Secrets and Lies

This month’s display from our Special Collection of Biographies at Kensington Central Library focuses on secrets and deceptions.  This is a rich subject for memoir, with many fascinating stories of people discovering family secrets that have been hidden for decades.  Sometimes the exposure of a secret takes long, painstaking excavation; sometimes a split second’s revelation overturns everything an individual thought they knew about their background or those closest to them.  Some secrets are never suspected until they are revealed; others resonate through suspicions and inconsistencies and sometimes pure gut feelings, until those concerned determine to find the truth.  

   Of course, there are fascinating stories of secrecy relating to warfare, diplomacy and the machinations of the State.  Espionage and covert surveillance could be the subject of a whole display in themselves, so I am not focussing on them in this one; neither am I going to look particularly at criminal conspiracies, or at the terrible stories of people having to hide their sexual orientation due to the persecutory laws of previous times, or at the false identities forced upon people by war and tyranny. Instead I am focussing on the secrets and lies played out within families; although these may touch on huge historical themes, the reasons for secrecy are connected to intimate and domestic relationships. 

   Some people’s whole personal lives seem to be secrets they wish to guard from the world.  This has often been true of the super-rich of twentieth century America, whose birth into situations that could never be “normal” has sometimes made them seek privacy to a pathological degree. If you are one of the richest women in the world, as the copper mining and railway heiress Huguette Clark was, your relationships with other people must inevitably be complicated. Clark progressively disappeared into a world almost no one could penetrate – apart from her personal nurse of 20 years, to whom she left over thirty million dollars in her will when she died in 2011 aged 104, triggering a legal battle involving several members of her family.  Doris Duke‘s billions came from the family tobacco and hydroelectric industries – she became literally the richest woman in the world upon her father’s death in 1925.  She stage-managed her life in a more sociable way than Clark, but her world was so full of strange unreliable characters that it is difficult to say what reality they could agree on. 

   For some people, deception becomes a lucrative career move.  As spiritualism and the investigation of psychic phenomena gained huge popularity in the late Victorian period, attracting the attention of serious scientists and philosophers, a host of fake mediums and illusionist fraudsters sprang up.  Ada Goodrich Freer was one of these, convincing many eminent intellectuals of her completely bogus psychic powers – her rise and fall is described in The Strange Story of Ada Goodrich Freer by Trevor Hall.  By the same author, The Strange Case of Edmund Gurney is a truly tragic one – so devoted was Gurney to the scientific study of the psychic phenomena in which he passionately believed, that he suspended disbelief of cynical tricksters not dissimilar to Freer, in ways that led to his complete humiliation, despair and death in 1888. 

   Sometimes parents hide secrets from their children and try to erase all clues, but like the spindle in the story of The Sleeping Beauty, some echo of the past will always be overlooked – sometimes in such plain sight that one wonders about subconscious motivations.  As a teenager, the eminent film critic Derek Malcolm chanced upon a book belonging to his father, which detailed the histories of important criminal cases. He was astonished to find his father’s name listed in the index, and further disturbed to find that all the pages relating to him had been torn out.  His memoir Family Secretsis a moving account of his efforts to piece together the buried story of his parents’ involvement in a violent drama which made legal history before he was born.  Diana Petre was the half sister of the distinguished writer and editor J. R. Ackerley – her unputdownable memoir The Secret Orchard of Roger Ackerley describes growing up as part of the secret, unofficial family their respectable father created outside his marriage, an experience which left her with a lifelong obsession with secrecy and duality. 

   Julie Metz‘s life was shattered when her husband died suddenly in his forties, swinging a wrecking ball through what had been an idyllic family life complete with seemingly happy marriage, beloved daughter, affluent lifestyle and beautiful home.  After negotiating her first six months of agonising grief, Metz’s sense of loss was complicated, to put it mildly, by the discovery that her husband had at no time during their marriage been faithful to her, but had managed to conceal a series of long and sometimes concurrent affairs, in some cases with women she knew.  Her book Perfection is a beautifully written record of a journey through deepening levels of loss – the loss of an adored husband, and the loss of the sense she had had of who he actually was. 

   Some secrets require a particular kind of courage and honesty to uncover.  In the last couple of decades, as the children of Nazis pass into old age and confront last chances for confronting the past, and their grandchildren come of age, some have sought to find out the true extent of their forebears’ guilt with enormous courage.  It’s hard to imagine a more traumatic discovery about her family’s past, or a more shocking way to discover it, than the experience of Jennifer Teege.  Browsing in a library on an ordinary day, Teege found out for the first time that her maternal grandfather was none other than the concentration camp commandant Amon Goeth (played by Ralph Fiennes in the film Schindler’s List).  Plunged understandably into deep depression, Teege soon realised that she could not move forward without plunging herself into all the implications of this terrible, hitherto unsuspected truth.  She began to make sense of trails of emotional damage in her family, and writes brilliantly about the pain of confronting the fact that, as the daughter of an Austrian mother and a Nigerian father, as she states baldly in the title of her book, “My Grandfather would have Shot Me“.   Uwe Timm was a small boy when his older brother volunteered for the Waffen SS and was killed at the age of 19.  As an adult Timm read fragments of his brother’s diary and was haunted by the question of the extent of his involvement in atrocities.  The resulting memoir In My Brother’s Shadow is a moving example of the work of coming to terms with the scars of the past. 

   These are just some of the many books in our Special Collection of Biographies which tell the stories of secrets discovered and negotiated, and if you visit Kensington Central Library you can see many more as part of this display.  Of course there is always something compelling about the dramas and mysteries of other people’s lives, but reading about very different secrets and how they relate to different situations and impulses is not just riveting – it can also tell us some profound things about how human beings construct and communicate their identities, and at what cost. 

Claudia Jessop, Kensington Central Library 

Don’t forget to check out BioEpic, our monthly podcast delving into the lives of fascinating people and their impact on our world, through our Special Collection of Biographies. Available on Anchor, Spotify, Apple, Breaker and Pocketcasts. 

Books we love…

Marcovaldo, by Italo Calvino

Book cover of ‘Marcovaldo’ by Italo Calvino

As it’s Plastic-Free July, our book review blog will be the title ‘Marcovaldo’ by Italo Calvino.

This week, Richard from Brompton Library will be reviewing Marcovaldo, by Italo Calvino. Marcovaldo is a collection of Italian stories talking about the beauty and the ugliness of both the countryside and the city.

Over to Richard to tell us more!

“If you’ve ever seen the film, Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot, you might recognise a similar lyrical style that is both poetic and comical in Marcovaldo. The character of the title is an Italian redneck labourer from the provinces with a love of nature, who moves to a large northern industrial city with his family.

The book comprises a collection of stories/chapters that follow this family through the seasons of the year. In the Forest on the superhighway for example, the family go in search of firewood, only to find billboards on the edge of the city; in the night, the short-sighted highway police officer confuses snatches of the family sawing through the panels with the billboard images and assumes they are part of the advertisements. Another story captures Marcovaldo’s reaction to the city transformed by winter snow.2

If you want to try out this unique and compelling read, pick up Marcovaldo today from one of our branches or via ebook –

https://trib.ent.sirsidynix.net.uk/client/en_GB/rbkc/search/results?qu=Marcovaldo&te=

Plastic Free July logo

Books we love…

This month is Plastic Free July, helping to promote the need towards eradicating plastic pollution so that we can have cleaner streets, oceans and beautiful communities.

To mark this important occasion, Montse from Victoria Library will be reviewing ‘This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, which won the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize in 2014, Canada’s most prestigious award for non-fiction!

Over to Montse!

‘This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. by Naomi Klein

At the question of: Is it possible to have a green Capitalism? Naomi Klein has a clear answer, and it’s a resounding NO. Klein disguised the myth of capitalism and urges us to rethink our economic and political system. This is an important book that position the debate in the right angle: Earth against capitalism.

We cannot longer deny the disastrous consequences that the depletion of our planet has brought us; droughts, torrential rains, virus, raising see levels, desertification, storms, fires and so on, the list is innumerable. Klein faced us with the biggest threat that humanity has ever experienced: our own survival as species.

This changes everything is a vast book of 572 pages, Klein invites to re-think the economic system that support the current political strategies in relationship to the planet resources and is leading us to disaster: “our economic system and our planetary system are now at war”, it’s time to take your side.

‘This Changes Everything’ can be borrowed from our catalogue in multiple formats including ebook, e-audiobook, and in hard/paper copies too. Click this link to find out more –

https://trib.ent.sirsidynix.net.uk/client/en_GB/rbkc/search/results?qu=this+changes+everything&te=

Have you read the title? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Review of the Week- The Hay Festival 2021.

Michaela from Church Street Library has given us her review of this year’s Hay Festival. The Hay Festival is one of the biggest annual literary events of the calendar, including a mixture of musical performances and film reviews.

Over to Michaela to read what she thinks of the festival so far…

I have recently enjoyed listening to many authors talk about their books, writing and awards from the Hay Festival.

“The Hay Festival runs from 26th May to 6th June with many events happening throughout day, with activities, talks catered to adult fiction, junior fiction, teen fiction as well award winning to non-fiction titles.

It is a great chance to listen to authors and ask questions. I joined my first event on Monday night to hear Monique Roffey – the 2021 Costa Prize Award winner – talk about her book “The Mermaid of Black Conch”, and she answered my question live!!!!

Monique talked about how she crowdfunded to get her book into print via an independent publisher and fast forward to January, she won a major literary an award. Well done to Monique.

I have also listened to the YA writer Alice Oseman talk about her prize-winning novel “Loveless” which especially during Pride, was a worthy winner. Alice also talked about her comic strip writing of “Heartstopper” series which she loved writing, but it took such a lengthy time. It was great to hear how many young people commented on the Heartstopper series.

Lastly, I listened to Benjamin Zephaniah talking about his latest book “Windrush child “. Set from a child’s perspective, it was great listening to it being read with an older voice, as Benjamin admits with his dyslexia, he gets tongue tied when reading out loud. With Windrush day this month this is certainly a book I want to read. All around he was a delight to listen to.

Many other authors coming up include: Floella Benjamin, Gareth Nix, Sarah Winman and Chris Packham.

This festival has been a must for book lovers, video clips will be available later. 😊”

All books mentioned during throughout the Hay Festival are available to borrow for free from our catalogue – https://trib.ent.sirsidynix.net.uk/client/en_GB/rbkc/

Books we love…Twilight Franchise

Over to Zvezdana from Chelsea Library for a review on a love story with a bite!

The love story with a bite: ‘Twilight’ – books and films!

Fifteen years ago, the first ‘Twilight’ book was published, followed by ‘New Moon’, ‘Eclipse’ and ‘Breaking Dawn’, telling a story of Romeo and Juliet with a vampiric twist.  Since its release ‘Twilight’ was sold over 165 million copies (numbers from 2020).

In 2015 Meyer published ‘Twilight Reimagined: Life and Death’. The story is a gender-swapped retelling of the first book, and she introduced Beau Swan and Edythe Cullen in place of Bella and Edward. The ending is different, as Meyer decided to give full closure to the story, avoiding any chance of sequels.

Last year ‘Twilight’ fans finally got long-time-promised book – ‘Midnight Sun’ -‘Twilight’ retold from Edward Cullen’s point of view. When the story was famously leaked in 2008, the project was paused for twelve years. 

What is the ‘Twilight’ story about?

The main character, seventeen-year-old Bella Swan, decided to stay for a while with her father in order not to be a burden to her happily newly remarried mother.  So, she is swapping sunny Phoenix for Forks, a small and constantly rainy town in Washington State. Naturally, the landscape looked completely different- Forks is “too green”, lush, mysterious, like in fairy tales. Anything is possible.

The story is told from Bella’s point of view. A pretty and shy, geeky, book-wormish type; self-conscious and timid; pale, slender but not sporty, “lacking the necessary hand-eye coordination to play sports without humiliating” herself; Bella did not fit in anywhere. So, she was more than anxious on her first day in the local high school. Surprisingly, many people – boys and girls – noticed her and she found this new situation quite intimidating.  

The focus of her attention was a group of five “devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful” boys and girls, the Cullen family, who kept to themselves. From the first moment Bella saw Edward Cullen, pale bronze-haired boy, in the school cafeteria, she fell in love with him. Her life thrillingly and dangerously swirled casting a spell on her (and the readers). The Cullens were vampires and Edward managed up to now, to keep his vampire identity secret. For him it was the first time in his mortal and immortal life that he fell in love with somebody.

Suddenly, we are following deeply romantic and extraordinary suspenseful story of two lovers who should not be together, whose love is wrong, forbidden, yet, they cannot imagine the life without the other one.

I cannot say that I was convinced by the idea of retelling the same story, yet, again. It sounded like KS2 writing task, something that Meyer’s assistants could easily supply. Suspicious, I gave it a chance, bought the book, read it and – I liked it. It I interesting to see how Bella and Edward are similar. From her perspective he is like dazzling god who does everything perfectly, while she questions her worthiness constantly. On the other hand, Edward is horrified that because of his selfish need not to lose Bella, he does not have the strength to leave her and let her have normal, human life. She deserves much more.

Edward Cullen and Bella Swan – Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart – in ‘Twilight’ (2008)

This is what the publisher, Little, Brown and Company, wrote about this book:

“When Edward Cullen and Bella Swan met in Twilight, an iconic love story was born. But until now, fans have heard only Bella’s side of the story. At last, readers can experience Edward’s version in the long-awaited companion novel, Midnight Sun.

This unforgettable tale as told through Edward’s eyes takes on a new and decidedly dark twist. Meeting Bella is both the most unnerving and intriguing event he has experienced in all his years as a vampire. As we learn more fascinating details about Edward’s past and the complexity of his inner thoughts, we understand why this is the defining struggle of his life. How can he justify following his heart if it means leading Bella into danger?

In Midnight Sun, Stephenie Meyer transports us back to a world that has captivated millions of readers and brings us an epic novel about the profound pleasures and devastating consequences of immortal love.”

https://www.lbyr.com/titles/stephenie-meyer/midnight-sun/9780316707046/

‘Twilight’ movies, from Summit Entertainment, became even bigger hit than books. From ‘Twilight’ in 2008 to ‘The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2’, in 2012, the films were fantastically successful. (Budget for five films was around  $401 million; Box Office – around $3.346 billion)!  

Check Stephenie Meyer’s official website for information on books and films. The Movies – Stephenie Meyer

Personally, the first film, directed by Catherine Hardwicke is the best. It closely follows the book. The critical scene when Edward saved Bella’s life and stopped the van, is even better, more plausible, in film than how it was presented in the book.


Images are stills from Twilight

The crucial point was the perfect casting of Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen. More than 5,000 boys auditioned for the role. Thanks to his portrait of Cedric Diggory in ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’, Pattinson was in a very good position to get the role.

Robert Pattinson in “Twilight.” Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

“There are very few actors who can look both dangerous and beautiful at the same time, and even fewer who I can picture in my head as Edward,” Meyer wrote. Although she previously said that Henry Cavill was “the only actor”, she had ever seen, “who could come close to pulling off Edward Cullen”, she was “ecstatic” with the studio’s decision to cast Robert Pattinson. That role made him a global superstar.

 ‘Twilight’ is not the only 2000s novel franchise getting a 2020 restart. Prequels and sequels are very popular, from ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Batman’ to ‘Hunger Games’.

Both, Stewart and Pattinson moved from Twilight saga and have successful careers, but in readers’ and viewers’ eyes they will always be the embodiment of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, similarly, as Colin Firth will always be Mr Darcy regardless how many film awards he may win.

If you would like to borrow books or films from the Twilight franchise or other works by Stephenie Meyer, have a look at our catalogue!

Books we love…

The Novel ‘The Evening and the Morning’ has been nominated for British Book of the Year 2021, one of our customers has kindly provided a review of the book.

Check out our blog to read Ben’s review…

‘Ken Follett is once again on fine form in this prequel to “Pillars of the Earth” part of his Kingsbridge Series. It is 997 ,The world is a violent place were power rules.

A Viking raid in South West England forces Edgar and his family to relocate to Hamlet Deng’s Ferry. Edgar discovers he has a talent for building things, the plot centre’s around him and his friendship with a Norman noble woman Ragna (who is locked in a loveless marriage with the local Lord Wilf ), a priest Aldred and their dealings with Wilf’s brother, a scheming and ruthless bishop, Wynstan.

Follett meticulously researches his books, for example in his previous novel – Pillars of the Earth – he spent two days or more in each Cathedral whilst researching it.

The story in “The Evening and the Morning” takes place over ten years. It does not reach the standard of “Pillars of the Earth” which takes place over decades. It is however a page turner and one can identify with the main characters. The seeds and structure that readers love of the later books in the series are set out in this book. The book also works as a standalone novel.

I would give it 3.5/5’

Have you read ‘The Evening and the Morning’, let us know what you thought down below…

Follett’s novel is also available to borrow from our catalogue –

Books we love…

Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo reviewed by Anton from Victoria Library!

Book cover of Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo

Pedro Páramo is a short book (less than 150 pages), but it is a very important book.  

Published in 1955 it is a precursor of the “magic realism” movement so important in latin-american literature and is cited as an important influence by authors such as García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes or Jorge Luis Borges. The author, Juan Rulfo is admired by writers all around the world, from Susan Sontag or Günter Grass to Gao Xingjian or Kenzaburo Oe. 

In the beginning of the book we follow Juan Preciado, who promises her mother on her deathbed to travel back to her childhood town of Comala and look for his father (“Pedro Páramo” hence the title).  

Comala is a kind of purgatory, a place where the present and the past mix, the people that we meet there are mostly ghosts from the past of the town when it was a lively place and not the dusty desert that it has become. Through their voices we hear the story of Pedro Páramo, or Don Pedro as he was known at the time. He was a successful landowner who would always get what he wanted through money, intimidation or violence. But he was also an unhappy man, unable to have enjoyment or connect with others. We find that he had one true love in his life, Susana San Juan, which was his childhood sweetheart but then moved away from Comala. When Susana returns to the town as a widow Pedro is determined to “get her” one way or another…spoiler ahead…it doesn’t end well. 

Rulfo’s prose is mostly straightforward but this is a complex work; the fragmentary perspective defines the book, going from first person to third person, from the present to the past. The story becomes complicated with many voices interrupting the main narrative to tell their little own tales. It’s a book about hopes and dreams, death and redemption. 

There aren’t many books quite like this: a really small work but with a large lasting impact in literature throughout the world. 

If you would like to borrow a copy from our libraries, use our catalogue to make a reservation:

https://trib.ent.sirsidynix.net.uk/client/en_GB/rbkc/?

You can also visit one of our branches (which are currently operating with a reduced service).

Books we love…

This week Michaela from Church Street Library is reviewing The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Over to Michaela… 

The Pulitzer prize winning novel of 2020 set in the 1960’s tells the story of Elwood living in Florida with his grandmother.  Elwood’s parent had up and left one night leaving her to raise him on her own. Elwood was a very naïve young man who after listening to the recording of Martin Luther King Jr took his words to heart.  Working hard from a young age all this was about to change. 

 About to enrol in college and having been an exemplary pupil, one error on his part has forced him to end up inside the Nickel Academy for boys.  Here is freedom is taken away from him and he forced to see how the boys are segregated according to their colour and how there is little respect for the boys. 

His friendship with Turner is something that the book evolves around and both boys make a life changing decision which will change their lives. 

A rich vibrant book that makes you sit back and realise in many places’ life has not changed.   

A worthy read and well written.  

This book is available to borrow from a number of library branches https://trib.ent.sirsidynix.net.uk/client/en_GB/rbkc/search/results?qu=the+Nickel&te= . All you need is your Kensington and Chelsea library card. 

Not a member?  No problem.  It’s quick and easy to join here https://trib.ent.sirsidynix.net.uk/client/en_GB/rbkc/search/registration/$N/ILSWS_DEFAULT/true.  

Books we love…

In our continual commemoration of LGBT+ History Month, Fiona from Brompton Library is reviewing Real Life by Brandon Taylor… 

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

Over to Fiona… 

This novel is set on a university campus and the story of Wallace, a young, black man studying on scholarship.  Set over a few days, what happens proves to be pivotal for Wallace.  The novel includes elements typical of classic, campus novels such as Catcher in the Rye, including coming of age, friendship, loneliness and isolation, and growing up.  While it has these very classic elements, it is also very subjective and specific to the central character’s experience.  We get to understand what it’s like for a young, gay, working-class, black male to be in the world now – we get to see the world through Wallace’s eyes. 

It’s a very readable novel, engaging and emotionally raw which looks at issues, such as racism, in the eye. Taylor paints each scene carefully, and at the same time, the writing has an intensity and an energy not unlike the calm before a storm and I read it in a couple of sittings.

It is both classic and current – students who spend every hour they can get studying and striving to succeed seems very of today.  At times very painful, and sometimes ironic, with an ambiguous ending that leaves us wondering about Wallace’s future, it’s a powerful novel that packs a punch or two. 

This book is available in our library using our Select and Collect service!

You can also borrow an e-copy from our Cloud Library here: https://ebook.yourcloudlibrary.com/library/RBKCL-document_id-1bc8oz9 ,all you need is your RBKC library card. 

Not a member?  No problem!  It’s quick and easy to join, register online here: https://trib.ent.sirsidynix.net.uk/client/en_GB/rbkc/search/registration/$N/ILSWS_DEFAULT/true

Books we love…

This week, Sara will be reviewing Bridget Collins’ 2018 novel- The Binding. A tender and delicate tale covering LGBTQ+ issues throughout history as well as touching upon the supernatural…. 

Over to Sara to tell us more! 

The Binding, by Bridget Collins

I saw this book in the windows of Waterstones in Victoria Street and was captivated by its beautiful book cover. After reading the short review beside it, I knew I had to read it.  

Well, fellow bookworms, kick off your shoes, get luxuriously comfortable, pour yourself a drink and immerse yourself in a wonderful tale of imagination, history and love! 

The Binding is told in the first person and follows the main character, Emmett Farmer. Apprenticed to a book binder in a world where books are forbidden, Emmett discovers that memories have been sealed away within the pages of books. This enables people to forget what they have done or what has happened in their pasts. Struggling with the moral implications of this, The Binding follows Emmett’s journey in this magical and imaginative tale. 

I don’t want to tell you much more because you need to enjoy it for yourself. The characters in the book are strong and well rounded, and a love story is at the heart of its core. 

If Sara’s 5* review has you convinced, pick up The Binding today at one of our branches. For a full list of our locations and opening times, please click here 

https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/libraries/your-library/library-opening-times

You can also download this book free today on cloud library by following the link here 

https://ebook.yourcloudlibrary.com/library/RBKCL-document_id-sxkfcg9