Bookish Loveliness: July

Is there anything better than discovering something that entertains, informs or just brightens your day?

Wow, what a month it has been in terms of books. My first shout-out goes to the debut novel ‘Seducing Hope’ by Adaline Winters; for lovers of fantasy fiction this is a must read. I don’t want to reveal too much about about the plot as it would ruin the denouement at the end of the novel. I will only reveal that at the novel’s core is a Greek myth that has been given the most fabulous contemporary twist. The female protagonist, Natia Waterford, is strong with just the right amount of sass to make her role-model worthy but also vulnerable and flawed enough to make her human and completely relatable.

Concomitant with the fabulous narrative comes incredible writing; something I feel isn’t always the case with debut novelists. I have found many a debut novel fabulous in narrative but flawed in execution. Not so in the case of Winters; she has a beautiful economy of language that scene sets and perfectly evokes atmosphere and emotion. That kind of shorthand is something that often is only often evinced when a writer has honed their craft over many novels.

Seducing Hope is available on Amazon Kindle and can be found here:

All this talk of of well written, debut fantasy novels allows me to segue nicely into my favourite fantasy author: Robin Hobb. Having read pretty much everything she has written under the aforementioned pseudonym, I began reading some of her earlier works (written under the name of Megan Lindholm). I was a little apprehensive to read her earlier works for some of the reasons I outlined in review of Winters’s, ‘Seducing Hope’. However, I need not have feared. From the get-go the writing in the Ki and Vandien quartet of novels is great – not quite on a par with later works written as Hobb but fabulous nonetheless. I read all four: ‘Harpy’s Flight (1983), The Windsingers (1984), The Limbreth Gate (1984) and The Luck of the Wheels (1989) in quick succession and felt quite bereft on completing the final novel as I just wanted them to go on and on. Ki and Vandien are captivating protagonists, and as such it is difficult not to become completely absorbed in the (mis) adventures of their peripatetic life. All four novels work as both a group and as stand alone reads. Each book is a contained adventure rather than a set of four with an overarching narrative; an approach I found incredibly enjoyable as it allowed Lindholm the space to really explore and develop both her characters and the world they inhabit in an organic way.

Another book that has been a revelation but couldn’t be more different than my previous recommendations is ‘Skincare: The Ultimate No-nonsense Guide’ by Caroline Hirons. I can honestly say it has really opened my eyes as to how I should be caring for my skin. I should really caveat this, I have been a skin and beauty junkie since my teens and have a fair knowledge of the advances that have been made in skincare, but what I will say is that up until now I have been a bit “all the gear and no idea”. What Hirons’s book has taught me is what to use and when, where to save money and when to spend. Because I already had most of the skincare Hirons recommends for my age group I was able to establish a cohesive and comprehensive routine immediately. Using the right combination of products in the right order is already paying dividends. I’d even go so far as to say that the book has saved me money; in that, I’m now getting the absolute best out of products I already own, rather than constantly buying and trying new things.

When it comes to fiction I have two modes: fantasy (as has been evidenced) or 19th Century literature. ‘Ruth’ (1853) by Elizabeth Gaskell, my final July read falls into the latter group. There is so much to love about Elizabeth Gaskell’s writing: her predilection for portmanteau words, her plucky female protagonist and the challenging of societal norms; all of which are bound up in an Austen-like refinement and gentility, that engenders sympathy rather than contempt for the improprieties enacted by the titular protagonist of the novel; Ruth.

Ruth is a naïve and innocent girl who is imposed upon by a young aristocratic bounder by the name of Mr Bellingham. Having been seduced by Mr Bellingham and her character irrevocably damaged -owing to them living together unwed, which would have been shocking and anathema to Gaskell’s middle class Victorian audience-  Bellingham’s interest in Ruth wanes and she finds herself abandoned, pregnant and on the verge of suicide until a kindly dissenting Minister, Mr Benson and his sister, Faith take her in. Having given Ruth a home they decide to conceal Ruth’s unmarried status by introducing her to the town of Eccleston as Mrs Denbigh; publicly naming her a widow and -by choosing a family name- a distant relative. Ruth ensues on a redemptive journey, devoted to raising her son Leonard to be an upstanding and god-fearing boy. Naturally things go awry and the truth of Leonard’s birth is revealed, leading Ruth to be shunned by society. But such is Ruth’s true goodness of nature that she eventually redeems herself within the eyes of the town. There is of course more to the story but I am loathe to reveal too much should you wish to read it yourself.

Love and Light


Curiouser and Curiouser

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,Chapter 6)

I have always found the Cheshire cat’s reasoning perfectly logical. Like people are drawn to each other, its why as teenagers we either choose our friends from the mainstream or join a sub-cultural tribe. We are much the same as adults. On Friday the 18th November imagine my delight at being immersed into the world of Alice with a room full of people who share my passion for fairy tales. The venue was Tate Liverpool and the symposium was entitled The Wonder of Alice: Images, Myth and realities. Complimenting their current exhibition Alice in Wonderland, the symposium papers were diverse, examining Alice as a source of inspiration from her inception in the 19th century right through to present day.

I particularly enjoyed Dame Gilliam Beer’s paper Alice’s Curiosity which took us on an extraordinary journey through the correspondence to Dodgson from his father which was a revelation to the formers juvenilia. I particularly enjoyed this poem; it is exquisitely humorous but also reveals some of Dodgson’s childhood reading. The poem seems to simultaneously parody moralising children’s tales which were extremely popular during the Victorian era and nods to fairy tales. I couldn’t help but notice how the theme of this poem seems to be an inversion of the Brothers Grimm’s Fundevogel or the Foundling

Brother and Sister

“SISTER, sister, go to bed!
Go and rest your weary head.”
Thus the prudent brother said.

“Do you want a battered hide,
Or scratches to your face applied?”
Thus his sister calm replied.

“Sister, do not raise my wrath.
I’d make you into mutton broth
As easily as kill a moth”

The sister raised her beaming eye
And looked on him indignantly
And sternly answered, “Only try!”

Off to the cook he quickly ran.
“Dear Cook, please lend a frying-pan
To me as quickly as you can.”

And wherefore should I lend it you?”
“The reason, Cook, is plain to view.
I wish to make an Irish stew.”

“What meat is in that stew to go?”
“My sister’ll be the contents!”
“You’ll lend the pan to me, Cook?”

Moral: Never stew your sister.

From Dodgson’s photographs of Alice Liddell through to Anna Gaskell’s contemporary interpretations of Alice the symposium was a visual delight. There was the familiar and beloved illustration by Tenniel, absolutely stunning photographs by Anna Gaskell (see below) and the hauntingly beautiful paintings and film by the Swiss artist Annelies Strba. Each speaker wove a sinuous argument around the visual works they included in their papers, catching and tying together all the threads that make Alice bewitching.

Carol Mavor delivered an astounding paper in the form of a fairy tale, in which she argued the links between visual representations of Alice and the consumption of food – primarily eggs. Taking inspiration from the passage in the book where the pigeon accuses Alice with her long neck of being a serpent who is there to steal the eggs from its nest, Mavor cleverly linked the consumption of eggs as fuel for human growth with albumen as a fixative in early photography.

Rather than being an overt telling of Alice, passages of the book were rewritten and woven into a narrative about a little girl called Nancy who lives in the American Deep South. Here, Mavor’s story telling was superlative, using her powers of description to evoke the heat and smells of the south, the story became languorous and sultry like a Tennessee Williams play. Gentle repetitions, increased the feeling of a languor acting soporifically upon the audience until we too like Alice/Nancy where falling down the rabbit hole into a wonderland of Mavor’s making

Martin Greenland – ‘New Fiction’

‘New Fiction’ is the current exhibition of Martin Greenland’s work at the Cornerstone Gallery at Liverpool Hope University. Consisting of approximately 20 works the exhibition marks a triumphant return to Liverpool for Greenland following his success in 2006 when he won the John Moores painting prize for his work Before Vermeer’s Clouds.

A statement for ‘New Fiction’ asserts that the works in the exhibition represent ‘ the balance between the believable, based upon what is seen, and the unbelievable, the unseen’; and without a doubt there is something of the uncanny within Greenland’s paintings.  juxtaposing the familiar with the strange Greenland creates a truly ‘das unheimlech’ sensation; the viewer is disquieted, yet seduced. A wonderful articulation of this sensation can be found in works such as End of Empire and Northumberland, Before and After (No3). Both canvasses are texturally rich and suffused with velveteen darkness, that in the Edmund Burke use of the word are sublime. They have an eerie gothic quality in the best tradition of Ann Radcliffe’s 1791 novel The Romance of the Forest.

End of Empire, with its decaying building surrounded by dark and claustrophobic trees with a beach just visible is a haunting image. The dilapidated building could be anything from a public Art Gallery to an asylum, its classical architecture at odds with the wild woods that surround and threaten to engulf it. Each of the components, the building, the woods and the beach are familiar in isolation yet combined as they are in this work they are as elusive and dreamlike – it is a place on unreality, a place to escape to and from.

Similarly, Northumberland, Before and After (No3) utilizes a brooding palette of colours again to the effect of creating an ambiguous space that is both beauty and terror combined. However The Flood and Playground could be considered the polar opposites to the works already discussed. Both these works are bright daylight scapes with open breathable compositions but are no less sinister for it. If anything I found these paintings infinitely more disquieting than the dark canvasses. They have a different sense of dereliction, where End of Empire has the sense of gentility in decay, Playground feels like an abrupt abandonment, largely due to the palpability of humanity, there is a trace of what was and what could be again.

Although the landscape is dominant within Martin Greenland’s paintings, for me they are not Landscape paintings, they are more charged and more personal than that. There is nothing twee about the subject matter or the emotions they evoke and are definitely worth spending a couple of hours with so as to fully absorb and appreciate the nuanced atmosphere of each work.

Martin Greenland – New Fiction is at the Cornerstone Gallery, Liverpool Hope University from 18th September to 12th November 2010

Cornerstone Gallery

Martin Greenland