Archive for the Dear Reader I read it! Book reviews Category

Dear Reader I read it book review ‘The Blackhouse by Peter May

Posted in Authors I've read, Dear Reader I read it! Book reviews on May 25, 2012 by echostains

The last detective stories I read were Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.  I have been known to read the occasional Agatha Christie – oh and there was that Patricia Cornwell book about Walter Sickert being Jack the Ripper (which I didn’t like – and was still a little  bit furious with ), I digress already.  I was drawn to this book by Peter May (a new author to me) as the story is set on the Hebridean isle of Lewis. Having discovered that some of my ancestors came from there and having never visited myself I thought that I may learn something more about the island, its scenery and ‘customs’ by reading The Blackhouse.

The Blackhouse is essentially a murder mystery and features recently bereaved Fin Macleod, a detective who escaped his Hebridean home to work in Edinburgh.  The island murder has similarities with an earlier one which occurred on Macleod’s patch in Edinburgh and it is for this reason that Macleod returns. The story is many stranded and interspersed with Macleod’s childhood flashbacks –  this proves to be a  real page turner.

Central to the story is the ritualistic Guga hunting (an event unique to Lewis) in which men and boys from the island embark on a hazardous journey to cull gannet chicks on a treacherous bleak rock in the North Atlantic sea.  Macleod’s past and present rise up to meet him like the churning waves around the strange rock where his rite of passage began. These chapters are so atmospheric that I felt at times that I was actually out there on that rock.  I was amazed to learn that this ritual is no fiction though.  The uninhabited isle of Sula Sgeir is home to thousands of gannets whose  summer nesting in the guano encrusted cliff face brings the hunters whose quarry are the gannet chicks, which when salted and boiled are considered a delicacy. The men from the Ness area of Lewis are  called ‘Guga Hunters’.   Memories, emotions, childhood friends all converge, flicker. The past and present intertwine, characters shrink and grow and there is senses of unrest as the old traditions start to be challenged by the young.

What begins as a simple murder mystery soon becomes a journey of memories – some very dark, set against a dramatic landscape whose beauty is stark. The author spent four years researching, filming and producing a TV series about the Gaelic language so knows the area well and this really comes across.  The book is wonderfully written and I have read many reviewers praise the authenticity of the islands description having been residents themselves. I am delighted that this book is the first of a trilogy and I look forward to reading the next books.

Book image from here

Guga image Guga hunters information from here

Dear Reader I read it ‘Pure’ by Andrew Miller

Posted in Dear Reader I read it! Book reviews with tags , , , , on March 30, 2012 by echostains

The backdrop of the story is a Paris graveyard called Les Innocents. The time period is 1785, just before the French Revolution. Young engineer Jean-Baptiste Baratte has been commissioned by the French government to clear the ancient burial ground of its church and mouldering graveyard in the Les Halles area of Paris. The miners Baratte employs  to excavate the bones are strange almost faceless creatures and tend to act collectively. But there is one who steps forward and stands out – he is the catalytic Lacoeur whom Baratte has employed as overseer. His relationship with the engineer both previously and consequentially ends in strange tragedy.

Miller‘s writing style is convincingly sensuous and whilst the narrative has enough historical detail to lend authenticity, is never dry and dull. Throughout the book, the smell of the cemetery permeates. The people stink of it. It lingers on their breath, clothes and even their food as Miller’s masterly writing conveys. The author paints his words from shades of grey to blackness, his characters though realistically sketched, still manage to retain an air of mystery. A feeling of change underpins the novel, though I feel that this is somewhat underplayed and the setting itself seems more of a small village – isolated from the real world rather than a throbbing pulsating city, vital angry and aggressive.

The clearing of the ancient bones, the demolition of the church and the political unrest which rumbles underneath the shifting stones all conspire to add intrigue to a rather simple story. Whilst the book holds the reader’s attention in atmosphere and authenticity, there are a lot of blind alleyways which the writer leads the reader up – and then abandons. For example, the graffiti on the wall is never properly explained, nor is the reason for Zigette’s sudden madness. Also the relationship with Heloise I feel, seems to work better when she is a creature of the night (and day) – before she becomes his mistress.

Though the prose is skilful, the characters wonderfully sketched, I had a slight feeling of disappointment upon finishing the novel, – a vague sense of being a bit let down by ‘Pure’. I suppose that I was looking for a conclusion, and there is a sense of the unfinished which frustrated me. However, this book is a good book though, beautifully written, with lots of atmosphere. I would certainly read another of this authors books and I think the book would translate wonderfully to the screen. All in all – an intriguing and interesting read.

Image from here

Dear Reader I read it ‘My Fault’ by Billy Childish’

Posted in Authors I've read, Dear Reader I read it! Book reviews with tags , , , on May 30, 2011 by echostains

I have recently  finished reading  ‘My Fault’ by artist/poet/writer and musician Billy Childish and I am now  half way through his second book Notebooks of a Naked Youth.   My Fault is about growing up – the hard way.  Childish writes forcibly and sometimes brutally as his alter ego Steven Hamperson.   There is so much honesty and at times bitterness (who can blame him) that I can only marvel at the sheer force of his personality and his survival instinct.  Molested by a family member, misunderstood and constantly put down by his mother, father and brother and prey to local bullies, Childish lives in a world of deprivation (his father drinks all the money) and seems to be  blamed and scapegoated for all that goes wrong in his dysfunctional family.

Theres no escape from the bullies even at school where dyslexic Childish takes many a bashing from the teachers with their lack of understanding and some real low lifes.  At times this is a tough book to read.  It’s tinged with sadness but there are some lighter moments which mostly come from Childish’s observations about the strange people he encounters. 

 Childish is known for his poetry, his minimal involvement with Stuckism, his many bands and his Sunday painting and printmaking.  He is actually famous in a non famous kind of way.  He is a chameleon who cannot be really pinned down.  He is all things to all people – yet remains apart, non conformist and highly individual.  His name was even emblazoned on a tent which disappeared into a puff of smoke (Tracey Emin’s)  Childish is relentless in the non pursuit of non fame.  For example, every time one of his bands becomes a bit too popular he disbands and forms another.

One of the most vibrantly drawn characters in the book is his father, who I imagine as a kind of Pat Mustard  (the wayward milkman in ‘Father Ted) with the  controlling grip of perhaps a Phil Spector/ Don Arden (though he has nothing to do with music). The relationship Childish has with his mother (Juney) is another interesting one as is the unfriendly sibling rivalry with his brother who always knows better , has the appearence of doing  better and never hesitates to tell him so.

All in all a jolly good read.  Not exactly light reading but not too heavy either.  Though I expect the pinch of salt you will need to take with regards to the characters will be either minute  – or non existent.

Book images here and here

Woodcut by Childish and website here

Dear Reader I read it Book Review: Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton

Posted in Dear Reader I read it! Book reviews with tags , , , on May 23, 2011 by echostains
Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton
Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton

It was only the other week that I found a cache of Patrick Hamilton books in Borders book shop.  I had promised myself that I would read the rest of his books, having greatly enjoyed 20,000 Streets under the Sky‘.  I bought ‘Hangover Square’, ‘The Slaves of Solitude and the Gorse Trilogy.  Already I have read ‘Hangover Square’ and ‘The Slaves of Solitude‘!

the author Patrick Hamilton
the author Patrick Hamilton

‘Hangover Square’ has an atmosphere: a kind of ominous ‘abandon all hope all ye who enter here’atmosphere. Set in London in 1939 with war just around the corner, the ‘hero’ (well, kind of victim) George Harvey Bone wanders round the drinking bars of London doing absolutely nothing except drink and prostrate himself at the feet of one of the most cold, selfish madams I have read about for a long time.  The nastier and more manipulative Netta becomes, the more pathetic and dejected Bone becomes, until you feel sorry for him one minute and the next, want to give him a good shaking!

Love is the Devil, a study of  artist Francis Bacon

Love is the Devil, a study of artist Francis Bacon

It’s obvious to the reader exactly what Netta is, but Bone is the last to work her out.  His head is filled with romantic notions of taking her away from everything, marrying her and living happily ever after.  George Harvey Bone, though flawed has a few things going for him, his views of the world are simplistic, and you get the impression that he’s quite a decent sort of person underneath it all.  He’s just caught in a trap really, it’s not his fault, it’s the clicking in his head: he has no choice when this happens – he becomes psychotic…… but if only he could remember what he has to do?

You get glimpses into ‘what he has to do’ (if he could only remember…and he does).  So, as George makes excuses for Netta, the reader makes excuses for George.  I would love to see this made into  movie with modern actors.  I would cast  Daniel Craig as George.  He is a fine actor, and would bring the right amount of pathos to the character.  Forget Bond (this man can play anything) he was fabulous as George Dyer, boyfriend of David Jacobi’s Francis Bacon in ‘Love is the Devil’.  He plays an excellent drunk, has the right build and the right eyes!

Keelly Hawes as Netta perhaps?
Keelly Hawes as Netta perhaps?

I don’t know who could play Netta, who is dark haired, perhaps Keely Hawes with dark hair?  Netta is an extremely attractive, cold dismissive person but can be cringingly charming when she wants something.  In short – a user. She gets her reward, not in heaven but by the ending of the book.  It says a lot for the quality of of the writing, that by the end of this book, my sympathies lie with George, and Netta is dismissed, just as she dismissed George………  Reader Beware!  Hamilton has a way of changing you.

This post was transferred from my Art Blog Echostains

Dear Reader – I read them

Posted in Dear Reader I read it! Book reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 23, 2011 by echostains
what I’m reading at the moment

I really must catch up with reviews of all the books and films I have seen!  The list is long, and although I do find myself taking notes (on the films) there never seems to be enough time to write it all down.  So, in a nutshell here’s a pile of books which I have read this year alone and which I SHALL review!

The English Ghost by Peter Ackroyd

The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossman

Murderous Manchester by John J Eddieston

Shirley by Charlotte Bronte

The Hireling by L.P. Hartley

Grayson PerryPortrait of the artist as a young girl by Wendy Jones

The Shrouded Wall by Susan Howatch

Lancashire – Where Women die of Love by Charles Nevin

My Fault by Billy Childish (reading at the moment)

Some of these books aren’t finished though and I can’t review them until they are.  Somewhere, I have acquired the habit of starting one book then after a few chapters, acquiring another book which I also start.  Depending on which book is the most interesting – well, that’s the book will get finished at the time. 


 When I am in between any new books being bought, then these unfinished books will come out.  The difficulty in the continuation of reading them lies in my memory of what they were about in the first place!  What I mean is that although I can remember what the book is about, to actually get engaged or immersed in the book means retracing my steps and starting yet again, at the beginning!  There are several books this has happened to (Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel is one of them)  The list above shows  just a few of the books I have read lately and some of these are re reads.

Images from here and here and here

Dear Reader I read it ‘The Gorse trilogy’ by Patrick Hamilton

Posted in Dear Reader I read it! Book reviews with tags , , , on March 6, 2011 by echostains
patrick hamilton
patrick hamilton

I have just finished reading The Gorse Trilogy by Patrick Hamilton. Though I enjoyed most of it, I felt the end  (the third part) was lacking in conclusion, though the promise was there. Yes, I was disappointed in the end. Hamilton seemed to be just filling the last couple of pages with words just for the sake of it: meaningless to me. I could almost hear the music of Coronation Street being played at high speed and the credits rolling up and myself booted out onto the street… that’s how rushed it was.

the slaves of solitude by patrick hamilton
the slaves of solitude by patrick hamilton

The rest of the book was good though. The character of Gorse is a strange one. Under a (thin) veneer of charm lurks a nasty snake with cold eyes and a cold calculating heart. I am now mystified though. I really enjoyed the TV version of these books. The series was called ‘The Charmer made in 1987 and starred Nigel Havers as Gorse. Needless to say, the series bore only a vague resemblance of the book. I’m sure he kills Plumleigh – Bruce (a fabulously descriptive name), and I’m pretty sure Mr Stimpson does some detective work on Gorse.

Nigel Havers in The Charmer
Nigel Havers in The Charmer

 And where is the rich socialite Clarice Mannors in all this? Thrown in, to give the series a ‘love’ interest, a ‘reason’ for Gorse to do what he does, probably. Of course there’s no excuse for Gorse’s behaviour, in the book. He’s just naturally bad.

I did find it a bit incongruous that barmaid Ivy Barton would have such savings, and also her father (a dismissed Gamekeeper £200). Also, Mrs Plumleigh -Bruce wasn’t exactly loaded, perhaps her weakness was greed and elitism. Gorse plays on weaknesses. I think that if I hadn’t previously seen ‘The Charmer’ years ago, I wouldn’t have had pre conceived ideas about Gorse or the plot. Parts of this book are very funny  (though Gorse himself isn’t) and some of the characters ridiculously human. I especially enjoyed the writing in Plumleigh – Bruce’s diary – absolutely hilarious!

My posts about other Hamilton books;

‘The Slaves of Solitude’

‘Hangover Square’

Note: This review appeared originally on my art blog Echostains

Dear Reader I Read it Book Review ‘Branwell Bronte’s Barber’s tale’ by Chris Firth’

Posted in BRONTE, Dear Reader I read it! Book reviews with tags , , , on February 23, 2011 by echostains

Well I have just finished Branwell Bronte”s Barbers Tale by Chris Firth.  It has taken me ages too.  It’s not a particularly thick book but I have been reading it before I go to sleep and eking it out.  I really enjoyed this tale of intrigue, mystery and supposition.  The authors description of the barbers habitat and the area sets the period in context.  This was of particular interest to me because of an ancestor who was a Master barber. He born in that time period (but not in the place, which was abroad though he worked in Liverpool).  The detailed descriptions of the shop, the neighbourhood and the public houses are delightful – you can almost smell the place!


The story itself is very well researched and the character of MacCraw, well rounded –    pathetic and brave by turn.  Crippled by the sudden death (murder) of his young wife the fellow ‘Rhymer’ can not come to terms with his loss which  ages him rapidly as he spiralls downwards onto the slippery slope of the drinking dens of his youth.  Reliving his love and the comradeship of the Rhymers (which of course include Branwell), the barber becomes intent in proving to the world that Branwell was the true author of Wuthering Heights‘.

In this book Branwell comes across as loud, garrulous and extremely talented (as he was, so it’s probably a good sketch of him).  He is a very boisterous character, highly strung and imaginative.  He is scared stiff of his sisters though – particularly Charlotte.  Whether this was true in real life we will never know – but it is indeed fun speculating.  And this is what this book does very well – speculates.  I have often speculated myself about the possibility of Branwell being the real author of ‘Wuthering Heights’.   I think that it would have to be chisseled into stone before it would be accepted even if true,  plus where would this leave Emily?  The lone mysterious mystic who roamed the moors….   Well, we would still have her beautiful poetry.

Perhaps inadvertently, Gaskell gave this theory strength by her condemnation of Branwell by his sisters.  By painting Branwell black to show, this served to show just how much his poor sisters had to put up with. Coupled with Charlotte’s impatience with her brother it may well have been advisable to leave him out of things.  But on the other hand – wouldn’t the sisters be pleased if Branwell was saved by success? wouldn’t it be just the thing he needed to drag him out of his apathy?  They obviously weren’t pleased to see his talents dissapated, so why not give him a lift?. Then again, perhaps they may have thought that fame may have gone to his head and made his vices worse….  So many questions and no easy answers. 

I recommend this well written book, authentic in style as a rip roaring tale of intrigue, speculation and detail of the world the Bronte’s inhabited.  A lovely extra is MacCraw’s recipes or remedies from his journal – which I found very interesting indeed and which again brought the story into it’s period context.

Please note: – This book was read last year, this review has only just been found amongst my drafts.