London Book Haul

This New Year’s, I, Jo, was in London for the first time in my life. I joined Thura and her husband, who went there with a choir to sing and play organ in three evensongs in Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral. I’m insanely proud of them and so happy to have been with them and heard them! Still, the evensongs were only on three days of the nine or so we spent in the city. That left plenty of time to peruse the many bookshops of London and oh my, England does bookshops so well. There were nooks and stairs and the highest bookcases, with whole divisions dedicated to History or Biographies or Christmas Murder Mysteries or Young Adult for all ages. In addition, books are wonderfully cheap in England. It’s just as well that Thura had instructed her husband to bring an extra suitcase on his train. Our backpacks would never have held our glorious London book haul.

I, Thura, had the glorious pleasure of showing Jo around London over new years, so I dragged her around, showing her all the places that meant something to me, beautiful places, nostalgic places and, of course, bookshops. When I used to visit England with my parents, we’d often bring a spare suitcase or empty bag for all the books we’d buy in England, because they’re so dangerously cheap over there. We did the same. I’m a Dutch girl, who is forever homesick for England, and after spending so much time in England as a child especially, I feel at times more British than Dutch. Writing this post may cure some of the ache I feel these last couple of weeks, for missing London already.

In this post, we’ll mostly go into the bookshops we’ve visited and the books we’ve bought there. If you’re looking for good reasons to visit London, there are many, but the bookshops should be one of them.

Thura’s Books

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Lockwood: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, Waterstones Trafalgar Square
One of my favourite trilogies of all time is the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. His style of writing is hilarious, his plots ingenious and he has really thought every element of the story through properly. So, when I came across a new series (well, new to me) by him at the Waterstones on Trafalgar Square, I wasn’t going to just walk by it, now was I?! I actually can’t wait to start this one.

The Poetry of Punk: the Meaning Behind Punk Rock and Hardcore Lyrics by Gerfried Ambrosch, All Ages Records Camden
One of the things I really wanted to do while we were in London, was to show Jo and Vincent a few places that are very special to me. One of those places is ‘All Ages Records’, and independent Punk record shop where I learned to love punk as just a little kid. Punk has been such a big part of my life for so long now and I often have difficulty explaining this to the people I love. But while we were there, Vincent bought me this book, as a way of showing me that it matters to him because it matters to his wife (me). This really was a lovely gift!

What to draw and how to draw it by E.G. Lutz, St. Martin-in-the Fields giftshop
I’m always doodling and this book simply caught my eye, because it gave me more ideas on things to draw, as is the title! Apparently, this book from 1913 inspired Walt Disney even, so it must be a good buy. It contains loads of cartoons and how to draw them in five simple steps. There’s how to draw faces, animals and even small landscapes, and it’s just one of those gorgeous old-fashioned books.

The big book of Christmas mysteries edited by Otto Penzler, Waterstones Trafalgar Square
In our last Christmas post, we compiled a list of books with the themes of death and Christmas, and you can find it here. Now, you probably don’t know that the three of us had a bit of discussion beforehand on if this really is such a common combination or not: I was convinced it was. As it turns out, this is where my British side had taken over, because the English bookstores are absolutely packed with books on murder at Christmas or something of the like. This volume contains over twenty stories by different authors, all murder. This ought to keep me happy for at least another ten Christmases to come!

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert, Gay’s the Word bookshop
The bookshop closest to out hotel was ‘Gay’s the word’ and it couldn’t have turned out more perfect. I’ve often mourned the fact that there are very little bisexual characters in books, which hurt me a lot when I was a little bisexual girl myself, still unsure whether that was okay or not. But ‘Gay’s the word’ had all I needed and I found this lovely novel there. Little & Lion not only deals with a young girl’s sexual identity, but also with mental illness: two subject that deserve a lot more attention in my opinion.

Faith in the public square by Rowan Williams, Waterstones Bloomsbury
Apart from being an awkward little punk bisexual girl, I am also a theologian. Jo gifted me this book in London and it’s actually perfect. Rowan Williams is the former archbishop of the Anglican Church and he is theologian I admire very much. In this book he specifically focuses on what theology means or should mean to our culture today and how it can help: a field that interests me greatly. So, thanks Jo!

George’s Marvellous Experiments by Roald Dahl, Natural History Museum giftshop
Yet another random book I picked up! We were visiting the ‘Natural History Museum’ in London and when I came across this beauty in the gift shop I couldn’t resist. Roald Dahl is always a treat, but in this book George is actually trying to do some crazy experiments on his ever grumpy and grizzly grandma. And now you can do them yourselves, which recipes and all. Be very afraid.

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney C. Stevens, Gay’s the Word bookshop
Another book I have high hopes for and one that I found at ‘Gay’s the Word’. The back of the book says that it’s a story about the tomboy daughter of a small town’s preacher, who has difficulty fitting the mould of what people believe she should be and now she might be in love with another girl as well. In short, this is exactly me as a teenager. This seems a very refreshing book and I’m curious to see if there’s more of me I will recognise in it.

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco, Foyles
A book about a young woman, who becomes obsessed with Jack the Ripper and has a secret life she leads, which includes learning all she can about corpses. To be fair, this sounds like a horrible and cheap romance-horror novel, but it sounds like fun to me. And not all books we read have to be high literature! This sounds perfect for livening up those boring Sunday afternoons.

The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs, Foyles
Here’s a confession: I do judge a book by its cover and it’s the reason I bought this book specifically at Foyles. It just intrigued me and it’s the only book from this list I’ve read since returning from London. My review of this book you can find here, but just to give you an idea: it’s about a young orphan who lives with his uncle, who is actually a warlock. It’s a children’s book but actually quite scary at times, so it certainly did not disappoint.

Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie, Hatchards bookshop
Agatha Christie: the queen of murder an mayhem. Oh, how I love her! Of course I already have a few shelves of her books, but one can never have enough. This book spoke to me on a personal level, because on the cover is a lovely skull with some kind of cocktail. Even better, the murder takes place in some dodgy London nightclub. How can anyone say no to that?

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell, Waterstones Bloomsbury
After singing an evensong with my choir at St Paul’s, the actual reason for coming to London in the first place, I was very hyped up, but exhausted. However, we really wanted to visit a Waterstones we’d seen in Bloomsbury and this bookshop was simply magic. Floors and floors of old books, fiction and non-fiction: you could spend weeks in there. But I was also exhausted, so after walking around in awe for a little while, I sat myself down in a window seat (!!!) and read a few pages of this book. I had no intention of buying it, but it was unbelievably scary and I just need to know what happens next!

Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill, Gay’s the Word bookshop
This gorgeous gem of a book is yet another find at ‘Gay’s the word’, and I love it already. It’s a graphic novel about a princess who saves another princess from a tower, an overweight pet dragon and their quest to rid their world of an evil sorceress. I absolutely love the fact that this is a classic fairy-tale, but with two princesses and I couldn’t be happier with the happy ending in the form of a royal wedding.

The Glass of Lead & Gold by Cornelia Funke, Foyles
I bought this book because it was tiny and beautiful. Again, judging a book by its cover. Also, I was in Foyles, on of the most magical and wonderful places of London and this book is about London. Well, I say London, but it’s about Londra, which is a sort of parallel-universe London. The main character is Tabetha, who collects scraps from the river Themse to sell. All in all, the book simply spoke to me.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens, Hatchards bookshop
My library contains many, many books by Dickens, but this one was still missing. London is a filthy place, with lots of homelessness, but it can also be magical at the same time, so it really is the stuff of Dickens. Where better to buy my missing Dickens than here? The mystery of Edwin Drood is one of those rare novels that was never finished, but still managed to turn into a classic somehow. I’ve always enjoyed this novel and I’m proud for it to be part of my personal library now.

Jo’s Books

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Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Waterstones Trafalgar Square
This is a wonderful adventure book that I only ever read in Dutch and would like to read in its original language. I bought this copy because it is so beautiful, honestly. I gave it to my youngest brother as a present for looking after my pet rats while I was away (so it’s not in the picture).

Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates by Kerry Greenwood, Waterstones Bloomsbury
I didn’t know there was a book series before there was the television series, although in most cases there is. Imagine my delight when I hit upon this book in the crime section of the enormous Waterstones in Bloomsbury. I love British murder mysteries, so I’m very curious to see if Australian ones compare well. Miss Phryne Fisher herself is a streetwise flapper, so I’m already inclined to love the story.

Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling, Waterstones Trafalgar Square
I owned book 1 through 5 in the Harry Potter series, but not the last ones. In the past years I have collected them one by one and now I finally have the whole series! Also, the last book is a birthday present from Bella, who couldn’t give it to me herself because she’s still in Kenya (she gave me a Muggle Tour of London as well, on which we met Hagrid!).

Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie, Hatchards bookshop
Hatchards has two bookcases devoted entirely to Agatha Christie. I looked particularly for a book starring Tommy and Tuppence, a married couple who were spies in the War and now occasionally fight crime together. I loved these characters in By the Pricking of My Thumbs, my review you can find here, because they are clever, witty and very kind to each other. A collection of short stories about this witty couple sounds perfect for Sunday afternoons.

Agatha Christie: An English Mystery by Laura Thompson, Waterstones Trafalgar Square
Every time I read a biography I wonder why I don’t read biographies more often, because I enjoy them so much as a genre. I have resolved to buy and read more of them and who could be more worthy a subject of my first step in the right direction than the wonderful Agatha Christie?

Just Kids by Patti Smith, Gay’s the Word bookshop
And autobiography this time, by the punk poet Patti Smith. I know her music is phenomenal and that she looks absolutely fantastically (the ties, the waterfall of grey hair…), but I don’t know anything about her life. Soon, I will.

The Signalman by Charles Dickens, Waterstones Trafalgar Square
A horror story by Charles Dickens must be worth reading and the cover is so pretty. This is a short story with bonus short story (The Boy at Mugby) put in. Apparently, it’s about a railway worker who receives warnings from ghosts whenever a terrible accident is about to happen. I had never heard of it, philistine that I am, but I look forward to reading it.

The Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett, St Martin-in-the-Fields giftshop
I watched the excellent film adaption of this story with Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings, a few years ago and wanted to read Alan Bennett’s book ever since. It is about an old homeless woman who camps her van in Bennett’s driveway and stays there for fifteen years, and it is mostly based on real events. I came upon this book in the gift shop of St Martin-in-the-Fields, a church in the middle of London well-known for its programmes to help and welcome homeless people.

Warning: When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple by Jenny Joseph, St Martin-in-the-Fields giftshop
Another find in the church gift shop: an illustrated booklet of a poem that I knew and adored. It’s a bit of an anthem to Bella, Thura and me. We have great plans for the future. The illustrations are by Pythia Ashton-Jewell.

Minority Monsters! by Tab Kimpton, Gay’s the Word bookshop
I try to be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, but I’m always getting lost in terminology. This is a helpful, colourful and funny guide to sexuality, gender and the semantics of different terms that are floating around. These are all explained with the help of mythical creatures like Sir Fabulous the Bisexual Unicorn and Madame Lucie Decline the Asexual Succubus. It’s a very approachable, clear and sweet little comic book, actually.

The Trouble with Women by Jacky Fleming, Gay’s the Word bookshop
Why are there almost no brilliant women? The history books are full of male heroes, geniuses and tyrants but women are apparently not worth mentioning. This comic book helpfully and satirically explains why women aren’t important historical figures, ever.

The Shakespeare Cookbook by Andrew Dalby and Maureen Dalby, Foyles
I made a New Year’s resolution to make better food for myself and what I meant was that I really have to learn how to cook better. In a fit of optimism and ambition I bought this cookbook, that is full of recipes of Shakespearean meals. Only afterwards did I realise that I don’t even recognise most of the meals’ names. No matter, because it has a lot of interesting information about Shakespeare and culinary history as well.

In conclusion, our favourite bookshops were ‘Gay’s the Word’, for their vast array of LGBTQ+ books and a general atmosphere of welcoming and cosiness and the ‘Waterstones’ in Bloomsbury, for its sheer amount of books, both fiction as well as non-fiction. These really might be what heaven looks like. Another fun thing to mention might be the Dickens Museum that we stayed quite close to as well. They sell lots of books by Dickens  and it gives you a great insight into the life of this wonderful author. All in all, this post could go on for ages, but I think you get the message: London is a lovely, lovely, bookish place, because of all the bookshops, but also because of its Dickensian filth. I can’t wait to go back.

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The House with a Clock in its Walls (Lewis Barnavelt #1) by John Bellairs

It’s a fine line to walk when writing a scary book for children: too often it’s not scary enough or sometimes the book turns out too scary for adults even. I loved horror, mystery and ‘goosebumps’ kind of books when I was little, so when I found out this book came out in 1973, I was a little bit sad that I didn’t get to read it when I was little, because I would have loved it. On the one hand, ‘The House with a Clock in its Walls’ is very much a children’s’ book, because it is written from the point of view of a child with its average child-problems. On the other hand, I’m an adult now and this story still managed to give me proper shivers at times: Hooray!

Lewis Barnavelt is a ten-year-old boy, who has just become an orphan. Forced to travel with all he could manage to take with him, he is to live with his strange uncle Jonathan. Lewis has heard all kinds of weird and scary stories about this uncle, but Uncle Jonathan turns out to be quite lovable and very welcoming. He is a little bit strange, yes, but so is his neighbour Mrs Zimmermann, who spends a lot of time at their mansion. Nevertheless, Lewis feels right at home in the town of New Zebedee and in the old-fashioned mansion with more rooms than he can count. However, at night he senses there’s something strange going on in the house and he could swear there’s someone walking the creaking corridors. Conquering his fears, he discovers it’s his uncle Jonathan, who roams the halls and taps on all the walls at night. Maybe he is crazy after all…

Eventually uncle Jonathan decides to tell Lewis the truth: he and Mrs Zimmermann are in fact a warlock and witch, and the mansion used to belong to a very powerful warlock, who appears to have hidden a clock in one of the walls. Knowing this, Lewis starts to discover all kinds of strange things about the house, like windows where the view changes and portraits that move, but Lewis quite likes this. School isn’t as enjoyable as home is though, because wherever Lewis goes, he is always the fat kid who isn’t any good at baseball. That is, until one of the most popular boys, Tarby, befriends him and decides to teach him how to play baseball properly. But when the friendship seems to die down a little, Lewis wants to do everything in his power to keep his only friend in New Zebedee, including impressing him with some magic.

This starts off innocently enough, with uncle Jonathan doing some magic tricks for both of the boys, but Tarby still loses interest in Lewis after a while. So Lewis decides to try and do some magic on his own: he is going to raise a corpse from the dead on Halloween. Unfortunately, he is successful and he seems to have raised the corpse of the lady of the house he lives in right now. She was once the wife of the powerful warlock that lived in the house before uncle Jonathan did. Things start to change around the little town on New Zebedee and there’s talk of the Day of Judgement drawing near. Finding the clock in their walls in now more important than ever.

I started off my review by saying that it can be very difficult for authors to write a book that is both suitable for children, but scary at the same time. I think Bellairs managed both, but that’s coming from me: an adult who loved feeling frightened as a child. About halfway through this book you’ll start to get this uneasy feeling, and so you should, and it never really goes away. The plot isn’t particularly frightening, though the possible end of the world is never fun, but it’s the style of writing that makes you look over your shoulder every few minutes. The best example of this is the clock in the story, always ticking, but you don’t really know why it’s there or why it’s important, until the very end. However, for the first half of the book, I didn’t particularly enjoy the style of writing and I thought it often dull and a bit slow to get into. But when the story gets better, so does the pace and then the book really grabs you. Also, it can be very funny at times and this has a lot to do with the characters.

Uncle Jonathan and Mrs Zimmermann are probably two of the favourite characters I’ve had the pleasure of reading about. They’re neighbours, but also best friends. They spend time with each other almost constantly, but there is no mention of them being in a romantic relationship. Them being together wouldn’t even really make sense, because they’re much better and stronger together as friends. And the best thing about their relationship is the fact that they communicate most of the time through insulting each other. They’re both middle-aged, but behave as children in that sense and it’s hilarious. Mrs Zimmermann is described as having an unbelievable amount of wrinkles and she always wears purple dresses. Mrs Zimmermann is the reason I really started to like this book, because she is a much better witch than uncle Jonathan is a warlock. She has a higher degree in magic than him, she’s more practical at times and she doesn’t need a man to take care of her. Of course we have many characters like her now, but remember: this book was written in 1973! I think we owe much to characters like Mrs Zimmermann.

Last but certainly not least, there are a few life lessons to be learned from ‘The House with a Clock in its Walls’. When Lewis loses his parents, people warn him about his uncle Jonathan in advance, saying he’s strange and he might be crazy. This scares Lewis at first, but when he gets there, he finds a new home. Being different is not something to be feared, but it can often lead to wonderful and unexpected outcomes. Secondly, the trouble starts when Lewis tries to impress his friend Tarby over and over by doing magic, just to keep him as a friend. If you have to do dangerous things just to earn someone’s friendship, it probably isn’t a great friend. And lastly, do not meddle in magic if you don’t know what you’re doing and don’t even try to conjure up spirits of the dead. Just, don’t.

As you may have guessed, the ghost of my ten-year-old me wrote part of this review. This really is just a fun spooky book for children, but I would recommend it to children with quite a spine only. Actually, the same goes for adults, because this book is a little bit creepier than what i’d expected. It’s not the best book I’ve ever read, but I enjoyed it. And what’s the point in being an adult if you can’t enjoy books that you would have loved as a child? So if you’re anything like me, a clown-fearing child who watches horror nonetheless, you’ll love this book.

Monster Blood Award: because R.L. Stine probably loved this one

John Bellairs, The House with a Clock in its Walls (Lewis Barnavelt #1) (New York, 1973)

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Thura Nightingale 

 

For Two Thousand Years (De două mii de ani) by Mihail Sebastian

Under the 1923 Constitution of Romania, every citizen of the country held rights and freedoms. This meant minorities were recognized for the first time. Minorities included ethnic Hungarians, Germans, Ukrainians and Bulgarians, but also Jews. For many Romanians, granting rights to Jews was a step too far. Simmering anti-Semitism came to a boil and erupted in violence and relentless hate, as happened in the rest of Europe as well. In the middle of this crisis, a young man tried to grow up in as inconspicuous a manner as possible. Eleven years later he wrote a novel, not an autobiography, but with many autobiographical elements. His name was Mihail Sebastian. His protagonist and alter ego remains an anonymous narrator.

For Two Thousand Years takes the form of a diary. The main character is a young Jewish man who studies at the university of the Romanian capital of Bucharest. Through the growing unrest, his life there is made difficult by both his fellow students and his teachers, which prompts him to think about what him being Jewish means. The students literally kick out their Jewish peers from lectures, while the professors do nothing and shrug when complained to. The protagonist discovers a lecture series in political economy that is unlike anything he has heard before. He tries to make it through as many of the lectures as possible, just to hear the lecturer, Ghiţă Blidaru, speak. A year later, Blidaru has taken the protagonist under his wing and encourages him to change his law studies to architecture: something practical, to connect him to the land. The narrator follows Blidaru’s advice.

Five years later, the main character has finished his studies and has become one of the architects working on a building an oil refinery in a rural part of Romania under the supervision of Mircea Vieru, a modernist architect who has recently lost his good reputation after criticising his colleagues one too many times until the media turned on him. The protagonist admires him greatly, although he is very different from Ghiţă Blidaru, who is less practical and more metaphysical than Vieru. When his work on the refinery project is done, the protagonist moves to Paris for a while to work on another project for Vieru. He meets new people, Romanian and French, Jewish and non-Jewish. He meets old friends as well, because many Romanians travel to Paris for study, work or simply intellectual stimulus. The narrator describes these people in his diary in painstaking detail, noting their opinions and character and politics. Meanwhile, barely dormant anti-Semitism becomes outspoken and violent in all of Europe while the economy goes down and people discover that with the formation of nation states, Jews have become citizens in their own right. 1923 is long ago now. It’s the 1930’s and the protagonist gets the opportunity to design and build his own project: a house for Ghiţă Blidaru, the man he so admired as a youngster. He is grown up now, a long way from the anxious student he was, and just a little calmer at the thought that he will never truly know who he is.

The protagonist writes his diary in a contemplating, descriptive tone. He is intelligent, an unpretentious intellectual who weighs his words and is frequently embarrassed by his own entry from a previous day. He is skeptical of political movements such as Zionism or communism, that state that complex problems will be solved by changing one thing only. Different viewpoints are represented by his fellow Jews: a proud bookseller with a love for Jiddish, his political fellow students, Zionists and revolutionaries, men who want to assimilate and those who would rather die. More disturbingly, the non-Jews around him take different anti-Semitic stances. It’s not just a few fascist types in an otherwise tolerant and modern world. It’s a general view that presents itself in many forms but is there in everyone the protagonist encounters. Ghiţă Blidaru is an anti-Semite, however friendly he is to the protagonist. The young man is used to it because he knows that almost everyone, be it a casual conversation partner or a good friend, hates Jews in some way. Some of them have theories of blood and soil which point to the fascist anti-Semitism of the Second World War, others ‘merely’ think that Jews are too different from other Romanians to fit in. There is only one person the protagonist thought was too practical, too objective, too progressive and too devoted to his work to be an anti-Semite: his master, Mircea Vieru. He is disillusioned to his core when the man starts speaking of a ‘corrosive Jewish spirit’ that is dangerous to Romania, and how he would like to eliminate a good part of the Jewish population to diminish the threat.

What his conversation with Vieru makes clear, is that anti-Semitism is not based on arguments. The protagonists says himself that he gets along better with people who don’t feel the need to substantiate their anti-Semitism, ‘because everything between us is clear-cut’. There is no need for discussion. But people like Vieru and Blidaru, who give reasons for their anti-Semitism, are fooling themselves. Anti-Semitism is so deeply a part of collective consciousness that people will find new arguments for it in every time, in every country. It is what happened for two thousand years (and kept on happening after this book was published, in the Second World War and even today). People just find new ways of rationalising their hate, like Vieru, who claims that he doesn’t have a problem with Jews in general, just with the effect too many Jews have on the Romanian society. The narrator has grown tired of having to defend himself against new, arbitrary reasons for hating him and his people.

The character of Ghiţă Blidaru is based upon the philosopher Nae Ionescu, the real-life hero of Mihail Sebastian (whose original name was Iosif Mendel Hechter). Before the book was first published, in 1934, Sebastian asked Ionescu to write a foreword. Ionescu, who had already started to form anti-Semitic opinions, accepted and wrote a scathing text about how Jews could never be Romanians and how a Jew was only a Jew, not a human being. Astonishingly, Sebastian decided to publish the foreword anyway, to the dismay of many leftwing Jews. I don’t understand why he did it, unless he thought it was the ultimate conclusion to what he did in his novel: giving a voice to every possible opinion. It’s clear that he was conflicted about what it meant to be a Jew in Romania at that time. He both loved and hated being Jewish, but at the end of the novel he writes, in the voice of his protagonist: “I will never cease to be a Jew, of course. This is not a position I can resign from. You are or you’re not. It’s not a matter of either pride or shame.”

Sebastian has written a brilliant account of his time, through the eyes of a solitary, observant man. Sadly, I don’t know any Romanian, because the prose in For Two Thousand Years is so beautiful and intelligent that I long to read it in its original language. It was translated to English only in 2016, though a French translation had already existed for a long time. The book has been translated to Dutch, my mother tongue, this past year, so I will read it in Dutch as well. Its contemplative but realistic and confronting style is not something that comes across well in a short synopsis, so it’s hard to express how much I want everyone to read this, how important I think it is. I hope it will become a worldwide classic. Maybe you will understand what I mean when you read the following paragraph, taken from the next-to-last chapter:

“I believe the only way in which I can clarify any of this ancient pain is for me to try, alone, for my own sake, to comprehend the knot of adversity and conflict with which I am bound up in Romanian life. And I don’t believe this solitariness is an escape, a lack of solidarity with my people. On the contrary, as it’s not possible for the experience of one person who sincerely accepts and lives a drama not to be of some use in lighting the way for all the others. It seems more urgent and effective to me to achieve a harmony in my own life between the Romanian and Jewish parts of my character than to obtain or lose certain civil rights. I would like to know, for instance, what anti-Semitic law could erase from my being the irrevocable fact of having been born by the Danube and loving that place.”

Pen is Mightier Than the Sword Award for finding words under conditions that are designed to silence people

Mihail Sebastian, De două mii de ani (Bucharest, 1934)

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Jo Robin

Inkheart (Inkworld #1) by Cornelia Funke

A long time ago, I wrote a post on tumblr saying: ‘When someone asks me why I started reading so much, my answer is always: I was a lonely kid. I guess that’s why I love all bookworms, of every nationality, personality and size. I guess we’re all just the same. I guess we’re all still just lonely kids at heart.’ This post got about a thousand notes in a very short period of time and I was incredibly surprised how me thinking out loud resonated with so many people. I did grow up quite lonely, but I grew up in a house full of books as the daughter of a librarian and an academic. Books surrounded and comforted me and I have never lost my love, not only for stories, but also for the physical objects that are books. Inkheart is one of the books that really spoke to me, because I felt like Cornelia Funke was one of the first authors who actually understood me and therefore most avid readers. The clue is in the name: our hearts are made of ink.

Meggie is twelve years old and her life revolves around books. That’s mainly because her father, whom she calls Mo, is a bookbinder and they often move due to his restoration jobs. But whichever house they live in, it is filled with books and Meggie finds solace from her lonely life in her books. However, Mo refuses to read to her. He offers her all the books in the world, even binding her own stories into pretty covers, but he will not read a word to her. Meggie simply accepts this as part of her father, that is, until a stranger appears in the night, who introduces himself as Dustfinger. For the first time in her life, Mo sends Meggie away strictly, but Meggie is determined to find out what the two adults are talking about. When she eavesdrops, she hears them talking about places she has never heard of, books, and an evil man called Capricorn. And as exciting as it would be in a book, in real life it scares Meggie.

The next morning, they pack up again, but this time without any explanation from Mo. They drive hundreds of miles and end up at Meggie’s aunt Elinor, whom she has never met before. Aunt Elinor is another recluse, who has made her home into one massive library. Dustfinger, and his strange marten with horns called Gwin, travels with them and he tells Meggie he’s actually a fire-eater. But the eclectic party isn’t safe at aunt Elinor’s, because soon strange men, with even stranger names, kidnap Mo. Elinor, Dustfinger and Meggie go after them, with a book called ‘Inkheart’, because that’s what Capicorn is really after. Meggie is reunited with her father in a jail cell in a village Capricorn has take over. Here Mo decides to tell his daughter the truth: he has a gift where he can bring things out of books to reality, just by reading a book out loud. He tells her Dustfinger, Capricorn and most of Capricorn’s henchmen come from the book ‘Inkheart’. Soon he can prove it to her, when Capricorn makes him read all the treasure out of ‘Treasure Island’.

Eventually, Dustfinger manages to free the three of them and they escape to yet another village where Fenoglio lives. Fenoglio is apparently the author of ‘Inkheart’ and Mo was actually hoping he would have another copy of the book, which he doesn’t. Little by little, Meggie learns more and more of the world Fenoglio has created in his book, of her father’s gifts and of what has actually happened to her mother. Eventually, she also finds that she is a lot more like her father than she previously thought, which she will need when it becomes clear that Capricorn will not simply let them walk away.

The best way to describe this book, the entire trilogy really, is through one word only: magic. There’s magic in the elements of books, because this entire series is practically an ode to reading, to all bookworms! Meggie is an avid reader and Mo is a bookbinder, and they’re so alike, they match each other so well, that they communicate through the language of books themselves. Before characters from books actually start coming to life, their stories are real in their minds as well. And it’s not just the stories, it’s also the books as objects that are made magical by Funke. The binding, restoring and actually caring for books plays a big part in this story and I loved that. But, of course, there is also  the magic of books coming to life for real: characters slipping from the pages, worlds that can be entered with a word and places where being magical is the norm. I wanted to believe in these things more than anything when I was little, although I knew it wasn’t real. But somehow Cornelia Funke has written a book that has made this believable for me once again. With her fine prose and lovely words, her lonely characters that love reading as much as I do, I believed every word she said and am convinced that books carry actual magic in them.

So we find magic in our books, but what to do when magic actually shows up on your doorstep? Often adventure isn’t all that great when it happens to you. I know I’ve just written how much I loved the magical aspect of the book, but I very much enjoyed the clash with reality as well. Meggie has read about heroines all her life, they have guided and aided her, but how to become one? When things go south for the first time, she’s very confused, she is only a child of course, and has no idea what to do. The same goes for the villains that have stepped off the pages of Inkheart: they’re horrible and not nearly as much fun as they were when they were fictional. We like to read about bad things happening or about tragedy or even killers, but in the end we all want good to triumph over evil, because loved ones dying, people on the run and ruthless bandits isn’t something we want in real life. And once Meggie understands this, she finds her strength again. But I loved how she or her father aren’t automatically heroes: they need time to adjust and to figure out what’s right, and they have to overcome a lot in order to be able to fight. And I think most of us are like that: we bookworms like to pretend we’re sword-wielding pirates, but if we were to end up on an actual pirate ship, we’d probably all choose to swim home. What I’m getting at is that these characters are very believable to me in the way they are and act when actually confronted with danger. They are real-life fictional bookworms.

This book takes me right back to my childhood. Not because I read this book when I was little, but because it has that vibe that I craved as a kid. My childhood wasn’t particularly easy and I found solace I my books. Not just in reading them, but pretending all the time that my books were in fact reality. One of the great things about this book is that every chapter starts off with a quote from some other author, often praising books in general. Because Inkheart really is a book about books, in every way. I’ll give you a few examples of those quotes used:

‘My library was dukedom large enough’ –William Shakespeare, The Tempest

‘ ‘What do children do without storybooks?’ Naftali asked.
And Reb Zebulun replied: ‘They have to make do. Storybooks aren’t bread. You can live without them.’
‘I couldn’t live without them.’ Naftali said.’ – Isaac Bashevis Singer, Naftali the Storyteller and His Horse, Sus

And my personal favourite:

‘What child unable to sleep on a warm summer night hasn’t thought he saw Peter Pan’s sailing ship in the sky? I will teach you to see that ship.’ –Roberto Cotroneo, When a Child on a Summer Morning

These quotes capture the vibe of the book perfectly, because they both let you see all the books that are available and give you that feeling of being safe because you have your books. It may be hard to explain to anyone who isn’t a bookworm or a bibliophile, but just the presence of books can be comforting. It brings you travels, solace and company. And you will be able to see that pirate ship in the sky.

The only possible negative thing I have to say about this book is that it’s really a book for children, but I loved that aspect as well. In my opinion, if you can’t read a children’s book or Young Adult fiction anymore when you’re older, or even worse because you think you shouldn’t anymore, something has gone horribly wrong in your development. I loved the gripping story by Funke, I loved her writing style and I love how she makes all bookworms feel loved. A book really can’t get much better than that.

Piglet award: for not being sure on how to become a hero exactly…

Cornelia Funke, Inkheart (Inkworld #1) (Hamburg, 2005)

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Thura Nightingale 

Silent Night, Ghostly Night

It’s a well-known fact that ministers or priests love crime novels and detective stories. Don’t ask me why, but as the daughter of a minister, I, Thura, grew up in a house filled with crime novels and the standard Saturday-evening viewing of a Miss Marple film. This also means that I associate Christmas with a good murder. All three of us think there’s something incredibly cosy and relaxing about reading detective novels over the holidays, pondering on who could have committed a fictional horrific crime this time, while enjoying some Christmas punch. And we’re not the only one: there are many, many books with titles like ‘murder at Christmas’. So we decided to do not only a Christmas book recommendation, but a Christmas and Death-themed recommendation. All three of our chosen books are very different, but all have the elements of Christmas, the coming together of people, death and a lesson learned.

Bella’s Christmas Recommendation: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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This story, about Scrooge who is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future to teach him about the meaning of Christmas, is one of the most famous Christmas stories. It made the phrase ‘humbug’ popular, because that’s what Scrooge keeps saying, thinking about Christmas and all the festivities. However, the fact that it is such a well-known story doesn’t mean you should not read it again this Christmas. It is a thrilling ghost story that stays interesting with every re-read and the message of redemption and discovering the true meaning of Christmas remains relevant.
One reason this book fits the theme is that it starts with the death of Marley, the companion of Scrooge only in the business sense. There was never a real attachment between the two. Scrooge has no attachment to anyone or anything and is an old man without any kindness or friendliness inside him – you could say he is dead inside. He is even annoyed to grant his clerk, Bob Cratchit, a paid day off for Christmas. At the eve of Christmas, the ghosts show him why Christmas is an important day for his clerk and other people, including Scrooge himself. Also, the ghosts show him what will happen if he keeps thinking Christmas is humbug by showing his own lonely death and the death of a much loved small boy.
The reason you should read this book, though, is that it is not only about death. It is much more about being reborn by accepting God’s grace and human kindness. Scrooge learns that Christmas is a time of warmth, friendship and family through the visions of the ghosts. He learns that loving people will enrich his life and make him a better person. That makes this book about redemption and second chances a perfect read during Christmas, when it’s all about being together with the people you love. It is the perfect book for people like me, who have trouble getting themselves into the happy, festive spirit. Reading this book will remind you what Christmas is all about.

Jo’s Christmas Recommendation: Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

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You cannot write a blog post about Christmas murder without mentioning the Queen of Crime, Dame Agatha Christie. Her novel Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is just short enough to read over the holidays, in between church visits and family gatherings. Just as in the other books on this list, the peaceful and hopeful spirit of Christmas is offset by death. In this case, death arrives in the form of a brutal murder. What should be a season of reconciliation becomes a time of suspicion and uncertainty. The added element of Christmas makes the murder all the more incomprehensible for the story’s characters, and all the more seasonable for us.
The Lee family has come together for Christmas for the first time in more than twenty years, but their celebration is disturbed by a bloodcurdling scream. As they break through the locked door of their elderly patriarch’s room, they arrive upon a scene that seems both unreal and impossible: the old man lies in a pool of his own blood, his throat slit, all the furniture in the room overturned and the windows closed. There seems to be no way in which the murderer could have escaped. Luckily, our favourite Belgian detective is called upon to help the police solve the crime. In the story, the violence and suspicion that come with murder are constantly contrasted with what Christmas should be: a time of ‘peace and goodwill’. One member of the Lee family, a young woman who grew up in Spain, longs to celebrate an English Christmas like the ones she read about in books, but the crackers and decorations stay in the cupboard.
This story has all the classic ingredients of an Agatha Christie murder: a limited pool of subjects who all seem to have a motive for killing the victim, a few strange elements in the murder scene, a large house, complex family dynamics and a plot twist. The joy of Agatha Christie’s novels are her attention to detail and human nature, a talent which she uses superbly in this story. To the reader, of course, this murder means an attractive mystery to put your teeth in. I imagine, if you have that kind of family, this would be an excellent book to read out loud so you can try to solve it together. I’ll reveal that the ending is bittersweet and that the Lee family might have a better Christmas next year. In which case, we’ll move on to another fictional family that is struck by death at Christmas time.

Thura’s Christmas Reccomendation: I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Flavia de Luce #4) by Alan Bradley

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As mentioned before, I find detective stories to be incredibly cosy. This of course has a lot to do with the fact that they’re fictional and the fact that we get to solve this murder from a calming and safe place, preferably with a Christmas tree nearby! So my Christmas recommendation is indeed murder, investigated by my favourite eleven-year-old know-it-all chemist and sleuth Flavia de Luce. I’ve written a review on the first book in the series before and you can find it here if you would like to know more about young Flavia. But just to give you a short overview: Flavia is eleven years old, a bit of a genius, and she lives on a large estate during the 1950s in England. Her hobbies include all things chemistry, poison in particular, and butting in whenever someone in the village gets done in.
In I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, Flavia spends her Christmas at their family manor called Buckshaw with a film crew shooting at their estate. When half the village gathers at their manor for an evening performance by one of the stars of the film, they get snowed in. And of course, how could it not, past midnight Flavia discovers the body of the movie star, who was strangled with a piece of film. Immediately she gets to work, with both her brilliant mind and her chemistry gifts, in trying to find the murderer among the kind villagers all trapped at their house for the night. And one of these trapped villagers is actually a woman who is about to have a real life Christmas baby at any moment. Eventually, Flavia manages to capture the killer at her own peril and with the help of some homemade dodgy fireworks. This is not a brilliant or complicated crime novel, but it will give you that excitement of a detective and the warm fuzzy feeling that Christmas often brings.
Flavia is incredibly precocious for her age, but she is also just a child. Because she is the narrator of this story, this book is the perfect Christmas read for me: it’s a classic who-dun-it, but from the point of view of an eleven year old who still gets incredibly excited about Christmas and refuses to believe that Santa Claus isn’t real. The little village of Bishop’s Lacey offers the perfect background for a cosy and very British Christmas, where people will celebrate Christmas no matter what gets thrown at them (a body in this case). And of course, I particularly loved the added heavily pregnant woman and the awe and peace this suddenly brings to the story. Flavia may believe she knows everything there is to know about the world, but the beauty of a new-born child puts all of her science and logical conclusions into perspective. And isn’t that really what Christmas is all about?

We might enjoy murder over Christmas, but not everyone does, so let us know below what you would like to read or are reading over Christmas! If you love a good ghostly tale like we do, definitely give these books a try.

Either way, we would like to wish all of you a blessed and bookish Christmas!

us

Bookworms United 

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

The title of this novel speaks to the imagination. The French word for chocolate sounds much more like it tastes than it does in English or Dutch. I read Chocolat in school and loved it, along with its film adaptation, although I have a few concerns about it now. I still enjoy it, and why not? It’s about a small French village, a colourful young woman, her daughter, the daughter’s imaginary rabbit, love, magic, and chocolate. It reads almost like a picture book with confections sweetly painted on every page. I will be quite critical of the story later on in this review, so keep in mind that I do like it. The themes of food enjoyed together and the strength of female companionship make it a warming and pleasant read and I look forward to picking it up again.

It is carnaval in Lansquenet, a hamlet in the south of France, the day before Lent starts. A mother and a daughter who happened to travel past have stopped to watch the procession and the child is so delighted by the festival that she begs her mother to stay there. To her surprise, her mother agrees. Vianne Rocher, always on the move, thinks Lansquenet is as good a place to stay as any. She rents a house with a store space and she and her daughter, Anouk, move in. Lent, the season of self-denial, has started, but Vianne opens a chocolaterie and café in the devout, catholic village. This is not appreciated by Father Reynaud, the young priest of the village and a respected and severe man. More and more of his obedient parishioners come to confession to tell him that they broke Lent with Vianne’s delicious chocolate. The woman embodies everything he hates: disorder, paganism and hedonism.

Vianne, meanwhile, has a little bit of magic that helps her know exactly what any of her customers need. Her chocolates have wonderful effects. They cure insomnia, spice up people’s love lives or calm people down. Vianne lends her ear to anyone who wants to talk to her and makes her shop a safe haven for the outcasts of the village, as well as the passing river-travellers who are shunned in most places. She helps a woman leave her abusive husband and an old woman meet her estranged grandson in secret, rebelling against the town’s rigid customs. She undermines the church as well, by opening het shop on Sundays and in general disobeying everything Father Reynaud says. On top of it all, she plans a ‘Grand Festival of Chocolate’ to take place on Easter Sunday. Over time, the rivalry between Vianne and Father Reynaud turns into a full-blown conflict.

The book is very well-written: smooth, flowing with rich imagery that suits the subject of chocolate. The story is alternatingly told by Vianne and Father Reynaud, who have very different voices. This impressed me, because it adds to the experience of the story but must be very hard to write, changing style every chapter. The story has a host of colourful characters and the slow escalation of the old and new forces in Lansquenet are fascinating to read. I’m not surprised that the book was quickly turned into a film. It lends itself extremely well for that.

It was just a shame that I didn’t like the two main characters, Vianne Rocher and Father Reynaud. The last one isn’t supposed to be likable, but Vianne is. But with all her kindness, she can be remarkably cruel. She enjoys making Father Reynaud uncomfortable and counts it as a victory every time she does something he disapproves of. Don’t get me wrong, he is not a nice man by any measure. He feels superior to his parishioners and likes the power he has over them. He likes to hold power over himself, too, priding himself on being as devout and sober as possible. He values regulations over love or compassion, which in my opinion is at odds with the Christian faith. When Joséphine Muscat leaves her abusive husband, he wants her to go back to him because of their marriage, while there is no reason to assume that the husband will ever be anything but a brute. Still, I don’t think you need to attack and ridicule the faith of the entire village to address the problems within it. Someone as free-spirited and open-minded as Vianne claims to be must see the good things faith and devotion can bring: hope, love, comfort, community. Instead, she sabotages church life and doesn’t stop until Father Reynaud is utterly humiliated.

Having a Festival of Chocolate on Easter Sunday strikes me as unnecessary provocative as well. Lent is the time of fasting, the time of self-denial, repentance and preparation. Easter, on the other hand, is a joyful day of celebration. Couldn’t Vianne wait to see how the village people, whom she has only known during Lent, would celebrate Easter on their own before deciding that she has to step in to cheer them up? There is a reason that religious calendars have high and low points. To demand high spirits year-round is unrealistic, but to assume that Easter won’t be a high point and needs to be replaced with something happier is insulting.

The story’s criticism of the way Father Reynaud’s wields excessive social control over this little village is fair, he deserved to fall from his pedestal. The priest takes advantage of his holy position to exercise a disproportionate amount of power. But the book would have been better if there was some kind of redemption for the priest, showing that some compassion and joy could bring new life to a once strong but now rigid faith. After all, he is just a man, probably the only educated man in his village. It’s not so strange that he feels lonely or that he, as time passed, has started to look down upon his neighbours. He follows de traditions of the priests before him, especially looking up to his direct predecessor, who led the parish when Reynaud was a boy in the village himself. Perhaps all he needs is someone to challenge him to be better. But the story doesn’t give him a second chance.

Vianne is not painted as the perfect flower child. I find her less of a role model than the book portrays her, but even the author hints at Vianne’s imperfections. The most obvious one has to do with her daughter, Anouk, whom she loves more than anything. Vianne takes the child with her in her nomadic existence, travelling from town to town and city to city, never settling anywhere. Naturally, Anouk thinks the world of her mother, but she is actually the only one she has. Anouk is lonely and comes up with an imaginary friend in the form of a rabbit called Pantoufle. Time and time again the girl begs her mother to stay in one place, but Vianne must travel whenever she feels change in the wind. Every time, Anouk has to leave the place and the people she knows to follow her mother’s magic intuition. It doesn’t seem fair to her.

I had no idea this book was part of a trilogy until I looked it up on Goodreads. Apparently, Vianne’s journey is not finished after Easter. I’m debating reading the other two books. My enjoyment of part one could depend on the route Joanne Harris takes in the sequels. If Vianne realises she can hurt people by doing whatever she likes, if the priest learns to re-examine his faith, then I would be much less annoyed and much more entertained by the story. Still, it’s good to read about values you disagree with and once again, the book is really well-written. It’s definitely worth a read.

Chili Chocolate Award for the best advice about what to add to your cup of hot chocolate.

Joanne Harris, Chocolat (London, 1999)

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Jo Robin

The Essex serpent by Sarah Perry

Have you ever seen the BBC series North and South with the gorgeous Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage? There’s a scene at the beginning where the main character’s family leave their rural home to go live in an industrial city in 19th century England. The contrast between the seemingly idyllic, rural village full of light and colour and the smokey, loud industrial town reminded me a lot of the setting and atmosphere in The Essex Serpent, which is set around the same time and is also about a woman who leaves an industrial town, London for a rural village. Also, in both stories people from the rural areas and town have difficulty understanding each other, as well as having difficulty interacting with each other and seeing the merit of each other’s backgrounds.

This is a character-driven book where the plot is used to give the characters a reason to interact with each other. Therefore, I’ll first tell you about the characters before I tell you about the story. I am going to explain a lot of characters to you, but don’t be afraid, I’ll do it in families, so you can keep track of them. First, you have Cora and her son Francis and Cora’s best friend and companion Martha, all from London. Cora was recently widowed and trying to find herself again. Her husband was controlling and abusive, and Cora is slowly realizing what she wants out of her own life. It turns her into a society-avoiding recluse who likes to wear man’s clothing one week and woman’s the other because she doesn’t care anymore, which sounds perfect, to be honest. One of her interests is palaeontology and to study those things best, she moves to rural Essex with her son and Martha. Martha is a fierce woman who fights for the housing rights of the poor in London. There’s also a doctor called Luke Garret who is a good friend of Cora. They met because he was the one treating her husband on his deathbed. He is a brilliant surgeon and also dabbles in hypnosis and gets a lot of critique for his ungodly experimentation with science. Life and Death are very much considered a matter of God and not something humans should interfere in. In rural Essex, there is the village pastor Will Ransome, his Wife Stella and their children. Will is conservative and fears that too much science means going against God’s will. He is devoted to his rural flock and adamant to guide them away from bad superstition. His wife is kind and adored by everyone who knows her, but also ill. Throughout the story, her health is declining.

At the beginning of the book Cora, Martha and Francis arrive in Essex because they’ve heard a rumour about the mythical Essex serpent who supposedly returned. The arrival of the serpent is a bad omen and is believed to bring destruction just as the last time it came. This belief is strengthened because its arrival coincides with the mysterious death of a young man. Cora doesn’t believe in the bad rumours but sees the advent of the serpent as a good chance to make her name in the academical world. She wants to look for paleontological proof of the old one, but also to find proof for the new one. Another reason to be in Essex for Cora is to flee from the oppression of London society and mourning her late husband. She feels free now her husband has died and is tired of pretending to mourn for him. In Essex, they meet Will and his family with whom they strike up a friendship despite the fact that they disagree about the truth of the serpent. Will doesn’t believe in the existence of the serpent and thinks the belief in the serpent is a dangerous superstition which will turn people away from God. Cora pursues the serpent for scientific purposes. The thing that’s clear is that the idea of the serpent has a hold on everyone and makes everyone go crazy out of fear. People believe the serpent has magical powers to change people’s behaviour and that the arrival of the serpent is a bad omen. Whether the serpent really has the power to change people’s behaviour or whether it is the fear for the serpent, people certainly start behaving in strange ways. People lash out at each other, people fall in love, they get a mysterious illness where they are fascinated with the colour blue or burst into hysterical bursts of laughing for no apparent reason. After Cora and Will’s first meeting, many visits and letters follow and all the other people Cora and Will know get pulled into the story and they all play their part in the unfolding of the mystery surrounding the Essex serpent.

The debate between superstition, religion and science is one of the central themes of this book combined with the question whether the three can merge. This debate is fought out within the friendship of Cora and Will, wherein Cora is the advocate of science and Will that of religion. They both have a different take on the serpent but are equally fascinated by it. Also, they are constantly at odds with each other. This makes them very unlikely friends, and that is what I liked most about their friendship. Not all friendships are based on solely similar interests and I always enjoy reading about those kinds of friendships. Thura, Jo and I are also very different, and that friendship works very well as well. This particular friendship shows that science and religion can work together if you don’t feel the need to constantly agree with each other on every topic you discuss and when there is a solid understanding of trust, mutual respect and affection. This book used their friendship as a very effective metaphor to show us that. In general, the book uses a lot of metaphors. The whole idea of the serpent and how different people interpret it is used as a way to talk about faith. The metaphors in this book are interesting, but at times I felt Perry could have explained them better because so much in this book made no sense to me. It felt as if Perry attempted to write a story with so many different topics and meanings that she lost track of some of them and didn’t manage to fully flesh them out and explain them well.

To me, this book felt too ambitious. Not only in the number of unexplained metaphors used to tell the story, but also in the number of characters in this book. I haven’t even introduced half of them to you, and I was already afraid they were too many. All the characters in the book are involved in the plot and have their own problems and background stories that are relevant to the plot. This made the book very difficult to follow because I could not keep track of all the storylines. Especially while I was also trying to figure out how all the storylines came together in the overall plot. This is by no means an easy book to read, and the ending left me confused, but that could be because the writing style did not resonate with me. Perry’s writing style felt too deliberately ‘deep’ as if she assumed that by not telling things the reader would figure them out by themselves and be delighted with how mysterious the book was. A mysterious book does not have to be written in such a way to be deemed mysterious though. But maybe this critique is personal frustration because I could not make the book work for me. I really wanted to love it, but in the end, I did not.

Still, I would encourage people to try this book. There is so much to love: a mysterious creature, unexpected friendships, people going mad and beautiful descriptions of rural England. Also, all the individual storylines are nice to read, and the characters are fascinating, especially how they navigate the differences between country and city life. The writing style did not resonate with me and I found myself re-reading whole passages because I couldn’t get what Perry wanted to say. If this review sparked your interest I suggest you find a copy in your nearest library or bookshop to read the first few chapters to see if the writing style works for you. A writing style can make or break a book and is for a large part dependent on personal preference and this book deserves to be appreciated by those who can, like every book does.

Schrödinger’s serpent award for a story about a serpent that is either alive or isn’t

 

Sarah Perry, the Essex serpent (London, 2017)

Bella bookworms 2

Bella G. Bear