The Virgins by Pamela Erens

the virgins erensOver the years I’ve come to understand that telling someone’s story- telling it, I mean, with a purity of intention, in an attempt to get at that person’s real desires and sufferings- is at one and the same time an act of devotion and an expression of sadism. You are the one moving the bodies around, putting words in their mouths, making them do what you need them to do. You insist, they submit.

The Virgins, Pamela Erens

There’s a puff from the Independent on the cover of Pamela Erens’ The Virgins which compares it to Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides and on a fairly superficial level I suppose there are similarities, both are novels about teenage angst and lust set during the seventies narrated by men reflecting on the girls they loved in their youth, but while The Virgin Suicides is a Greek chorus of relatively benign voices united to honour the memory of the girls they adored, it quickly becomes clear that Erens’ novel is a much darker tale, a story of obsession which is closer to a confession than anything else.

Set in an elite private boarding school, it examines a cohort of teenagers slowly beginning to show the cracks of the incredible internal and external pressures they are facing. At the heart of this group are young lovers Aviva and Seung, an improbable couple whose tale, our narrator soon makes clear, will not be a happy one.

Erens’ writing captures the spirit and the memory of what it is to be a teenager, and while her fresh prose will resonate with anyone who remembers their first serious teenage romance, Erens’ prose serves as a stark reminder of how the destructive flame of obsession can consume and warp anyone who stands close enough to it.

Incubus by Ann Arensberg

incubus ann arensbergTeenaged girls meddling with witchcraft in the churchyard of Dry Falls parish seem to have woken something up. As an incessant heat wave holds the town in a stranglehold, the women of the town begin to have nightmares and as Henry, the town priest, investigate, his wife Cora begins to feel increasingly isolated.

The above, is the plot of Ann Arensberg’s Incubus as I managed to gather it from reading this book which took me weeks because its tendency to meander away from the details of the plot and insert a multitude of irrelevant descriptions made it a very frustrating read. The novel starts with a vaguely academic tone as Cora promises to provide a scientific record of the events of that summer, then proceeds to narrate her husband, mother and sister’s life stories… though it isn’t too long before she veers away from focusing on the paranormal aspects of the summer to provide tedious descriptions of her cooking and wax lyrical about outdated notions of femininity, basically positing that all women occupy a vaguely pagan status and that cooking, wishing and gardening are tantamount to witchcraft. I found the “we weak and helpless women” tone of the piece profoundly irritating.

The characters were poorly rendered and unbelievable. For all that Cora says about her husband Henry, he remains a shadowy figure, and there is no relationship between him and Cora to speak of but at least the author has tried to shoe horn in some depth of character here. The rest of the novel was stocked with 2D characters whose bland interactions held neither interest or credibility for the reader. The author genuinely seemed more interested in describing dry chicken dinners than developing a plot concerning the incubus.

The ending of the novel was so bad it was laughable, I won’t include too many spoilers but it mostly involves a showdown between the forces of heaven and hell in a church, the priest sustaining a sprained ankle and Cora(who the whole town seems to have agreed was too boring to become a target for the incubus) deciding she is like Persephone locked in her husband’s underworld. I was left wondering what on earth the author could have been thinking.

A town plagued by an Incubus is a subject with the potential for a really gripping novel, but somehow Ann Arensberg has managed to make it deathly dull. It’s almost a snatching defeat from the jaws of victory scenario.

At times, Aresnberg writes very pretty descriptions but given the weakness of characterisation and plotting I did wonder whether food or travel writing might be a better genre for her than supernatural thriller.

The call of the wild in a bookish tent

A meadow near a river on a hot summer’s day. I’d have a picnic, a jug of Pimms, a good book and this tent to shade my freakishly pale skin from the midday sun. Bliss. I am so tempted to splash out.

I want, I admire, but I will resist.

Please Santa, I’ve been so good- Fully Booked Tent

Tea Party Planting: Alice in Wonderland style floral arrangements

As the world and his wife know by now, I’ve got a big thing about Alice in Wonderland, so it may not come as a big surprise to learn that my eye has been caught by flowers planted in oversized tea pots or giant cups and saucers like the ones from Marks and Spencer and Interflora below.

iconShopping in a junk/antiques shop in Huntingdon this weekend (I prefer the term junk shop, they still existed in my youth… now everything is vintage or antique, I grumble and digress) I found this giant tea-pot which I think will be perfect for planting something up in- I’m torn between an English Ivy/miniature rose combo or a more practical herb garden. It came with a plate to stand it on, but unfortunately that didn’t survive my boyfriend knocking them both off the table, though the tea-pot has which is impressive.

Tea pot planterFor more inspiring tea party decor, check out my friend Laura’s blog post about her trip to the Peace in the Park festival in Oxfordshire which paid tribute to the county’s Lewis Carroll connection.

We Are Here by Michael Marshall

we are here michael marshall“Love is not a charm that pops into the world from a better place to bless two individuals before flitting back home, leaving the couple broken back in two parts and forlorn but fundamentally unchanged. Love is a fire that burns in the soul, sometimes for good, sometimes just for now, sometimes hot enough to scorch and sometimes with a low and sustainable glow. Either way, it leaves the original constituents permanently altered. After the fact everything is different—not just the relationship, but the people involved.”

We Are Here, Michael Marshall

David is about to leave New York after a meeting with his publisher about his debut novel when a strange man instructs him to remember him. John and Kristina’s friend thinks that she is being stalked, and when they look into it they find that the truth is stranger than she might believe. Their worlds collide in this grown up urban fantasy which sees magic realism explode over a familiar city, melting not only the ley lines between genres but the borders between the real and the imaginary.

Bold, vicious and clever, this is a must read for daydreamers, the imaginative and anyone who has ever wondered just who else might be in the room with them.

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut The Moon In Two by Catherynne M. Valente

the girl who soared over fairyland and cut the moon in two“Marriage is a wrestling match where you hold on tight while your mate changes into a hundred different things. The trick is that you’re changing into a hundred other things, but you can’t let go. You can only try to match up and never turn into a wolf while he’s a rabbit, or a mouse while he’s still busy being an owl, a brawny black bull while he’s a little blue crab scuttling for shelter. It’s harder than it sounds.”

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut The Moon In Two, Catherynne M. Valente

Every time I’ve finished one of Catherynne M. Valente’s novels (The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and led the Revels There) I feel very much like September after she’s been ripped out of Fairyland and away from her friends before it’s time.

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut The Moon In Two is a little slower to start that the other novels in series, but as soon as September’s loyal sidekicks A-through-L the wyverary and Saturday the Marid have reappeared Valente hits her stride and the enchanting storytelling which characterised the other books in the series comes into play and we visit a Lightening Jungle, watch two lovelorn insects (my favourites) play a variant of battleships, meet a Tyguerrotype who cleverly introduces the Turing test and run around trying to stop a Yeti who seems intent upon shaking the moon apart. I thought this book was the final title in a trilogy, and have since found that the Fairyland series will contain five books… which is great but I now need to know when book four will appear.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is only a children’s fiction series, it’s a fantastic crossover series with more than enough clever allusions and wry remarks to keep discerning adult readers hooked.

Quote me on that… JK Rowling, Joanne Harris and backbiting authors

JK Rowling Writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want life-long friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.

Image adapted from original by user Srslyguys on flickr under CC

Anyone who wondered what JK Rowling could possibly have experienced to inspire her latest novel The Silkworm, a novel full of bitter literary rivalries and backbiting authors, should check out Joanne Harris’ comments as reported by The Telegraph about the Harry Potter series, the bitchy tone of which undermined her otherwise perfectly valid argument about writing being a career which people depend upon for their living.

Joanne Harris has since contacted me via Twitter to let me know what she actually said is on her Tumblr account here. She will be writing her own article in the same newspaper tomorrow.

I’m in love with these bird biscuit cutters…

iconHow cute are these gorgeous love bird cookie cutters? And only £3.99! I’m definitely treating myself to these, I can think of loads of things that they’d be good for, only one of which is dove and robin flood iced biscuits for Christmas!

Harry Potter and the Irresistible Squeeze Page

shocked owlCongratulations if you’ve been living under a rock long enough to have missed that JK Rowling posted new Potter material (specifically an article from Rita Skeeter bitching about Harry and other members of Dumbledore’s Army) on Pottermore today. If you did miss it, then you can access it here.

What’s that? You don’t have a Pottermore account? Neither did I until I used my lunch break to sign up and read the Daily Prophet article. But wasn’t it an effective squeeze page? Pottermore now has the contact details of almost everyone who has read the Potter series and has used the internet today. I’m guess that has to be numbers in the high thousands who’ve signed up today.

As for the article itself? It was all a little bit pointless. It didn’t tell me much about the characters, and I found it a bit weird that Victor Krum (who is older than Harry) is still playing Quidditch at international level when Ginny (who is younger than Harry) has retired from playing the sport professionally to become a writer… I mean, he has to be even older than Ryan Giggs, doesn’t he?

Maybe I’m jaded because I’ve finally gotten over my five-year Harry Potter themed book hangover, but whichever way you look at it, it’s a clever way to attract new users to your site. JK Rowling’s team should run courses on, how to get a million website hits in a day without using magic, charms to increase numbers of unique visitors or clever book marketing that doesn’t rely on the dark arts.


Image of owl by Sharon, under terms of the Creative Commons attribution license