Women’s Prize Shortlist – Part 1

In this series of posts, we will be reviewing the books shortlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, which was announced on Monday 29 April.

Circe by Madeline Miller

In this retelling of Circe’s story, Miller takes us into the world of ancient Greece from a female viewpoint.  Most commonly known as the enchantress who turned Odysseus’s men into pigs and him into her lover, Circe comes to life in this gripping and well-told tale.  She still turns men who displease her into pigs, but the story adds flesh to her bones and turns her from a female stereotype, into a goddess with a lot of earthly humanity.

Starting life in the court of her father, Helios the Sun God, Circe discovers that she can use flowers to transform people.  When she innocently admits her magical powers to her father, he banishes her to the island of Aeaea.  On her island, Circe lives in a house filled with everything she needs, surrounded by trees and beaches, alone except for the lions that live with her and the creatures of the woods.  She is visited by several interesting characters such as Medea and Odysseus, which feels like having access to secret stories and conversations. The island is both a great freedom and a prison for Circe and we see her, over the few thousand years of the story, struggle with her fate and isolation, grow into her power, fall in love and watch those she has loved die.

There is a lot of debate about whether it is right to retrospectively empower ancient characters.  Circe is three dimensional and flawed.  She stays true to herself despite her isolation, and does not resort to the power games of the male dominated world of the gods, but she is also not afraid to use her power.  She serves men graciously when it suits her but is not afraid to use her powers when it doesn’t.

This is an engrossing novel that is difficult to put down.  A review says it should be read in one sitting.  Quite long to be read all at once, but a great holiday read or for a time when you can dedicate a few hours at a time to it.

Womens_Prize_2019_prt1

Ordinary People by Diana Evans

Set in London in 2008 following the election of Barak Obama, two couples are in crisis.  In an interview with the author on the Women’s Prize website, the author says that she wanted to write a story about how marriage effects both men and women and she does this very well, letting all the characters be both likeable and flawed.  The novel covers a lot of ground including motherhood, modern relationships, race, identity, home, ancestral and historical ties, but does so with a deft hand, bringing all these layers together and weaving them around each other.

Through the novel, she takes us into the routine, day-to-day family life and transforms it with her colourful, rhythmic writing.  She really takes time to tell the story, bringing small details to life, while keeping a steady ebb and flow to the pace of the melodic writing.  Music features throughout, bringing us closer to the characters, who they are and what they are going through emotionally.  The couples weave in and out of each other’s lives, physically and emotionally, and the past weaves into the present with memories of the early days of their relationships and references to parents, grandparents and distant countries of origin.

London features vividly throughout with many references to Chrystal Palace both now and historically, the 176 bus route lined with chicken shops, a wedding in Greenwich, shopping at Selfridges and bridges over the Thames.  The city is brought to life, its colours, intensity, its moods and its history, and it looms large even though ultimately it is the backdrop to the slower, subtler journey of the characters.  I found the book funny, engaging and incredibly moving and I enjoyed the feeling of being told a story, the music references and all the layers that Evans creates from the ordinary moments in the lives of ordinary people.

Watch this space as the winner will be announced Wednesday 5 June.

Fiona,
Library Customer Service Officer, Brompton Library

Advertisements

Brompton Graphic Novel Reading Group- The Bad doctor

Hello and welcome to the Brompton Library Graphic Novel Reading Group.

For the next session, Monday 8 April, 6:30pm, we will be discussing Doctor Ian Williams’ illustrated anecdotes of The Bad Doctor.

Cartoonist and Dr Ian Williams takes his stethoscope to Dr Iwan James, a rural GP in need of more than a little care himself. Incontinent old ladies, men with eagle tattoos, traumatised widowers, Iwan’s patients cause him both empathy and dismay, further complicated by his feelings for his practise partners: unrequited longing for Dr Lois Pritchard and frustration at the antics of Dr Robert Smith, who will use any means to make Iwan look bad in his presence. Iwan’s cycling trips with his friend and mentor, Arthur, provide some welcome relief for him.

BadDoctor1

“The territory of doctor as patient has been visited before, but Dr. Williams’s iteration and its resolution are as subtle and thought provoking as the best of them, with the always worthwhile message that the roles into which humans sort themselves are as mutable as the rituals they accept and reject, and the calls for help they choose to hear or not.” -The New York Times

BadDoctor2

“Replete with sometimes delicate, sometimes explicit observations about the foibles of human nature and the bureaucracy of healthcare, The Bad Doctor combines wickedly black humour with subtle characterisation that never fails to engage the audience’s empathy.” -Broken Frontier          

If you have any other suggestions for the reading list, then please let me know and we’ll try our best to accommodate. So far we have the following for consideration:

  • Casandra Darke
  • Cry Havoc
  • Full Metal Alchemist
  • Barakamon
  • Hellblaizer
  • V for Vendetta
  • Jaco the Galactic Patrolman
  • The Legend of Wonder Woman
  • The Flintstones Vol. 2: Bedrock Bedlam
  • Uncanny X-Force Vol. 1: Apocalypse Solution
  • My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1
  • The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir

The reading group takes place on the second Monday evening of every month. There may be a pub quiz afterwards if you want to join in!

See you there! Bring snacks.

David Bushell
Library Customer Services Officer
Brompton Library

Barn Burning – a short story from The Elephant Vanishes written by Haruki Murakami 

A married man meets a young girl who works as an advertising model and studies pantomime.  They meet sometimes and go out for meals and he enjoys talking to her.  One day her father dies and she asks him to look after her cat while she travels to Africa.

When she returns, she has a new boyfriend in tow, a rich young man with a European sports car.  The girl and the boyfriend turn up at his house with lunch one afternoon and, after a few drinks, the young man admits to enjoying burning barns, an admission that creates an obsession in the older man.

True to his style, the story is simple with many subtle complexities and ambiguities.

BurningHeader

Burning – a film directed by Lee Chang-Dong

In the film, the main character, now called Jongsu, is no longer an older married man but a recent graduate with no money or parental support, trying to make his way as a writer.  Making him younger, adds a coming of age element that is reminiscent of Murakami’s other work such as Norwegian Wood.  The relationship between Jongsu and Hai-mae is more developed and her Americanised boyfriend Ben, now a Jongsu’s peer, becomes his rival.

The location of the story has moved from Tokyo to Seoul and Paju, the small town where Jongsu grew up.  Barns are now greenhouses, more appropriate to the South Korean countryside, and propaganda messages can be heard coming over the border from North Korea.  At one point there is news coverage of Trump talking about America in the background, making the film relevant and contemporary, while keeping and expanding on the important elements of the story and paying a lot of respect to Murakami.

Chang-Dong has taken the story and turned it into an unsettling and mysterious film that builds into a gripping thriller.

Beautifully shot and acted with a great soundtrack.

Inspirational female authors – International Women’s Day 2019

Happy International Women’s Day!

Today, 8 March, is a date to celebrate the social, economic, political and cultural achievements of women. It all began over a century ago and today it is observed all over the world. It is also a day to reflect on improving gender equality and for 2019 the theme is #BalanceforBetter.

IWDLogo2019

At Brompton library, we have been celebrating the literary achievement of women with a series of book reviews. Since International Women’s Day in 2018, I have been doing regular reviews of books by inspirational female authors. In total I have read eleven books by eleven amazing female writers. It is hard to pick a favourite because the books are all so different and written in different styles.

IWDBookCovers

I loved some of the books because of their subject matter or the worlds they created. There are the feminist dystopias of The Power, The Water Cure and Red Clocks which comment on gender equality in our own society. There is Helen Dunmore’s novel that explores how a female writer from the eighteenth century could be completely forgotten by history. Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood’s novels reimagine classic myths and fairy tales from a feminist perspective.

I found some of the books inspirational because of their authors. Such as Zadie Smith, who was published at a young age and has gone on to win many literary awards or Toni Morrison, who was the first African-American woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. Then there is Malala Yousafzai, who almost lost her life standing up for women’s rights.

Because the books are from different eras, it made me reflect on the journey of women’s rights. Roxane Gay’s essays are a funny and insightful look into the struggles of being a modern feminist, whereas Emily Bronte, who had to publish Wuthering Heights under a male pseudonym, is a reminder of how far we’ve come.

I hope you have been as inspired as me by these great reads! And I’m sure you can think of many more inspirational female authors to add to this list.

 

 

Brompton Graphic Novel Reading Group- SLEEPWALK

Happy New Year from the Brompton Library Graphic Novel Reading Group

For the next session, MONDAY 14 January, 6:30pm, we will be discussing the stylish Adrian Tomine compilation SLEEPWALK.

An old woman returns alone to the spot where as a young girl she used to meet her lover on his daily lunch break. An unsuspecting couple find themselves drawn to a window to watch the neighbours’ kinky play turn into something more sinister. Twin teenage sisters make an awkward pilgrimage with their ageing-hippie father. A young guy misses his flight and returns to observe a kind of alternate version of his own life, one from which he seems to have vanished. Sleepwalk is a classic Tomine collection, a series of vignettes that scratch beneath the surface of seemingly well-adjusted lives.

sleepwalk gn

“Like Woody Allen in his prime, Tomine is a master storyteller with a keen understanding of life’s bittersweet contradictions, and his meticulous drawing style further evokes the confusion and loneliness that his characters experience as they navigate the murky waters between adolescent fantasy and the less glamorous reality of adulthood.” – Village Voice

 If you have any other suggestions for the reading list, then please let us know and we’ll try our best to accommodate. So far we have the following for consideration:

  • Casandra Drake
  • Cry Havoc
  • Full Metal Alchemist
  • Barakamon
  • Hellblazer
  • V for Vendetta
  • Jaco the Galactic Patrolman
  • The Legend of Wonder Woman
  • The Flintstones Vol. 2: Bedrock Bedlam
  • Uncanny X-Force Vol. 1: Apocalypse Solution
  • My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1
  • Bad Doctor by Ian Williams
  • Out of Nothing by Dan Locke
  • Blankets by Craig Thompson
  • The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir
  • Monstress

The reading group takes place on the second Monday evening of every month. There may be a pub quiz afterwards if you want to join in!

See you there! Bring snacks.

David Bushell
Library Customer Services Officer

Brompton Graphic Novel Reading Group- Monster by Naoki Urasawa

The brompton Graphic novel reading group will be meeting on Monday 10 December, 6:30pm.

Where they will be discussing volume 1 of the psychological Manga thriller: MONSTER by Naoki Urasawa:

Everyone faces uncertainty at some point in their lives. Even a brilliant surgeon like Kenzo Tenma is no exception. But there’s no way he could have known that his decision to stop chasing professional success and instead concentrate on his oath to save peoples’ lives would result in the birth of an abomination. The questions of good and evil now take on a terrifyingly real dimension. Years later, in Germany during the tumultuous post-reunification period, middle-aged childless couples are being killed one after another. The serial killer’s identity is known. The reasons why he kills are not. Dr. Tenma sets out on a journey to find the killer’s twin sister, who may hold some clues to solving the enigma of the “Monster.

Monster_GN_Cover

 

I loved Monster, and I cannot believe it took me this long to read. I’ll be back for more, very soon” – thebooksmugglers.com

Monster appears primed to take the Western world by storm the same way it did Japan” – IGN

 

If you have any other suggestions for the reading list, then please let me know and we’ll try our best to accommodate.

 

So far we have the following for consideration:

  • Sleepwalk
  • Casandra Drake
  • Cry Havoc
  • Full Metal Alchemist
  • Sleepwalk
  • Barakamon
  • Hellblaizer
  • V for Vendetta
  • Jaco the Galactic Patrolman
  • The Legend of Wonder Woman
  • The Flintstones Vol. 2: Bedrock Bedlam
  • Uncanny X-Force Vol. 1: Apocalypse Solution
  • My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1
  • Bad Doctor by Ian Williams
  • Out of Nothing by Dan Locke
  • Blankets by Craig Thompson
  • The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir
  • Monstress

The reading group takes place on the second Monday evening of every month. There will be a pub quiz afterwards if you want to join in!

David Bushell, Library Customer Services Officer

 

Reality more astonishing than fiction

This is an epilogue to the Chelsea reading event – Reality more astonishing than fiction, where attendees asked me to recommend the WWI books about women that I used for my research.

We read extracts from letters and diaries – which were sad, feisty and funny.

Elsie Bowerman captured everybody’s imagination.  In the style of Indiana Jones, Miss Brown and Miss Bowerman clambered onto a moving train and saved the Scottish Women’s Hospital’s equipment.

Mabel Dearmer, author and illustrator, kept a diary and sent letters home from Kragujevac (Serbia) in spring 1915. She joined the Mabel Stobart’s Hospital unit. Her husband, Percy Dearmer served as a chaplain with the unit. Several women – nurses, doctors, orderlies – from various British medical missions died in Serbia during the typhus epidemic in 1915. Mabel Dearmer was one of them. See the extract from her letter from 6th June 1915.

Finally, if you would like to hear more about Scottish Women’s Hospitals and Dr Elsie Inglis, come to my talk at Women’s Library, LSE, on 9th November, 1-2pm.

Our next Reading event is on Tuesday, 11th December at Chelsea Library, (contact the library for more details), where we will visit Mr Scrooge. Come and join us reading extracts from “A Christmas Carol”.

by
Zvezdana Popovic

 

 My recommended  book listWomen and WWI / Suffragists and Suffragettes

  • Kate Adie, Fighting on the home front. The legacy of women in World War One.
  • Lucinda Hawksley: March women march
  • Simon Webb, The Suffragette Bombers. Britain’s Forgotten Terrorists.
  • Elisabeth Shipton, Female Tommies: The Frontline Women of the First World War

About Flora Sandes:

  • Louise Miller, A Fine brother. The life of Captain Flora Sendes, Alma Books, 2012.
  • (Book translated by LAGUNA “Naš brat”)

About Dr Elsie Inglis and Scottish Women’s Hospitals:

  • Leah Leneman: In the Service of Life. The story of Elsie Inglis and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals. Edinburgh: The Mercat Press, 1994.
  • Leah Leneman, Elsie Inglis. Founder of battlefront hospitals run entirely by women, NMSE, 1998
  • Eileen Crofton : Angels of Mercy: A Women’s Hospital on the Western Front 1914 1918, Birlinn Ltd, 2013.
  • Mikic, translated by Dr. Muriel Heppell: The Life and Work of Dr. Katherine S. MacPhail
  • Eva Shaw McLaren: Elsie Inglis. The woman with the torch.
  • Monica Krippner, The Quality of Mercy. Women at War. Serbia 1915-18.
  • Isabel Emslie Hutton: With a Woman’s Unit in Serbia, Salonika and Sebastopol.
  • Mabel Stobart, The Flaming Sword in Serbia and Elsewhere

Most of these books can be borrowed in local libraries and some of old ones can be read online, on the Project Gutenberg Free Books website.

Websites and documentary films

 

Reality more astonishing than fiction reading event at Chelsea Library

According to Hastings Borough Council’s blue plaque, Elsie Bowerman (1889-1973) was a suffragette, barrister (first woman barrister at the Old Bailey) and a survivor of the Titanic disaster.
One thing that most people don’t know about her is that Elsie Bowerman joined Scottish Women’s Hospitals as a nurse and a driver in summer 1916 and went to Romania and Russia with the Serbian army.
Why Russia? Why the Serbian Army?
London Units of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service (NUWSS) appealed for funds.
At the request of the Serbian Government the London Committee of Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service provided two New Field Hospitals and a Motor Transport Section to accompany the Serbian Division in Russia.
Elsie was twenty-six and thrilled when she begged her mother to let her go and drive for Scottish Women’s Hospitals.

Dear Mother,

Mrs Haverfield has just asked me to go out to Serbia at the beginning of August to drive a car. May I go? … I’ve been dying to go and drive a car ever since the war started… It is really a chance to go to the front. They want drivers so badly so do say yes. It is too thrilling for words.

These documents – Appeal for Funds, Elsie Bowerman’s private correspondence – and many thousands more, about (very much) neglected and (almost) forgotten events and people and whole fronts in the Great War, can be found in the archive collection of Women’s Library, LSE.
Meanwhile, if you are puzzled, come to our reading event on Tuesday 30 October, 6.30pm at Chelsea Library and discover more astonishing facts.
Zvezdana, Chelsea Library

Books to films: The Little Stranger

This month, Fiona from Brompton Library is reviewing Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger which has just been released as a film and will be read and discussed by the library’s reading group in November.

The book

Set in post-war rural Warwickshire, Dr Faraday is called to attend a sickly maid at Hundreds Hall who believes that the house is haunted. Faraday has a sentimental attachment to the house as his mother had been in service their as a maid and once took him there when he was a child to a garden party where he was presented with a medal by the lady of the house, Mrs Ayers. As Faraday gets closer to the Ayers family, events start to unravel. Strange and inexplicable happenings that suggest a ghost from the past is haunting the family and as their financial situation worsens and the house starts to fall apart around them, the “haunting” intensifies.

Behind the story of the house is also a love story between Caroline Ayers and Dr Faraday and behind all of it is the story of post-war Britain, the introduction of the NHS and how that changed the lives of ordinary people. There is a strong contrast between the lives of the Ayers family at Hundreds Hall where, in the decaying house, guests dress formally for dinners served to them by a maid while local people, still wary of modern medicine, are dying young from curable ailments and too poor to be able to pay the doctor.

The book is a gripping read. I read half of its 500 pages on a flight and was completely engaged by the writing, the atmosphere and the story. The relationship between Caroline Ayers and Dr Faraday is beautifully written and touchingly awkward and I liked the way the book dealt with several themes at once while remaining a really good story well told, and very creepy in parts. At one point, Dr Faraday says “All this house needs is a dose of happiness”. You get a sense that they are both so lonely in their different ways and that everything could change for them if they could make it work. I felt that the more a I read the book the more I also wanted the house to be rescued and saved from ruin as the Dr does. It works really well that Waters does not use tricks to build up the adrenalin of the story and the overall pace is one of gradual decline, so if you are wanting to read a ghost story this may not be for you, and the end has a twist that creeps up on you so quietly that you almost can’t quite believe it.

The film

The film brings the book to life visually. It really captures how I imagined the house to look – its interiors are perfectly done and the view of the house from the road leading up to it were very evocative of the book. The house is very grey and you get a sense that the seasons change outside while the house is stuck in time. Although billed as a horror, the film leaves out much of the references to ghosts that are made in the book, but is more like a ghost story. As the film is much shorter than the book, the suspense builds much more quickly and there were some chilling moments, but on the downside it meant that we didn’t spend much time with the characters or see their relationships develop.

Charlotte Rampling is perfect as Mrs Ayers while saying very little, she appears icy and fleeting throughout the house. Ruth Wilson is great as Caroline Ayers, bringing to life the earthy and practical daughter of the house who holds the story together. The casting of Domhnall Gleeson let the film down a bit for me. Dr Faraday is in his 40s in the novel which lends a fatherly aspect to the middle-aged, unmarried doctor that would not be possible between Gleeson and Wilson as they are of a similar age (he may even be younger than her). He came across as cold and remote at the same time but lacked the warmth and drive of the Dr Faraday of the book and I wasn’t rooting for him like. Overall it’s not a bad adaptation with some great acting, a few chills and shocks and is visually very true to the book.

Brompton Library’s reading group will be discussing the book on Tuesday 6 November so why not join us? You can borrow a copy at any of our libraries.

Fiona, Brompton Library

 

The adventures of a reading group

A researcher working for a BBC World Service series, The Why Factor, contacted us to meet a book group for their latest programme “Why we forget the things we have learned“.

The Why Factor is a BBC Radio magazine programme, a series of 25 minute shows that mixes vox pop and academic specialists, brought together by a presenter.

We arranged for the show’s producer to talk to local book group members (who kindly agreed to participate), and we all met in Brompton Library’s Meeting Room .

Rather shyly, members of our group answered questions fired by the producer who held a huge microphone attached to a tiny recorder. A couple of us (blink and you miss us) were edited into the first couple of seconds of the programme before the show segued into the main essay.

ReadingAdventure
But what was most important, Brompton Library got a mention – and the programme itself was quite interesting.

I was greatly encouraged by some of the observations about forgetfulness made in the programme. Apparently forgetfulness can be the result of a creative brain flying around taking in all sorts of sensory information which can later be selected from, unless it has been forgotten …. When we are in our book group, reading novels, we are turning over the plot and sharing feelings about the characters, etc., but we are also using our creative brains, employing our memories to add snippets of our own knowledge and experience. We are finding new ways of seeing – being curious. In this way, though discussion, people can renew their interest in the novel, go back and re-read it or, if they had not quite got to the end, decide to try again and even finish it!

Quite often a good book encourages interest in the author. For example, recently, having read Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop, members of the group were able to take their interest further by accessing and reading Hermione Lee’s fascinating account of Fitzgerald’s personal and literary life – which is available from our wonderfully maintained biography store at Kensington Central Library.

With a good public library service everyone can be a researcher! Please try to remember that ….

To find out more please visit the BBC website 

Penny, Brompton Library

Wesley Hall Methodist Church

Sydenham, London, UK

The Life and Loves of a Victorian Clerk

The diary of Nathaniel Bryceson, 1846

Discovering Westminster: A walk through time

Lunch time walks through the area

LBHF Libraries

"More than a library..."

The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Curious recipes and hidden histories from Westminster City Archives

Online Resources in London Public Libraries

A world of information at your fingertips

Text Tribe

Let's talk about books

%d bloggers like this: