Saturday, 15 August 2015

The True Picture by Alison Habens / Intimacy by Hanif Kureishi / Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

The True Picture by Alison Habens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Buy the ebook from Amazon

One of my Top Ten Books of 2015 and one of my Top Ten Books for IndiePrideDay 2016.

I received a copy of The True Picture via its author, Alison Habens, who contacted me on Twitter asking if I would be interested in reading her book to review. I wasn't sure at first as the cover art led me to expect a certain style of 'Life of the Saints' Christian novel. My impression could not have been more wrong, however, and I am delighted to have taken a chance on what turned out to be a great historical novel.

I saw my first Stations Of The Cross - a series of images depicting the Christian crucifixion story - in Cullera earlier this year. One showed a woman, Saint Veronica, about whom practically nothing is known historically. Habens has imagined her a life in which a career as a temple-dancer and songstress for Venus is viciously cut short, and a privileged position as saleswoman in the prosperous family business leads to her meeting a charismatic travelling man.

I loved the character of Veronica. She has a certain world-weariness, but is also vivacious, determined and proud of her status as a Roman businesswoman in the city of Tyre. Her shop selling purple-dyed fabric trim to the upper echelons of society has made her rich so we learn about her fashionable clothing and towering hairstyles. Habens vividly describes the sounds, fragrances, brilliant colours and mingling cultures of Roman life in energetic prose. She manages to keep up this energy throughout the novel, making The True Picture a truly exciting read. Her clever melding of italicised latin words with modern-day slang expressions is nicely done to evoke the historical setting and to show her characters as people with whom I could easily identify.

We learn of the arrival of Jesus through Veronica's eyes, learn how she is smitten by him yet is uncertain about throwing over her traditional gods, and how she sets out - alone and in totally inappropriate footwear - to follow him. Her learning to trust again is sensitively handled, as are the changing relationships with her sister and friends. The solidarity engendered by long distance walking rang true with me as did Veronica's thrill at being involved in the start of a something new. I appreciated the almost incidental inclusion of Biblical events and stories. Veronica might be at the back of the crowd or catching up with a gossipy chat, so The True Picture is always her tale, not simply a rehash of gospel stories. We also meet people harmed by their connection with Jesus' life - the woman whose son was murdered by soldiers is a memorable image - which adds a poignant depth to the novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed The True Picture and will no doubt be 'singing its praises' for a long time to come. If you too would like to take a chance on this novel, Alison Habens is offering the ebook to download for free from Amazon this weekend (14th-16th August 2015) so don't miss out! I would highly recommend it to fans of historical fiction, journey stories and tales of strong sassy heroines.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Alison Habens / Historical fiction / Books from England

IntimacyIntimacy by Hanif Kureishi
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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Buy the paperback from The Book Depository
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

I bought Intimacy by Hanif Kureishi in a pristine hardback edition from the Children's Society charity shop in Garstang for 99p. It is a short novella length book and, written in the first person as it is, could almost be mistaken for memoir rather than fiction. I did learn, when reading other reviews after finishing, that Kureishi had actually lived out the theme - of a man leaving his wife and children - shortly before the book was published.

I was intrigued by the synopsis and hoped for a deep examination of what makes people abruptly walk out on apparently successful relationships. I have read Kureishi before and loved his writing, but I don't think the magic was present in Intimacy. Jay is telling us his thoughts, aims and fears on the night before leaving his family. We get a good idea of his character, but his wife and sons remain vaguely portrayed in the background and are never fleshed out. Even when allegedly talking about another person, we always get how said person makes Jay feel about himself which I found irritating quite early on.

Jay has mistaken affluence and the accumulation of possessions for happiness. Now he realises that he is still not satisfied, he indulges in endless self-pity and shallow affairs. Consequently this book actually has very little to do with Intimacy and struck me as a very self-indulgent piece of writing. There are occasional flashes of inspired prose, but mostly it is just dull.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Hanif Kureishi / Contemporary fiction / Books from England

cannery rowCannery Row by John Steinbeck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Buy the audiobook download from Audible via Amazon
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository
Buy the audio CD from Waterstones

I downloaded Cannery Row from Audible three years ago so this is my second time of listening and I am glad to say that the book is just as good as I remembered it to be. Trevor White does an excellent job of the narration. I love how Steinbeck can get the essence of a character across in just a few sentences and the residents of Cannery Row are a memorable bunch. Even brief appearances such as Mrs Malloy, Franky and the lonely gopher are instantly recognisable. And I am so envious of Steinbeck's talent for poetic and gripping descriptive prose!

Set in a distinct period of American history, I got a very real sense of these people eking out their lives on the margins of mainstream society, yet, other than the put-upon Doc, I never felt sorry for them as they rarely seemed to pity themselves. Doc's speech about Mac and his boys being the only true philosophers gave an interesting perspective on their lifestyle and reinforced that it was essentially a free choice decision.

While the minutiae of daily life makes up much of the book, it never feels mundane so I was engrossed throughout the five and a half hours of listening. This is definitely one of my top favourite audiobooks.

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Books by John Steinbeck / Audiobooks / Books from America

Cannery Row was my last read for the Bookcrossers/Goodreads Decade Challenge which runs from Sep 1st 2014 to Aug 31st 2015 so I just got finished in time! The challenge was to read one book published in each decade from 1900 to 2015 and these were my reads and listens:

1906 - The Right Way To Do Wrong by Harry Houdini
1919 - The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell
1929 - The Other One by Colette
1931 - The Waves by Virginia Woolf
1945 - Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
1950 - The Grass Is Singing by Doris Lessing
1968 - The Laughing Policeman by Sjowall and Wahloo
1973 - Portrait Of A Marriage by Nigel Nicolson
1985 - Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
1994 - The New Life by Orhan Pamuk
2009 - The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline by Nancy Springer
2012 - In One Person by John Irving

View all my reviews on Stephanie Jane or on Goodreads

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