The Year in Books | October 2015

October 7, 2015

The Year in Books - October 2015 | Altered Land by Jules Hardy | These Four Walls blog

My September choice for ‘The Year in Books’, Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley, was a thoroughly compelling read. An account of an ordinary life, it follows a Bristol woman called Stella from her 1950s childhood in a ramshackle city-centre flat through to settled middle age in the suburbs. Some reviews have criticised the lack of much plot, but that’s actually one of the things I enjoyed most about the book: it’s more of a gentle character study than anything else, and life-changing moments and day-to-day events are treated with the same quiet pragmatism. There are no dramatic twists and turns, but I felt engaged from the first paragraph and the chapters flew by in a few sittings.

Hadley’s writing is incredibly elegant, and every page is packed with lovely little snippets depicting the details of daily life – yellow squares of sunlight shining through curtains, the stale smell of gravy lingering in rarely used dining rooms. She also paints vivid pictures of Bristol, and the novel is firmly rooted in time and place. I think my favourite passage was a description of an old bombsite from the Second World War: ‘You could still make out different wallpapers on the high standing walls, distinguishing the squares of vanished rooms, washed by the rain to faint ghosts of their former patterns. Traces of staircases climbed in zigzag patterns; doors opened on to nothing’. Beautifully evocative.

My October pick is Altered Land by Jules Hardy. I’m particularly looking forward to this one because the main character has a condition called synesthesia – something which I share. You might not have heard of it before, but it involves senses overlapping so that sounds might be perceived as tastes, or touch as smell. In my case, I associate letters, numbers and even days of the week with specific colours – so, for example, Tuesday is pea-green and the letter A is postbox-red. I see it as a positive thing: I think it’s one of the reasons I’m so interested in design, and it certainly helps with proof-reading (I tend to spot typos instantly as the colours are jumbled up!). I’m intrigued to find out how it’s depicted in the novel…

‘The Year in Books’ is a monthly blog series run by Laura of Circle of Pine Trees, with the aim of encouraging people to make more time to read; I’m taking part by reviewing books set in or connected to my home city over the course of 2015. There’s also a regular Twitter chat where everyone can share recommendations. Head over to the information page to find out more – and happy reading!

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