Island in the Sun

IMG_3662This summer I realised I am now older than Jesus, and have achieved not 1/1000000 of what He did while on Earth. I don’t expect to have redeemed the world of all its sins – I am not a saint and moreover there are some people I’d like to redeem a lot more than others, which is not how the Son (or Daughter) of God would think, all men being equal, etc., etc. But I did feel my stomach hitting my toes when I realised I’m 5 years off 40 and not much has changed since I first stepped onto the island of Hydra twenty years ago.

I can still remember the dusty hours spent packing T-shirts in the garage to save up for the flight. Didy’s hedgehog-bright eyes picking me out of the crowd at the airport. The heat of Athens smacking me playfully in the face. The smooth stones beneath my feet, silky and hot with a million days of sun. I filled an entire notebook with the magic of those two weeks: the yacht decked with thousands of lights, like a fairy ship, coming into the port the first evening; the rhythmic chirrup of cicadas; the sweaty pulse of the nightclub at the very top of the hill; the heady scent of an unknown flower I found in a bath oil several months later which made my eyes fill with longing. Twenty years later the island’s Siren song is as powerful as ever. Hydra untangles my knotted stomach, cradles me in its stony embrace, and sends me to sleep, heavy as a ship resting on the seabed.

I don’t do a lot in Greece, which means of course plenty of reading time.

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
A fabulous book about French Revolution. I’ll need to re-read it though as it was in the first couple of days of my holiday and I kept falling asleep in the middle of it. It’s in turn amusing, heart-breaking and horrifying, but always fascinating.

Under a Silent Moon by Elizabeth Haynes
She of Into the Darkest Corner, which is one of the most disturbing books I had read over the last few years. This was better than her subsequent books; chilling, sexy and unnerving.

Curfew by Lucy M Boston
These are really, really spooky stories. Fantastic. I got goose-pimples on the beach reading them; the titular tale made me feel quite sick, in a good way. Get your copy from Robert Lloyd Parry who reads the scariest tales aloud. Honestly, if you have a liking for ghost stories and Curfew is not on your bookshelf, this needs remedying.

The Heroes’ Welcome by Louisa Young
This book never seems entirely sure of itself, but it is an original and unflinching look at the recovery of two couples, both mental and physical, from WW1. Louisa Young also wrote My Dear, I Wanted To Tell You, which I read a couple of years ago. I like her unique approach to the well-trod literary path of the Great War.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Oskar, the narrator of this book, made me want to wallop him with a wet fish. Which is pretty nasty of me considering he’s a little boy whose father died on 9/11. But these thoughts I tend to keep to myself (or, er, publish online for all to see). Anyway, fortunately the people Oskar meets in his search for an answer to his father’s riddle do not want to wallop him. Whether you share my fish-fantasy or not, this is a painful book to read, which is a compliment, as I was wincing reading the final pages.

The Vanishing Witch by Karen Maitland
Hoorah! Maitland back on form – spooky, mysterious and great fun. This is a story of witchcraft, romance and intrigue set during the Peasants’ Revolt. As always Maitland weaves a fascinating tale with great historical accuracy and I thoroughly enjoyed this, having been a little disappointed by her books following the excellent Company of Liars.

Beyond the Silence by Andrew Chapman
A quite good book about Van Gogh’s last doctor and the village in which he practised. It was interesting, but the writing felt a bit clunky in places. I think it must have been self-published. Which I don’t mean as an insult, but you know sometimes you can tell…? Anyway it was an original and interesting story.

Carthage by Joyce Carol Oates
This woman doesn’t put a foot wrong and Carthage is another triumph, a journey through PTSD, mental illness, recovery from violence and forgiveness.

Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera
Three generations of an Asian family in a corner shop tell out their tale in a story which is by turns amusing, touching and unsettling. I REALLY enjoyed this and it made me laugh out loud twice, which is always a good sign.

The May Bride by Susannah Dunn
I’ve sung Dunn’s praises before – I consider her writing more delicate and complex than the commercially popular Philippa Gregory – and she hasn’t disappointed with this, her latest, a captivating story about the Seymour family pre-Jane-marrying-Henry-VIII.

I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan
This made me do real life LOLs on the beach which was a bit embarrassing. Apparently the audio version, read by Alan himself, is even better and I can believe it. An absolute must for Partridge fans, or anyone who needs cheering up – someone who’s had a crap day, who’s stubbed their toe, who’s coming back from a funeral (perhaps not that of a well-loved friend or relative).

The Children’s Book by A S Byatt
This is a fabulous rich tapestry of fairytales and history. I need to re-read it already, but my copy fell apart. One of the best books I’ve read in ages, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Christine by Stephen King
I hadn’t read this since I was about 11. It’s more sinister, disturbing, and heart-rending than I remembered. I guess that’s because first time round I read most of it with my fingers over my eyes. Where does this guy get his ideas from? He’s unparalleled.

Three and a Half Deaths, Landing and Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue
I love this author because when I was younger I was told by an agent you can only ever have one writing style if you’re going to be successful. This gutted me as my three books I had going at the time – Water Sign, A Makeless Maiden and my ghost stories – were all totally different and it depended how I felt as to which one I worked on. Emma Donoghue proves him wrong. Three and a Half Deaths are haunting stories which do just what they say on the tin; Kissing the Witch is a collection of delicately woven fairytales in the vein of Angela Carter or Michele Roberts; Landing is a contemporary love story which didn’t end at all as I expected it to.

Tommy at War by John Sadler
I may have got a bit of WW1-fatigue, but this book, containing excerpts from soldiers’ letters and diaries, didn’t grip me as others have. I felt it was written in a slightly disjointed fashion and while the primary sources never lose their impact, the book didn’t hang together very well.

I think that’s it. The links have been given to – if I couldn’t link there then you will have to do your own digging. And if there’s not one book on this page which appeals, this is not the blog for you!

(But, er, please don’t stop reading… you never know what might come up next time…)