenager ‘Blevins’ and his suspiciously majestic horse along the way, the boys set off on (for them, please note) an unforgettable adventure, full of danger, risky relationships and, oh yeah, some horses.


One book clubber very 7555187astutely described this book as ‘cinematic’. She was right. McCarthy’s descriptions of the majestic landscape these boys travel across are breathtaking; the approach of the oncoming storms terrifying (as Blevins will attest). It is hardly surprisingly that it was transformed into a film with Matt Damon back in 2000 – albeit a dull one. Lauding this book however, on the front cover of all things, as ‘one of the greatest American novels of this or any time’, I take slight issue with.

In my desperation for good stories, I can’t help but take that kind of wild claim to heart. The simple fact is that it should in fact read; ‘one of the greatest American novels of this or any time in my opinion.’ I mean, I’m used to bookish hyperbole, but this is just ridiculous.

This book is a true modern classic; where you can be sure to discover some seriously quality writing. From depictions of the wild landscape to describing the most subtle interaction between man and horse, McCarthy really knows his onions and it is just so satisfying to read. The dialogue, though hard to get into at first due to the distinct lack of pronouns and quotation marks, once clicked is just so perfect and entirely natural.

However, although I appreciate a bit of realism as much as the next person , the endless, monotonous journeying of the boys became seriously repetitive. Let’s face it, there are only so many ways of describing a bivouac. Of far more interest to me was their arrival and employment as cattle drivers at the Hacienda on the Mexican plains; full of history and human interest (least of all the hot romance that ensues). Also, although John Grady is a doubtlessly sympathetic character, the female contingency of the book group (i.e. 90% of us on the night in question) felt that McCarthy laid it all on a little strongly. What? He’s strong, handsome, sensitive, good with animals and fluent in Spanish?! And he’s only 16? … Pull the other one…..

Strong writing and the occasional nail-biting scene could not, in this case, hide the fact that full-blown Americanah, full of cheese and testosterone, jarred a little with our cynical, feminine, Mancunian minds. The ending was a little weak and readers simply don’t appreciate too many lines written in a language they don’t understand. It spoils the flow hombre.

McCarthy writes beautifully, but I won’t be reading the rest of his Borders trilogy.

Which ‘great American novel’ do I really need to read? Help me adore this literary location!