In this confrontational, self-aware cut at the age old love story, Cathal Gunning has taken the tropes, honed them to pointed jibes, and dug deep into how we view romance in ourselves and in others. However, under the saccharine sweetness is a bitter core which drives the characters toward the unexpected. Gunning has done well to achieve this feat in a first novel where so many may lose the thread of self-consciousness which holds this novel together so well.
It was this sense that you could only ever feel in Dublin, and anywhere else where you could get any half-decent pills.
I first picked up The Eye of the World a long, long time ago it seems, and just as the Wheel gives birth to the Ages to repeat ad infinitum, I picked it up again to begin the sagacious journey I had previously abandoned after 5,403 pages (or 5 books). I can think of no logical reason for this because, frankly, I hated it the first time round.
This time was no different.
The story follows Rand Al’Thor, Matrim Cauthon, and Perrin Aybara, as they leave their small village lives behind in order to save the world with the company of a mysterious Aes Sedai witch, Moiraine, her warder, Lan, and two of the village women: a young girl betrothed to Rand, Egwene Al’Vere, and the village healer Nynaeve Al’Meara. This mission takes them away from The Two Rivers and on an adventure of a lifetime (that is, if we take lifetime to mean how much time you lose by reading every novel).
Needless to say, there’ll be spoilers abounds in this post as well as diatribes, rants, and raves against this series. There’s also a shocking lack of images, as I’m not devoting any more of my time to this infuriating series. If you have already heard all you need to convince you not to read the series, stop here.
Title: Such Small Hands Author: Andres Barba Publisher: Portobello Available: 3rd August 2017 (ooooh we got an advance copy, thanks Portobello) Rating: 3/5*
It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything for review, and even longer since I’ve been so challenged by such a short book. Such Small Hands takes us by the hand and leads us into the strange life of Marina as she assimilates into the orphanage following a car accident in which “Her father died instantly, her mother in the hospital”.
It’s often said never meet your heroes because they cannot live up to the high standards you’ve built them to. In my case the exact opposite of this is true: I don’t live up to them. That is to say I do the horrific awed silence into which pours discomfort for all people.
Last week, I had the great fortune to attend a Faber Members event in the beautiful St. George’s Church, to hear Sebastian Barry read from his Cost Book of the Year winning Days Without End. I must say, should you ever get the chance to see Barry read, jump on the bandwagon. It’s not an experience to be missed. Not only does his prose alone pack a punch, but so too does his delivery. Clearly his days as a playwright have not left him. As the soldiers slashed through the bodies and the trees shrouded in the smoke of a burning lodge, we, the audience were bathed in the gore and soot by Barry’s voice. Shivers rose on more arms than my own.
Sitting in a church pew, listening to Sebastian Barry read one of the most harrowing passages of any of his novels I’ve read was one of the best ways I’ve spent a Wednesday night in a long time. Not least because after the reading, the author was good enough to take some questions about the novel and then sign copies of his books for the massing fans. It’s no wonder that Matt Haig named him the number one author to see read from his work, a fact that a fellow Guardian Books Desk journalist Sian Cain pointed out when introducing the author.
Sadly, my nerve failed me when it came time to asking questions and I missed out sorely as I spent the whole week building up to asking Sebastian Barry a question. Then I was failed again when all I managed to get out when he signed my copy was “It was a truly beautiful book”. “Thank you very much, was there anything else?” he responded with a glint in his eye, my tongue glued to the roof of my mouth resulted in a brief nod from me.
But it truly was a beautiful piece of work. Part war story, part western, all stunning. I can really appreciate why it’s been so well received and gained so much praise since its release. I must admit this one, like so many others moved me with almost every chapter. You would think that I’d get tired of snivelling every time I open a book. Alas, it’s not so. Sebastian Barry has yet again filled my eyes and heart to brimming with the stunning Days Without End.
Finally, should Mr. Barry happen to ever read hack bloggers’ opinions, I would like to post my question here and live in hope: As your novels deal with the various places Irish people turn up, and you often claim them as your family, have you set out to write the Irish identity in its entirety from the laudable to the detestable, or is this just the disposition that comes from being an Irish author writing Irish stories?
About four months ago, I had the great pleasure of meeting a complete stranger who had as little a clue who I was as I did he. That stranger turned out to be the much (much, much, much) acclaimed Alan Hollinghurst. He also turned out to be leaving so our actual encounter was incredibly brief, details of which can be found here.
Having owned up to the shame of turning up to lauch of a book about an author knowing literally nothing about him, I resolved to educate myself on the work of the eponymous author. My partner ensured I made good on this by buying me a copy of The Line of Beauty for Christmas. As usual, I’m way behind the crowd on this one, but the political satire of this treatise in hedonism and conservatism certainly hasn’t expired in the interim.
Last night saw the announcement of the Costa Book of the Year award, chosen from the five winners of the individual book prizes Costa sponsor under novel, first novel, children’s book, poetry and biography. The nominees were as varied as the categories themselves:
Novel:Days Without End bySebastian Barry (Winner)
First novel:Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
Children’s book:The Bombs that Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan
Poetry:Falling Awake by Alice Oswald
Biography:Dadland: A Journey into Uncharted Territory by Keggie Carew.
I’m not sure I can really comment on how deserving Barry is this year as I’ve still not read his offering (or any of the others for that matter). However, I will say that last night as I watched the awards I was intrigued by all of the books on the shortlist. Most of all Dadland: A Journey into Uncharted Territory by Keggie Carew.
A biography of her father as he develops dementia, which as it descends past the surface details of the man himself, becomes a chase down the rabbit hole to find out a convoluted personal history. As a terminally nosey person, the idea of digging into the enigma of Carew’s father just captured my imagination. I have added this book to both my Amazon wishlist, Goodreads to-be-read, and the booklist of a reading group that’s formed in my university class (mostly because speech therapy trainees tend to be interested in dementia).
As for the winner, Days Without End by Sebastian Barry, it’s no secret I’m a great lover of the man’s work and have raved about it to all and sundry. I’ve been excited to read this one since I saw it in the Faber and Faber catalogue last year and FINALLY purchased it just today from a lovely clerk in Waterstones Gower Street. I’m really looking forward to getting into it!
On the rest of the books, I can only paraphrase others whom I’ve seen on the Beeb during the awards show but must admit I am also intrigued by them. In particular, the poetry entry Falling Awake which was described as a book of nature poetry that isn’t quite the pastoral comments one might expect. Also going with another fellow countryman, Graham Norton (one of this year’s judges), Golden Hill is firmly next in line on my to be read pile… after everything else.
So, if you’re at a loss for what to read check out the shortlist, maybe you’ll find your next favourite book!
Featured Reader: Serena, a masters student at UCL ( and one of Moz’s friends kind enough to pose for this kind of awkward angle). Currently Reading: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Favourite Sentence/Passage: “Just because a man has made enough money to come to Gion and waste it however he chooses doesn’t mean he’s fun to be around. In fact, many of the men are accustomed to being treated with a great deal of respect. Sitting back with their hands on their knees and big frowns on their faces is about as much work as they plan to do in the way of being entertaining.”
I’m very excited to have finally gotten around to starting this feature on the blog as it’s been a long time in development and has taken me a while to actually ask anyone to be in a picture for it.
A huge thanks to the lovely Serena for volunteering and being a great model, even or this amateur photographer!
If you would like to take part in this ‘What’s London Reading’ feature and are free for a quick photo and chat please use the contact page of the blog, or you can message our Instagram or Facebook pages.