2016 in Books | November

In November I read 2 books. Not exceptional, but not bad. One was a short Japanese novel called The Guest Cat, and the other a strange find, all about myths and magical happenings in Northumberland throughout history! Dwarves, fairies and vampires have all trod the same ground I have supposedly…

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide ★★☆

guest-cat-coverOn paper, this is exactly the kind of book I’d like. It’s about a cat, it’s Japanese fiction, it’s set in Tokyo…unfortunately, The Guest Cat disappointed me. It is about a couple who are both writers, and is mainly concerned with their fascination with the neighbouring cat which comes to visit their house and garden every day. The couple’s relationship seemed lacklustre (maybe that’s the point?) and there was a sense of boredom and ennui throughout the novel. For me, this wasn’t conveyed poignantly enough. It was slow-paced and slightly melancholy, but I just couldn’t sympathise with the characters. I kept waiting for a twist, or a point where the plot picked up, which never really came.

It took me a long time to read this book, despite it only being 136 pages. Hiraide’s prose is beautiful and very descriptive, but sometimes too much; I tended to zone out when there were long paragraphs describing sections of the garden in detail.

Whilst I love cats, there is only so interesting a story about a cat can be.

Myth and Magic of Northumbria by J.W. Thompson ★★☆

I found this book in Barter Books (a gigantic second hand bookshop made from a converted train station in Alnwick, Northumberland!) It is somewhere between a history book (uses a lot of full names and dates) and fiction (mythical folklore) and perhaps would have been better if it erred to the side of fantasy and became more fictional I think.

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The Simonside Hills

However, some of the stories are nice; it’s really cool hearing mythology about specific places you’ve grown up with and set foot on! I especially liked one story about the dwarves of Simonside in the Cheviot Hills.

Another gem was Vampires of the Border, set in Berwick; I’d spent a week there in September volunteering for the film and media arts festival and visited historical sites all over the town, so reading about a supposed vampire which ran around terrorising Berwick at night in the 1300s was hilarious!

It is quite a basic book, obviously low budget and catered to a local audience, and could be written better, but it was a nice thing to pick up, and I’m glad it exists. I didn’t know there were so many fantastical stories about the North East of England!

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2016 in Books | October

I only managed to finish one book in October. My final year of university is in full swing and it’s been hard to find time. According to Goodreads I am 70% of the way through my goal of 30 books at this point — I need to read 9 more before New Year to achieve it! Better get reading.

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Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson ★★★★☆

Lighthousekeeping is about a young girl who becomes orphaned in a climbing accident, and goes to be an apprentice of the blind lighthouse keeper in her coastal village. But, in a typical Jeanette Winterson style, it also has a few more narratives woven into this, about ancestors and the history of the village.

loved the setting of this book – cliffs and a stormy lighthouse on the coast of Scotland is an ideal setting. This isn’t the first book I’ve read by Winterson and I always like the way she describes things like food and light. “We ate sausages and darkness” is one line about life in the lighthouse. Everything is considered and appreciated in her prose.

The continuous narrative of existence is a lie. There is no continuous narrative, there are lit-up moments, and the rest is dark.

Lighthousekeeping is also very much about storytelling, the connectedness of everything in the world, and the intersections of all the stories. The importance of writing down or telling aloud stories, otherwise they are lost to the void. When you share a story, you give it life, because it now exists in another person.

Nothing can be forgotten. Nothing can be lost. The universe itself is one vast memory system. Look back and you will find the beginnings of the world.

One thing I lament is that the cover of this book had so much potential, and the version I have is so wrong for it. I don’t see how it correlates with the plot or themes in any way – it makes it look like generic ‘chick-lit’ when really it is beautiful and highly original prose?! It could have been a dark and moody picture of the lighthouse, maybe a linocut print, or of the cliffs, Pew in his boat, or visual interpretation of all the stories woven together. Anything! But not that rosy neo-impressionist boring cover! Maybe this should be my task before the end of the year – design a new cover for Lighthousekeeping.