Thank you for the kind comments on my last post which has definitely boosted my confidence with regards to writing. I think that it would be difficult to become a good writer without also loving to read. Thinking about the possibility of writing more seriously also got me to thinking about exactly what books I really enjoy reading the most and why that might be. I don't like books with lots of wiffly waffly language (and I am aware neither of those are words but I'm sure you get my drift), over peppered with adjectives, or ones that labour a point treating the reader as though they might be a little bit dense. I like to be credited with some intelligence when I read. And I like to have to work things out for myself which brings to mind a quote from one of my favourite ever books The Lacuna - "The most interesting part of any story is the part we do not know" (I am probably paraphrasing here). I don't like books where the author tries to show how clever they are, jamming in every last little bit of information, showing off their superior knowledge. In my mind what is really clever is knowing what to leave out.
Which leads on quite nicely to one or two books that I have read recently that have ticked some of the boxes for a good read. Our book club choice for February was The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, a reasonably popular choice. There is some well written prose that creates the atmosphere of the time perfectly. The story of schoolgirls Grace and Tilly who in the blistering heat of the summer of 1976 set out to unravel a series of mysteries and secrets that are held by the various residents of their neighbourhood, starts well. The central mystery is the disappearance of a neighbour Mrs Creasy but as the story builds there is almost too much going on; too many secrets, bullying husbands, overbearing mothers, kidnapped children, grieving spouses and the slightly odd man who lives on his own in the big house. There were things that didn't quite add up, other bits of the story that seemed irrelevant and superfluous (if you have read it, what was the point of the drainpipe?) and despite the promising start it never came to any resolution and we are left still not actually knowing why Mrs Creasy disappeared. That said it opened up a lot of questions about differences, herd mentality and the way we judge people - who are the goats and who are the sheep? Overall it was an easy and entertaining read but it didn't quite manage to pull together for me.
One of the best books I have read in ages, one that I literally couldn't put down was Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. This is also a story that looks at differences. The central character Eleanor is slightly odd; she gets on with her work, has a tendency to speak her mind quite bluntly and likes to stick to her routine. She prefers to keep herself to herself and doesn't mix but at the same time she is profoundly lonely. As the story gently unfolds we are given glimpses into her background and her difficult relationship with her mother. I found this to be heartbreakingly sad in places but also triumphant and uplifting as well as hilariously funny at times. Because it is not only a story of difference but it is about acceptance and healing too. A book to make you laugh and cry but ultimately feel good.
As well as favourite books I have favourite writers, those whose precise prose gives away just the right amount of information and lures you into the story. Writers who make you care about the characters and their lives. One of those writers is Maggie O'Farrell who has a gift for weaving a story and I have yet to read one of her novels that I didn't enjoy. This Must be the Place is about love and relationships, central themes to all O'Farrell's stories. it skips between continents and time zones gradually piecing together a picture of lives that I can't help feeling are about to fall apart. I picked it up at the library a couple of days ago and I am already half way through. I might have finished it if it wasn't such a hefty hardback - there is only so long I can hold it upright when I'm reading in bed!
Have you read anything really enjoyable recently?