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

 

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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

Interview with Andrew Cartmel: part 1

Andrew Cartmel was the show runner on Doctor Who for the entire Sylvester McCoy seventh Doctor era. He has written many novels and graphic novels including the Dr Who comics Evening’s Empire and The Good Soldier. Andrew is currently collaborating with author, Ben Aaronovitch on writing the bestselling Rivers of London comics.

He’ll be at Brompton Library on Monday 24 September, 6.30pm taking about his career and work and signing copies of his Vinyl Detective crime novels – Written in Dead Wax, The Run Out Groove and Victory.  You can book a place here on Eventbrite 

In the meantime, Andrew has very kindly answered some questions for us –

Tell us about the Vinyl Detective series.

I’ve been writing for most of my life, in our form or another. Since I left university I’ve been writing for a living, or at least trying to. But the Vinyl Detective books are the first time I feel I’ve entirely succeeded.

The Vinyl Detective is very evocative of the day to day realities of city life – grass verges, council estates, broken boilers – not glamorous or exotic in any way!  It is definitely different to what you have called the current trend for “Danish disembowelment” novels.  Why was this setting important to you?

I wanted to write what I know. You might also call it low-hanging fruit!

I have read that you are an avid vinyl fan, what made you want to write detective novels based around vinyl?

My friend Ben Aaronovitch had written what became a bestselling series of novels — The Rivers of London books. I asked him what the secret was. He told me to write about what I genuinely loved. And I genuinely love record collecting, and crime fiction.

Andrew with his cat, Molly

What was the first record you bought?

The soundtrack to (the first version of) Casino Royale featuring a superb music score by Burt Bacharach and a knock-out song (‘The Look of Love’) sung by Dusty Springfield. It’s a classic and it remains a favourite of mine.

And what was the last record you bought?

Stan Tracey’s Jazz Suite to Under Milk Wood (inspired by the Dylan Thomas poem). The original Lansdowne mono pressing, of course.

You didn’t start out in crime fiction, what where some of the influences that lead you into crime writing?

I admire Raymond Chandler a lot, but for my money the greatest crime writer of the golden age (roughly the 1930s and 1940s) was Dashiell Hammett. His terse, cynical, realistic style hasn’t dated at all (read The Maltese Falcon). But a more profound influence came somewhat later. John D. MacDonald is, I think, the finest crime writer of them all. He’s a hero of mine. He wrote dozens of excellent novels, notably the Travis McGee series. More recently, I tremendously admire Thomas Harris, best known for creating Hannibal Lecter.

You must have spent a lot of time researching the books, tell us about that?

A lot of it is, as I said, low hanging fruit. Because I write about a world I already know well. But I will also do specific research. In my third book, Victory Disc, I dealt with a crime originating in the RAF bombing campaigns of World War 2. At the end of the novel I acknowledged the two superb books I drew on for the factual background, one by Max Hastings and one by Len Deighton.

Many thanks, Andrew – we’ll be back next week with part 2. 

Lives at sea

We are an island nation, and throughout our history the sea has been inextricably mixed into our lives, whether we experience it as part of our immediate environment, learn about its place in our history, or trace its many marks on our language and literature. Images of the sea and seafaring metaphors sparkle and surge through our poetry and our idioms, and the sea exerts a pull of mystical romance.

To mark National Maritime Day on 1st September, our Biography Collection display at Kensington Central Library features memoirs of lives at sea. There are books tracing how the sea influenced artists and writers including Conrad and Turner, and books recording the experiences of sailors and fisherman struggling to maintain a livelihood in often pitiless conditions.

Many have been drawn to engage the sea in battles for supremacy, leading to amazing feats of endurance and will – these are the loan yachts-people, circumnavigators and channel swimmers who lead us through their life-changing struggles. There are intimate and personal records of how the sea effected changes in relationships and the sense of self (my personal favourite is Gwynneth Lewis’s Two in a Boat, an account of how the superficially crazy idea of going to sea became a jumping-off point for profound insights into the nature of moods, marriage and metamorphosis).

Our naval history is inevitably linked with painful themes of colonialism and war, and we have books on how projects of land conquest and trade depended on the conquest of the sea from the Elizabethan period onwards, and on how the protagonists of terrifying sea battles understood their experience.

And of course, there are pirates, with brutal realities often far stranger than the romantic legends we have inherited.

We hope you will dive in and find something to interest you.

The Biography Store Team, Kensington Central Library

Inspirational female authors: Malala Yousafzai

Welcome back to our monthly review of books by inspirational female authors, in celebration of the centenary of women legally being able to vote.

For August I have chosen I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai It is the true story of a young Pakistani girl who spoke out against the Taliban to defend her right to an education. This bravery almost cost Malala her life, but she survived and continues to advocate for education as a universal right. In 2014, she became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

The story is told in Malala’s own words and you get a sense of the real person behind the icon. Learning that she squabbles with her younger brothers, she loves the colour pink and she hates getting up in the morning made me connect with her story even more. It’s easy to forget she is an ordinary teenager as well as a symbol for resistance and justice.

Alongside Malala’s experiences, the book outlines in some detail the history and politics of Pakistan. It is explained simply, presuming no prior knowledge so it is a good introduction if, like me, you don’t know as much about it as you’d like.

I found her story very inspiring. It reminded me how much freedom I take for granted every day, when that is not the case for women around the world, and also how much further there is to go for equality.

Check back in September for the next review of another inspirational writer.

Philippa, Brompton Library

PS – you can see the previous reviews of inspirational women writers for July, June, May, April and March

Inspirational female authors: Emily Bronte

This month we have a double celebration! As well as the monthly review of a book by a female author to mark the centenary of votes for women, we are also celebrating the 200th anniversary of Emily Bronte’s birth on the 30th July. So it was a clear choice to pick Wuthering Heights to review for July.

Wuthering Heights is an intense story set in a lonely house on the Yorkshire moors. It is about the wild and passionate love between Catherine and Heathcliff. They grow up together and years later Heathcliff returns to seek revenge on those he feels have wronged him. The dark tale has shocked and enthralled readers since it was published in 1847.

I first read Wuthering Heights years ago, but reading it again recently I was brought straight back to the haunting atmosphere. If you have already read it, I would recommend re-reading it as there is so much scope for analysis. For those that haven’t, the characters are iconic and the brooding mood of the book will stay with you long after you finish reading.

Emily Bronte is a fitting author for our inspirational women series as she illustrates the progress of women’s rights. When she first published a collection of poems with her sisters in 1846 they all had to use male pseudonyms; Emily’s was Ellis Bell. Wuthering Heights was also originally published as Ellis Bell but after her death her sister Charlotte republished it under Emily’s real name. Despite writing at a time when female authors were rare and would face prejudice, Emily Bronte wrote a powerful and imaginative novel that would become an English literary classic.

At Brompton Library we have created a display to celebrate Emily Bronte’s bicentenary, featuring of course Wuthering Heights, but also her poems, various non fiction books about her life and beautifully illustrated children’s books. So there is also a lot of further reading you can do to mark the 200 years since the birth of this inspirational woman.

You can see the previous reviews of inspirational women writers for June, May, April and March See you in August.

Philippa, Brompton Library

Summer Reading Challenge 2018

This year’s Summer Reading Challenge launches in our libraries tomorrow, Saturday 14 July. The challenge is fun, free and designed for all children whatever their reading ability and it’s been designed to help children to improve their reading skills and confidence during the long summer holidays.

Children can read whatever they like for the challenge – fact books, joke books,
picture books, audio books or you can download a book,  just as long as they are borrowed from the library.

 

This year’s Summer Reading Challenge is called Mischief Makers – Dennis the Menace, Gnasher and friends invite the children taking part to set off on a hunt for Beanotown’s famous buried treasure.

 

Each of our libraries will be holding special events for children of all ages, some of these are listed now on our website Pop in to your local Kensington and Chelsea library  to find out more about the Summer Reading Challenge and collect a special  events programme.

 

Great names of British comedy

It’s fifty years since the first broadcast of that classic of British comedy, Dad’s Army, and this month our Biography Collection display at Kensington Central Library showcases the life stories of some of our funniest men and women. We have a truly enormous number of books celebrating the comic genius of stand-ups and sitcom stars. With intimate glimpses of the highs and lows of their real lives, we find that the tears of a clown are often a real phenomenon, while some stars have brought their comic talents to their own memoirs so that their trials and tribulations cause tears of laughter as we read.

The vintage funny business is all here – from the Victorian double entendres of Marie Lloyd and the silk dressing-gown cool of Noel Coward, to the surreal capers of ITMA (It’s That Man Again), Round the Horne and The Goons and the even more surreal and subversive – and perhaps also quintessentially British? – comic kaleidoscope of Monty Python.

I wonder if I am alone in finding Private Frazer’s mournful cry of “We’re doomed!” strangely reassuring – it’s interesting that over the years we have loved so may characters who express comic despair at life’s frustrations, with a special place in our collective psyche for the hapless melancholy of Tony Hancock, the car-thrashing frenzy of Basil Fawlty, the tightlipped defeatism of Victor Meldrew and the wailing lament of Steptoe junior as his father greets another faux pas with a malevolent toothless grin. There’s that traditional strand of social competitiveness, snobbery and one-upmanship to relish in many of our best loved characters too (Fawlty and Steptoe’s anguish has a lot to do with this, and think also of Hyacinth Bucket, Rigsby,and Margot). The “saucy” humour of the seaside postcard resonates in the Carry On era and Benny Hill, and British comedy has also always had a healthy disrespect for the institutions of authority, taking the wind out of the sails of power in Yes, Minister and of the criminal justice system in Porridge.

Through the alternative scene of the 80s, shows like The Kenny Everett Video Show, Not the Nine O’ clock News, The Young Ones, The Comic Strip Presents and Three of a Kind all represented seismic shifts in comedy styles and pushed the boundaries of what made us laugh.

More recent faces feature in our display too, like Walliams and Lucas, Mitchell and Webb, Miranda Hart, Michael McIntyre, Sarah Millican and James Corden – and there is no shortage of hilarious women – Wood, Windsor, and Walters; Lipman, Tate, French and Saunders, and many more.

There are so many, many great names of British comedy, that I am already wondering how I could have written this blog piece without mentioning by name, for example, Tommy Cooper, Kenneth Williams, Spike Milligan or June Whitfield – and you will doubtless have your favourites who you can’t believe I have not included! I am glad to say this embarrassment of comic riches is reflected in our Biography Collection, with our display representing the tip of an iceberg of hundreds or comic biographies. If you can’t find your favourite, just ask.

The Biography Store Team, Kensington Central Library

What we do today echoes in tomorrow’s life – Angus Wythes

Have you heard of above the line thinking? It can help you define your current situation, choose your direction and move forward with a renewed sense of purpose and drive as well as being accountable for your own results. Like to learn more? Angus Wythes from The Performers Edge will be at Brompton Library today Tuesday 26 June, 6pm. You can book a free place via Eventbrite

In the meantime, over to Angus to tell us more –

What we do today echoes in tomorrow’s life. We all want to live a life we have created and in this Performers Edge workshop, above the line thinking explores one method. Living the life you want to create is about choice. Especially when we live in a modern world fundamentally driven by instant gratification, high pressured work and domestic environments which often at times is devoid of any significant meaning.

Frequently for most of us (and I am no exception) we seem to get caught up in the fast pace of life and do, do, do working our way down a check list of sorts and we tend to lose our sense of being. Our sense of being can be characterised by statements like, what sort of person am I being or who am I being in this moment. It is actually this sense of being that defines us as people and not what we do. What we do can change within moments, one minute an athlete or multi-million pound investor and the next injured and unable to compete or broke and no way to trade.

Unfortunately for most of us we are not aware of this relationship and this more often than not leads to behaviours which simply do not serve the self. With an awareness of this relationship we can in part empower and create for ourselves a greater level of choice. In choice, we have the power to define our reality and not reality to define us.

With choice we have the option to live our purpose and in imperfect action we can find direction always moving forward towards the place we wish to be. Choice in part underlies Being and so the journey becomes more important than the goal itself. In becoming the person worthy of the goal the goal actually becomes less important and ironically we are freed through choice (and so being) to achieve the goal.

Above the line thinking is a proactive mindset focusing on creating choice within a space of what we can actually control and therefore be directly responsible. In life there are very few factors we can control and many of the most successful people have mastered this thinking. These include Richard Branson, Deepak Chopra, Matthew Hussey and even Lance Armstrong among many, many others.

Leading with focus and in a state of being we have frameworks to be proactive in our life and generate that same success as these names. It is critical to understand why thinking above the line is important and why the strategies of cause and effort, the triad of result and outcome model work and how this aids in the creation of a proactive life.

In the end life should be about the ands and not the ors and we all want to live resourceful meaningful lives full of purpose. We desire to be the master creators in our life and in that form I look forward to meeting and sharing The Performers Edge event  with you all.

Hope to see you on 26 June.

Angus Wythes

Parties, Presents and Peers: an A-Z of London’s Mid-Century Models

In April this year, Chelsea Library marked 40 years since it moved to its present site, at Chelsea Old Town Hall. We celebrated that anniversary in the Sixties fashion style, since the library is famous for its extensive Costume and fashion collection. It has a wide range of books on the history of costume from its earliest times to present days, stage costumes, the history of twentieth century dress, including books on prominent designers, and so on.

Bearing this in mind, we’ve decided to bring back fashion talks and workshops to the library. We invited John-Michael O’Sullivan to give a talk on ‘Parties, Presents and Peers: an A-Z of London’s Mid-Century Models’.

He spoke about top Fifties fashion model, Barbara Mullen, and he has compiled an extraordinary list of celebrities, fashion models, fashion designers, film icons and aristocrats for his talk. From debutantes to Teddy Girls, and from Carnival Queens to couture stars, the lives of the women whose images shaped Britain’s beauty ideal in the 1950s, and continue to do so today, need to be better known to a wider audience.

The audience at Chelsea Library was, indeed, very much impressed by John-Michael’s captivating talk. Charming and witty he led us through this extraordinary alphabet of mid-century models, occasionally interrupted by loud sighs and comments from the engaged listeners, several of them having personal connections with the mentioned models.

In his article for The Observer, about Barbara Mullen, the misfit model of the 1950s, John-Michael wrote:

“The era’s other great models (sex bomb Suzy Parker, platinum blonde Sunny Harnett, long-limbed Dovima, all-American Jean Patchett, exquisite Evelyn Tripp) were always reliably, recognisably themselves. But Mullen was different – beanpole-tall, with slicked-back hair, startled eyes and a rosebud mouth. Her features, in front of a lens, somehow morphed, endlessly transforming her into somebody else.”

While I was gathering information for the talk, flicking through our collection of Vogues and Harper’s Bazaars  from the  1950s, I found it extremely difficult to find the names of those gorgeous models, yet, everything else was listed – from gowns, lipstick, jewellery, to location and the photographer’s name. That was the time before Twiggy, before Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Elle Macpherson, Claudia Schiffer or Kate Moss – before the times of superstars.

As John-Michael wrote:

“These days, most top models are social media stars in their own right and have the power to shape and share their stories themselves. But most of their predecessors died without ever being given the chance to share their experiences. Barbara Mullen, who turned ninety in 2017, is one of the few survivors of a remarkable era.”

Charming and modest Barbara told John-Michael that she and her friends were just ordinary girls – young, thin and extremely lucky. She was wondering why people today would be interested in their lives.

John-Michael has launched a campaign with publishing house, Unbound which is producing books by crowdfunding. He has been gathering the funds to print ‘The Replacement Girl’ Mullen’s first biography. I am sure that it will be fascinating to see that era “through the eyes of one of that pioneering generation’s last survivors”.

For more information on the fundraising campaign to publish Barbara’s story, visit: Unbound’s website

Zvezdana, Chelsea Library