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Midwinter Break - Bernard McLaverty

The only other book that I've read of Bernard MacLaverty was the sublime Grace Notes, published in 1997, and shortlisted for the Booker Prize of the same year. That prize was awarded to an author of another similar hiatus recently broken, Arundhati Roy, of the widely acclaimed The God of Small Things. I was certain, when buying the kindle version of Midwinter Break, that MacLaverty's first book in seventeen years (Cal, 2001, was his most recent) had made both the Booker Longlist and Shortlist - but having just double-checked - am disappointed and confused to find it had made neither. MacLaverty's prose style feels Yatesian, after the late Richard Yates, US author of Revolutionary Road, and TheEaster Parade
Midwinter Break, set in Amsterdam, is written in the same deliciously clear and poignant prose that so widely marked out Grace Notes. The husby and I have not long returned from a late summer break in that same fabulous city. With the visit to the Rijksmuseum still fre…

Girl from the North Country - Old Vic

To The Cut last night to see Girl from the North Country, written and directed by Conor McPherson - he of The Weir. The story is set in a hotel in Duluth, Minnesota, in the ongoing Depression of 1934. Nick Laine is the hotel 'owner', although it is more accurate to state that the bank owes it, not him. Nick is married to Elizabeth, who now has dementia. They have two grown children - Marianne, a tall, graceful black girl whom they adopted when she was abandoned at the hotel years before and who now does a lot of the work in the hotel, as well as looking after her mama - and Gene, an alcoholic writer who doesn't seem to write - or certainly doesn't get published. The cast is an ensemble of characters - Mrs Neilson, with whom Nick is having an affair; Mr Burke and his wife and their 'simple' adult son, Elias; Doctor Walker; and Joe, who it seems has escaped from prison and is now en-route to Chicago, accompanied by a fellow escapee/bible salesman. The story is al…

Reith Lectures - Hilary Mantel - Resurrection

Hilary Mantel is delivering this year's Reith Lectures, on the theme of resurrection. The first lecture, The Day is for the Living, was given at the Halle in Manchester, has Mantel declaring that her great-grandmother was the daughter of a Patrick, the wife of a Patrick, and the mother of a Patrick. The past is what's left in the sieve once the centuries have run through it, she says.

Elizabeth Strout - Olive Kitteridge

Having recently read My Name is Lucy Barton by New England writer, Elizabeth Strout, I turned to another by her, Olive Kitteridge, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2009.
Strout excels in characterisation through concision. Just a two-word expression by a character, which crops up through the text, is enough for this reader to more fully imagine what makes them tick. 
Olive Kitteridge is the type of character people love to hate, or hate to love. She is, on the surface, brusque, no-nonsense, plain-speaking, forthright. And she is, to a large degree, the same beneath the surface. A former 'math' teacher, each chapter introduces us to former pupils, neighbours, son, former daughter-in-law, and local shopkeepers, as they each contend with the struggles and strifes of life in a small New England community by the sea, (and the disapproval of 'the summer people') and Olive's interactions with each. The New Yorkerrecently featured a profile of Strout, by Ariel Levy…

Not pregnant

I am not pregnant. A couple of weeks ago, just a day after returning from a week in Cyprus, I had pains, which got so bad that I felt like jumping out of my own body and discarding it somewhere. Husby took me to the local hospital, which I had never wanted to step foot in due to an unsatisfactory appointment I had there a few months ago, which involved a patronising consultant and feeling like I had been dragged into the 1950s. Four hours after waiting in an A&E room that was only a third full, I was sent back home - nothing confirmed. The next day the pains were much worse - like nothing I had ever experienced, and hope I never will again. I felt like a tortured animal, with sounds to match. This time I was rushed back to the same hospital bypassing the waiting room, and within five minutes had been given enough morphine to take the edge off the pain. I was kept in overnight, and a miscarriage was confirmed. The nurses and doctors - all of whom save one were female - were exempl…

Pregnant

I'm pregnant. I never wanted any children, throughout my twenties and thirties, and even as I entered my forties I didn't have those 'urges' that some women refer to. I love babies and toddlers, but am also happy to give them back after a couple of hours. But we had decided that we wanted a child with each other - the Husby and I. And perhaps that's the difference. So now I'm ten weeks preggers, a bit of nausea, a LOT of cramps as the uterus stretches to accommodate the new life, and contemplating my first visit from the midwife, (today) and then hopefully, the first scan. When talking about 'it', I always add 'hopefully', my version of 'god willing'. 
I am forty-three years old. I am due to give birth when I am forty-four (inshallah!). 
I will have to get used to being referred to as an 'older mother'. In my thirties, I was the 'mature student'. The 'eldest daughter' in a family of seven children. But it recalls so…

My Name is Lucy Barton - Elizabeth Strout

A few years ago I read The Burgess Boys, by Elizabeth Strout. It revealed the long held tensions of the siblings of the title as well as those of their sister, whose teenage son had been found to have committed a hate crime in their small town. It was a timeless yet timely tail well written. But with her latest, more novella than novel, Strout has excelled in conveying powerfully a mother daughter relationship. My Name is Lucy Barton is written sparely and more powerfully for that. Lucy Barton is a young mother in New York, trying to recover in hospital from an operation, making do only with infrequent visits from her husband and their two young daughters. And then her Mum appears and stays with her daughter, in a chair at the foot of her bed, for five days. Lucy's mother seems a folksy type, who manages to exist for the five days only on cat naps taken whilst seated. Lucy and her Mum connect through the sharing of small town chatter that both hides and reveals their shared histor…