“The Hungry Tide” by Amitav Ghosh

The Hungry Tide follows Piyali, an American woman cetologist (someone who studies whales, dolphins and porpoises), and Kanai, an Indian businessman who meet on the train on route to a remote area of India called the Sundarbans which is a collection of many tiny islands in the Bay of Bengal. The American is on her way to study two rare species of river dolphins who are native to this area, and the businessman is going to visit his widowed aunt, and to collect the book his late uncle has left to him. The tide of the title moves miles inland every day, partially submerging islands and mangrove forests. There are also man-eating tigers, crocodiles, snakes and sharks to be wary of, making Piya’s expedition even more dangerous. Alongside the story of the present day, we also learn of the social and political history, mythology and more modern social issues, such as trafficking of women.

I feel like I’ve had The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh on my TBR for donkeys years, Continue reading

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“The Hare With The Amber Eyes” by Edmund De Waal

The Hare With The Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal is the story of how an inherited collection of netsuke (small ornamental carved pieces traditionally used to attached an object such as a purse to the belt of a kimono) originally came into the ownership of his family, but gradually becomes the history of his family from the last 19th century to date.

I received this as a Christmas present from Continue reading

“Letters To Alice” by Fay Weldon

Date finished: 29th May 2012

I wanted to read another of my Jane Austen inspired books, and decided to try Letters To Alice by Fay Weldon. Her niece Alice, the daughter of her estranged sister, is studying English at University and is struggling to enjoy the assigned Jane Austen works. Fay writes these letters to her, and by explaining the life that Jane would have lived, the role of women in society, the class system of the time and the expectations of females with regards to marriage, she gives her niece, and the reader, another dimension to Austen’s writing and shows how important a view of that period her novels are.

This was a totally absorbing read, and has genuinely given me more food for thought for when I’m re-reading the novels in my challenge, and has made me rethink the books I’ve already read. For anyone who loves Jane Austen’s work, I would recommend this book as a thought provoking work to read alongside them to give an additional insight into their genesis and genius.

“Now All Roads Lead To France” by Matthew Hollis

Date finished: 5th February 2012

This book was a departure from my usual reading, but a very welcome one. My knowledge of the First World War is very sketchy and I’ve never really got to grips with poetry, but for some reason I was drawn to this biography looking at the final years of the British poet Edward Thomas who died in WWI. The book covers the period from 1913 to his death in 1917, and more than just look at Thomas’s life, it also looks at the literary scene in London at that time. The main story, though, is Thomas’s friendship with American poet Robert Frost, and Thomas’s transition from reviewer and writer of prose to arguably one of the most influential poets of his generation.

This was a fascinating book, and so well written, bringing to life the man and his family and friends, and often focusing on the influence that his great friendship with Frost had on his life. It’s not always an easy read – his bouts of depression and the measures he takes to cope with his relationships with his family are often hard and I felt desperately sorry for Helen, his wife, at times, although she comes across as a very strong woman, who learned to cope in her own accepting way.

As someone who doesn’t read (and on the odd occasion I do, understand) poetry, I was still fascinated during the sections covering the change taking place in the style of verse being written by the new poets of the era, such as Frost, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Wilfred Owen and W. B. Yeats. Thomas’s transition to poet was fairly sudden, and ran alongside his ongoing battle with the decision of whether to enlist after the outbreak of the war, but once he had taken the step to become a poet, his poetry seemed to flow almost immediately.

I could go on writing for pages, so I’ll just finish by saying that I rarely finish a biography if I start one, I’ll repeat that I don’t read poetry, and again that I know very little about WWI, but this book was fascinating from start to finish, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

“Eleven Minutes Late” by Matthew Engel

The back cover of this book tells you it that the author travelled the length of the British railway system from Penzance to Thurso, meeting a variety of people from politicians to platform staff on charmingly bizarre trains, the most beautiful branch line, and uncovered the mysteries and explored the history of railways in Britain.

I had really high hopes for this book – a mixture of train travel, quirky characters and the nostalgia of the railways as a British institution. A promising start gave me everything I was looking for, but unfortunately, it didn’t last.

After a few chapters, the narrative took a must stronger turn towards this history of the railways and diverted away from the people and places of the journey. I stuck with it, but it gradually got drier and drier, and I actually ended up putting it down for three months.

I eventually decided I wanted to finish it, and starting it again, the history continued for quite a while, but the last couple of chapters looking more at the state of the railway today along with the conclusion of the authors journey, made me glad I made the decision to continue.

I liked the authors writing style, it was just the depth of railway history that I found hard to take, as the blurb did not reflect the content making me feel a bit cheated. I would have been much happier to have read a book that concentrated mainly on the story of the journey with a bit of history thrown in, but I got the reverse felt which was rather dry and lacking in character.

“Shakespeare’s Wife” by Germaine Greer

There is very little known about William Shakespeare’s wife, Ann Hathaway, and most of it is based on conjecture and assumption, rather than evidence. We do know she was older than Shakespeare, and most theories claim she bedded him and he was then forced to marry his pregnant seducer. Historians and academics interpret the little evidence there is to make Ann the villain of the piece, while Germaine Greer turns these theories on their head, and looks at the bigger picture of the society of the age, and suggests that Will and Ann were in love, backed up by discussions around the customs and laws of the time, and how history has recorded their affairs.

This is by no means an easy read as it is a very academic text, so be prepared for lots of reference numbers pointing you to the Notes section at the back of the book, as well as plenty of lists of the recorded evidence for other contemporaries of the couple which can be dry at times. As someone who doesn’t read books about history or academic pieces, I thought I might struggle with the book, but having heard the author on various radio programmes and podcasts talking about it, I was determined to have a go. Greer’s voice jumps out of the text at you, and I almost felt she was reading the book to me in my head, it was such a strong narrative, while the content is fascinating and a real insight into the society of the period, mixed with interesting views on how evidence of his feeling for Ann and their relationship may be seen in Shakespeare’s work. As the author points out to us, it appears that others who have attempted to examine Ann’s affect on Shakespeare and his work, seem to have used the lack of records as evidence that Ann didn’t conform to the customs and laws of the period, but it seems highly unlikely that a woman in this period would have been able to behave and live in such a way without being ostracised from her community.

It took me a while to finish the book, but it was an interesting and educating diversion from my normal reading, and thoroughly worthwhile.