Seven Days of Positive – Day 110

In books on January 23, 2015 at 10:49 pm



I’m going to bed early tonight because I’m reading a really great book and I want to finish it.

This is a particularly pleasing prospect because it’s been strangely lacking in my life recently. You know when you go through one of those odd dry patches with books and just can’t find anything that feels right?

I go into my local book shop and the library and walk around wringing my hands. Anna Karenina? Jill Mansell? Aristotle? Ali Smith? It’s overwhelming. Then I walk out with nothing.

I ask friends and none of their suggestions appeal. I look at all my shelves of unread books and remember yet again why I never quite fancy any of them.

It’s so maddening because I’m bitterly aware that I’m never going to be able to read everything I want to, so wasting good reading time is a crime.

It started because I finally OD-ed on my beloved mid-20th century women novelists. I read about fifteen in a row and suddenly couldn’t stand the thought of any more coolly restrained renditions of tumultuous emotions.

Passion withheld across porcelain tea cups.

So I decided I needed something completely different and got sucked in by all the Samuel Johnson award-winning hype around H is for Hawk.

I found it N for Neurotic, T for Tedious and R for Repetitive. She’s constantly losing the fucking bird and tearing through brambles. It really gave me the pip.

Then in a moment of madness the next thing I bought was the Man Booker winner. Well, it was an Aussie author and it sounded amazing… but after three chapters I just couldn’t do it. Maybe I’ll go back one day.

Should I?

After that, I decided to cleanse my palate with something very reliable: Marian Keyes most recent one, the brilliantly titled The Woman Who Stole My Life. It was most enjoyable, like eating a big bar of fruit and nut chocolate.

It was better than nervy bird women and the Burma rail road, but I still longed for something a little more savoury. A goats cheese kind of a book. I finally found it, going by the cover recommendation of my friend Jojo Moyes.

She couldn’t put it down and I can’t wait to pick it up again: Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood. (That’s Martha Gellhorn at the top, who was one of them.)


It could also – if the title hadn’t already been notably used – be called Women In Love, as it brilliantly portrays the baton passing of Ernest Hemingway’s serial wives.

What a git he was.


Ms Wood evokes the very different emotional pulse rates of the different women absolutely brilliantly, set in vivid renderings of Paris and Antibes in the 1920s (Scott! Zelda!), Key West in the 1930s, Paris in the 40s and… wherever he ends up next. Gitting about. Although he was very handsome in his youth, as you can see here.


So I’m off to get back to that. Have you read anything good recently?

PS the first blog I ever did was running reviews of each book I read. I don’t seem to be able to update it now, but here it is if you fancy a look.

  1. Hi Maggie…how’s it going? Have you ever read David Malouf? I think he’s a beautiful writer….and I’ve just finished “12 Edmonstone Street”….it’s his memoir and such a gorgeous read. I’d recommend that. There’s a post about David on my blog too if you’re interested.



  2. I was in one of those phases towards the end of last year, and then read The Death of Lucy Kyte by Nicola Upson; neither too much work nor too little, and totally satisfying. It had me wanting to pick it up the minute I got home from work

  3. I hear you! There is so much pretentious crap out there that passes for “good writing”. Weird repetitive existentialism has been done (thankyou Kafka, reading The Trial was indeed a trial..) and is no substitute for plot or character development. My fave author is Hector Hugh Munroe (AKA Saki) (I particularly adore his short stories…) and I recently read a (short) biography on him by his sister. It was wayyyy more insightful than any written by non-relatives. What an amazing man he was….reared by tyrannical aunts, possibly gay, lived in Burma, raised a tiger kitten, soldier, mischief-maker. There are so many intriguing veiled themes in his work…paganism, persian mysticism…

  4. I like to read widely! If you are after some good crime/action reading with a fantastic female lead, Zoe Sharp’s books are great. Hard Knocks is the first in the Charlie Fox series and also The Blood Whisperer is great. This past week I have been re-reading the young adult fiction series The Mortal Instruments (I gained massive cred with my 14 y.o niece by having read them before she discovered them…) – City of Bones is the first. Movie was terrible but books are fun. You could read them with Peggy! I also just finished Burial Rites, which won quite a lot of prizes and was shortlisted for others. Loved it as I am heading to Scandinavia later this year so the Icelandic setting was perfect.

  5. Have you read The Paris Wife? Also about one of Hemmingway’s wives- the first one I think. Loved it. Now am into the brilliant Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress. Love it so much I’m reading way late into the night. Looking forward to reading your next one…. 🙂

  6. I well know that feeling when no book I pick up is right at them time. I thought “Narrow Road to the Deep North” was a fabulous and important book. I was so glad it won the Booker (it should have won the Miles Franklin too.) My suggestion is that you try again, Maggie, but I recognize that maybe if the book didn’t grab you the first time it won’t be more appealing the second.

  7. Maybe try Light Between Oceans? I found the plot as bit predictable but there was something compelling about it all the same that kept me reading through the night and weeping at the end. Australian. Set on an island off WA. Coming out as a film, shot mostly in a tiny Tassie town but with Hollywood leads. Sigh.

    Floundering, Romy Ash. Another Australian one. A bit bleak but something beautiful in it. And my favourite in the past few years, Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey. I’m afraid I sound like I’m obsessed here – Australian, bleak…but redemptive…! To prove it is not so, Antonia Fraser’s bio of life with Harold Pinter, Must You Go. Wonderful. And if you want to understand something of the impact of the civil rights movement on the lives of African Americans, The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkersen tells the story of America’s great migration north through the experience of 4 people. A true history lesson. Wish I’d read it sooner.

  8. This year my book group agreed on a free read over the Christmas break, which has been wonderful as I usually only manage one book a month and so it’s usually the book group one. I reached the conclusion a while ago that I am the most low brow member of the group as I usually loathe the prize winners we end up reading, but struggle through them in order to be able to form a good argument about them.

    So over Christmas I have read and enjoyed Elizabeth Jane Howard’s memoir Slipstream – a fascinating and highly enjoyable read – and The Rosie Effect – which I am enjoying but not as much as The Rosie Project. I’m hoping to squeeze in the latest JK Rowling, written under her pseudonym, because I loved the first one.

  9. (My first blog comment ever!) I loved The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. It was funny, different and great holiday reading on the beach in Port Douglas in September – but as with any enjoyable book, over too quickly!

  10. Give another try to “Narrow road to the deep north ” it’s a beautiful ,very moving book.It was hard to get into but them I could not put it down …it helped maybe that I was on holiday with no phone or internet connection …

  11. If you loved Mrs Hemingway you have to read The Paris Wife by Paula MacLaine. My book group all agreed it was The Moveable Feast retold from Hadley Richardson’s perspective. We then went on a binge of reading books about strong women involved with needy men Loving Frank by Nancy Horan (about Frank Lloyd Wright’s mistress and second wife) and The Mitford Girls by Mary S Lovell. Now we’ve moved onto English translations of European novels – most recent recommendation Herman Koch’s very easy but fascinating read The Dinner.

  12. I have just read Light Between Oceans and loved it. And the Rosie Effect which was fun.
    Thanks for the other tips Maggie and friends.

  13. I recently read Lianne Moiarty’s The Husband’s Secret and I enjoyed it immensely. It was a good yarn; thought provoking and nicely suspenseful; entertaining without being overly taxing. Unfortunately all her others are out on loan from the library so now I’m in a nothing to read phase.

  14. So glad you are loving Mrs Hemingway. I thought it was brilliant, not just because it was written by the daughter of a friend of mine. A great read. Have you read any Geraldine Brooks – I love them all. Thanks for other suggestions people, I am also in a book slump.

  15. Ha! I love your honesty.

    I am of Bollyknicker’s stock: I think my book club of many years ago was happy when I left. The only selection of mine they deigned to read was the brilliant I Don’t Know How She Does It : all loathed it except for the only other worker in the group. Not that I’m bitter.

    I am clinging on to holiday mode and just finished Jill Mansell’s Three Things About You. Before that it was an old favourite, Jilly Cooper’s Rivals (come on, I was on holidays!) and a quick dip into Austen’s lovely Persuasion. And I also dug out another favourite, Handbags and Gladrags, by another esteemed English author. Next up is The Winter Games (Rachel Johnson) and The Rosie Project because everyone has raved about it. I splashed out on an IPad to take on holidays and the downside/upside is how easy it is to buy books without my beloved husband remarking about the growing pile of reading matter next to my side of the bed.

  16. Agree, loved The Paris Wife & Mrs Hemingway… These hols have loved reading “We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves” and “Gone Girl” (haven’t seen movie yet… May be key to enjoying!?)

  17. HI Maggie,
    A great post – I know that feeling of not quite being able to fill the book gap; not dissimilar to craving food, but not knowing exactly what it is you want!

    Like another post above I highly recommend anything by LIane Moriarty, but especially her two most recent, ‘The Husband’s Secret’ and ‘Big Little Lies’. There’s a trace of sweetness with some very witty observations and great characters but a great big whack of savoury in them that will satisfy a craving for a serious story. Definite page turners! I’ve also binged on a few Jo Jo Moyes (‘The One Plus One’) and was very surprised (pleasantly) by ‘We are all completely beside ourselves’ which was a surprisingly meaty, very satisfying!

    Good luck, happy reading, looking forward to the next from your pen!
    Bec x

    • LOVED The Husband’s Secret. Found it gripping and the characters very real, but unlike The Slap I didn’t find them all hateful. They were realistically flawed, but not horrid. I couldn’t finish The Slap because I didn’t care what happened to any of them.

  18. I’m working my way through Neil Gaiman’s back catalogue, such imaginative books, the Sandman series is quite amazing, and some of his books – like stardust, you could read with Peggy. And ‘A street cat named Bob’ . I would like both Bob and Neil to be my best friends

  19. Part way through “I am Malala” – what a wonderful young woman, so brave and intelligent; I did get a bit bogged down with some of the political stuff, but her story is incredible, what amazing parents she has too.

  20. When you have time Maggie go back to Richard Flanagan, after you have listened to his interview with Richard Fidler on ABC Radio’s Conversations. that was the game changer for me,

  21. Not sure if this is your cup of tea but I just read – and loved – This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. I’m currently ensconced in (and pleasantly surprised by) Grace by Grace Coddington.

  22. Bring Up the Bodies and Wolf Hall- best books I’ve ever read, even if I’m late to the party!

  23. I’m too busy reading Amelia Freer’s Eat Nourish Glow to read a novel (thanks, Maggie, for the recommendation) . It’s a great read if you want to change the way you eat – and I do!
    Over the holidays, though, I read Susan Duncan’s Salvation Creek and loved it so much that I went straight out and bought the follow up, House at Salvation Creek. (And wanted to move to Pittwater!) It’s not very high brow I’m afraid, but I don’t care anymore – I read whatever I like, I don’t let other people talk me into reading books I don’t want to read, I chuck a book if I don’t like it, I read everything from Dickens to Cathy Kelly – and I live in fear of getting to the end of all the good books. (So don’t stop writing, Maggie.)
    I hope you find something good to read.

  24. Thank you for the recommendation of Mrs Hemingway! I have devoured it over this Australia Day long weekend.
    I loved ‘The Churchills’ by Mary Lovell which I followed with Justine Picardie’s ‘Chanel’. A good pair as quite a few of the same people pop up in both books.
    If you have not read ‘The Paris Wife’, try it out, particularly having just read Mrs Hemingway.
    There is nothing worse than not being able to find the right book to read at a particular time. Over the Christmas/ New Year break, I read ‘Everything changes but you’. Perfect. Thank you.

  25. A must read. From a Clear Blue Sky. Auth Timothy Knatchbull Put that brilliant read on your list.

    Sent from my iPad


  26. Hi Maggie, a friend recommended Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of all Things, which I loved, it’s quite wonderful. I’m told nothing like Eat Pray Love, which may or may not be a good thing ….

    • I’ve heard this now from several sources – I did love EPL and stupidly didn’t fancy a novel by her. Must get over my silly prejudice. x

      • Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a really fabulous novel before EPL called Stern Men. It is in my top 10 favourite books of all time – and that’s saying something up against its contenders – Wuthering Heights, To Kill a Mockingbird, Like Water for Chocolate, Bleak House, The Women’s Room, Cloudstreet, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – oops, this comment is turning into a list of my favourite books – very self-important of me. I loved The Signature of All Things – and I can highly recommend just about anything by Isabelle Allende.

      • Gosh that is quite a list to feature in! I’ve just purchased The Miniaturist and will add E Gilbert to the list. Thanks x

  27. Hi Maggie

    I came across this wonderful book thanks to Sydney’s ABC 702 (radio) and have since bought multiple copies to give to friends – Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. A wonderfully evocative story set in New York before the Depression (great clothes, too).

  28. We found Narrow Road to the Deep North a brilliant read Maggie but… you do need to be feeling strong (or on holiday) for it is unrelenting in its description of life in that hell. It is by no means ‘escape’ reading. When we finished (he on Kindle, me with hard copy) we thought about it for days afterwards. I’d definitely give it another go, Donna

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