This Little Bag of Dreams

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

Tag: Orion

Blog Tour, Day 7: The Lido by Libby Page

Lido blog tour (002)

I have always wanted to go to a lido.

I know not why I haven’t.

There used to be one near me: Cliftonville Lido, in which Tracy Emin herself learned to swim.

But oddly, I don’t consider myself a particularly good swimmer.

I digress!  If you are a lido frequenter, or outdoor swimmer, or even if you can’t remember what chlorine smells like, you will find much of yourself in this delightful debut.  That’s the beauty of the novel: you can take from it what YOU want.  And that’s the way it should be: I’m not exactly shouting, ‘The author is dead!’ at you, as once was shouted at me in an Eton classroom, but the more scope there is for a reader to choose what to identify with, the better.  You may be a Kate; you may be a Rosemary.  You may be a George; you may be a Jay.  You  may be an Erin; you may be an Ahmed.

So The Lido – water novel! (Sorry, had to be done.)  Despite not being a massive fan of present tense prose, I adored this tale of journalist Kate battling loneliness in London.  Asked by her boss to cover the story of Brockwell Lido’s threatened closure, she finds an unlikely inspiration in the form of 86 year old widow Rosemary, who has swum at the lido all her life.  Slowly, she starts to live rather than merely survive: she cooks again, instead of preparing a ‘ping’ meal; she dips her toes, literally, in the lido; she throws herself into a cause bigger than herself.  And ultimately, that was the biggest success of the novel for me: that if you need saving, find a cause to fight for, and remember than only you can save you.

Anyone who has experienced the shakes, sweats and sheer terror of a panic attack will find consolation in Kate.  The fear grips her at the strangest of time and places, and that’s the thing about anxiety: it does not discriminate.  I have had a panic attack at work twice; the first time, I said I had toothache, the second time, I told no one.  Both times, I left and drove down to the sea.  Because it’s immensely comforting to find, at times of distress, something which is so much bigger than you and your anxiety, which has been there before you felt like this, and will be there afterwards.  Perhaps the sea is my lido.

But who is my Rosemary?  I had an actual Rosemary, in the shape of my A-Level Latin teacher.  She was frighteningly clever and Jean Brodie-esque, and I was one of her creme de la creme.  In some ways, she did a lot for me, but for reasons too private and complicated to mention here, she cannot be my Rosemary.  I’m going to swim against the tide here (sorry) and nominate my dad as my Rosemary.  He has been there for me at the best and the bleakest of times.  When I suffered crippling depression during my Finals, he came and slept on the floor of my poky university room.  When my heart was broken, he came and stayed at my house.  When I got a 2:1, he yelled triumphantly down the phone; the people of Coventry still complain of hearing problems.  My dad, who never had a dad and didn’t have much of a mother, has been there, unquestionably, all my life.

Thank you to Rebecca Gray at Orion for sending me the proof and inviting me to join this blog tour, and to Libby Page, who has stood up for all the infallible heroines.

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Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit

Fear Dirk Kurbjuweit

You’d die for your family.

But would you kill for them?

Fear is a fascinating novel to read in today’s climate of gun debate, and if you are interested in the real-life background which inspired Kurbjuweit, there is a great Guardian article by him here.  The situation in the novel is, of course, totally different from America’s horror story, but the ‘us against them’ trope is firmly relevant here.  When we rely on the law to solve our problems and the law fails us, what do we do?

Randolph Tiefenethaler lives with his wife and two children in a Berlin apartment.  Their life is largely pleasant: they love their children and are comfortably off due to Randolph’s architecture career.  However, their neighbour in the basement decides that they are sexually abusing their children.  What’s more, he is also in love with Randolph’s wife.  They seek legal advice and tell the police; they also offer to buy the neighbour’s apartment.  We are always being told that ‘money talks’.  But in Fear, ultimately, money means very little: it buys you neither peace nor happiness.  But a gun? Now you’re talking.   But who is to do the murder?  Randolph, a father of young children, or his elderly father, an avid collector of weapons?

The Australian edition of Fear

The ‘monster in the basement’ is not only their stalker neighbour, but also a metaphor for the couple’s various fears: for Randolph, that he does not love his wife anymore, that she is, in fact, abusing their children, and that he is becoming his father; for his wife, that Randolph is an abuser, that he does not love her anymore, and that she will never craft out a career for herself.

I was hoping, from seeing the cover, that Fear would be more a fast-paced, than psychological, thriller, and for me, the twist was unsurprising.  But is remains an original and brave work.

Fear works backwards, much like Amis’s Time’s Arrow.  It is not so much a whodunnit, as a whydunnit – indeed, some might call it a whydidyounotdoitsooner?  You will have to read the novel and decide for yourself what you think.

Hot Mess by Lucy Vine

If you’ve ever woken up feeling like The Apex of Shite, next to a hungover questionable decision and the remains of a kebab, then congratulations, you are a hot mess.  Other telltale signs of a hot mess include supposedly sorted friends, a job which you are desperate to leave and a flat on a road which may well have inspired AC/DC’s Highway to Hell.  But do not fear!  Other hot messes are out there, most notably in the form of Ellie Knight, whom you will meet/drunkenly walk into in Lucy Vine’s debut novel, which, you’ve guessed it, just so happens to be called Hot Mess.

I’d been seeing a buzz build up around Hot Mess for a while, and follow Vine both on Twitter and through her gutsy Grazia columns, so was thrilled to receive a review copy.  And reader, from its hot pink cover to its porn-writing character (more on that later!), it does not disappoint.

Taking my copy to Brighton with me, I sat down at a dubious looking pub and gulped down half the novel, much like our hapless protagonist might down an Apple Sours.  It opens on Valentine’s Day, traditionally a day loathed by single people – hell, make that all SANE people – and Ellie is waiting for a date, arranged by her well-meaning but miserable sister, who never appears.  The novel continues in this vein, Ellie’s life, not measured out in Eliot’s coffee spoons, but in Tinder dates.  We meet her mostly hideous colleagues, at her mostly hideous job; we see her avoid her flat because it is unforgiveably hideous, and inhabited by a flatmate with a penchant for empty shower gel bottles.  What saves the novel itself from being unbearably depressing is how funny and relatable it all is.  Plus, Ellie’s widower dad’s homage to E L James, relayed to us in handy chunks, is hilarious.

And Vine nails it the whole way through, she really does: who hasn’t drunk-dialled a would be date, or slept with a housemate, or been harassed endlessly by their friends and family with the question, ‘Have you met someone special?’?  It gets right to the core of what it is to be human, in fact, never mind female and single.  Witness the scene where Ellie has fallen out with her best friend, Sophie, and Ellie’s acknowledgement of how awful it is that life goes on, despite dark times: it’s almost like life is mocking her.  Luckily for her, and for us, life gets bitch-slapped, and whilst she may still be hot at the novel’s end, she is no longer a mess.

Many thanks to Elaine Egan at Orion for the review copy.

 

Today Will Be Different: Maria Semple Q & A, Review and Giveaway

Hello all!  I am very excited about this blog post.  Not only am I reviewing Maria Semple’s new novel, Today Will Be Different, I am also posting a Q & A with the author and giving all you lovely readers a chance to win a copy of the novel.  All you have to do is RT my tweet today mentioning the giveaway, so keep an eye on my feed: @AmyPirt.

So, to start with, here is my question to Maria:

maria-twitter-graphic-amy-pirt

And here is her answer:

Because it’s mine for the taking. I write my first drafts in a fevered rush. I don’t keep notebooks of ideas and observations to draw from. I’d say half the details in Today Will Be Different I threw in because they happened or occurred to me that day. If I didn’t set the novel in Seattle, it would be stripped of caprice and vitality.

If this Q and A has whetted your appetite and you fancy finding out just why Today Will Be Different, why not read my review of the novel below?

Today Will Be Different will appeal to all of you who wake up every day, vying that today will be the day you actually live out the #MotivationalMonday quote you post, that today you will complete your to-do list, that today you will be Wonderwoman.  And whilst I hesitate to designate books to particular genders, Today Will Be Different will certainly appeal to mothers, sisters, wives and partners, because Semple nails exactly what it is to be a woman today.  Because, despite the triumphs of feminism, it is still women who feel they have to try harder, and it is still women who shoulder the burden of the past more than men, arguably. (But do feel free to argue with me about that; I love nothing  more than a debate).

The novel starts and ends in the same way: our protagonist, Eleanor Flood, determines, in the words of the title, that, ‘Today will be different’.  She will, in essence, be the perfect woman: a great mother, a great lover and her ‘best self’.  Whole industries have been built around women’s desire to be the best in all their incarnations; magazines, books, websites, personalities.  Witness Sheryl Sandberg, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marissa Mayer.  And to me, this is so clever, because despite the journey on which Eleanor goes and the knowledge she acquires, in some ways, she does not change at all.  For she is still that perfectionist woman at the end that she was at the beginning.  The woman who believes that she must constantly be all things to all people.

Like Ulysses, Today Will Be Different takes place over a single day, but it recalls things from Eleanor’s past which inform her present, such as her unpublished, autobiographical graphic novel, The Flood Girls, and her complex relationship with her sister, Ivy.  There are points where I would have liked the novel to be a little sleeker, but the sheer originality, bizarreness and truth of it all more than made up for this.

There are several mysteries in Today Will Be Different: where is Eleanor’s husband Joe and why is he not at his office?  Why does Eleanor not speak to her sister?  Why does Eleanor hate her ‘friend’, Sydney Madsen?  And why is her son called Timby? (Sorry Maria, but that is a bizarre choice, even in America!)

I must say, I struggled with Semple’s style at points, and it took me a while to get into the novel and to warm to Eleanor.  But I ultimately loved this novel about sisters, marriage and motherhood.  Semple’s observations and stunning and so true:

I knew then: if under all anger was fear, then under all fear was love.  Everything came down to the terror of losing what you love.

Many thanks to Rebecca Gray at Orion for the review copy and chance to be part of this blog tour.