Holiday reading…

Just back from a family holiday and I’m pleased to say that I’ve managed to read five books so far this summer!  They were a varied group of books and I hope you like some, if not all, please let me know what you think!

It was lovely to begin the summer break, after the madness which always ends the school year, with Katie Fforde‘s Summer of Love. The paperback copy’s blurb has the following to say:

‘Sian Bishop has left the hustle and bustle of the city behind and has thrown herself into a new life in the country. With her young son, her picture-postcard garden and her small thriving business, she’s happy and very busy. She is not – repeat not – looking for love.  And then, one glorious summer evening, Gus Beresford arrives.  One-time explorer, full-time heart-breaker, Gus is ridiculously exciting, wonderfully glamorous – and, Sian tells herself, completely wrong for a romantically cautious single woman like her.  But she and Gus have met before. And, despite Sian’s best intentions, it isn’t long before she’s falling for him all over again …’

Katie Fforde leads us through Sian’s struggles with her emotions and her common sense, it’s a funny and lighthearted read and got me into my reading frame of mind.

Following on from this, came Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending. This proved such a contrast and reminded me of William Boyd’s style of writing.  I thoroughly enjoyed Barnes’s storytelling, his use of language skilfully portraying the dusty atmosphere of reminiscence over events from Tony Webster‘s past, and the realisation of how past events reveal the difference in their meaning to the individuals concerned.   Tony, the narrator, tells the history of his relationship with three of his classmates from school and how, after they finish school, they begin to drift apart, except that one of his friends appears to be seeing Tony’s ex-girlfriend.  The repercussions of this new relationship are far-reaching and their impact is not felt until the closing chapters of the book.  It’s well-written and truly deserving of it’s winning of the 2011 Man Booker Prize.

Vita Sackville-West‘s novel, All Passion Spent was my third book.  I cannot get over how much I enjoyed this missive, superbly written with careful choice of just the right words, Sackville-West’s delightful story of Lady Slane, her life, her love for her husband, her travels abroad with him (based, no doubt, on Sackville-West’s voyages with her husband, Harold Nicolson, when he was employed as an ambassador for the United Kingdom) opens new horizons and views on the lives of those who did travel like this during Britain’s Imperial days of the nineteenth century.  Sackville-West explores the position of the wife of an important statesman, appearing to assume a role in the background of her household, much loved by her husband however, but much misunderstood by her children as a result.  Her children are perplexed and confused as to why she chooses to live an independent life after the death of her husband when she is 88 years old, but she makes it clear that she wishes to live out the rest of her days as quietly as possible, to share them with her maid Genoux and a few select visitors who are entertaining.  It is a witty tale and I’ve been struck by one thing Lady Slane feels towards the end of her story:

“… [she felt herself] wondering why, at the end of one’s life, one should ever trouble to read anything but Shakespeare; or for the matter of that, at the beginning of one’s life either, since he seemed to have understood both exuberance and maturity.”

For my fourth choice of reading matter, I chose a non-fiction title: Life With The Lid Off by Nicola Hodgkinson.  The author tells of how her life was turned upside down when her husband left her and her young family to pursue a life with someone new but she tells it in such a way that shows no bitterness and often her sense of humour shone through, making me laugh out loud.  She shows how life in this new situation can be survived and only briefly touches on the pain she has suffered, and hardships and difficulties she  faced in coming to terms with her new situation.  Hodgkinson talks about her purchase of a gypsy caravan and how she bought a cottage on the Suffolk coast, gradually integrating herself and her family into the small local community.  I loved it!  Both this title and All Passion Spent will be forming part of our Mood Boosting Book Week in school in October.

My last completed book for the time being is Sarah Blake’s The Postmistress Another fabulous book!  I loved her easy style which relayed a fascinating take on World War II from the perspective of three women: a young American journalist as she reports from London to a broadcaster based in the States about the Blitz and its effects on London’s citizens, the new wife of a doctor who feels compelled to travel to London to assist with casualties of the Blitz and the postmistress, who runs the post office in the small town in Cape Cod, also home to the doctor and his wife.  Blake weaves her story around the lives of these three women and shows how they all come together in the end.  Her prose passionately reflects the feelings, fears and hopes of these women.

I’m currently reading and enjoying Annie Proulx’s novel The Shipping News.  Unfortunately I saw the film first but sufficiently long ago not to spoil the enjoyment of the book so far…

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Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (Agatha Christie)

At our Reading Group meeting yesterday evening, held seasonally in a local hostelry, we discussed Agatha Christie’s novel Hercule Poirot’s Christmas.  It was another lively evening and very enjoyable, most of the group members warmed to this tale of murder mystery set during the Christmas period and it was a light-hearted book to read before we finish for the holidays.  Interestingly, our group was divided into readers who turned the pages needing to find out what was going to happen next and trying to work out ‘whodunnit’ and those who simply let the text place them in context, not worried about who was the perpetrator of the crime or how they did it.  We enjoyed the writing as a product of its time, written and published in the late 1930s, with reference to the Spanish Civil War and the threat of the impending breakout of  World War II.

Berkhamsted School plays host to two really good authors for children, part 2: Paul Dowswell

Paul Dowswell, a children’s author, spoke to Year 7 and Year 8 boys on the  research he carried out to assist him in his writing of his historical novel Auslander.  Set against the backdrop of Hitler and the Second World War, Paul examined what it was like for the Germans who were against Hitler’s regime and against Nazism.  He captures  the essence of their fear whilst highlighting the true bravery and courage shown by  German individuals . It’s a superb novel suitable for both children and adults alike.

Within the presentation Paul spoke to the boys on what German life was like under Hitler. The control he exercised across all areas of life including babies’ first books, the family unit, a doll’s house, children’s games and political postcards: all examples of primary sources which he came across whilst carrying out his research in Berlin . The slides in the photos hone in on specific examples of the control, manipulation and propaganda which was cloaked across Germany.  Although the boys are not specifically focussing on this period of History they did impress Paul with their knowledge  and their engagement during the event was a joy to the eyes.

From Fact to Fiction

We invited Paul in specifically to fit in with a forthcoming Library research project embedded in their scheme of work.  Year 8 will be involved in carrying out a History research project on Elizabethan life. Although this author does not write about the Elizabethans he does very successfully include historical facts into a wonderful and thrilling story and it is this which is the key, as we want our boys to do something similar. When the project lessons  begin next term, we will be able to look back and discuss his process of research, sources he used and finally how he uses those facts in his story. We hope that this will help the boys when they come to write their own historical diaries.

The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)

On Thursday 4th March, 2010, World Book Day, we asked teachers to talk to their classes about their favourite books or books they are currently enjoying.  Mr Lines read the opening chapter of Michael Ondaatje’s ‘The English Patient’.  The story of this novel is described here:

“The final curtain is closing on the Second World War, and Hana, a nurse, stays behind in an abandoned Italian villa to tend to her only remaining patient. Rescued by Bedouins from a burning plane, he is English, anonymous, damaged beyond recognition and haunted by his memories of passion and betrayal. The only clue Hana has to his past is the one thing he clung on to through the fire – a copy of The Histories by Herodotus, covered with hand-written notes describing a painful and ultimately tragic love affair.”  Nielsen Bookdata Online

A couple of reviews of this novel recommend it and Michael Ondaatje unequivocally:

‘One of the most innovative and liberating writers of our time’ Guardian ‘Magnificent … A wise and graceful book about history itself’ Sunday Times ‘The best piece of fiction in English I’ve read in years’ Independent on Sunday ‘Ondaatje has now written the extraordinary novel we have been awaiting from him: THE ENGLISH PATIENT is a masterpiece’ Financial Times  Nielsen Bookdata Online

 Personally I enjoyed it immensesly, Ondaatje’s use of English is lyrical which makes it a captivating read.  Mr Lines thinks it is ‘one of the great modern novels’.  I agree!  Of course, it was made into an acclaimed Oscar-winning film by Anthony Minghella but the film doesn’t match the beauty of the prose – discuss!