Tag Archives: family

#BookReview ‘French Braid’ by Anne Tyler #literary #family

Anne Tyler writes about everyday relationships with a sharp eye and a silken pen, choosing subjects which to people who have never read her may appear boring or worthless. Her books are never boring. French Braid, her 24th novel is, like all the others, about people, individuals and their families, ordinary people who become so familiar they could be real. Anne TylerWe first meet college students Serena and James, on the train returning to Baltimore from a Thanksgiving visit to James’s parents in Philadelphia. They’re in love and think they know each other well but this visit has highlighted differences in their experience of family and childhood and the expectations each has of how their own family will be in the future. Not all families are alike, they discover. After this shortish section, Tyler settles into the main story of Mercy and Robin – Serena’s grandparents – and their three children Alice, Lily and David through births, marriages and deaths from the 1950s to today.
The Garretts think themselves an awkward family, aware they’re not perfect – as Robin thinks when preparing for his and Mercy’s fiftieth wedding anniversary party, ‘Oh, the lengths this family would go to so as not to spoil the picture of how things were supposed to be!’ But in fact they’re being themselves, getting along together in the way that suits them, dealing with what life throws at them.
There’s a brief scene in the kitchen between sisters Alice and Lily as the family gathers at Easter to meet David’s new friend, Greta. They’re setting out food for lunch when their mis-communications and misunderstandings are laid bare. Hilarious lines – ‘Was bottled mayonnaise not a good thing?’ – are typical Tyler and made me smile. It’s a classic way of showing how two sisters can be so unalike but still rub along together. Tyler has such a deceptively simple way with words, summarising sprawling emotions so concisely that I want to write it down to enjoy again later.
Tyler examines how each family finds its own way through life. Not all siblings are best friends, not all spouses live in each other’s pockets. There is no right way or wrong way of being a family. Close-knit families may find looser-knit families cold or odd, but may in turn themselves seem claustrophobic and cliquey to outsiders. Neither is odd, simply different. Everyone muddles through the best they can. The trick to being part of a family, in Tyler’s world, is to adapt. Allow individuals to be themselves and accept annoying traits, awkward memories and uncomfortable truths along with the happy memories and shared laughter as part of a family’s mosaic.

Read my reviews of these other books by Anne Tyler:-

And read the first paragraphs of:-

If you like this, try:-
At Mrs Lippincote’s’ by Elizabeth Taylor
The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt
The Pull of the Stars’ by Emma Donoghue

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
#BookReview FRENCH BRAID by Anne Tyler https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5PV via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Akin’ by Emma Donoghue @EDonoghueWriter #literary #WW2

Emma Donoghue Noah Selvaggio, a widower and retired chemistry professor, is about to leave New York for Nice, France, on an 80th birthday trip to discover his childhood roots. He expects to travel alone. Except in Akin by Emma Donoghue, Noah finds himself in temporary charge of his 11-year old great nephew Michael. The trip to Nice goes ahead, the old man and the boy learn new things about themselves, each other, and about the world.

This is effectively a road trip in a book, more of a ‘holiday trip’. The unlikely travelling companions are quite sparky, irritating each other, each reacting wildly to the other’s strange cultural habits. Donoghue does an excellent job with the Nice setting, effortlessly bringing it alive; the gardens, the architecture, the food, the carnival, the French themselves. I loved the grumpiness that both characters demonstrate. Michael’s weary ‘dude’ when Noah tries to educate him about something – ‘it’s a selfie, dude’, ‘eyebleach, dude’; Noah’s repeated requests that Michael eat a proper meal that includes vegetables. Any adult who is not natural with children and who has spent uncomfortable time with an awkward teenager, will identify with Noah’s dilemma. Michael can be gentle, inquisitive, cocky, snide, exhausting and infuriating. Noah needs frequent naps, prefers education to circuses, but he makes an effort because Michael’s father is dead, his mother in prison, and his grandmother has just died. Noah is the nearest relative who can be found. It doesn’t matter that they have never met, and that Noah is 79. Michael is grieving for his grandmother, and the absence of his mother Amber; Noah is grieving for his wife Joan, who pops up occasionally with acid asides when his handling of Michael backfires.

The mismatch between these two males – their ages, education, class, life chances – sounds like a recipe for disaster but the mixture of two opposites causes a chemical reaction involving respect, support, empathy and disagreement about mobile phones. Noah left Nice at the age of four, leaving behind his mother who was caring for her photographer father, to join his father in the USA. When Margot arrived in New York after the war, nothing much was said about the war years. This trip is Noah’s chance to find some answers. So as they identify the locations in Margot’s photographs taken in Nice during the war, Noah and Michael attempt to piece together her life. Was she simply her father’s photography assistant, or something else? A member of the Resistance, a forger of documents for Jewish orphans; or a snitch who betrayed her neighbours to save her family. Is there anyone in Nice who can help Noah and Michael find the truth?

This is a slow-burn book about the relationship between an old man and a pre-teen boy from very different worlds, and is told exclusively from the adult viewpoint. It is about families across generations facing difficult choices, taking risks in the hope of helping family, paying the consequences if things don’t work out; and above all, about the similarities. ‘He and this boy were quite alien to each other, he decided. Yet, in an odd way, akin.’

For me, this is another Donoghue hit.

Read my reviews of Donoghue’s Frog Music,The Wonder, and read the first paragraph of Room.

If you like this, try:-
Days Without End’ by Sebastian Barry
The Ballroom’ by Anna Hope
Summertime’ by Vanessa Lafaye

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
AKIN by @EDonoghueWriter #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-436 via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Girl in Trouble’ by @RhodaBaxter #romance

Funny, sad and believable: Girl in Trouble by Rhoda Baxter is the third in her Smart Girls series and, though some of the characters have cameo appearances throughout the series, can be read alone. Which is what I did, quickly, particularly enjoying the second half of the story. I was worried that the first chapter, in which we meet Olivia at a stag night, meant the book would be too chick lit for me but as the story progresses the themes become darker and complex. Rhoda BaxterOlivia is thirty, relationship-phobic and surrounded by friends. She is quite independent, thank you very much and does not need a man to look after her. She has never been in love, never allowed herself to be in love and knows this dislike/distrust of men can be traced back to her father who left her and her mother when she was a child. She also has a health issue that makes pregnancy a big risk, though to be honest I was a little in the dark about the specifics of this. Instead she is a serial one-night girlfriend. When she falls accidentally pregnant, Olivia thinks the decision to have an abortion is straightforward and sensible. Of course life gets in the way, in two ways. Firstly her absent landlord Walter, who lives in the upstairs flat, returns home and is hot and funny and makes her feel comfortable in a cosy sexy way; a first for Olivia. And then her absent father arrives on her doorstep.
This is a fast-paced well-written novel which runs the gamut of emotions from chuckles to tears to pain. Relationships within broken families, as the years pass, are not simple and Baxter explores the unresolved tension and anger of Olivia and her mother Liz towards her father Trevor. Graham, her stepfather, has been a calm and loving influence on Olivia since her teens, but she only starts to appreciate this once Trevor returns to the scene. The father/daughter theme is echoed also in Walter’s storyline. His divorced wife Charlotte is to remarry and take their daughter, Emily, to live in America. Walter, absent because of work through many of Emily’s baby years, realises what he has missed just as he is about to lose it.
If you like your girls to be girly then Olivia does not fit that profile. She keeps her thoughts to herself and is quite complex in her behaviour. She does not want children and, in discussions with her friend Ruchi, the for/against options for abortion are explored with Ruchi, at first, unhappy at her friend’s viewpoint. So although the cover design is bright and cheerful, Girl in Trouble touches on some serious topics in a balanced and thoughtful manner. I would have liked to know more about Olivia’s work life as a solicitor though, in fact Walter’s career as a marine biologist is explained in much more detail.
If you’re going on holiday, or a long train journey, you will devour this.

Read my review of PLEASE RELEASE ME, also by Rhoda Baxter.

If you like this, try:-
‘Butterfly Barn’ by Karen Power
‘One Step Too Far’ by Tina Seskis
‘Stormy Summer’ by Suzy Turner

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
GIRL IN TROUBLE by @RhodaBaxter #bookreview http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2Wf via @SandraDanby