Hot Stuff

If I can self-plagiarise a 2014 blog ( and, let’s face it, who will remember or care): ‘Phew What a Scorcher!’ Maybe June’s heatwaves have slowed my book consumption and / or my sun-soaked brain has simply forgotten what I’ve read but the latter appears to amount to only three novels. There’s also been several jolly jaunts this month, including a week in France and three days at a spa, during all of which time it was hot ( will you stop going on about the bloody weather? Ed ) so my books often ended up shading my face rather than having their pages turned.

At least my three reads, all by well established authors, have been very worthwhile. For a lot of the time Rose Tremain’s The Gustav Sonata felt as if it was heading for a bleak ending. Instead it was, if not a happy ever after, certainly one that was ‘as good as it gets’ ( the title, incidentally, of one of my all time fave films ) It’s the story of the friendship between two boys, Gustav and Anton, in wartime Switzerland though the focus is always on the impact of history on individual lives than the events per se. The Observer called it a ‘masterful, meditative novel’ and I’d agree.

Don’t cry over spilt milk, so the saying goes. I didn’t cry over Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk ( or laugh or feel anything much really ) and it’s been difficult to try and work out the reasons for my disengagement. Set in southern Spain, the novel has a dream-like quality. The narrator, twenty five year old Sofia, is there with Rose, her mother – who may or may not be a hypochondriac. She is seeking treatment from a doctor – who may or may not be a charlatan. Sofia and Rose exist in a complicated co-dependency: Sofia has given up her PhD to care for Rose and back in London works in a coffee shop. One moment she is the archetypal caring daughter trying to find the ‘right’ kind of water to satisfy Rose, the next she is leaving Rose and her wheelchair in the path of oncoming traffic. During their time in Spain she visits her Greek father and his new family and has affairs with two locals, the bohemian Ingrid and a student lifeguard. The reader perceives the world through Sofia’s fragmented inner life and maybe it’s this which makes the book so unsettling. Apart from the fact that Hot Milk was shortlisted for the Booker, it’s obviously an accomplished and sophisticated novel which would probably benefit from a re-read in a slower, more chilled frame of mind.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett follows six siblings from a blended family over a period of fifty years. It’s a novel which unfurls in an understated yet compelling way. One of the plot strands involves Commonwealth being the title of a highly successful novel written by the older lover of Franny, one of the main protagonists. The novel within the novel is based on traumatic events in Franny’s childhood and the shock waves generated by what some of the family see as a breach of trust not only make for great observations of family dynamics ( at which Patchett excels ) but also cleverly questions how much material a writer is entitled to borrow / steal from real life. Towards the end of the novel there were so many divorces, re-marriages with new offspring and their extended families that it became difficult to remember who was who. However, I think that was probably the point!

We’ve now had rain for two days which is good for the garden but it’s been so cold! We had to put the heating back on. Perhaps that was it – we’ve had our summer! A bit warmer today than it was yesterday, though, and they say the weekend will be nice, Saturday better than Sunday. Not that rain is forecast for Sunday but it’s due to be overcast. Talking bollocks about the weather: it’s what we do so well….

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