Archive for Adult Fiction – Easy Reading

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.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Make way for one of the greatest stories of all time, the epic tale of David Copperfield. This is a novel of massive proportions that I love to dig out every year (just about Christmas time) and a novel with a massive unofficial title – “The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery”.

What is so great about this book are the characters, like Macawber, Uriah Heap, Peggotty and Steerforth and, oh, there are so many more, and the ups and downs of life. Charles Dickens has you laughing one minute and crying the next! If David Copperfield were a game of Snakes and Ladders, you would need a few extra ladders!

David Copperfield by Charles DickensThe story begins in a Norfolk farmhouse with the birth of David six months after his father’s death. Several years later his mother remarries a firm disciplinarian type of character who following a skirmish with David sends him away to a boarding school, Salem House. Here David meets Steerforth, a future friend and the cruel, insidious headmaster, Mr Creakle.

This is not a happy tale so far for the young lad and things get worse before they get better. It’s not all fun and games at the boarding school but nothing prepares him for the event of his mother’s and her newborn baby’s death. He returns home for the funeral and is immediately and heartlessly sent off to slave away in a workhouse owned by David’s miserable stepfather.

Whilst at the workhouse David becomes acquainted with the brilliant legendary Dickens character of delightful Macawber who becomes his landlord. Being the kind and giving person that he is, he becomes a guardian to David and takes him under his wing… until fate has other ideas in mind for the orphan when Macawber is imprisoned for debt. David has enough at this point and left to fend for himself, decides to run away to Dover to live with his mad Aunt Betsey Trotwood. And so the fantastic story unfolds as David matures into a gentleman and looks for love and a happy ending.

Some say the story of David Copperfield is autobiographical as we learn more and more of the book’s creator. But one thing we can say is that along with Oliver Twist, Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol, our christmasses would never have been the same without those memorable characters of Ebeneezer Scrooge, Oliver Twist, Fagin and of course David Copperfield. I’m sure the nineteenth century author would have been chuffed to pieces had he known how his books and the colourful characters within them continue to delight and entertain us way into the 21st century! My advice to anyone and everyone is, read them all!

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Enter the life and world of the Lamberts, a Midwestern fairly average American family doing their absolute best to survive the 20th century. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen is about a family who are dysfunctional as a unit but as individuals on the surface appear to be making the most of what an economically booming America throws at them.

The Corrections by Jonathan FranzenThis is an excellent read and one that I don’t think I will ever recover from! Famously, this is the book chosen for the Oprah Winfrey book club and withdrawn following some disagreeable comments from the author. I’m sure this didn’t do anything to harm book sales however, at least I hope not for it would be a great loss to the good book readers of the world!

This is a story about a family that doesn’t seem to function as a unit any more (if in fact it ever did). The chief characters are Alfred and Enid Lambert, the mother and father. Alfred was always something of a tyrannical figure – a railway engineer prior to his retirement – over the family but in the present is found succumbing to the debilitating Parkinson’s disease. It is over to Enid, his wife, to take control of household affairs and to deal with and overcome the changes happening in the house. And do it alone she appears to do. A tall order.

The ‘children’, in the present day, grown up, have lives and careers miles away from their family home in St Judes. As a result of the conflicts of a changing world and the old fashioned values bestowed upon them by their parents, each of the siblings felt compelled to get away as far as they could. They each have thriving careers as banker, chef and internet teacher until the apple cart is rocked and each of their lives begin to head for disaster.

Gary, the oldest of the Lambert offspring is married with kids and is an investment banker. He is being manipulated by his wife and drinks too much tending toward depression. Some misplaced investments send his world into meltdown.

Chip, the middle child, is a teacher of computers and technology but falls for a pupil and is suspended from his job forcing him to gain employment elsewhere working for the Lithuanian crime lord on his money making investment site Lithuania.com. With great rewards comes threats, violence and nightmare.

The youngest of the children is Denise who is a talented chef in a trendy restaurant. All is going well until she becomes involved with her boss and his wife – at the same time!

The book is called The Corrections because there’s a lot that’s gone wrong with their lives with misguided and misinformed life decisions being made.

That’s the bare bones of the novel but there’s much more. Enid their mother decides she would love to have her family with her spending a good old fashioned family Christmas at home in St Jude. Kicking and screaming, the children descend and as you would expect, it gets messy, but as Denise would tell you, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs!

This is a fabulous book. I think I picked up the book in the first place because of the Norman Rockwell style artwork of a young family sitting down to family Christmas dinner on the book cover. I’m so glad that I did! If you like The Corrections, you might fancy a go at “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen too. Another excellent book! One of my all-time top ten!

Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale

Rachel Kelly a bipolar artist is working on a new collection of paintings in the confines of her pokey little loft studio within a Cornish seaside resort when without any warning whatsoever she has a heart attack and dies.

Notes of an Exhibition by Patrick Gale is about the life of the artist Rachel Kelly investigated (as is all too often the case with many an artist) when she becomes popular after her death. Not only are people in the public eye interested in her, so too are her family who gradually piece together the events of their mother’s life. All, including her patient and loving husband Anthony, have to pick up the pieces and to put them together to finally understand the depressed eccentric artist that was their mother and wife.

Notes From An ExhibitionThe story is presented before us in a seemingly random pattern of particular periods of time in Rachel’s life. With this in mind, what I especially enjoyed, being an artist myself, were the little segments that discussed the pieces of work painted in life by Rachel. These portions of writing would have been on the little cards found in an exhibition next to the paintings. This made me think of recent visits to an art gallery and the devouring of the information typed onto these little cards to help to understand a painting that much more. Those little cards in this book were equally as instructive. Not only did I crave this information in the book but would have devoured the actual Rachel Kelly pictures.

What I truly loved about this book was the continuing balance by Rachel Kelly of her artistic brilliance versus psychological condition. Creative dead ends are a fact of life for anyone involved in the producing and delivering of art – so the insights provided by the writer were genius in my opinion. Where does inspiration come from and how does it come about? We get a bit closer to understanding and respecting those principles. In Rachel’s case, she was on medication to even out her mood swings but became aware that her creativity was suppressed whilst on the pills. Naturally, and to the detriment of her family life, the artist stopped taking them in order to continue with her paintings having to face those familiar demons of her psychological condition.

Throughout the book, you get to know the characters around the central character who I think are brilliantly drawn from her husband Anthony who always put his wife’s life first and looked after her to her children including her youngest son Petroc. There is a daughter Morwenna who has effectively inherited her mother’s disposition and psychological difficulties and two other sons Garfield and Hedley.

This is about an artist’s family life as well as how a family suffer (and benefit) from having a mother who is bipolar. It’s a very clever story and one that I really enjoyed. Patrick Gale continues to write novels that stop you in your tracks. I can highly recommend having a read of ‘The Whole Day Through’ and ‘Ease’ by the author.

Happenstance by Carol Shields

I really loved this book! When you hit your forties there is a tendency for some to feel like life has passed you by with nothing to show for it. This is a brilliant story of a married couple in their forties, their everyday life together and how they get so used to co-existing side by side that they forget to live their own lives. This is a wake-up call to all of us who forget about the people with dreams that we started out as just because we settled down and got married.

Happenstance - Carol ShieldsWe live out the tale of this man and woman through the characters themselves. We see, hear, smell and think everything they are experiencing and through the sheer wealth of fine detail become completely immersed in their lives. The fun element to this book is that you get 2 books in one. Some writers would intertwine the 2 characters chapter by chapter but with Happenstance, Carol Shields chose to offer us the husband’s side of events first until the defined time and then decided it was time to read the wife’s version of events. Once you have read the husband’s story, it’s a brilliantly fun experience to read the wife’s story next. You start to understand things from both points of view. This is a book about marriage which for the reader’s benefit has become dissected right through the middle.

The first half of the book is delivered through the character of Jack and the second half of the book comes direct through his wife Brenda. We experience their daily routines as we all experience our own mundane tasks and chores such as visiting the bathroom first thing then sticking the kettle on – all the things you just do that you wouldn’t normally give any thought to. We become the characters who of course are actually us! How many times did I come across a passage and think ‘hey, I do that!’?!

Is this a happy marriage? Put it this way, I wouldn’t go rushing in to buy Happenstance for a wedding present not unless I wanted to put them off! This is a realistic tale of living with someone and forgetting about who you are or who you have become.

In the case of Jack, he is so used to Brenda, the rock, that he takes her for granted a bit. He goes off and does his own thing but only really lives on the periphery of family life. When problems come along, it’s the role of Brenda to respond to distress calls. She lives a completely unselfish existence but comes a little unstuck when an opportunity arises that forces her to step outside of her comfort zone and put herself first. Is her quilting convention seen as an act of one-man-ship by all who observe her desire to zip off on an overnighter to Philadelphia? No! We’re chuffed for her and a little bit in awe of her for stepping outside of her usual boundaries.

Hopefully, as I did, you will love this book. You may even feel inspired by the characters, you never know where a book will take you! When you’ve finished with this book, give Larry’s Party and Closer by Carol Shields a bash – they are brilliant too!

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

This was a marathon read. It was impossible to put down and when finally I’d finished Freedom by Jonathan Franzen I could have happily done it all over again.

This was the second book I had read by the author, The Corrections being the first. This is an author who really gets inside his character’s heads and he’s not afraid to show the warts and all which is the main reason I’m into his writing.

Freedom - Jonathan FranzenThis is a big tale about life, in particular, wedded bliss and everything that goes with it. It’s about missed opportunities and opportunities taken, it’s about consequences (of which there are always some – especially when you take a gamble) and mostly it’s about a really nice man, a lawyer who passionately cares for the environment called Walter Berglund (who, I pictured as Philip Seymour Hoffman throughout the book – I couldn’t help it!). He’s generous to a fault in character, in particular he’s generous to his wife Patty.

The story begins with the Berglunds and revelations concerning the life they have built together. They have two children, one of which, Joey, becomes involved with the utterly sycophantic Connie the teen next door neighbour. Joey decides to leave home and move in with Connie and her overwhelming mother which Patty finds unbearable. Soon the Berglunds move to Washington DC as it’s all getting too problematic. But the problems don’t just go away.

The story really changes a gear when Patty and Walter begin having romantic marital problems. We find out through the autobiography that she’s encouraged to write during therapy that she only married Walter because his close friend wasn’t interested. In love with Walter’s rock star friend Richard Katz she struggles to fight his allure always convinced that she was born for something less mundane than her marriage to Walter. On some level she feels as though her life hasn’t lived up to its potential ever since her accident and the end of her basketball career. She makes do with Walter who absolutely loves her to bits.

When Patty and Walter break up their lives become very different. Walter gets involved in the issues of global overpopulation while Patty settles for Richard Katz though not for long. Walter will eventually become famous when a press broadcast that turns into a rant becomes viral and becomes involved with his young assistant Lalitha.

Joey, their son, to the horror of his father Walter, has become a staunch Republican taking on a very dodgy occupation of selling remanufactured spare parts from South America to the US Iraqi war effort to finance his college education. His selfish  ambition knows no bounds as he gets involved with his friend’s upper class sister to fuel his emotional and animal desires.

Without giving the end away events occur to turn the Berglunds lives on their head. You will enjoy this! There is a lot to this book that I (to put it mildly) have not even mentioned in this review. This is a wordy, pithy novel packed with delicious detail – the stuff for proper bookworms!

As I said, I came to this book following the reading of The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. If you haven’t indulged already, I can highly recommend that too!

The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce – Paul Torday

You arrive at an upmarket restaurant in a taxi, barely in control of your faculties because you are in a drunken stupor. You have little interest in food at this stage of your alcoholism but have decided to spend the evening here because they serve a £3000 bottle of red wine called Chateau Petrus 1982 and exceptionally good wines are what you live for. This is the story of a likeable character called Wilberforce who I liked very much.

This is a book that takes you on a journey of alcoholism where you get to experience your own transformation into an alcoholic through the main character of the book Wilberforce.

The beginning of the book is set in the present day and eventually you travel back in time as you really get to know this man and discover what it was that made him become an alcoholic. Everybody has a trigger that propels them into addiction and I found myself desperate to get to the bottom of this intriguing character that would only drink the expensive stuff.

The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce - Paul Torday

This is a powerful story of a young man who wasn’t at all interested in wine or even booze in general, became interested in fine wines through a charismatic man called Francis Black. At Caerlyon Hall the younger Wilberforce finds friendship, love and passion for fine wines.  For once life is looking interesting until all goes tragically wrong and life takes a turn for the worst.

Interestingly the love for fine wines continues deep into Wilberforce’s alcoholism almost as though not drinking any old thing that is alcoholic were justification for drinking all the time. By drinking good wines and decent whisky over meths on a park bench it could be said that some element of choice was involved.

The beauty of the book is within the character and the occurrences that take place within his life to determine the direction that his life maintained. I won’t spoil another reader’s experience by spilling the beans about the plotline. I will say however, you must go and get yourself a copy of this book. You will probably enjoy it so much that you won’t be able to resist anything else written by Paul Torday. He’s a brilliant writer! I’m not a critic who’s an expert in literature but I do love to read! I recommend other books by the author such as ‘The Girl on the Landing’ about a man in middle age who is bi-polar and becomes psychotic. Again, you read the book through the first person experience and before you know it, you become hooked! This book is written this way through the two main characters, one being the man, the other being his wife. It’s a roller coaster ride!