What I Read In My Summer Holidays

It’s odd, I reckon, that since the whole writing thing took off  for me – with Time Travelling With A Hamster,  and another one (title TBC) coming out next spring, and the zygote of a third one beginning its gestation – I have actually read less for pleasure than before.

So roll on a long summer holiday: endless hours reading by the pool, or on the beach, or – far more likely – in a sweaty departure lounge.  (Why “lounge”?  Anywhere less conducive to lounging is hard to conceive. Come to think of it, does anyone call it a “departure lounge” any more?  Holding Bay, Transit Point? The Pen Of Frustration?)

Anyway, I stacked up.  I’m not keen on E-readers, so it was a fair chunk of my luggage allowance.

Here’s what I got through:

whisperWhisper To Me by Nick Lake.    This is, essentially, a teen romance, but it is not remotely slushy, and much more as well.  It is written as a long letter to a boy that 17 year-old Cassie has fallen in love with, an attempt to explain her strange behaviour which has driven him away.  It’s great: sad, touching, funny and totally convincing as Cassie learns to deal with the voice in her head which drives her to self-destructive behaviour.  I loved the way the author deals with swearing in a YA novel: Cassie says she feels uncomfortable writing swear-words, so she just stars them out.  There’s loads of them, but – surprisingly –  it works.  There’s a good supporting cast, too: Cassie’s grieving, protective dad, and her complex, sexy friend, Paris. (Nick Lake is my editor at Harper Collins.)


denisA Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovitch by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.  Talking of swearing, someone seriously needs to do a new translation of this extended essay on the horrors of the Siberian prisons of 20th century Russia.  It’s not so much a story as a long essay and is remarkable more for its depiction of the dreadful cruelty of Communist punishment than for its narrative engagement; nonetheless the translation (by Ralph Parker) is in many places laughable, and rooted in a late-50s/early 60s slang, where prisoners call each other “twerps” and “ninnies” as if they were not in an unimaginable prison-hell but a slightly under-heated Mallory Towers.

truthThe Truth by Michael Palin.    Amusing.  Engaging.  I still had to look up the title, though, so a bit forgettable.     Palin’s voice is unmistakable, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  (Until you start imagining him saying, “Vewy well.  I will welease Woger!” and then it all goes to hell.) It’s a good, sweet, English story and would make a cracking film.




The XXX XXXXX by XXXXXXX  XXXXXXX  I didn’t like this and abandoned it a quarter of the way in, but I don’t want to say say what it was.  If it was old, or the writer was dead I wouldn’t care, but it isn’t and it has sold millions, won loads of awards and it’s sort of YA-ish which means I might bump into the author and that would be awkward, so I’m not saying.  It’s Victorian and bossy and unconvincing and I sighed with relief every time I put it down.

burilaBurial Rites by Hannah Kent.  Slow to start, but I ended up entranced by this tale of a murderer awaiting execution in 19th century Iceland.  Agnes Magnusdottir has been found guilty of the murder of her lover and – there being no prisons – is billeted with a local family while the state prepares her fate and a young clergyman tries to counsel her.  The evocation of a hard, cold existence and the warmth of the people enduring it is wonderful and the massive research that must have gone into the book is worn very lightly: you never get the impression you are being told anything but a good story.



Ones I took but didn’t get round to:

The Color Purple by Alice Walker  From the “classics I should  read” pile.  Between Homer’s Iliad and The Brothers Karamasov.

The Encounter – Amazon Beaming by Petru Popescu.  Saw the play by Simon McBirney which was mesmerising. It’s the true story of an explorer who has a profound encounter with a remote Amazonian tribe.

Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson.  I have LOL’d by page two at a funny simile so I’m already liking it.

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