Archive for February 2013

Oh Dear Silvia by Dawn French

Oh dear Silvia, the new book by Dawn French is a fantastic page turner that I just couldn’t put down! What a read.

Silvia is in hospital in a coma and there she stays throughout the majority of the novel. Much of the story is revealed through the thoughts and actions of Silvia’s bedside visitors. Through all the exchanges that take place within the hospital room Suite 5 we are drip fed titbits of information that provide us with a picture of who Silvia actually is – or to be more precise, who she actually was prior to ending up in a coma. What a clever way to tell a story… Dawn French is a genius, but then again I have always known this and through seeing her on TV and recent interviews talking about her new book, I decided to buy the kindle ebook in the first place. If you buy a copy of this book on my recommendation, I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed! Go for it!

Oh Dear Silvia

I thought becoming acquainted with the characters in this way was actually making me more hungry for all the details as Silvia’s life gradually took shape in front of me. I found myself demanding to know how she ended up in hospital and as the pieces of the jigsaw begin to fit together you find yourself making assumptions accusing the characters as each one of them visit Silvia at her bedside. The phrase “You did it!” happened frequently. It’s delicious! You’re eavesdropping during an intimate family setting and you feel somehow it’s all wrong. Naughty but nice!

The cast of characters where great with lots of humour thrown into the shaping of Silvia’s south east asian cleaner and her intensive care nurse Winifred. I became so used to reading the Winifred pages that it wasn’t long before my forced pronunciations soon took a more natural flow – I feel I’m almost an expert in pigeon Jamaican/English.

On the subject of Winifred, as with the other characters, you discover some background that makes you warm to her even more particularly concerning the matter of her bullied son. The way this was handled was a masterpiece and I felt there was a real triumph for the much harangued school bullied over the bullies and the system that allows it to go on happening. Well said, Dawn! Having lost my mother recently whilst on an intensive care ward and all of us being looked after and being treated with so much care and respect I felt the character of Winnie was a tribute to those wonderful nursing staff.

Other characters included Silvia’s ex-husband Ed, her girlfriend Cat, her sister Jo, her daughter Cassie and her grand-daughter.

There are moments in the book that made me flinch somewhat and I won’t go into the details for fear of spoiling the storyline for new readers and by contrast there were moments when I laughed so much. There were tears too but overall you should have a thoroughly enjoyable experience reading Oh Dear Silvia! I’m a fan now and intend to seek out others such as A Tiny Bit of Marvellous and Dear Fatty  by our nation’s beloved Ms French.

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

The first in a trilogy, this fantastic historical novel set at around the beginning of the twentieth century is indeed a book of gigantic proportions and an epic page turner into the bargain! The story takes place around the lives of five families during some major twentieth century events such as Womens’ Suffrage, World War 1 and the Russian Revolution. It starts within a mining town called Aberowen with the central character of Billy Williams. He is 13 years old and starting work in the mine for the first time, just like his father and his father’s father before him.

Fall of Giants

What I really loved about the earlier chapters of the book were all the details about mining. What was involved, how unsafe the mines as places of work were, how unfair they were as places of work with little attention paid by the owners to health and safety and how brave those individuals were having to rely on this kind of work for to maintain a livelihood. The first sign of workers standing up for themselves and they would find themselves without a job and without a home. There had to be a solidarity amongst workers to be able to push forward with workers’ rights. My grandfather was a coal miner in South Shields and though I never met him I was transfixed to the details of the horrors of mining explained in such vivid prose. I felt I was actually there at times struggling for clean air amongst all the coal dust.

Fall of Giants moved around from the cloying atmosphere of the mine shafts to the local landowner’s (and collier owner) country house through Billy William’s sister who works below stairs. Here we see how the other half live and comparisons are made between those hardworking poor families of the colliery town and those privileged few in the big house. Three years later on, the Fitzherberts of the big house host an interesting party where the guests include the King of England George V, advisor to the President of the USA Woodrow Wilson and german nobility. All this takes place on the cusp of World War 1, the Great War.

In the main this is a story that shows the changes that life can throw at you and how ordinary working people are kept within their stations by the aristocracy and while life can be so terrible at times hope can be found and change is possible – in the book, change can make things better or worse. But overall if people didn’t make a stand, things would always stay the same and who wants to live in this kind of life – an imprisonment of sorts?

This is an epic novel and the first of the trilogy. I have waited for years for the second instalment Winter of the World to appear on the shelves and at last it has arrived!