The Pleasant Land of Counterpane

So my operation left me with a blissful amount of reading time. OK, so blissful isn’t exactly the word. Blissful is reading lying on white sand with the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean tickling your toes. I was mainly lying in bed or on the sofa wearing bed socks and a very bulky bandage. It does make you wonder what people do if they don’t read – not that I’ve ever stopped wondering this, really, nor had an answer to it. Especially those who spend hours on public transport, or are delayed in the doctor’s waiting room, or are laid up after what is described by medical types as major surgery.

Fortunately I don’t have to feel my brain liquefying and slipping out of my ears in viscous strands. My convalescent companions were the following:

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The Stories of Jane Gardham
I really enjoyed this collection. Some stories have supernatural overtones and others are deceptively simple snapshots of life. I’ve not heard of Jane Gardham before I read this anthology and it’s encouraged me to look out more of her work.

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney
I read this book in one sitting. It’s intense, and often beautifully written – the author does get a bit carried away with her similes and metaphors occasionally but this doesn’t mean her prose loses power. The book opens with Amber lying in a coma, convinced her husband put her there – and then her story unravels and nothing is as it first appears. I found Feeney was most believable when writing from the perspective of Amber in a coma – this was particularly well done.

The plot is not perfect, and there are several holes which I won’t spoil for would-be readers, but I enjoyed this book nonetheless. Alice Feeney is a fresh new talent and I look forward to reading her next work.

Heartburn by Nora Ephron
Certainly dated, but nonetheless visceral and enjoyable, this prickly little story about a marriage floundering after an affair makes you laugh even when your eyes blur with tears for Nora. What is poor is that someone has gone through the entire book and marked the pages containing recipes with “R”. Sacrilege! If you want to do this, buy your own copy; do not deface ones bought by a public library! A disgrace.

Holding by Graham Norton
Oh dear. I wanted to enjoy this. I really did.  I started it, disliked it, put it down and then returned to it. The plot was quite interesting – the unexpected discovery of a body uncovers the dark secrets of a village – but the characterisation poor and the behaviour of several protagonists bizarre to say the least. Graham is so wonderful on radio and TV, and his autobiographies are so full of life, perhaps it’s expecting too much of him to be a talented fiction writer as well. I’m not going to tag him in this. I love him too much.

The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter
For anyone who’s followed the Will Trent series, this is the latest instalment – and in this Angie, Will’s cruel, manipulative ex-wife comes into her own. I started to like her more, and to like the rather simpering, sickly Sara less. I also did not see the denouement coming at all – Slaughter excels in making her readers gawp.

A Great and Monstrous Thing: London in the Eighteenth Century by Jerry White
A sprawling book which takes the subjects of politics, literature, sex, economy and racism amongst others to paint so vivid a picture of London you can smell the streets. A fabulous work, this never loses its pace.

Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson
One or two of these did not sit right with me at all, but the others were indeed dark. I very much enjoyed this spooky little collection.

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to read this, especially as I saw My Cousin Rachel performed in the theatre with Stephanie Beecham when I was 14, but in a way that’s not a bad thing because I think you have to read du Maurier with the slightly jaundiced eye of a grown up. I read it very differently to how I would have done 10 years ago, for example. A classic.

Close Encounters of the Furred Kind by Tom Cox
Not terribly interesting, nor terribly funny. Cat escapades are either entrancing or boring and this fell into the latter.

All of a Winter’s Night by Phil Rickman
Hoorah for the latest in the Merrily Watkins series. Again another fat pudding of a book to relish curling up with, this focuses on ‘black’ or ‘dark’ Morris which is something I find particularly fascinating in a spine-chilling way.

We Are for the Dark by Elizabeth Jane Howard
I was thrilled to discover a friend is EJH’s grandson, and he very kindly lent me this as it’s impossible to get anywhere else. Not the best ghost stories I’ve read, but to be honest I was so excited to be reading it that the substance mattered less to me than it normally does.

Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory
Not Gregory’s strongest, this focuses on Margaret, sister of Henry VIII. I’m not sure how much of it is based in historical truth; Margaret’s character tosses and turns like a sleepless bedfellow and I didn’t find it convincing.

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
I wouldn’t normally pick up a book like this but I’m so glad a friend recommended it. Triss gradually recovers from a fever with strange after-effects. She’s hungry, but not for food; and her little sister is convinced that she’s “not the real Triss”. This is a fiercely original story meant for young adults (which I am sadly no longer!) but I very much enjoyed it.

The Beautiful Visit by Elizabeth Jane Howard
Hmm. This wasn’t a brilliant book and to be honest I think she was lucky to get it published as it’s not terribly interesting. 😦 The good news is that she got better from hereon in!

If anyone rich is reading this, please please would you consider buying me this chair. Or one of these? http://womandot.com/2014-11-18/creative-book-chairs

I can’t think of anything lovelier than sitting in the lap of a whole heap of books.