The Buried Giant -Kazuo Ishiguro

This felt like a very long read, it seemed to take me ages to read it and at times it felt a bit like hard work.

Set in a Britain of the past, some time after the Romans have left, King Arthur has died but dragons and ogres still exist, this book verges into elements of fantasy while telling a very human story. We follow an elderly couple as they leave their village in search of a son they haven’t seen for many years. A strange mist covers the land which robs it’s occupiers of much of their memory so it becomes apparent they are not sure where their son is or what has happened to cause them to live apart but are certain that once on the journey they will find him. They meet other travellers on their journey whose lives and stories become entangled with their own, a warrior keen on vengeance, a small boy searching for his mother and an old knight of King Arthur with a mission to complete. At times it’s difficult to discern what has happened in the past and what is happening in the present, and the strange mist and other fantastical elements add to the confusion. There is also a fair amount of repetition which can cause it to feel a bit tedious. At times I just wanted to be finished the book so I could start another one however by the final chapter it had really grown on me and I am glad I stuck with it. The underlying themes of love and memory are ever present as we witness this elderly couples love and devotion and they face their own questions about the power of lost memories. Towards the end of the book as they are forced to confront the reality of their relationship over the years the themes of forgiveness and endurance of love also come into play. There is also a societal message about peace and the price that is paid to maintain peace in a land. The last few chapters were particularly poignant. 

This definitely wasn’t one of my favourite books but it did take me into a genre I don’t often read which is good. (I think it’s a new genre for the author too and quite different from his previous books such as Remains of the Day.) Now that I am finished it I can say I am glad I read it but I wouldn’t have said that while wading through the middle. Worth a read if you have time!

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Truestory – Catherine Simpson

This book was written by an author who lives in the same town as me and was recommended to me by someone I had a conversation with about having a child with autism. The author has a grown up child with autism and although this book is not about her own life she has clearly drawn on her own experiences in writing it. It is a snapshot into the life of Alice, mother of 11 year old Sam, who has autism, and wife of Duncan, over a period of a few weeks in their farm in Lancashire. Alice is trapped literally and figuratively . Sam finds it too difficult to leave the farm so she is responsible for home schooling him and apart from a 2 hour break once a week spends all her time at the farm with only Sam and her fairly emotionally absent husband. There is an acute sense of isolation and worn downness about her that is never self pitious. You can feel how desperate she is for change but also how committed she is to doing the best for her son. Sam is a great character, well written, giving insight into a very literal mind. Sam is also trapped in his own world, and some of his online encounters, an excellent device for providing this insight, are incredibly poignant. There is a sadness about this family as each member feels so far away from one another. One day Duncan brings home a stranger, Larry, to help with one his money making ideas. This results in a chain of events that ultimately bring hope of change to Alice. This is a very readable book with realistic characters and a real understanding of the dynamics within a family, those with autism and those without. It’s a touching account of how much mothers often sacrifice for their children and what can happen to them personally in doing that. The author clearly understands the many issues of living with a child with an additional need. This quote could have been written about my own experience and I am sure many other parents would identify!

“Complacency was a luxury I couldn’t afford.  Constant vigilance was required – but constant vigilance was depressing and over years could grind you down into a million little pieces.”

This book is well worth a read for it’s ability to get under the surface and definitely makes it onto my good reads list.

 

The Little House -Phillipa Gregory

I felt like a fairly quick read after the goats and sheep had taken me longer than I would have liked. This was sitting in my shelf since I bought it at a book sale a few months ago and seemed to fit the bill. I am a big fan of Phillipa Gregory’s tudor court novels but had never read one of her modern ones. Described as a ‘brilliant psychological chiller’this sounded enticing! It’s about Ruth, a seemingly confident career woman, her husband Patrick and his parents Elizabeth and Frederick. Ruth has no family of her own and is grateful for the marriage that has given her access to this too good to be true family. However it soon becomes clear all is not as it seems. The story follows Ruth and Patrick’s move from their own flat in the city to a cottage at the bottom of his parents drive where Ruth can raise their grandchild with their assistance. Their assistance soon turns into their control as Elizabeth manipulate’s and schemes to have her grandson and son under her own roof and her daughter in law out of the picture.  The story takes some sinister turns and concludes in a slightly gory but not unsatisfactory way! I can’t say I particularly liked any of the characters, none of them were completely believable, however the story itself was well paced and readable and although not the ‘brilliant, psychological chiller’ suggested it adequately did the job I was looking for. I think I will stick to her historical novels in the future and am really looking forward to her new one coming out later this summer.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep -Joanna Cannon

This was our book group book for this month, unfortunately I couldn’t go this month which is a shame as I hate to miss it and we are now on our summer break. Thank goodness we have the Edinburgh book festival to bring lots of book related excitement over our long break from book group! I don’t know how the rest of the group felt about this book so will share only my own humble opinion!

The story is set in 1970s suburban England. It follows the lives of the residents of one cul de sac throughout an intensely hot summer. Mainly told through the voice of ten year old Grace we learn of the disappearance of Mrs Creasy and the neighbours suspicion’s of what has happened to her. After attending a church service Grace and her friend Tilly make it their mission to find God in the hope that that will help them find Mrs Creasy. This task involves them investigating their neighbours under the guise of helping them out. We begin to hear the stories and secrets of the many other characters in the book and can piece together a picture of a small community bound together by judgement and fear. The story itself, though interesting enough, is very long winded. It feels like an unnecessarily long book that could have come to it’s conclusion much earlier on. However it’s redeeming feature is without doubt the excellent writing. On every page there are lines that are a joy to read, capturing perfectly the atmosphere of this time and place and the dynamics within families and between neighbours. I was a child of the 80’s rather than the 70’s but there was still a sense of nostalgia for me in the descriptions as well as the way she manages to convey something of that transition between childhood and adolescence where the adult world is near but yet so far away. It’s a real shame the story isn’t as strong as the writing or this would have been an excellent book. However it is a worthy debut and I very much look forward to reading whatever comes next from this author.