Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Voyage Out || Virginia Woolf

'When I think of the age we live in, with its opportunities and possibilities, the mass of things to be done and enjoyed - why haven't we ten lives instead of one?'

I find it impossible to review Woolf's novels so I'm not going to even try. Instead, I'm just going to share a few thoughts and I'd love to hear yours too.

The Voyage Out has been on my shelf for not too far off a decade. Unread. Well, actually, I started to read it at college, but we had the choice to either write about TVO or George Gissing's The Odd Women. At the time The Odd Women spoke to me far more than Woolf. When I first picked the book back off my shelf, encouraged by HeavenAli's #Woolfalong, the page where I gave up on Woolf and moved on to pastures Odd was still marked: page 32.

This time, with a hard-won appreciation of Woolf and a love of her writing, I breezed past page 32 in the first sitting.

// The Voyage Out is certainly Woolf's most accessible novel. It follows a more traditional structure and does not focus on a stream of consciousness like her other works. I do think though that you can see the slow beginnings of her work taking shape, not quite as much as in Jacob's Room, but I think it's there.

'It's not cowardly to wish to live, Alice. It's the very reverse of cowardly. Personally I'd like to go on for a hundred years'

// It was quite odd but also quite reassuring to come across the Dalloways in the novel. I hadn't realised beforehand that they appear and have more than just a fleeting cameo.

// I loved the relationship between Hewet and Rachel and how, when they're first engaged, they feel the need to keep reminding themselves that they love one another. Not from a lack of feeling, but I think they're both overwhelmed by the suddenness and the happiness of it all.

// There are some wonderful quotes about happiness in this novel and it seems to be something that the characters are searching for and have a particular awareness about.

'Very gently and quietly, almost as if it were the blood singing in her veins, or the water of the stream running over stones, Rachel became conscious of a new feeling within her. She wondered for a moment what it was, and then said to herself, with a little surprise at recognising in her own person so famous a thing: 'This is happiness, I suppose.'

// I was quite taken aback by the ending. It caught me thoroughly off guard and I almost felt winded. I did like how it brings yet another layer of meaning to the title of the novel - a final voyage almost.

'At last she shut the book sharply, lay back, and drew a deep breath, expressive of the wonder which always marks the transition from the imaginary world to the real world.'

// I truly adored this novel with its insightful musings on life, happiness and existence in general. I'm sure it will stay with me for a long time and I already know that to revisit it will be like seeing an old friend after a long time has passed.

Have you read The Voyage Out? 


Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The Joys of Secondhand Bookshops

Mooching around secondhand bookshops is possibly my favourite thing to do. Whether it's a dusty old store with narrow staircases and books piled on every surface, or an outdoor market, I can happily spend hours exploring, browsing and reading pages here and there. I have found some absolute gems in various stores around the country and, occasionally, abroad (in Amsterdam I found a beautiful copy of Olive Schreiner's Dreams).

There is something almost magical about secondhand shopping. Coming across heartwarming or witty inscriptions, finding old bookmarks or notes tucked into pages, and reading annotations left by some previous reader is a connection to people throughout history who have read and loved and shared their passion for the written word.

I'm quite an ordered browser. I make my way through the genres that appeal to me, from fiction, to classics, to history, to art, to literary criticism, picking up books as I go and always on the look out for certain books by certain writers. I'll always look under 'C' for Collins before moving onto 'W' for Woolf, West and Wyndham. In history I'll go straight to the First World War before searching out the Suffragettes. There's this wonderful quickening of the heart which comes over me when I discover a book, amid so many others, that I've been searching for and I inevitably find my feet dragging and my head turning for one last look as my bank balance forces me back out of the shop.

I've made some marvellous finds in the last month or so, firstly in a little bookshop hidden away in Bristol and secondly at the Southbank Book Market. It's rare that I'll leave a secondhand bookshop empty handed and I do seem to have a sixth sense for tracking down certain writers and subjects, but even knowing that I've been amazed by the books I've found recently.

You'll notice a couple of Simenon's in this pile and I've said before that he seems to be almost following me - every bookshop I've entered in the last six or seven months has given me Simenon and his invention, Maigret. I don't know whether it's because he's coming back into the public consciousness thanks to Penguin reissuing the Maigret novels, or whether it's my own awareness has changed since reading The Blue Room. Either way, I'm in love and so happy to be stumbling across various old editions.

I was perhaps most excited to find this old Penguin edition of The Great Gatsby. My sister actually found this on the Southbank Book Market and shook it wildly at me until I came running over. I was then distracted by seeing a sea of Simenon's and a copy of Virginia Woolf's The Common Reader (which I'm still kicking myself for not buying). I have a couple of different copies of The Great Gatsby already, one which I filled with my A Level annotations and one which I filled with my degree annotations, but I am overjoyed to own this gorgeous Penguin - I particularly like the mini synopsis on the front!

I'm having a slight break from book-buying, secondhand or otherwise, at the moment as my shelves here in London are bursting at the seams (I've been forced to stack books on every available surface now, as many of my favourite bookshops do!), but I'm planning a couple of trips around the UK for the summer which, if all goes to plan, will essentially be one long bookshop crawl.

Do you like secondhand book shopping? Found any gems lately?

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #54

1// #Bronte200 I've loved all of the celebrations for Charlotte Bronte's bicentenary this week. It's very much put me in the mood for re-reading Jane Eyre and Villette and discovering her other works. I'm also in the mood to re-watch the Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska film after hearing Moira Buffini, who wrote the screenplay, talk on Thursday.

2// Sceptre Salon On Monday I went to the first Sceptre Salon at Foyles. Chris Cleave, Clare Morrall and Tristan Gooley made up the panel, chaired by Hannah Beckerman, discussing the theme of water. It was wonderful and I really enjoyed hearing about both Cleave and Morrall's new novels having loved their works previously.

3// More exercise Since an inconclusive MRI left my physio stumped I've decided it's time to get myself back to fighting fit, or risk staying miserable for a lot longer. I've been slowly building myself back up with the gym, swimming and yoga, and yesterday I went for my first run in about six months. With a little determination and plenty of stretching and self-care, I think I can get back to where I used to be.

4// Cooking I spent most of today cooking up a storm. First I made some apple and cinnamon muffins, then miso soup, and finally I pickled some red cabbage for future salads. All very tasty, even if I say so myself.

5// Star Wars Nothing beats a Sunday evening spent curled up with a cider in front of The Force Awakens. Top notch evening.

What made you happy this week?


Thursday, 21 April 2016

The Repercussions || Catherine Hall

Catherine Hall's The Repercussions had sat on my shelf for much longer than it should have before I finally got around to reading it. I think I'd bought it after reading a couple of positive reviews online and I was drawn to the slightly more unusual perspective on WW1. The Repercussions is not particularly groundbreaking and, for someone who has read an inordinate amount of war literature, it's possibly a little predictable. Nevertheless, it's really a rather good book and has stuck with me, floating somewhere at the back of my mind, since I finished it.

The Repercussions is a dual-narrative novel. One strand is told from the perspective of Jo, a war photographer back from Afghanistan and struggling to make sense of the things she went through there. The other strand is Elizabeth's story, shared through diary entries Jo found in the house she inherits from her Aunt. Elizabeth was a nurse in The Royal Pavilion and found herself torn between love and duty.

I was reminded of Sam Baker's The Woman Who Ran and Pat Barker's Double Vision (at least I think it's Double Vision). It seems that writing about war correspondents and photographers gives authors the opportunity to address trauma from a different perspective. Hall has taken that one step further by paralleling modern day war trauma with shell shock and the mental repercussions of the First World War.

This book addresses a multitude of subjects, all of which are acutely relevant to one another. Using Brighton as the geographical base allows Hall to focus on the nurses and soldiers in the Brighton Royal Pavilion, which then allows her to explore issues of race, gender, class and sexuality in one fell swoop. Jo's narrative also deals with some quite difficult topics, including life under the Taliban rule, but Hall has a delicate touch and avoids sensationalising.

Beyond the deeper issues explored through the two narratives, the overarching story and Jo's movements through post-war life make for fascinating reading. However, I certainly wasn't prepared for the blow we're dealt on the final page. Generally I really enjoyed The Repercussions and would recommend it to anyone interested in war fiction. I even stayed up late to finish it which is rare for me these days!

Have you read The Repercussions?


Tuesday, 19 April 2016

They Are Trying to Break Your Heart || David Savill

If this book hadn't been vouched for by Anna Hope and Nathan Filer pre-publication, I highly doubt I would have given it a second glimpse. As it was, I adore Hope and Filer's novels so I took that as a sign. Usually the two subjects of this book - the 2004 tsunami and the Bosnian war - would not necessarily appeal to me unless, as with Girl at War by Sara Novic which I read whilst in Croatia, I was reading for a specific reason. I'm glad that I did give this emotive and expansive book a try and it's made me realise that perhaps I should also be expanding my horizons.

It's 1994 and Marko is devastated by the loss of his best friend Kemal, a young soldier in the Bosnian war. After Kemal's funeral Marko flees to England to escape his memories and his broken homeland.

In 2004 Anya flies out to Thailand to meet her ex-boyfriend and love of her life, clinging onto a vague hope that they can rebuild their relationship. She is also researching crimes against women in the Bosnian war and on the hunt for one particular man. Little do they know a disaster is approaching that will connect their fates across the years and the continents.

They Are Trying to Break Your Heart is a multi-narrative novel, it's various strands weaving in and around one another. Occasionally these strands felt muddled and I initially found it quite difficult to settle into the rhythm of the changing narration. Generally though, once I'd accustomed myself to the various story arcs, I found I could follow it with ease.

When I had settled in to the rhythm of the novel I found it very difficult to pull myself away. Savill is quite the master of holding things back and revealing details which you think are huge early on, but actually are not the most important thing. I found this with both William and Anya's story and Marko's story. This gave an otherwise calm novel (in terms of action, not emotion), some significant pace.

I find it weird that I just wrote that this is a calm story in terms of action because actually this novel is about war and natural tragedy, death and trauma. Yet the acts and the actions are not the focus here; the people, the after-effects and the need to make a life in the wake of such horrors, are far more important.

Initially I wondered whether Savill had bitten off more than he could chew with two such huge subjects and I did think it would possibly work better as two separate narratives, but they are subtly woven together in a way that makes it work. I particularly think the way Savill unites the two strands towards the end was effective and almost melted the topics into one without compromising the significance of either.

When I finished reading They Are Trying to Break Your Heart I made a note on the inside of the book which says 'people haunted by their history, finding their way out, facing the past and learning to live again'. I guess that pretty much sums up what I took from this book - it's a subtle exploration of humanity in the face of tragedy. This is an impressive debut - though I would add that it's not without flaws - and I think Savill's sensitivity and lightness of touch when writing about two very dark and tragic subjects suggests that we can expect great things in the future. 

Would you read this book? In the interests of expanding my horizons, are their any books you'd recommend?

Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #53

1// Reader, I Married Him On Wednesday I attended an event about this new anthology based on Jane Eyre. It was a lovely evening and I was completely star-struck throughout - Tracy Chevalier and Helen Dunmore are perhaps two of my favourite authors (they're the reliable type, who always write fantastic books) and they both signed my book. I didn't know what to say so I think I just squeaked a thank you and ran away, but still. It's a really amazing anthology and I'd recommend it to any fans of Jane Eyre.

2// Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski Another winner from Persephone Books! This is a strangely tense novel and so brilliant. It's set in France shortly after WWII and follows Hilary Wainwright on his search for his lost son. It's full of will he/won't he and is he/isn't he moments and I found myself hooked to the very end.

3// Sunny lunches in the park The weather has been ridiculously changeable this week. One minute it's warm, sunny and springlike and the next it's cold and absolutely chucking it down. Earlier in the week though I did manage a couple of lunches in the park. I love to find a spot and settle in with my homemade salad and book.

4// Wilkie and Wyndham Some of you will have heard about my new additions on twitter, but for those who haven't Wilkie and Wyndham are my guinea pigs and rather gorgeous ones at that. Wilkie is a shy fella, and so is Wyndham, but his stomach usually helps him overcome the anxiety. I've not kept guineas since I was at school so I'm still relearning how best to look after them and bring them out of their shells (any suggestions would be welcome!). I adore them and I love having them to come home to after a hard day at work.

5// Walking This weekend we've walked absolutely miles (around 15, to be exact). We didn't have any destination in mind, just set off in a random direction and wandered, stopping every now and then for a coffee or a cider before winding our way back home with sore feet and tired legs.

What made you happy this week?

Friday, 15 April 2016

On the Stack #3

On my desk there's a stack of books which, for the last couple of weeks, has been slowly growing taller. This is my 'to review' pile and it's full of some absolute corkers. I will get around to reviewing them, particularly They Are Trying to Break Your Heart and The Repercussions, but I really need to figure out exactly how I feel about them first.

For now though, I thought I'd have a little chat about what I'm currently reading and what I hope to read next.

Earlier this week I finished The Repercussions by Catherine Hall and immediately moved onto something quite different (although still war-related): Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski. This is one of the Persephone books I picked up on the London Bookshop Crawl in February and it came highly recommended. I am really enjoying it; there's plenty of intrigue and it feels like there's a lot being left unsaid, although it isn't as pacey as I thought it might be. I think it's going to be another Persephone hit (is there even such a thing as a Persephone miss?!).

After Little Boy Lost I'm going to get stuck into The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf. I've been meaning to join in with Heavenali's #Woolfalong and the theme for March and April was beginnings/endings where we're encouraged to read either The Voyage Out, Night and Day and/or Between the Acts. I had an aborted attempt at reading The Voyage Out at college (pre my To the Lighthouse discovery), and it's been sitting unloved on my shelf ever since, so it's about time I gave it another go and I think this is the perfect opportunity.

Alongside Woolf I think I may dip my toes into Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic. I had a discussion about the book with one of my colleagues a couple of weeks ago and she found it really inspiring. I'm in need of a bit of creative inspiration at the moment so I think reading that in combination with Woolf will be just what I need.

What are you reading?


Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Weekend Adventuring

I mentioned in my post on Sunday that I've been spending a lot of weekends outside of London - partly to relax, partly for some fresh air, and partly to escape my flat. It has been lovely and I've realised that perhaps I don't need to rely on London as much as I do. There is life outside of the city!

Last weekend I was in Essex staying with Mike. We didn't really have any plans for the weekend, but felt like doing a bit of exploring around the local countryside. Contrary to the 'Essex' portrayed on television, proper Essex is beautiful. Lots of endlessly rolling fields, villages tucked into the countryside, quaint pubs, and some really stunning architecture (including a windmill or two). On Saturday, after a quick trip to Pets at Home, we set off in the direction of a village called Finchingfield.

We went there with only one goal in mind: to get a cream tea. This goal was achieved pretty much on arrival, much to my stomach's delight, so we then began to amble around the village, stopping to take the occasional picture, and hoping to burn off at least a portion of the giant scones we'd eaten.

Finchingfield is, for want of a better word, picturesque. It's got the tea room, the cosy pub, the war memorial in the middle of the green, the windmill, and the higgledy piggedly houses. There were ducks and geese lounging on the grass and plenty of people out for an afternoon stroll with their pooch - just what you'd expect from village life.

We were following the path to the windmill, stopping to admire a westie out on his walk, when my WW1 senses started to tingle. Unbeknownst to us, we'd ventured to Finchingfield on the exact weekend that they were hosting a WW1 memorial day in the village hall. I adore serendipitous moments like that.

Having found our way to the Guildhall we were met by an assortment of characters - an injured soldier, a Red Cross nurse, an army chaplain - all in character and all there to talk about their role in the war. Now, I'm sure you can imagine how excited I was by this. I was even more excited when it became clear that they were happy for me to talk with them for near enough twenty minutes each!

I love days like this, when you go out with no intention of doing anything particularly special and stumble upon something amazing. It happens relatively often in London, but I'd never thought it was possible in a sleepy village in the depths of Essex - I must stop making assumptions.

Have you ever stumbled upon something wonderful? Any recommendations for places to explore around London/UK?

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #52

1// Yoga For the last month I've been attending an 'introduction to zen yoga' course. It's on a weekday evening in a studio about twenty-five minutes from my flat and I love it. I've been practicing yoga in my bedroom for about a year now and it took me that long to find the confidence to actually go to a class. I'm glad I did. This week I was in an absolute fury before the class - furious almost to the point of speechlessness - but that all melted away after an hour of breathing, being mindful, stretching and moving. Sometimes I get so frustrated with my body's limitations (short, tight muscles and stupid hips), that I forget to recognise the full benefits of yoga, particularly what a difference it can make to my mood.

2// Heresy live recording on Thursday one of my colleagues asked if I wanted to go to a recording of a Radio Four show called Heresy. I almost declined because I had planned a date with my pjs, but I talked myself into saying yes and went. It was amazing and I'll be certainly listening to Radio Four a bit more from now on.

3// Early mornings I'm trying something a little different for my morning routine at the moment and it seems to be working quite well. I'm setting my alarm just a little earlier, getting myself a cup of hot water and lemon and then settling back into bed for twenty minutes with my book before showering and facing the day. I adore early mornings - they make me feel so calm - and I can't wait for them to be even lighter.

4// Productivity I feel like I've really found my spark again this week and I've been busy busy doing lots of things - writing, reading, tidying, planning. Having a completed to do list is a wonderful feeling.

5// Essex I've not been spending a huge amount of time in London recently. I'm very uncomfortable and unhappy in my flat so I've taken every opportunity to go away at the weekends. This weekend I've been in Essex with Mike and, as usual, it's been glorious. We even had a sneaky cream tea!

What made you happy this week?


Monday, 4 April 2016

Hello & March in Books


So it would seem that I've had a month-long unplanned hiatus from Lit Nerd and blogging. I've not posted on here since International Women's Day and I've taken a semi-conscious step back from twitter (although instagram still kept a firm grasp of my heart and imagination). I'm not sure what prompted my withdrawl from the interwebs; I think it was the combination of being simultaneously busy and un-busy, with the vague fuzzy haziness that seemed to settle on me somewhere towards the beginning of March. Thankfully things seem a bit clearer and brighter now, no doubt as a result of the clocks going forward - the lighter evenings are making such a difference - and a few weekends spent outside of London.

I'm not going to apologise for my absence. Neither will I make empty promises about regular posting schedules or suddenly becoming a social media whizz. Yeh...not happening. What I will say is that I missed this - I always do - and that I'm going to focus on talking about the things I want from now on. If I want to write about another serendipitous Simenon find (for real, that guy is haunting my life), the frustrations of not being able to run (for the millionth time), or the things I did at the weekend (which is frequently little more than drinking coffee, perusing bookstores and walking), then I'm sure as hell going to do it.

And now, without further ado, I'm going to crack on with talking about the books I read in March.

Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins
Poppyganda by Matthew Leonard
The Playroom by Olivia Manning
Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell
Four Frightened People by E. Arnot Robinson
The Suffragettes by various
The Circle by Dave Eggers

March turned out to be an excellent month for reading (with the exception of The Circle, but we won't talk about that). I've been feeling quite disconnected from books and reading for the most part of this year so far, moving from reading enthusiastically to almost hitting slump point, and this month was no exception. However, looking back I read some absolute corkers in March, even though one of those novels almost made me abandon my kindle on a tube platform (we definitely won't talk about The Circle). 

I seem to have rekindled my love for Virago Modern Classics, which means that I'll be shopping my own shelves much more as I have plenty of VMCs pre-loved by my Mum. Four Frightened People was decidedly odd, but interesting in how before its time it is. The Playroom was brilliant and has encouraged me to give Olivia Manning another go after I set aside The Great Fortune after only a few chapters.  

If I were to recommend only one book from this selection it would have to be Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins. This was recommended to the bookshop crawl gang by the lovely people at Persephone Books, although it was actually on my list for the day too! It's a fantastic, if sad and frustrating novel and the character of Harriet still lingers in my mind a month later.

I don't plan on writing about any of these books - clean slate and all that - but if you would like to know my thoughts on them let me know in the comments.

What did you read in March? Do you have a favourite from the month?

If you're still here after my disappearing act then thank you for sticking around!

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