Monthly Archives: November 2011


I love Jo Nesbo. He is not the new Stieg Larsson despite the marketing efforts (his books have much less politics and Harry Hole’s character is not a patch on Mikael Blomkvist or Lisbeth Salander, who must be my favourite modern day heroine) but he does telling a cracking yarn. This is the most complicated of his novels and can be difficult to follow, jumping as it does from the trenches to modern day Norway but stick with it and all will be revealed. I read these books out of order originally but with the second series of The Killing starting on TV I have decided to immerse myself entirely in Scandanavian crime and re-read them in the correct order. Looking forward to The Snowman which I personally think is the best of his books so far.


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The best thing about this novel is that the people in it are like the people I know. Hugely likeable, (obviously!), they react how I expect people to act based on what I see around me – namely with the best intentions, with kindness, with love, without judgement, and with a strong sense of the connections between one another and hence the desire to find good rather than bad inside everyone. This is very much a book about family, extended as well as the usual unit. Elly’s relationship with her brother takes centre stage alongside a friendship from her childhood that  she rediscovers as an adult. The idea of losing people then finding them again is a powerful one, as is the idea of of how our early experiences and relationships shape us. There is a strong sense that staying in touch with our young selves is important, because they have shaped who we are and are therefore essential to our understanding of the richness and depth of the present.  There’s some magical elements to the book, a talking rabbit called God, for example, coins being pulled from forearms and plenty of accurate predictions of the future. All these serve to underline the value of suspending belief, in a way we are usually more naturally able to do as children. This ability is what gets Elly’s mum through losing her son on September 11th – I have longed for a work of fiction that starts to try and understand that day and although WHEN GOD WAS A RABBIT doesn’t do that in a political way, its messages about humanity and understanding are an incredibly strong response. Definitely a book to read if you are in need of your faith in human nature restoring – or just want to experience a lovely warm glow.

I don’t normally quote from books here but this one contains a description of God that chimes so well with what I think that I wanted to record it. Here goes: “Do I believe in a mystery, the unexplained phenomenon that is life itself? The greater something that illuminates inconsequence in our lives; that gives us something to strive for as well as the humility to brush ourselves down and start all over again? Then yes, I do. It is the source of art, of beauty, of love, and proffers the ultimate goodness to mankind. That to me is God. That to me is life. That to me is what I believe in.”

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THE WILDING by Maria McCann

I actually finished reading this a week or so ago but have only just got the time to write it up. THE WILDING is essentially a story of illegitimate children, family secrets, illicit affairs and revenge. It is told from the perspective of Jonathan Dymond, who travels around his neighbourhood with his cider press, helping households with their apple harvests. This trade gives him an excuse to stay at the home of his aunt and investigate some of the secrets brought to the surface by the recent death of his uncle. And at his aunt’s house Jonathan meets Tamar, the beginning of a relationship that changes his life and turns everything he thought he knew about himself upside down. I don’t often enjoy historical novels – this one is set in the 1670s  – but the characters and events take centre stage here so I was carried along by the story.  There’s also a powerful sense of foreboding that runs through the novel and is enhanced by things like the slow pace of life, the deep connection with the seasons and the outside world, the sounds of hooves, the lack of electric light – all of which come primarily from the historical setting.

In some ways this is a story that has been told many times before but there’s a gentleness and innocence to its telling that really appealed to me – and distinguished it from eg standard Catherine Cookson fare, something it could so easily have degenerated into but adeptly avoids. It also matched my mood beautifully.  I began it on bonfire night – after fireworks and revelry in the anarchic Lewes – a time of year which I often associate with feeling melancholy and wistful. Jonathan’s feelings of loss together with the evocative descriptions of autumn and cider pressing complemented the nights drawing in here in London. A real book for reading curled up in front of a fire.

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KIDNAPPED by Colin Freeman

This is not a book I would normally have read but I did so because the author and his partner are friends of mine. The true story of Colin’s kidnap by Somali pirates brought back vivid memories of the agony endured by his partner as she waited for his return, not knowing what each day would bring and ever fearful of the worst possible news. A foreign correspodent for the Sunday Telegraph, Colin makes the monotony of life in a cave, punctuated every so often by goat risotto, entertaining and amusing. He is very honest about his fears and worries, that range from funnel spiders to the impact that his capture will have on family and friends back home. The book is also full of background on Somalia, including the famous Black Hawk down episode and the woman who charges to see the mangled helicopter wreckage that makes for an unusual garden feature. I learnt lots about the world’s most infamous failed state and, despite knowing how the kidnap ended, was gripped by every word. A self confessed ‘Tory Boy’, Colin is adamant that he is not a ‘bleeding heart liberal’. Yet this book reveals a response to his captors that is both sympathetic and a reminder that, whatever our different politics, sometimes humans cannot help but look beyond what someone has done to better understand why.

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