Book No 31 (2015) : Something to Hide

something to hideRebecca‘ by Daphne du Maurier is my favourite book. One of the things that intrigues me about it is that I always find myself rooting for the bad guy. Maxim has committed a terrible crime, but I want him to get away with it. And so it was with Petra in Deborah Moggach’s latest offering, ‘Something to Hide‘.

Petra is having an affair with a married man; the man married to Bev, her best friend. Everyone thinks that Jeremy and Bev have the perfect marriage, despite not being blessed with children. But Petra knows differently, because Jeremy is going to leave his wife to move into Petra’s Pimlico pad. At least, that is the plan. Of course things don’t go to plan, this is a novel, for heaven’s sake! When Jeremy is taken ill, it is Petra whom Bev calls upon for support, flying her out to the African home she shared with her husband. Dramatic irony is used to great effect as Petra tries to hide Jeremy’s adulterous love affair from his wife.

Wang-Lei, a successful Chinese businessman, hires a surrogate mother when he and his wife are unable to have children. The surrogate, Lorrie, needs the money from the surrogacy to replace the life savings she lost in an internet scam. And what exactly is the nature of Wang-Lei and Jeremy’s business in Africa – there are rumours of poaching? So, everyone has something to hide.

Moggach creates charismatic people;  such was my empathy for her characters that I was quietly willing them on to succeed in their respective deceptions. Set in England, Africa, China and the US, ‘Something to Hide‘ has a cleverly constructed plot, with several unforseen twists.   Like a good jigsaw, this book will keep you quiet for a couple of hours and you won’t be happy until you have slotted together all the pieces. Definitely one for your holiday suitcase.

Thanks to NetGalley for the copy of this book.

Book No 16 (2015) : Harvest

harvestJim Crace’s ‘Harvest‘ has been hanging around on my bookshelves for a couple of years; it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2013. But every time I am in that delicious limbo, choosing between the end of one book and the start of another, it always seems to get passed over for something more engaging-looking. This time round I decided to give it a go and didn’t regret my decision. This was an interesting read, ostensibly with a very small focal point but actually taking in a wide scope.

We live in a time where the progress of technology threatens us; as more and more occupations become mechanised and humans are replaced by automatons, sometimes we mourn the passing of the ‘olden days’. Well Crace’s tale is set in those days, where the threat of advancement came in the form of sheep. Yes, those white, slightly stupid creatures that we rather take for granted were once a sign of change.

In the village where Walter Thirsk has lived for twelve years, the subsistence agriculture which supports the community is about to give way to wool production. But within the village itself, the inhabitants are busy bringing in the harvest, with its associated rituals and celebrations after a lot of hard work. Into the midst of this arrive three strangers, whose advent coincides with a destructive fire in the barns of the landowner, Master Kent. The visitors are blamed and the two men are imprisoned in the pillory for a week. It is over this week that the whole novel takes place, culminating in a series of events which leave the village decimated.

Ever since I have lived in a village myself, my awareness of the turning of the seasons has been more heightened. The changes in the fields, the landscape and wildlife around my home has given me a greater appreciation and admiration for Mother Nature and all her helpers. This interesting novel did make me consider our ties to the land and the way in which, for the majority of us, those bonds have probably been broken.

Book No 10 (2014) : The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

lemon cakeTo be honest, I just didn’t ‘get’ this book at all. In fact, it was so frustrating that I hunted down an online web chat with the author, to see if she herself could shed a light on the mysteries of ‘The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake’.

Rose Edelstein has a peculiar gift. She can taste in her food the emotions of the person who prepared it. This insight turns out to be rather a curse, as mealtimes lose all their pleasure and she discovers that her mother is hiding a secret. chairRose also has a brother, Joseph who is, frankly, a bit weird. He begins to undergo unexplained disappearances, withdrawing for varying periods of time and then re-appearing. When he fails to achieve a place at his preferred university, he moves into a flat on his own and eventually vanishes altogether. Only he hasn’t actually vanished. Joseph has morphed into a chair. In case you think you have read that wrongly, I repeat – Rose’s brother turns into a chair.

My main frustration with the book (apart from the lack of speech marks) is that Rose’s family’s so-called talents are completely pointless. The knowledge Rose gains is not put to any use, either good or bad, it merely seems to be a strange strand to an otherwise fairly ordinary American teenager’s diary. The premise of the book is exciting, but the book just doesn’t deliver. It felt as if the author could see an idea in her imagination, but can’t convey her vision clearly. If it is intended as ‘magical realism’, it’s rather skimpy in the ‘magical’ department.

So, how does Aimee Bender explain her work? Turns out she couldn’t really, claiming that she liked the ambiguity of the ending: ‘I’m not really sure what [Joseph’s] gift was’. A deeply unsatisfying read, which I probably would have discarded half-way through if it wasn’t for not wanting to waste the time I’d invested thus far!