Monday, 15 June 2015

The Waves by Virginia Woolf / Crazy As Chocolate by Elisabeth Hyde / Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

The WavesThe Waves by Virginia Woolf
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I first started listening to my Audible UK download of The Waves by Virginia Woolf in April and, although it is only a fraction over nine hours, it took me two months to get around to finishing. The Waves is a very different book to any I think I have read or heard before. Essentially prose poetry, it is told in the first person in turn by each of six protagonists, three male and three female. All are pretty much the same age and from the same privileged background. They met as children and we follow them through their lives.

I had great difficulty initially getting into the flow of The Waves (Woolf makes many watery puns, so shall I!) and it wasn't until about 1/3 down that I could really concentrate on what was being said. The early chapters, as children, consist of brief overlapping sentences which I found incredibly soporific. I just couldn't stay awake! Once the characters get older and indulge in longer, detailed monologues, this problem faded. Woolf has created strong individuals which are generally easy to identify whether the narrator has introduced them each time or not. I liked learning how they all saw each other as well as how they saw themselves. Plus the observations of time passing in the natural world and of social etiquette and customs are fascinating - Louis trying to hide his Australian-ness in the tea shop being a prime example

Woolf's snobbery is frequently apparent with maids in particular being only dismissively mentioned. I was also irritated by the patronising descriptions of 'little shopkeepers' and how idyllic it must be to only just make ends meet each week. One character, Bernard I think, even declares he would love to give up all his money for such a life. Tellingly, he doesn't!

I did enjoy the sheer joy in language of The Waves. Beautifully poetic writing is wonderful to hear and Julia Franklin is the perfect narrator. For me though, the lack of early accessibility and later overwhelming intensity meant I had to keep putting the book aside and my three star rating reflects this.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

Crazy as ChocolateCrazy as Chocolate by Elisabeth Hyde
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was lucky to spot a '3 for 99p' book box outside AgeUK in Stokesley last week. I picked up two Anne Tyler paperbacks and this novel, Crazy As Chocolate by Elisabeth Hyde. Her previous bestseller, The Abortionist's Daughter, is one I'm sure I have read and enjoyed, but can't remember anything about it. Oops! Better check if I reviewed it on Goodreads!

In Crazy As Chocolate we meet Izzy who is about to celebrate her 41st birthday. She's only a year older than I am so I could identify with her. What we do not have in common though is a bipolar mother who committed suicide on her 41st birthday. Izzy is dreading the day, even more so when her plans for a quiet break with husband Gabe are disrupted by the last-minute arrival of her father, sister and niece. With this hothouse situation set up, Hyde explores both the adult recriminations over what happened 28 years ago and takes her readers back to when the sisters were children, viewing events through their eyes.

For such a potentially heavy subject, I felt this was a surprisingly light read. Izzy's sister, Ellie, is probably the most defined character and the absent mother, Mimi, is an ethereal presence. Father, Hugh, is a good creation as an elderly man but, again, came across hazily in the historical sections. Issues such as whether bipolar disorders are hereditary are touched upon and much is made of Izzy's childlessness although I didn't actually get a sense of longing from her which seemed to contradict the text. I did like Crazy As Chocolate as a diversion on a rainy day. It doesn't make heavy demands on its reader and is fairly short at 243 pages. I would be interested in deeper fiction on the same topic, but for 33p this book was fine.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

Elizabeth Is MissingElizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had high hopes for Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey. So many friends on Goodreads and elsewhere have raved about it - even Dave thought it was great - so I am glad to report that I absolutely loved it too. Healey's portrayal of Maud is just perfect. I loved how we see her both from her own perspective and from the point of view of those around her, and the portrayal accepts that her predicament has its amusing moments, but is never malicious. I have two friends currently coping with their own mothers' dementia and Elizabeth Is Missing has given me a powerful insight into how tough caring for someone must be.

Maud's timeslips are nicely written and I liked that sometimes it wasn't immediately apparent whether she was in the present or the past. Also clever was the familiarity with which people such as the policeman at his station greet Maud so, as a reader, I knew that such visits were frequently repeated even though Maud herself has no memory of them. This novel has really opened my eyes to dementia and I found it a frightening prospect to think about. I also found reading the book to be an unexpectedly emotional experience, welling up at several moments.

In my opinion Elizabeth Is Missing is easily a five star read and also an important book that I think should be widely read. As I posted my rating on Goodreads I noticed another author, Anne Goodwin, has an interesting blog post about dementia in literature which also suggests other on-topic novels.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

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