Ali Smith’s Autumn is a lyrical novel, but also a puzzling one.
Part of her Seasonal series (followed by the now released Winter), each of the novels is touted to deal with “time and how we experience it”. This explains the non-linear narrative utilised in this novel.
The central focus here is the relationship between Elisabeth, a young girl (and at other times in the text, a young woman) and her neighbour, an elderly man called Daniel Gluck. Gluck is an exceptional kind of man – one who encourages Elisabeth to see the world in new ways. It is the central relationship of Elisabeth’s life – one that shapes her career and her future relationships.
Threaded through it all is ponderings on feminism, literature, art and Brexit – and how it could be signifying a shift to a more xenophobic world. Things no doubt high on Smith’s list of priorities and concerns in the world around her today. It jumps around a lot – and we fins out more about Elisabeth than we do Daniel, who remains a somewhat mysterious figure.
I wouldn’t say I loved it, but it was intriguing and thought-provoking. Much like her beautiful writing, Autumn takes things that appear mundane, and lifts them to a whole other level.
The long-awaited prequel to Phillip Pullman’s classic YA series, His Dark Materials is finally here. And fans of the original series will not be disappointed with not only a return to the world of the beloved main character Lyra Bellacqua, but a return to Lyra herself.
Just an infant, Lyra is still driving the narrative of La Belle Sauvage. Hidden away with nuns, Lyra is already being pursued by a number of groups, and especially the real villain of this novel, Gerald Bonneville, a man so evil he torments and savages his own daemon (remember the charming quirk of this world is that each person expresses a part of their soul as a small animal).
The main character of this series though is Malcolm, a young boy who stumbles onto adventure whilst working in his parents’s pub. Malcolm hears both about the existence of the hidden baby Lyra, and those pursuing her and takes an interest in her prospects. This also leads him to connect with a group opposing the Magisterium – a rapidly growing group of religious zealots which we know take over the political landscape from His Dark Materials. The closest relationship he forms is with Dr Hannah Relf, who reads Alethiometers.
Malcolm’s tender heart is captured by the baby, and when a flood occurs, he decides to take her to Oxford to seek sanctuary. He is joined by Alice, a plucky girl he meets in the kitchens.
The two spend the second part of the novel hiding the baby from a variety of magical and non-magical foes. This meanders a little, and feels a little like padding out the real story. But all is clever and engaging.
A delightful return to a beloved magical world – it’s undoubtedly going to be popular with fans. Pullman has given them more of what they want.
In the afterword to The Last Tudor Philippa Gregory says she may not revisit what has been an incredibly successful series of novels about women during the War of the Roses and the Tudor Ascension. And while I have really enjoyed this series – its easy to see why. She is stretching a little here in this final installment.
There are actually three narrators in The Last Tudor – all of which have part of a story to share about Elizabeth’s coming to power. The first is Lady Jane Grey – who was crowned queen for all of nine days. She was then imprisoned in the tower by Queen Mary and later executed for treason. Lady Jane is an uninspiring narrator, and it is actually a pleasure to move on to the second narrator, her younger sister Katherine.
When Elizabeth comes to the throne it is still amongst talk of her unmarried status. And as time speeds by and she remains unmarried (clearly due to her love for Robert Dudley in this text) pressure mounts for her to name an heir. Unfortunately for Katherine, she is too likely a successor. Elizabeth, portrayed as tyrannical queen desperate to hold on to the throne at all costs, sees Katherine as a threat. When Katherine marries into another high-ranking York house for love and in secret, she makes herself a target. Elizabeth imprisons her, her husband and her children.
Although we follow Katherine’s tragic yet touching history for some years and long into her confinement, the youngest sister Mary takes her turn narrating. Mary is the most interesting of the three sisters – a pragmatist with a unique perspective. Pretty as a doll but likely what would have been referred to as a dwarf in those times, Mary is incredibly wary and astute about Elizabeth – who never let any of her ladies marry. Mary too weds in secret, but far below her. She too incurs Elizabeth’s wrath.
It is interesting to see each of the sisters through each other’s eyes, and their damning portrayal of Elizabeth, who is long considered to have ushered in a ‘golden age’ in British history. The last section is by far the best, but it’s clear this is wearing thin. A novel parallel to this, set from Elizabeth’s perspective, would be most welcome though.
Imagine if your ageing father wrote an erotic novel. And not even a good erotic novel… what would you do? Would you avoid family dinners? Pretend it doesn’t exist? Or – like Jamie Morton – would you get together regularly with your friends and read it aloud, laughing the whole way through?
Author Rocky Flintstone (definitely a pen-name) delves into the sexually-charged pots and pans industry, and his main character, Belinda Blumenthal, is a woman who isn’t afraid to use her sexuality to get ahead in this cut-throat world. Or actually, she’s quite happy to use her sexuality anywhere, any place, at any time and literally WITH ANYONE. Through scenarios sexy, saucy and sickening, Belinda is always on her game.
Rocky however, is a terrible writer and there is a lot of questioning to be done in regards to his knowledge of Biology – especially the female body. Fortunately, Jamie, James and Alice are all on hand with their commentary. And it’s brilliant. Witty and no-holds barred, they spare no thought for Rocky’s feelings.
My Dad Wrote a Porno is the podcast sensation I’ve been waiting for all my life. For weeks before I began, I kept hearing people raving about it. I’ve ripped through the first three seasons (and Season 3 actually ended on a riveting cliffhanger – who would have thought!). Looking forward to experiencing Season 4 as a weekly production!
Laini Taylor’s recent trilogy, which began with Daughter of Smoke and Bone, was a terrific foray into fantasy fiction. So I grabbed this first in a new series with some interest. It’s always difficult to begin a new series, letting go of old characters who you might not feel quite finished with, and embracing a whole new world and storyline.. but Taylor has created yet another compelling fantasy world here.
Strange the Dreamer starts with two stories that soon become intertwined. Laszlo Strange (Strange being the name given to orphans or unclaimed children in his land) grows up in a terrible monastery before finding his first real home in a library. A lover of stories and fairytales, he makes a particular study of a land known only as ‘Weep’ – the real name being obscured by magic. So when citizens of Weep appear – he begs to go with them and make his dreams come true.
But Weep has many secrets… including a history of rebellion against evil Gods that threatens to arise as teenage Godspawn test out their powers high above the city. One has power over dreams…
This is a love story, an adventure and the start of something special. I loved the story, the characters and the symmetry of not one, but two Strange Dreamers in the novel. Clever plotting, intricate characters and overall a roaring tale. You’ll love it.
This Erika Johansen series began with huge promise, but failed to quite meet the mark towards the end. While still an entertaining read, the excitement of the first book about the original characters and the promise of secrets revealed never quite panned out.
Although, there is still a lot to like about this book. The ending is unexpected and somewhat original. After the storming of the second book, our hero Kelsea does – in general – become the person we hoped she would, and generally ends the series worthy of our admiration. Plenty goes on and you won’t be bored.
However, the key secrets of the series are never really explained, and too many antagonists or too easily dispensed with or explained away. It feels like Johansen changed directions somewhere after the first book, and we are still trying to find the connection even up to the end of the third.
I hear she is planning some more books set within this world from the perspective of other characters. I’m interested enough to have a look – especially if Mace or the Red Queen are set to be focal points – but not enough to be hanging on the edge of my seat. A shame.