A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Sometimes it happens that a book may speak to you but you can’t speak about the book. It has happened to me a couple of times, with books I loved and was particularly keen to write about: there was Stupid and Contagious by Caprice Crane, which I adored, but no matter how hard I tried my attempted review said nothing beyond ‘funny, brilliant – read it!’ There was Vladimir Nabokov’s The Luzhin Defence, which was especially mortifying as I felt I ought to have had no end of things to say about it, but my review read more or less like, ‘Is it just me or is Nabokov a genius? It isn’t just me? Oh good.’ It happened with Jaclyn Moriarty’s Finding Cassie Crazy, though I did end up writing about it. I often wonder what professional reviewers do when this happens to them. Do they just press on? Can they opt out? As a book blogger, I think it’s especially awful when this happens with a review copy. If the book isn’t to your taste, you can in good conscience abandon it; but if you do like it, you start tearing your hair in effort to do the book justice.
Book-blogging, admirable though it is in many ways, does encourage stock responses to literature. You’d like to write a thoughtful review, you read anxiously, you rack your brains for synonyms to ‘thought-provoking’, you ask yourself ‘What can I say about this?’ and grasp with delight and relief at any hint of the I-can-elaborate-on-this factor. What a joy it is to find your very own hobby-horse in a book! Even better are books that deal with the nature of story-telling and reading, for then you can say just about anything semi-intelligent and yours will pass for a thoughtful review. You can never just admit you’ve read it, and… well, liked it. You can never just read. Isn’t that a bit sad?
I struggled long with my review of Uphill All the Way, for various reasons. The genre is one I’m unfamiliar with; ‘hen lit’ is too trivial an appellation for a book this serious, but Uphill All the Way is undeniably women’s fiction about (and for?) mature women. (Whether or not you can or should categorise books by age groups, beyond the obvious children/adults division, would be material for an interesting soapbox, I think.) The subject matter didn’t resonate with me personally as it did with Bluestalking Reader. Most importantly, I ‘just read’ it. I didn’t feel that I had anything intelligent at all to say about it, but I was determined to say something because it is a good, honest book that deserves more attention than many more famous titles.
Fifty-one-year-old Judith loses her Maltese lover Giorgio in a diving accident, and as he was married – but separated – she loses him twice over because his family make her feel that she can’t even legitimately mourn. Judith also loses her beloved Malta; she can’t bear to stay on the island after her loss and returns to England to grieve. There she has to cope with getting her house back from a tenant, finding a new job, looking after her mother, and helping her sister and ex-stepson, both of whom have woes of their own. Ultimately she has choose between Malta and England, her old life and new, her grief and a new love.
At first I felt the book was perhaps too densely packed with everyday troubles both serious and less so, but then I realised that’s the way life is; it rarely gives you a chance to grieve in peace. The people around Judith are often exhausting and exasperating in a way that only real people can be, for instance her clueless ex-husband with a knack of ‘[bringing] anger to what had been a perfectly amicable situation’. The cover makes Uphill All the Way look like a very bleak book indeed, but actually this is a book about hope, about rebuilding your life after a loss – and it does a very good job of reminding that even a second chance at life is never the last chance.
My reading journal says ‘not perfect, but moving, uplifting, & made me feel happy to be alive’.
That’s all that needs to be said, I think.
Transita 2005 paperback 288 pp. ISBN: 1905175000