Hello booklovers! In this April edition of A Blogging Good Read I'm joined by two awesome ladies: Gemma from Fat Frocks and Emma from Miss Pond. They both love a good book, so what did they choose to read this month?
Up first is Emma's selection, Touching The Void by Joe Simpson:
I'm going through a nosey phase, enjoying real life stories or at least those based on real events. Being a keen hiker (I'd love to be a mountaineer but I neither have the time or dedication to be one) this book instantly appealed. I knew the rough outline of the story, even though I haven't seen the film, as my dad and I have talked about it, especially when I started expressing an interest in ice, snow and steep mountains. This would be my education. Although I have to say that actually walking in winter cannot be taught by a book…
Anyway I digress. Touching the Void is a story of adventure turned disaster, followed by sheer survival. This is the story of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates somewhat successful attempt of Siula Grande in the Andes. Simpson's detailing of the successful attempt is fascinating, every step, every mistake and every ice screw put into the wall is beautifully described (maybe not the broken leg…). This makes the whole anticipation of Simpson's fall all the more real. With a dangerous but successful summit, Simpson slips at the last hurdle and Yates is left with a life changing decision. Do they both die as Simpson hangs 6ft away from the wall and Yates is too frost bitten to save him or does he cut the rope so Simpson will fall to an inevitable death? The rope is cut, but little did he know about the crevasse at the bottom of the fall. I won't spoil it all, but Simpson's account of the rest of the story is brutal, you find yourself willing him back to the base camp with every turn of the page. I loved the book and I read it all in a few hours, although if you're squeamish I would skip the accident detailing, it's a bit grim.
What did Gemma think of it?
These types of stories generally annoy me. Very well off people decided to go sailing around the world or climb mountain and get stuck, the fools think it’s going to be jolly good fun and it goes wrong. I love autobiographical stories but tend to prefer reading about women in politics or my favourite musicians. I knew I would never love this book but it was a good read anyway. The book is an extraordinary tale of human choice, will, and survival and even though I think they were silly for attempting such an insane climb when they weren’t really elite mountaineers. There is plenty of action and tension to keep you gripped and you wonder what you would have done in Simon’s situation who saved himself at his partner's expense.
As a blizzard raged, Simon began to lower his friend to safety, but the rope jammed and he was forced to cut the rope, moments before he would have been pulled to his own death. Yates, certain that Joe was dead, was able to successfully return to their base camp. Joe had survived the fall but had a broken leg and was trapped in a deep crevasse. His description of his escape from the crevasse is an astounding feat of will power which didn’t fail to impress me. I think I just couldn’t relate to anyone in this book. I would never push myself in that way. I have climbed some peaks but anything that extreme would never appeal to me. I would much prefer to be at home with a cup of tea and a good book.
I am totally with Gemma on that point! I started off this book thinking "they're mad" and it didn't do a thing to change my mind. There's not a single part of my brain that understands how and why people want to go and risk their life and limb on a freezing cold mountain in such a way. I admire Simpson and Yates for their tenacity and bravery but I don't understand them.
This book isn't overly laden with technicalities and Simpson does manage to unveil his story in a highly compelling and readable way but the nagging feeling remains with me that I can't really get this book. Perhaps that's just me and my lack of visualisation. The sense of urgency and peril still definitely leap off the page but if you're not a mountaineer and you don't understand all the terminology, can you truly understand just how much was at stake here? Having said that, I definitely enjoyed reading this. Mountaineers are still bonkers though.
My choice was Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones:
I adore this author's ability to weave mythology and folklore into her stories. She's probably best known for her more obviously fantasy titles such as Howl's Moving Castle and the Chrestomanci series but Fire and Hemlock is one that's more grounded in reality. Ish... It's based around the ballad of Tam Lin which wasn't something I was familiar with when I first read this book at the age of 10 and still isn't something I've ever got round to reading. That doesn't matter though - it's not the sort of book and she's not the sort of author where things are dolloped out and retold in a straightforward manner. This story is mysterious and compelling and strangely grown up in tone for what is supposedly a children's book.
It starts with Polly emptying out her old bedroom. A mysterious photograph stirs up a forgotten set of memories from her childhood and then the reader is whirled along with Polly into a retelling of these memories. A man named Tom Lynn meets Polly when she is ten and their friendship continues over the next few years, largely based around letters and the shared task of telling the stories of their alter egos, Tan Coul and his assistant. How did all of Polly's memories of Tom and their vivid friendship vanish so completely? Read it to find out: I'm not spoiling it for you! I'm not going to explain the resolution of it either. I do enjoy a book where you can interpret your own ending.
What did Emma think of it?
When I read the description of this book I was a bit skeptical. It's not my usual choice, but I embraced it and got reading. I found the story a bit hard to keep up with at the start, switching between young Polly and older Polly, but I soon got into it. I found myself sucked into Polly's world and Polly's pretend world forged with Mr Lynn. This book is definitely one to read, it's complexities make it hard to discuss in a paragraph! I loved it, but like many others it would seem, I have been left in a confused state by the ending.
How about Gemma?
The only knowledge I had about Diana Wynne Jones before reading this book is that she wrote fantasy books and wrote Howl’s Moving Castle. I love fantasy and knew nothing about this book before reading it so I went into it with an open mind. The first half was a little sluggish - it was nearly 200 pages of backstory. It’s a slightly odd story because a 9 year old gate crashes a funeral and meets a man there called Tom Lynn, together they come up with an imaginary story and make up quirky details about their characters and their story eventually parallels reality.
It took a long time for these stories to come to fruition and I nearly gave up due to a lack of action. Despite the slightly dull start I liked Polly who reminded me of myself a little, a bit stubborn and loved to make up stories when she was a child. I tended to forget that Polly was reliving "forgotten" memories as she is packing for a second year of college. I wanted more explanation of the lost years of Polly’s life where she doesn’t remember her friendship with Tom.
After reading the book I discovered it was a re-telling of Tam Lin, I had no knowledge of this old ballad. In a way, the story is more about Polly's coming of age than it is about retelling the ballad of Tam Lin. I had a difficult time really understanding what is going on at the ending as I wasn’t familiar with the ballad and after such a slow start the ending seemed rushed. I enjoyed seeing Polly grow into a confident young woman and her friendship with Tom was touching but I don’t know if I would recommend this to a friend or someone who isn’t fond of fantasy.
Gemma's choice was The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer:
If I was going to choose my favourite book for this feature I would have gone with Submarine by Joe Dunthorne. It’s funny and awkward but I’ve already preached about that book numerous times to anyone who will listen. I opted for The Shock of the Fall which is the story of Matt Homes, a 19-year-old schizophrenic haunted by the death of his brother, Simon, ten years earlier when the boys were on a family camping holiday. Was it a tragic accident or did Matt kill his brother? I discovered this book while browsing in a book shop and it had a glowing recommendation by Joe Dunthorne on the back so I thought it would be worth a try. I didn’t even know that it had won the Costa Book of the Year Award (the first debut novel to win it since 2006) as these things tend to escape me but after reading only a few pages I thought it was a deserved winner and lived up to the hype. I would say the book is a bit like a blend of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Submarine.
Nathan Filer is a registered mental health nurse and his life experience shows in his writing. This personal experience from the author really gave the book a depth beyond the usual mental illness story line, in which the reader is very often only presented the world inside the sufferers head, and not the support systems around them. The book is a mixture of flashbacks, hallucinations, a hospital diary recording his endless, empty days and drawings so it can feel a little disjointed but I suppose that’s the point. Even though the book focuses on mental illness it is also the story of Matt and his older brother Simon. Even though his brother died when Matt was a child, Simon remains an important presence as the years go by and it was interesting to see how his family tries to come to terms with what happened all those years ago. You see the heartbreak his family suffers from losing one child and then having another slowly disappear.
Matt types his story of grief and guilt on the clinic’s computer or on an old typewriter provided by his caring ‘Nanny Noo’. It was a touching account of one man’s journey through a mental illness which he describes as a ‘disease with the shape and sound of a snake’ which ultimately has him sectioned in a psychiatric hospital. It’s a troubling story but there is some dark humour too. I hope Nathan Filer delivers another book as engaging as this.
What did Emma think?
I heard about this online when the Costa Book Prize was announced and really wanted to read it, mental health is seen as a taboo subject and this brings it to the forefront of everyone's attention. The story of Matthew and his battle with schizophrenia sounded fascinating. Nathan Filer's writing is beautiful. The letters crafting Matthew's story, not all in order so you have to put the pieces together yourself is a wonderful way to tell this story. I could not stop reading, I finished it in one day- I had to hold the tears back several times as I was stuck in a hospital waiting room reading it. What a wonderful, eye-opening book!
The curse of the prize winning novel strikes me again. I don't pre-judge them, I swear. I just seem to end up never liking them! This book really did leave me cold. It took me a long, long time to read it because I didn't find the story at all compelling and there was always something else more interesting to grab my attention. There's no denying the skill involved and that was probably what I admired most: Matthew isn't your standard protagonist and so it's not written like your standard novel. Even that wasn't enough to keep me wanting to read on though. I just didn't care.
Sorry for letting the side down!
Thank you so much to Gemma and Emma for taking part in Blogging Good Read this month. It was lovely to have you both involved. Next month I'll be back with two different bloggers and we'll be reading Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and A Little Love Song by Michelle Magorian.