Sunday, 7 August 2011

Listening to the whispering

 We have just returned from a week in Spain where we enjoyed relaxing, swimming, walking and generally eating too much. The holiday was mainly just a chance to catch up and spend some time together, it was fairly low key, although we did manage a visit to the Alhambra where we enjoyed the beauty of the architecture and intricate designs and the lovely gardens. I felt it could be a place of profound contemplative peace if it hadn't been quite so busy and if we had had a little more time to stop and reflect!

 We took some holiday reading away with us as always and I don't know quite how we managed it but two of the novels dealt with the theme of abuse or child murder (great!). We tend to pick the books in a bit of a last minute spree and we try pick something that looks thrilling enough to tempt the teenagers. Anyhow, Emma Donoghue's Room, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, was based upon cases such as the Fritzl crime and other similar cases where women have been abducted and imprisoned for years, giving birth to the children of their abuser during that time. I would not have bought it if the blurb had made this clear, but for all that it was sensitively and movingly narrated from the perspective of the child born as a result of the rape and I *enjoyed* reading it.

The other novel with a similar theme ,although totally different in terms of style, was a book called The Whisperer by Donato Carrisi, a "italian literary thriller phenomenon" picked by one of the boys. This was based around the murder of six little girls whose severed arms are buried in a ritualistic semi circle. The Guardian described it as " A gripping read" and it certainly was a page turner in some ways. Perhaps fortunately (as I was in need of some comedy by now) it was so implausible as to give rise to mirth. How likely is it that three members of the detective team would be in some way implicated or linked to the murders or murderer themselves? Throw into the mix a crazed monk and  nun with psychic powers and a session of hypnosis used to uncover a forgotten clue and you get the picture. The fact that Kev kept saying, "Those kids were totally 'armless" didn't help me take it seriously! The Whisperer has little literary merit but one theme that did fascinate me was the quote on which the title was based, " God is silent, the Devil whispers" - the implication being that evil is so much more wide spread and seductive than good. I spent some time pondering this and decided that I am not sure it is true and that the impulse to goodness and decency is at least as pervasive as the tendency to evil. I was quite surprised by this, having always believed I thought the opposite. I must be turning into an optimist!

Solar by Ian McEwan provided some much needed light relief. It is a wonderful comedy based around the rather inept Professor Beard, a Nobel prize-winning physicist who works in the area of climate change but is actually unconvinced of the need to save the world from environmental disaster and more interested in the intricacies of his love life - his wife is having an affair. I always enjoy McEwan's writing, and this book cleverly reflects upon the human condition, the way our selfish preoccupations dominate and even our idealism is laced with ironies. The hapless Beard is slightly overweight at the start of the book and, as it progresses, failed diet after failed diet sees his blubbery girth expand inexorably. One moment he will be resolving only to have a light salad and water and the next he will be accepting a glass of champagne and a rich dish swimming in cream. Beard's struggle with his weight  is a wonderful metaphor for  greed and excess and for how, in our attempt to use the world's resources wisely, the short term faction wins the day!

My final book was Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale. This was one of our book club novels that I failed to read as it came right in the middle of coursework marking. It tells the story of a gifted artist who suffers from bi-polar disorder and of her life and family. I found this a moving and compelling read, I was particularly taken with the descriptions of Quakerism that ran throughout, especially as I have been occasionally attending Quaker worship over the last few months (more on that some other time.) I liked the balance of this book; there was some real tragedy and horror described - and mental illness is in itself truly dark and horrific - at the same time there was the soothing routine of family life and love, the beautiful Cornish landscape and the enduring search for peace and understanding through the Quakerism. It made me feel that no life, however short or marked by tragedy, is meaningless. Despite ending on the brink of the death of a young life, it had a redemptive quality.  It was the right book to end my holiday reading;  it made me feel that God whispers.


  1. Thanks for this Suem,

    My partner and I were yesterday discussing holiday options – we did think of Sitges, yet again (it would be my seventh or eighth visit) – as it is a lovely place and good base for travelling around Catalonia via Spain’s good public transport... Once cheap as chips, I suspect not so now... However Seville and its environs also looks promising... Tho’ we never book anything until a few weeks before we’re due to travel at present. We’ve very little money until I am working again and I have found a good thing to do is find the apartment you want to stay at on line (I loathe hotels – partly because I can’t stand eating my breakfast with other people, particularly people who want to chat and engage you in conversation and bore you with the irrelevances of their lives; I can cope with such pointless conversation in an evening, but not first thing in a morning and on several occasions (much to my partner’s embarrassment – tho’ without compunction on my part) I have politely, but firmly told chatty neighbours that I don’t ‘do’ conversation and breakfast... I’ve even worn earplugs!). I then note a week that hasn’t been booked on the on-line booking form and watch and wait. If, three weeks before the planned holiday the apartment hasn’t been let (we usually have our main holiday in September, once the children have returned to school, so apartments are less likely to be taken); I then e-mail they apartment letting company offering to take the apartment at a reduced rate (using my university e-mail account to demonstrate I am a poor student (which I am!)). This has worked very well over the past few years we’ve had slender financial means!

    Anyway southern Spain has looked very appealing...

    Ah to read for pleasure... Yes I remember that! But even on holiday it is likely I’ll find myself ploughing through some tedious tome on the theology of philanthropy or government policy towards faith-based social welfare... One day soon I will pick up a novel once more, but for now I look at your comments on your holiday reading and wax with envy!

    Glad you had a good holiday!


  2. It is very hard for me to have a holiday since I have such a small stipend. I envy rich teachers who can afford to buy books, go abroad and employ a down-trodden husband to do the housework. It is time the Welfare State provided Holiday Benefits to enable disadvantaged clergy to lie on a beach reading God's Infallible Word. Like "Prostate Pete" Ould, I can't afford to go on a Scripture Union Beach Mission even though, unlike him, I have a job! Many evangelicals have a dog, cat, hamster and wife to feed - resulting in bible-based poverty. Welcome back, Sue.

  3. So glad to make you all envious with all that wealth and leisure time that teaching brings:)

  4. I am envious of your trip to Spain. I've never been.

    My husband just finished Room, and I read Solar some months back. I am glad to know you liked Room, as I am deciding whether I will read it. Solar was grand, as all of McEwan's books are, I think. I did love the ending.

  5. Canon Andrew Godsall9 August 2011 at 12:14

    Amazingly God seems to shout 'get out of bed and get over to Church' and the devil whispers 'mmm stay in here, it's cosy and warm and you deserve more sleep'. I sometimes wish the devil would speak up a bit at 7am! Maybe the devil needs a lie in as well?

    I am incapable of reading novels these days. I don't know why. Did you take actual books? I bought Mrs G a Kindle for her b'day and she seems to devour books using it. It will make packing for holidays a bit easier! I am not sure if I want one or not however....

  6. Ha ha! I've been thinking about a kindle. Why is it called that by the way?


    I lie awake at night thinking about Kindle too... and how one half of our income comes from managing a bookshop (as you know I was always one for a bit of rough!).

    Last night I couldn't help but think, what happens if some rioters (aka thieving bastards who should be shot on sight) decided to torch my partner's shop..? It only just escaped closure last year. If it was torched it is likely it would be redundancy notices all round and goodbye to half our income...

    Whatever, KEEP BUYING BOOKS! Particularly keep buying them from Waterstones...


  8. Canon Andrew Godsall9 August 2011 at 14:16

    I guess it is called a Kindle becasue it Kindles your desire - to read that is!

  9. I suppose Peter would think it is called a kindle because it kindles the flames of the funeral pyre of bookshops! I have to say that I think browsing around a bookshop is one of life's great pleasures, I would hate to lose that. I also love the physical feel and ownership of books. I think that maybe the fact that both of our sons are voracious readers (although one seems to have seriously downgraded reading lately in favour of his social life...) is due to them having grown up in a house with lots of books and well stocked bookcases and having been taken regularly to the library. To lose books, bookshelves, libraries completely? I also hope kindles don't take over completely- I can see that they lighten the packing though!