This Little Bag of Dreams

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,/How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Category: Biography

The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink

I had a brother. I learned about love by loving him. He had the first bits of my heart. He died.

I wanted this book to be a work of fiction.  It would make a wonderful, albeit incredibly sad, story. But unfortunately, it is true.  Fortunately for us, however, Rentzenbrink writes so gloriously that we are glad, for all its tragedy, that she has shared her story – Matthew’s story – with us.

It was a summer’s night in 1990, much like any other one for Cathy and Matthew Mintern, a sister and a brother with barely a year between them. They had worked a shift at their parents’ pub and then carried on the night at a disco nearby. The turning point for Cathy was when a friend offered her a lift home. With awful irony, Matty declined, saying that he ‘might get lucky’.  Barely a couple of hours later, he was knocked down by a car, and Cathy prayed that he would not die. Little did she know that death would be a better fate than what lay ahead for Matty.

For Matty did die – but only after the Mintern family brought a court order seeking permission to withdraw all hydration and nutrition. This was after 8 painful years of no progress, and their parents looking after him 24 hours a day for most of those 8 years.

This is a truly tragic, but nonetheless inspiring, story.  I am so glad that Cathy shared it with the world, that she realised it wouldn’t be ‘imposing…heartbreak’ on us, but rather encouraging others to share their own tragedies. What’s more, her writing is stunning, and I very much look forward to seeing what she does next. (I have a feeling it will be fiction.)

Many thanks to Francesca Main at Picador for the review copy.

Advertisements

And the winner is…..

20140729-102336-37416330.jpg

Lovely ladies and gents, you will recall that a couple of weeks ago, I held a competition to win a copy of The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller. I am very proud and excited to announce that the winner is Lisa Bentley from Lisa Talks Books. I loved her comment about Anna Karenina that she was going to read it and finally ‘kick Tolstoy’s behind’. Plus, AK is a book which takes me back, way back, to my Warwick University days, specifically to my European Novel module in my 2nd year, when, shamefully, I read only the beginning and the end of AK, much like munching on a sandwich and discarding its contents.

Lisa, please send your address to amysmith500@me.com. And let me know how you get on with Anna Karenina!

The Wrong Knickers by Bryony Gordon

20140722-100651-36411662.jpg

Oh Bryony…….did you step into the Tardis or the Bill and Ted phonebox and take a trip back into my tiny university room, record the number of empty wine bottles and overflowing ashtrays?  Go on, tell my 30 year old self: she doesn’t mind, sitting as she does in a tidy house with sensible furniture, credit card bills and Playdoh-covered cars. 

Bryony Gordon comes from a privileged Chiswick family; nonetheless, there are times in The Wrong Knickers where this privilege seems aeons away. Quitting university and the grotty flat near Euston she inhabits, she moves into journalism seemingly effortlessly, landing a job on a national newspaper. That said, the job is distinctly unglamorous initially: indeed there is mention of donning fancy dress in the name of getting a story.

Outside of work, Bryony’s life is a riot of fags, booze, coke-laced nights out and unsuitable men. There is Lurpakman, there is Guitarman, there is the long-term boyfriend who moves to Edinburgh. There is Breastsman, there is Marriedman, and indeed there is the Knickersman of the title, perhaps the worst of the lot. You will cringe in recognition; you will positively NOT recollect in tranquility (sorry, Wordsworth).

However, Bryony’s colleagues soon realise that her hedonistic lifestyle is the great basis for a weekly column. And you know you’ve made it when you have a weekly column! Trouble is, one has to maintain one’s wild partying in order to have something to write about. It’s all getting a bit Sex and the City, isn’t it?

I loved, loved, loved The Wrong Knickers, but the hangovers, horrendous men and total lack of financial sense made me want to tell at my younger self.  Where are these people who want to be 20 again?  I’d rather work and nurture: you can keep your boozing and bad clubs, thanks!

That said, what a fantastic book! Think Girls meets Withnail & I. Please, please, read it (preferably with a gin and tonic, and a Marlboro Red).

P.S. All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well….

G.I. Brides by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi

20140325-210922.jpg

As the 8.10 to Charing Cross pulled out of Woolwich, Sylvia Bradley could hardly contain her excitement. At fifteen and a half, she had only just left school, and was thrilled to be joining the crowds of glamorous women who took the train ‘Up West’ every morning to work in the capital’s grand hotels and shops.

It was fitting that I read GI Brides, the second book from the authors of the Sunday Times bestseller, The Sugar Girls, thousands of miles away from home in Perth, Australia. There, however, the similarities between the G.I. Brides and me end. For not only was I reading the book surrounded by my family, I also will be returning to my own country soon. In contrast, the G.I. Brides sacrificed not only perhaps never seeing England again, but also even seeing their own family again once they set sail (or flew, if they were lucky) for America.

For those of you who have read The Sugar Girls, the format of G.I. Brides will be reassuringly familiar. Barrett and Calvi have chosen four brides to tell their stories – Gwen, Rae, Margaret and Sylvia – and each chapter is devoted to one of the women. This interwoven approach keeps the reader interested, for no sooner have you become involved in one of the bride’s latest predicaments, their chapter ends and your focus to redirected to one of the other brides.

What I found fascinating, and shocking about G.I. Brides, was the extent to which the women emigrating for love were reviled by some Americans. Even their new families were not altogether welcoming. Although obviously, wartime, despite involving many nations uniting for a common cause, is a time in which every country involved fights to protect itself. Hence those who were jealous of the G.I. Brides were mostly women, angry that those from another country had taken their men. It is a concept difficult to appreciate from a modern viewpoint, given that we have not experienced warfare on such a scale since WWII.

There are harrowing stories in G.I. Brides, but there is much to giggle at too. Some of the funniest episodes in the book result from the differences between British English and American English. My favourite was when Gwen/Lyn kept asking the train porter to ‘knock her up’ each morning, on her great odyssey across America to California, so that she could glimpse the changing scenery. The porter told her to make sure she told her boyfriend that he ‘knocked her up’ every morning. Little did innocent Lyn know that the expression took on quite a different meaning in America!

I enjoyed G.I. Brides immensely and look forward to what the authors investigate next.

If you have enjoyed this review, you may find this Guardian interview with Nuala Calvi interesting.

Many thanks to Harper Collins for the review copy.