Inspirational female authors: Sophie Mackintosh

Since International Women’s Day in March, we have been reviewing one book a month by an inspirational female author. For November I have chosen The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh. It is her first novel and it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year.

It is dystopian, but very different from anything else I have read in that genre. It doesn’t really explore the fictional world she has created, but instead it focuses on three sister’s stories. Grace, Lia and Sky are separated from the rest of the world by the sea. They rely on the rituals and rules of their parents to keep them safe from the danger of men and what lies across the water.

TheWaterCure

It is a book about isolation, suffering and sisterhood. I read it quickly, eager to know what would happen. There are moments of violence but the scariest part for me was the vague, hinted at horrors that men in the outside world are inflicting on women, which are never spelled out. Even when we hear from the women themselves, we just get glimpses of what they have endured. This seems to imply that their world might not be that different to our own.

It is a strange book, dreamy but violent and harsh. What I liked most was the intense atmosphere. I also liked the relationship between the three sisters. It feels honest and their love and hatred for one another is true to life, if slightly amplified by their strange existence. I think it’s the sort of book that will divide opinion, but I found it fresh and unique.

See you in December for our next (and last!) review of a book by an inspirational female author.

Philippa, Brompton Library

Man Booker prize challenge: Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

donotsayIt is 1991 in Canada and a young girl and her mother who are originally from China welcome into their home a family friend who has just fled Tiananmen Square and martial brutality of the army. The young woman begins to relate a series of stories to the young girl and a bond is formed almost instantly between them. The book takes us back to before the Cultural Revolution where two sisters carve out their own lives and families who later come to diverge and interplay on one another. As the rule of Mao Zedong and his dominance deepens across China it has varying consequences for all they are and who they love.

This is a grandly epic novel and it feels as if its written by someone who has spent years on it – it deserves to have been shortlisted. Each character in the story is perfectly drawn and the way that it starts out as a series of stories begin to coalesce into the history of a family. One reviewer mentioned that they were ordinary but as 3 of the main characters are superlative musicians and composers I would disagree!

There are 2 criticisms that I would level at it. Firstly, the later scenes in Tiananmen Square are very rushed and it did not feel as authentically written or matter as much as the earlier histories which the family occupied. Secondly, at nearly 500 pages it was not a large book but it could have had 50 pages edited out of it.

Overall, it’s a very affecting piece of work and is a powerful reminder about how one person’s or governments blind control can turn us into different people in order to survive. But what will survival actually turn out to be and what remains for those who have been left behind?

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

Rating: 7/10

Katie

Book Award round up

Sally Connew-Volpe, Triborough Stock Librarian, writes:

The Miniaturist by Jessie BurtonHave you seen our Book Awards page?

We’ve gathered all the contenders and winners of the UK’s most popular literary awards in one place! So if you’re keen to read a whole shortlist, want to know what all the fuss is about a particular winner, or are just looking for a great book to read – take a look. All our book lists link straight in to the library catalogue, so you can find out which libraries hold copies of the book you’re after and whether they’re available (you can reserve from here too).

The book awards we feature include the Man Booker, Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, the Specsavers National Book Award and many more!

Book Awards page - part of the RBKC library catalogue
Book Awards page – part of the RBKC library catalogue

Why not try The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (above) – winner of the 2014 Waterstones Book of the Year, winner of Book of the Year and Best New Writer in the 2014 Specsavers National Book Awards. This is a wonderful read set in 1686 Amsterdam. It follows eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman as she arrives from a small village to the Amsterdam household of merchant trader Johannes Brand, her new husband. A gripping story unfolds as she is given a cabinet by her husband containing an exact replica of their house.

The Paying Guests by Sarah WatersTake a look too through the excellent shortlist for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, including the latest book by Sarah Waters: The Paying Guests. The winner will be announced in just a couple of weeks!

Each time a new shortlist is announced, the lists are refreshed – but we are gradually building a ’round up’ list of past prizewinners, so you can always be sure to find some great quality reading.

Borrow one today!

 

The Brompton Blog – September 2013

Hello readers, welcome to the September edition of the Brompton Blog.

We have had great success over the summer with the children’s Reading Challenge and the ongoing craft and story-time sessions that have proved so popular with local families (almost double the amount of kids signed up compared to last year!).

This month the wonderful people at the Lancashire Family History Society had a free open day where members of the public were invited to learn about the organisation and get advice in tracing their own family history. The event proved to be successful with people returning to the library with their newly acquired knowledge and using our computers to log into the Ancestry website and start to delve into their own genealogies.

Resident literary connoisseur Katie Collis gives an insight into the monthly reading group book:

This month we read and discussed The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson. Set during the witch trials in 1612 (the most famous or infamous in English history) in Pendle, Northumbria – it is about a group of 13 folk who are set upon by the local magistrates and his posse, bent on accusations of witchcraft and sorcery. Riding to the defence of this ‘Sabbat’ is one Alice Nutter, beautiful and independent, who is determined to defend this group of unhappy folk.

The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson
The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson

This book really separated the group into severe likes and dislikes. I thought that it was a brave piece of writing and that Winterson had stepped out of her own comfort zone and tackled something which although has been written about many times, does not have much first-hand evidence of the accused. We do know that the central characters existed, but it feels like Winterson has really breathed life back into them and given the story her own slant, which some in our group thought maybe was a little OTT. Many felt that there was no flim-flam to the writing; it was pared down which in turn made it easy to read. However some could not get past the second chapter because they felt the beginning was slow and that some of the content was very graphic and gruesome in places!

New additions to our stock

Star Trek Into Darkness
Star Trek Into Darkness

We have some great new graphic novels in this month with titles including X-Men (Simon Spurrier), Locke and Key (Joe Hill) and the Invincible Iron Man (Matt Fraction) as well as new popular DVD titles Star Trek: Into Darkness and Olympus Has Fallen. Also we will be running taster sessions on the history of design; check in the library for more details.

Locke and Key graphic novel
Locke and Key graphic novel

by Christian Stevens

Christian Stevens
Christian Stevens

Man Booker Prize 2013 – The reading challenge!

It’s that time of the year again where I stretch the little grey cells and read all six short-listed books – the deadline this year is 15 October when the winner will be announced.

The shortlist has crept up on me and by gosh it is a truly international spread of countries: Canada, UK, Ireland, New Zealand and for the first time, an author from Zimbabwe. They are:

We Need New Names (NoViolet Bulawayo)

  • The Luminaries (Eleanor Catton)
  • Harvest (Jim Crace)
  • The Lowland (Jhumpa Lahiri)
  • A Tale for the Time Being (Ruth Ozeki)
  • The Testament of Mary (Colm Toibin)

Hailed as ‘the most diverse in recent memory’ (Robert McFarlane, Chair of Booker Prize panel this year), it’s exciting that there are only 2 names that I have come across before and 6 new authors to read!

Will keep you posted!

by Katie Collis

Katie Collis
Katie Collis

CelebrateMyLibrary event Part 2

Celebrate My library
Celebrate My library

Last month I wrote about the first part of CelebrateMyLibrary’s Creepy House story-writing workshop when a group of children created a story collaboratively, each wrote their own endings and made wonderful craft models to illustrate their story. We were then kept on tenterhooks all summer before seeing the story in all its glory in book form. On 7 September the waiting was over and we all met up again at Brompton for “the great reveal”.

Hilary and Victoria read the book to the kids who wrote it
Hilary and Victoria read the book to the kids who wrote it

Parents were told to go away for an hour while Hilary and Victoria showed the book to the children first and read the book back to them. At the previous workshop the story had been drafted but this was the first time the children could read it through from beginning to end. They then got to work on making costumes so they could act out the story to their parents whilst one of them would read it out.

Making costumes
Making costumes

Finally the parents were allowed back into the room and the play began! We were treated to a scary bat, Fluffy the cat, a monstrous whale and even a creepy house.

Scenes from the play 1
Scenes from the play 1
Scenes from the play 2
Scenes from the play 2

The parents were bowled over by what their children had achieved, not just that afternoon creating the costumes and remembering their parts in the play but with the book as well. All the children’s names were included as authors and all their separate endings were printed.

Here is a sample of the book. The wonderful graphic designer had photographed their models and incorporated them into the illustrations of the story.

Pages from the Creepy Library book
Pages from the Creepy Library book

At Brompton we have a display copy which is well worth a look. The production values are high, the colours grab your attention and the overall design and content is just fantastic. As a workshop for kids I totally recommend CelebrateMyLibrary as they tap into so many creative outlets and the kids just love it!

Q & A Session with 2012 Booker Prize winner – Hilary Mantel

The Man Booker Prize logo
The Man Booker Prize logo

On Thursday night (18th October) I attended a question and answer session with this year’s Booker Prize winner, Hilary Mantel for her book Bring Up The Bodies. Hosted by the delectable Mariella Frostrup, there was a really funny moment (in the beginning) when the introducer stumbled over her name 3 times which she found very amusing.

This week, Hilary Mantel won the Booker Prize for the second time, but more remarkably won it for parts 1 and 2 of her trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell, the right hand man of Henry VIII. She is also the only woman and the first British person to win it twice.

Bring Up the Bodies
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Mariella started by saying that in Mantel’s acceptance speech back in 2009 that she would spend her winnings on ‘sex and drugs and rock n’ roll’ to which Hilary said that she paid off her mortgage instead, saying that was just a line for the media. She said that on Tuesday’s award ceremony this week her heart was thumping nineteen to the dozen. She appreciated the fact that the head judge did not do an X-Factor style 20 seconds pause but just launched into who the winner was. She was utterly overwhelmed about winning and she felt overjoyed.

Mantel also touched on how the judges went about longlisting and shortlisting, as she herself has been a judge she could give an accurate account about how daunting the whole process was. She gave praise to this year’s judging panel, in the past they had nearly always voted by a show of hands, but apparently they all reached a consensus which she felt was very mature. Mariella asked her that now she has won twice did it give her confidence to write the next part of the trilogy? Mantel said not really, at the end of the day a blank page is a great equalizer, however she felt as a result of these awards that she had faith in her characters, which was a great starting block.

Throughout the Q&A, Hilary read some excerpts from Bring Up The Bodies which was really entertaining, she brought the text alive and her different voices for each character made it feel like a play. She also engaged with the audience; she tried to answer the questions whilst including everyone in her replies.

There were some really great questions from the audience, such as: do you have the third book in the trilogy all mapped out? Her answer was that it has virtually all been plotted out, but the story needs to be put in. A follow-up question: did the author go off in unexpected directions with any of her books? She said that she did, and the books turned out especially different from one another i.e. Wolf Hall is based over a number of years and even goes back to England at the very beginning of its history, whereas Bring Up The Bodies is set over a period of 9 months of Thomas Cromwell’s life, where Henry VIII is growing tired of Anne Boleyn as she is failing to deliver him an heir.

Mariella Frostrup
Mariella Frostrup

Mariella ended the session by asking Mantel about the final part of the trilogy, adding we all know the inevitability of Thomas Cromwell’s fate. Mantel’s big reveal – duh duh duhh, was that the third book will not be the fall and decline of Thomas Cromwell, but the rise and rise of Thomas Cromwell, to which Mariella joked that she was writing a fourth book! Mantel is adamant that it will be a trilogy but you get the impression that she is half in love with this man; she did say that she has been with this great man for one decade, although with her husband for four decades.

Best wishes Katie

Katie Collis
Katie Collis