I nearly had to admit something slightly embarrassing. That I only read one fiction book the whole summer holidays.
Immersed in self-help – happiness, decluttering and, of course, sleep – books, I just didn’t get into a novel.
I loved Hannah Kent’s first novel, Burial Rites, about the last woman executed in Iceland. Her second novel, The Good People, was my book club read. So I had to read that before I tackled another one. It is another well-researched story based on fact, again another murder. Kent creates a strong and distinctive sense of place and the story is original.
So why did I labour through the first third?
I think because the narrative is slow and some of the characters just don’t feel all there. It’s like they aren’t fully realised yet but are shadows emerging from the clay.
It’s a unique tale, worth putting on your list but be prepared for the slow pace. Some of my book clubbers loved it. Love is too strong for me, though it is certainly well written. One thing I couldn’t make sense of or see a connection to the tale is the plants that headed each chapter. If you could see (and I don’t mean in the general way of the wise woman used herbs but in the specific way if each plant had relevance), let me know.
The Good People was nearly the only book I read. Then I found a copy of Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift in my local second hand book shop. I love Swift and I had wanted to read this novel after reading some reviews of it.
Oh, I loved it. I loved the story, the style, the themes.
The plot is original – starting in the period when great country houses were in decline. With the demise of house staff and the restrictive class structure, came greater opportunities for the class that used to be the below stairs staff that enabled these big houses to exist.
It’s sad in a melancholy, not tear jerker, way. There’s two distinct paces – the first slow and languid reflecting the period and the day; the second much faster which reflects the faster pace of the modern world. There’s so much to discuss: themes of memory, love, class. The characters. The line that hints at disaster, so space that you might miss it.
Luckily my book club agreed to have this as out March book, well one of our March books. It’s so short they all thought we needed two. And therein lies another bonus. If you disagree with me and don’t love this book, it’s short. So you won’t feel you’ve wasted time.
There’s no caveats for this book for me.