31 January 2012

Review - Diving Belles by Lucy Wood

Diving Belles
Lucy Wood
Bloomsbury, 2012

I found this short story collection very impressive.

Lucy Wood conjures up a world where the most bizarre and the most everyday things rub shoulders easily. A care home caters for clients who aren't accepted anywhere else - chiefly retired witches and wizards. A company, the "Diving Belles' of the title story, helps women to retrieve their stolen-away menfolk from the sea using a diving bell (and net). You can even buy gift vouchers. A woman is distracted from urgent chores by her slightly annoying ex. The things she really needs to do (locking the windows, emptying the fridge, calling her boss to say she won't be at work for a bit) have to be completed soon, before she turns into a standing stone, a state of affairs which could last months or years. A boy visits his grandmother who has taken to living in a cave on the beach. The spirits on an empty house recall, with slight puzzlement, the ebb and flow of life over generations of its occupants. And so on. The stories are full of loneliness and regret. Couples meet and awkwardly fail to communicate. Things change and may be coming out right or they may not: the stories often take place on the cusp of changes or transformations, and often they don't quite give away what happened in the end. We just have to imagine it.

Wood has a real gift for making these extraordinary circumstances seem entirely natural - and thereby placing "normal" experiences and dilemmas (a teenager's uncertainty about "growing up", a sick parent, a grieving widow who feels guilty after her husband drowned) in a startling new light. This is summed up in the final story, where a storyteller wanders a small town, as if in farewell. Things seem to be coming to an end for him. As he recalls wrecks, smugglers and murder he seems only to be retelling the plotlines from the TV soaps he's recently taken to watching, yet at the same time he remembers events that he witnessed centuries before. Finally, though, he senses a story climbing towards him from deep in the abandoned mine workings. It could be a new beginning - or something very bad may be about to happen. That seems to me to capture the essence of the book, the weird blending of the fantastic, mythical and ancient with the everyday.

The book is also full of the sound of the sea, of sand, cliffs, things washed up on the beach - or lost to the waters. It's one of the most atmospheric books I've read in a long time, and deeply haunting.

21 January 2012

Stacking logs

We have oil heating, which is horrendously expensive in a big draughty house.  (It's draughty  because it's not our house - or I'd have it insulated to the hilt).  However we do have an open fire, which we'd never used much till last year.  Since then, we've been turning the heating down and using the open fire more.  While we still have to buy the logs, I think we're spending less overall - and the fire is very cosy!

The connection with books is - obviously - that the fire makes reading those books of winter ghost stories even more atmospheric.

So that's why I was frantically stacking our new delivery of logs this lunchtime, before the rain came down.  I managed it very neatly, don't you think?

Job complete

20 January 2012

Book glut

I buy more books than I could ever read.   The evidence is a bookcase behind me, four 1 metre shelves of books I've recently - say within the past two years - bought and not (yet) read, plus a pile on the floor.  Older books have been mainstreamed alongside those I have read.

This has been true for years, probably since I seriously started reading adult fiction. I'd say I have read between two thirds and three quarters of the books I own.  This is part of the reason for my aversion to rereading books - with so much written already, and so much more coming out, it almost seems wasteful.

Two or three years ago, I tried to take control of the situation.  I began using Amazon as a catalogue, searching for future books by authors I already liked and putting them into a "future reads" list.  I would only buy books on that list, and as they would be books I knew I'd read, everything would be fine.  That's the origin of the list in my previous blog posts, and I am working through it:  I've read Paul Torday's "The Legacy of Hartlepool Hall", the MR Hall book is on order I don't have it yet because I've ordered a hardback from http://www.goldsborobooks.com and I bought John Meaney's latest today.

However, I don't think it's working.  This month I have also bought "Diving Belles" by Lucy Wood, "Something of the Night" by Ian Marchant (I love literary nightiness), Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (missed it when it first came out) and have also acquired Alison Littlewood's "A Cold Season" - I've just dived into Twitter, and the publisher was offering some free copies.  Until last week, I never knew that happened to real people, rather than to high powered book bloggers... though I have had books from both Waterstones and Amazon to review, in fact I have the next Graham Joyce book coming from Amazon.

So that's five off list books to two on list.  Not really good enough.