Friday, 26 May 2017

Bailey's Book Prize book six

The Dark Circle by Linda Grant.


My reading order of the six Bailey's Prize books has been totally random - it really was just the way they came out of the box - but this book was possibly the one I'd have either read first or saved until last through choice.

I've read and enjoyed other books by Grant and the blurb of this book really made me think it would be up my street - a post war historical fiction set in a TB sanatorium in Kent. I've been a long time fan of the Chalet School books by Elinor Brent Dyer and the plots of many of these books (at least in the early days) focus around TB and cures.  I also love Betty Macdonald's The Plague and I which is her autobiographical account of her time as a TB patient. There was much to look forward to in this book...

It lived up to all my hopes, I raced through it and quickly became invested in the lives of Miriam and her twin Lenny both in London and on their transfer to Kent. It was a real page turner and from chapter to chapter I never knew which way the plot was going to go - it was as unpredictable as the disease itself.

The depiction of post war antisemitism was a shock to me and as a modern reader hard to read as it was just accepted and not commented on.  I've read books about racism post war following the arrival of the Windrush but I was taken aback at the anti Jewish sentiment - in my naivety I'd have thought that news of the concentration camps, and the cinema newsreels, would have stopped this.

However now I've finished the book I feel a little empty - like after you've had a Chinese meal, you are full at the time but then hungry again just a little while later.  There were lots of plot strands and I'm not entirely sure that they all worked out - I can see that they were all necessary to build the tale but after the half way point they all felt rushed and unexplored. I didn't lose track of anyone or any story which is a positive thing with so many strands but I am left wanting to know more about all of them.

I really enjoyed the story here but I am greedy I wanted much more from it.  Another great read but one that is far more disposable than many of the others.

Now to spend some time thinking over the six shortlisted titles and pick my own favourites...

Monday, 22 May 2017

Bailey's Book Prize book five

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo


I started this book with the assumption that I wasn't going to find it a top read.  It is set in Nigeria and one of my favourite books of all times, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, has this setting and I just thought that such a slender volume couldn't match that favourite.

I was so happy to be proved wrong by this one.  It grew on my with every page turn and at times I felt I was actually in the room with the family as events unfolded.

I've read lots of reviews with spoilers and I am glad I didn't see them before I started as this book really played with my own thoughts, prejudices and assumptions.  Something would happen and I'd draw a conclusion and then a few pages later some more information was given and my thinking changed by 180 degrees.

By the end my heart was breaking for all of the characters, so much about them couldn't be changed but just talking could have saved so much.

If I have any criticisms with the book it is that at times I found it a little hard to keep track of who was narrating each chapter - although after a few lines I always worked it out. I also wanted to know a little more about the politics in the background. Here they were important only in how they touched the story but the tidbits of information were interesting and I'd have liked a digression, this would have changed the style of book however and it is just perfect as it is.

I thought that I'd found my best Bailey's Book with Do Not Say We Have Nothing but this is running it close, and I can certainly see me convincing more people to read this than the epic Do Not Say. An added plus for this book is that Adebayo has links to Norfolk!

With only one book left to read on the short list I am so pleased to be involved in this project - I've been challenged with all the books and discovered some new favourites.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Eighteen - Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's Globe, London. May 2017.


Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. From the sublime The Ferryman in the afternoon to this... It will be clear to regular readers that The Globe is one of my favourite theatres and that I am rarely disappointed by what I see there.  I've even tried to stick up for the decisions in direction made by Emma Rice over the past 18 months - I'm not against modern innovations in the traditional spaces - last year's Two Gentlemen of Verona was a great watch with lights and pop music. But this was just awful.

I don't really want to write about this show. I am all for exploring what you can do with a text but I'm really not sure that semi naked dancers with nipple tassels, a man pretending to be a dog, women giving birth to coffins and a radical re-write to the ending was just all too much for me.

My other niggle is with the Globe itself - this production used strobe lighting and at no point did I see any warning for this.  I was lucky that this time I was able to shut my eyes and not end up unwell watching this but the same wouldn't have been true if I'd come with my mum. The Globe say they do warn about the lights and to some extent this is true - it is mentioned on their website and in the email they send out before a performance BUT in small text buried in other information. You do not expect this style of lighting at the Globe and strobe lights are a real health issue so this should be made much clearer - big letters on the top of the webpage, signs on the wooden doors before you enter the theatre...

I hate writing a hatchet job like this, especially for one of my favourite places and especially after seeing the wonderful Nell Gwynn just a few days before but I am now very nervous about the rest of the season.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Bailey's Book Prize book four.

The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan


This thick tome was the fourth book I pulled out of my box and is possibly the one I approached with the most trepidation - it was over 500 pages long and about horses!

It has taken a long time to read this, well a long time for me anyhow - but I still don't know if I liked the book or if I even enjoyed it.

I was compelled to keep reading, the story for the most part was gripping and I wanted to know how it was going to play out. I liked the weaving of all of the threads together from the Forge's story, Kentucky history through to Allmon's modern experiences - they did all work together well. Even the parts about horses and horse racing were mostly interesting.

Here comes the but... the prose was so flowery at times that I lost interest in what was being written as I scanned to get to the next part of the plot. Sometimes this worked - especially in the scenes with Allmon and Scipio but for the most part it felt a little too showy.

By the end however I found it to be a bit rushed and all that slow build was just wiped away too quickly. I'm not sure I believed in the main character twist either.

I felt like I was watching the story through a window - I couldn't get close to any of the characters and while I see that the casual racism and sexism was integral to the story I found it all a bit too much - it felt the most real part of the narrative and that bothered me.  I know that neither 'ism' has gone away but as they did feel so real I worry that these are the truest part of the book for Morgan.

I'm glad this book was shortlisted for the Bailey's Prize as I'd never have read it otherwise and I don't begrudge the time I spent on the book, ultimately it just wasn't for me.

Next up is Stay With Me - again a book I'd not come across before.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Seventeen - The Ferryman

The Ferryman, Royal Court, London. May 2017.


A few year's ago Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem was the big 'thing' in London theatre and for some reason Rebecca and I missed this. We saw his Mojo on opening night and could see that it would be a good play when it settled down into the run so when The Ferryman was announced we pounced on tickets.

Apart from seeing that it garnered dozens of five star reviews and that it was a family drama set in Ireland I knew nothing about this play and I think that this was the right way to approach it - which means I am going to write nothing about the plot here.

This was a clever piece of theatre as it drip fed information to the viewer and I made assumptions and guesses as to how the story was going to go and every time I was wrong - but what we got was better. At the end I felt stunned, it was such a powerful piece of theatre. Both Rebecca and I were on our feet for a standing ovation, whilst wiping the tears from our faces.

It feels wrong to have such a short review for such a fantastic 3 1/4 hours in the theatre but even now a few days on all I can say is 'wow!'

This is transferring to the West End next month and I am hoping to convince Mr Norfolkbookworm to see this. If this isn't in my top 3 plays by the end of the year then I will be surprised and so happy that 2017 has been a fantastic year of theatre!

Friday, 12 May 2017

Bailey's Book Prize book three

First Love but Gwendoline Riley.


The third book I picked out of my book prize box was First Love and my initial impression was how minimalist the cover appeared. Then when I opened it and saw both the line spacing (lots of white areas on the page) and the length (short) I wondered just how minimalist the tale was going to be!

In general I read very fast and book of this length usually wouldn't have taken much longer than my lunch break to read. As this book has been  shortlisted for the Bailey's Prize I made a deliberate decision to read this slowly, to read each segment and then take a break to think about what I'd read.

I think that this was the right decision as at first glance this is a slight book, Neve is in a bad relationship and the story charts this but in reading it slowly I also read behind the lines.

Again if I talk about this too much I am aware that I could spoil the book for other readers but I know that if I'd read it at my normal speed I would have come away with only one story from the novel. By reading it slowly I got a more rounded story, but this did change my sympathies entirely... swings and roundabouts I guess!

At first I wasn't sure that such a slender story was in the same league as the other books on the shortlist but this one really has got under my skin and while Do Not Say We Have Nothing remains my favourite read of the year so far this one is a worthy contender for the Bailey's Prize.

Now from the compact to the epic - the 545 page Sport of Kings was the next book out of the box!

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Sixteen - Nell Gwynn

Nell Gwynn, Shakespeare's Globe, London. May 2016.


I am so pleased that this has come back to the Globe. In 2015, when it first played, I also didn't see it when in came to Cambridge in the hopes that it would return to the Globe like the rumours had suggested. When the day of the play came around it has to be said that my heart wasn't in it entirely - the lovely warm weather of April had morphed into some really cold, unseasonable, weather in Norfolk and the idea of sitting in an open air theatre wasn't appealing.

I am so glad that we went (this will be Mr Norfolkbookworm's only trip to the Globe this season). From the moment the play started I had a happy smile on my face and this just didn't slip for the entire performance.  The story is slight in many ways but it has a lot to say about the Nell's time and our own - Swale seems to be the mistress of making history speak to us without over doing it, while at the same time knowing that you can write with a broad brush for performances at the Globe.  The lines about how important the arts are and Brexit were utterly played to the audience but yet some of the quieter lines making similar points resonated just as well.

It is hard to write about a piece of theatre that I loved so much, I wanted to watch it again instantly and I am worried that if I write too much about it I will lose the magic. This was the ultimate in a feel good show and has set the bar high for the rest of the Globe's Summer of Love season.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Bailey's Book Prize book two

The Power by Naomi Alderman

Next out of my Bailey's Prize box came The Power by Naomi Alderman and I didn't have such a great relationship with this book. Part of the problem was probably the 'book hangover' Do Not Say We Have Nothing left me with.  After falling in love with a book so completely the book that comes after it always suffers I find.

The ideas behind The Power all made me think that the book was going to be for me.  All of a sudden girls (and women) get a new power that makes them the dominant gender and the way the world is run gets turned on its head. Sort of.

The premise of the book is that here is a devastating event and all history before this new power is lost, the book presents as a piece of academic research charting what happens in the run up to this event and the resetting of history. It is told from four alternating points of view, three female and one male and eventually all four characters interact.

To say more will spoil the book and I found bits of it very clever, I didn't have a problem with the way the narrator changed so frequently but I never felt like I was a part of the story. This could have been intentional as the start and end do remind you that this isn't supposed to be novel but is a piece of 'academic research' although I confess I did lose sight of  this while I reading.

I also didn't have a problem with the authors idea of how history (and people) would unfurl after such an event. There were also some killer lines, especially the very final one! I didn't like the author writing herself into the book but that is just a personal peeve. I've been thinking about this book for several days and I can't quite explain why this book didn't hit the spot for me.

To be fair I can't say that in the end I really disliked this book, a few days after finishing it I am still turning over the ideas presented and I loved the ideas at the heart of it...but...I also can't say I liked it hugely. It didn't feel particularly new to me and even reading the ending of the main part of narration twice I am not 100% certain quite what happened.  My overriding feeling is that this would have made a great short story.

Oh dear - I really don't like writing about books that don't quite hit the mark for me but I did promise to write about all of the Bailey's Book prize books honestly. On to book three...

Friday, 5 May 2017

April Reading Round Up

After the great reading month that March gave me I didn't find April to be so good for the main part - although becoming a Bailey's Book Prize ambassador at the end of the month was really exciting.

I 'only' read 15 books in April and four of them are worth mentioning here.

Margot and Me - Juno Dawson. 
This is a teen novel about a family of strong women and their stories and secrets. I enjoyed it but the book was set pre-2000 and I found myself questioning some of the technology that the teenagers use as a matter of course. These niggles aside I was swept away by the story and wholeheartedly recommend the book.


Durrells of Corfu - Michael Haag
I love the TV series about the Durrells, I've greatly enjoyed reading books from both Larry and Gerry Durrell and thus I've been looking forward to the biography of the whole family a lot. It didn't disappoint, in fact this was a very affectionate look at the family which took some of the legendary episodes and told the true version behind them.  It didn't shy away from the bad times but in being a whole family biography it wasn't always as detailed as I'd have liked. It has left me with a reading list and a desire to go to Greece!

Balancing Acts - Nick Hytner
This is Hytner's selected memoirs of his time running the National Theatre in London and while I raced through the book and enjoyed lots of it I did find it ultimately a little disappointing. It rarely does more than scratch the surface and even when it is talking about flops/failures it is all really good hearted. I realise that Hytner is a relatively young man and his career is nowhere near over so he needs to be careful in what he says but I'd have liked a little more. There is very little of Hytner the man either. Oh dear - this all sounds negative again but I did really enjoy what was in the book hence why it is on my best of April list!

Do Not Say We Have Nothing - Madeleine Thien
Already reviewed here!

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Bailey's Book Prize book one

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien


I'm not sure why I picked this one out of the box to read first - perhaps it was the gold foil on the cover shining at me!

My first thoughts on opening the book were possibly a little negative as I was bit overwhelmed by the length and the font - this is where eBooks really win for me as it is so easy to change the text size and font to make the reading experience easier.

However within moments of starting the book these thoughts vanished, I was sucked in to the book and loved the present day narrator, Marie, instantly.

This is a sweeping tale which mixes fact and fiction seamlessly at the same time as bringing the history of China since 1940 to life. The weaving together of all of the strands was handled so deftly that I really felt like I was peeling back the layers of a story and falling deeper and deeper into it as I turned every page.

At times I wanted to know more about Marie and her life but as the book progressed I understood why it was structured as it was and by the very end I was a soggy, snotty mess as the ending just finished me.

I loved the way that I learned so much about China while reading this. Passages of history, such as The Cultural Revolution, which I'd heard of and had a vague idea of came to life in that way that sometimes only fiction can make happen.

I know that this was a good book because it has fluttered in and out of my dreams since I started it and I have a feeling that it may well end up on my 'best fiction of the year' lists come December. I am now even more excited than before to read the remaining short listed titles to see if they can beat this one!

If you've liked Wild Swans by Jung Chang or This is All by Aidan Chambers then I think you'll like this one, but it will also appeal to people who like detailed historical fiction such as Birds Without Wings, Birdsong & Memoirs of a Geisha.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Being an ambassador

Reading Agency / Baileys Library Ambassador 2017


A long time ago a careers quiz at school suggested that perhaps I should consider working for the diplomatic service but I never thought I'd ever be an ambassador...

Joking aside this is actually a really exciting development for 2017, a spur of the moment decision, encouraged by my manager, to apply to be a library ambassador for this year's Bailey's Prize paid off and on Monday this week a lovely box of books got delivered containing this year's shortlisted titles.


The six titles this year are:
All six are new to me, I had read several from the longlist but none of these. The first one I've picked out of the box is Do Not Say We Have Nothing....

You can read more about the Bailey's Prize here and you can meet all three ambassadors here.  I will be tweeting my progress on the books from @norfolkbookworm and updating my progress through the books here and on the Norfolk Library review blog.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Book vs Film (sort of)

There hasn't been too much on at the cinema lately that I've wanted to see but typically just now there are three films all once.

Another Mother's Son was my priority as it covers a period of history that I am very interested in - the German Occupation of the Channel Islands during WW2.

I can date my interest in this area back to childhood holidays in Jersey and Guernsey when dad took me to WW2 locations such as the Underground Hospital in Jersey. The first book I read on the topic (and possibly my first autobiography and first WW2 book) was A Child's War by Molly Bihet. She was certainly the first author I met and I still remember the occasion and location and have my signed copy of the book.

Since then I've read lots of books set in the Channel Islands during the Occupation, in fact one of my favourite books of all time is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society which is heavily influenced by the true story depicted in Another Mother's Son.

The film certainly packed an emotional punch, and although I did know how the story ended I still was moved by it and generally enthralled, but...
I just found the film to be too historically inaccurate, too Hollywood. There was nothing too obvious, just enough niggles to make me unhappy as I was watching it.

My main problem was that the film. although based on the true story of Louisa Gould, felt less real than the novels I've read.  The people just didn't come across as oppressed, or as hungry as other sources have shown and the timeline at the end was just a little too compressed. And don't get me started on the accents... I am going to be generous and say that perhaps this is because many of the books I've read were set on Guernsey and this is Jersey but I am not sure this really can explain my feelings.

I know I am forever saying I prefer the book to the film but in this case I am really surprised that this is the case. It doesn't feel right that a simple novel based on many sources and thoroughly fictionalised should be better than the true story.

The film is worth watching, and I like to support British films but in this case I really do urge you to read the books, especially Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.



Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Fifteen - Love in Idleness

Love in Idleness, Menier Chocolate Theatre, London. April 2017.


Due to a variety of events I am later reviewing this than normal and it has been nearly two weeks since I saw this, but it doesn't seem to matter too much for as soon as I think of this I smile.

Rattigan's plays have that effect on me it would seem. At first thought they seem light and fluffy but then the depth and emotion grows on you and this play was no exception and I was so involved with this one that I went from crying with laughter to crying with sadness in one breath.

The play itself is a hybrid - Rattigan wrote the serious  Less than Kind  first but this was not produced and with input/help from the original lead actors is became the comedy Love in Idleness. For this production elements from both plays have been taken so that the comedy has more bite, emotion and politics but is also still incredibly funny. It remains very much a play of its original time however.

I do think that it is the cast that really makes this sing - the timing is impeccable and I utterly believed in the main trio's relationship. They felt like a dysfunctional family unit and the wonderful ending came together brilliantly from this build up.

I've now read both versions of the play and I feel that the hybrid that has been created does appeal to me more than either of the originals - this was feel good theatre and I loved every moment of it, so much so that I am tempted to try and see it again when it transfers to the West End.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

I feel the need, the need for speed...

Meeting Scott "Scooter" Altman, retired astronaut with Space Lectures, Pontefract. April 2017.

Another trip north to meet an astronaut and this one had me feeling a little nervous. Before Altman became an astronaut he was a naval fighter pilot and whilst on active service he was also Tom Cruise's stunt pilot for the film Top Gun. I only watched this for the first time recently and mentally I'd made the mistake of equating Altman with Tom Cruise's arrogant character in the film.

As soon as Altman started talking I knew I'd made a mistake - this was an articulate, funny and pretty humble man who had some great stories to tell. While he had flown into space four times this lecture concentrated on his military career and then his final mission in which he was the Commander for the Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission.

As with all the best tales there are problems to overcome and some real cliffhanger moments and another member of the audience has a better memory for these things than me (I just get star struck!) and has written up a great account of the talk here. My main takeaway points were that necessity really is the mother of invention (who knew that a chisel, hammer and brute force work in space too!) and also that space is perhaps the way to maintain peace here on earth.  If Altman, a trained combat pilot, can work with and admire his former enemy then cooperation in orbit will hopefully smooth the way to cooperation everywhere.

We had a (sort of) personal connection to Altman's missions. Way back in 1998 we made our first trip to Florida in the hope of seeing STS-90 launch. We missed the launch by about 2 weeks (darn those slipping schedules!) but this would have been Altman's first mission.  To top this my sister and her husband saw STS-125 launch in 2009 - this was Altman's final mission.

STS 125 launch view from Jetty Park, Fl. Taken by my sister

Sadly we can't make the next event in June, where Space Lectures will be hosting Alexei Leonov and tickets are available - if you are at all interested in space history I recommend going. The team organise the events wonderfully and Leonov is a great speaker.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Fourteen - Abigail's Party

Abigail's Party, Theatre Royal, Norwich. March 2017.


I've never squirmed so much in a theatre where the play was causing the movement and not an uncomfortable seat!

The acting in this was terrific, not a weak link in the cast at all, they had be believing utterly that we were back in the 1970s at the most awkward drinks party ever.
None of the characters are particularly nice and as the drinks flow their true colours really start to show and my sympathies were with none of them, but such was the cast's skill - and of course Leigh's fabulous script - that my attention was held throughout.

A special mention has to go to the set for this tour which was really magnificent and yet looked like it would fold straight back into itself and transport back to the 1970s where it had clearly stolen from!

A week on from seeing this play I am still inwardly shuddering at the play, and I feel like I watched it through my fingers like the best horror movie!

Unknowingly this theatre trip also links in with my own 2017 reading challenge as it was written and first performed in 1977.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

March Reading Round Up

March was a good month for reading with me, thanks to that lovely holiday at the start of the month (and then a nasty cold later on) I ready 30 books in a month of 31 days!

Several of the books are for a review project and again even if they were amazing I can't talk about them or review them yet, but that notwithstanding it was a pretty good reading month.

The Bear and the Nightingale and Greatest Hits which I read and reviewed at the start of the month were definite hits this month but a few of the other highlights of the month include the following.

 Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. This is an interesting book about London in World War Two, following four main characters during the early years of the conflict. I liked this book a lot because it managed to tell a new story of this era to me, I've read a lot of books set in this time frame and this felt new and exciting - despite none of the characters being particularly likable.


The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse. Again a World War Two book but this one set in Amsterdam. It starts interestingly with the protagonist being a black marketeer but then evolves into a more complicated resistance story. A few bits of language jarred slightly but on the whole I was kept guessing all the way through, in the right way.

In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki. This book was recommended to me by a friend as I asked for recommendations of books translated in 1977 as part of my personal challenge. It was a slim volume about one man's musings on how traditional Japanese life is being changed by modern ways - and this book was written pre-WW2 so is a real snapshot of a lifestyle now totally vanished. It is hard to explain fully but as this is such a slim volume I urge you all to hunt it down, read it and then go out for great Japanese food!

My final picks for the month are the Birchbark House books by Louise Erdrich.  I've read a few of her adult books but this is a children's series is all about an Ojibwa family at the time when the Native American population was under greatest threat from white settlers. I've been a long time fan of the Little House on the Prairie series but I know that they aren't very historically accurate and it is great to find another series from the same time frame but telling the other side of the story.



Friday, 31 March 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Thirteen - Madama Butterfly

Madama Butterfly, Royal Opera House, London. March 2017.

It hasn't been that long since I saw the Glyndebourne version of this opera and fell in love with it but when I saw it was going to be on at the ROH I knew I wanted to go again, and this time with my mum and dad. It seemed like we out of luck at first because the tickets we wanted initially sold out before I could get to the website.

After much discussion and checking of the website we decided to risk the £20 seats in the upper ampitheatre - this showed great bravery on mum's part as they were incredibly high up!

We saw the first performance of this opera at a midday matinee and it was wonderful, the staging was simple, sliding doors and lighting conveyed everything needed and the costumes were traditional kimonos for the Japanese roles contrasting with the western dress of Pinkerton and the consul.

Despite being so high up the view was incredible, we couldn't see facial expressions but we could see everything that happened on the stage as well as having a really clear view of the surtitles. The sound was also brilliant, the music and voices just soared up to us.

This was another production where time flew as we were watching it and by the end we were emotional wrecks and totally wrung out - we'd never have known that this was a first performance and we are now avidly scanning the ROH brochure to see what else we can book for these bargain seats!

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Twelve - Travesties

Travesties, Apollo Theatre, London. March 2017.


After the wonderful performance of Hamlet in the afternoon there was always a danger that the second play of the day will be a let down and as Stoppard has a reputation for being 'hard'.

It started ominously when Tom Hollander shuffled into the theatre acting as an old man wearing slippers and a dressing gown. We then met all the protagonists of the drama in a crazy, frenetic scene and I was left feeling bewildered and totally at sea.

It calmed down in some ways as it became clear that the old man was the 'now' and the other scenes were his memories.  It got a bit confusing again when scenes started playing and then replaying themselves all slightly differently.

The plot of the play was full of information as the basic plot is that the old man, Henry Carr, is the British consul in Zurich in 1917 at the same time that James Joyce, Lenin and Tristan Tzara (one of the founders of Dadaism) were living there and that all of them crossed paths in the library.

In this play they all get to explain their ideas and ideologies and so much information is thrown at the audience that by the interval my head was reeling. Oh and thanks to the stage props I was also craving cucumber sandwiches!

After the interval the play continues in much the same vein, scenes played and replayed interspersed with appearances from the elderly Carr. However as the play comes to an end you realise that the replaying of scenes isn't indicating the passing of time (as I'd thought) but the unreliable memories of a man trying to write his memoirs.  So much of what he remembers is incorrect that I came out wondering if any of the facts/ideologies presented by Joyce et. al. were true and this took away some of the shine of the play - I guess that I have a lot of reading around the topic to undertake!

Mixed in with all of this confusion are jokes, songs, dances and a wonderful sub plot comprising of a farce plus a play within a play and while I came out confused and questioning I also came out smiling after having had a lot of fun at the theatre - just unsure if I can trust anything I learned during the 2 1/2 hours.

Interestingly the one bit of the play I  know to be true involved Lenin, the Russian Revolution and his return to Russia in 1917. These historical events happened exactly 100 years ago on the day we saw the play which did add some poignancy to the play, and accuracy here makes me hope that the explanations of communism etc were also correct.

The programme summed the play up as Oscar Wilde meets Monty Python and I can see this - but I'd add in a dash of Open University to account for the vast amounts of information included.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Eleven - Hamlet

Hamlet, Almeida Theatre, London. March 2017.


Reading back through this blog it becomes obvious that while I love Shakespeare seeing the plays performed by anyone other than the Globe often leads to disappointment.  I also struggle hugely with Hamlet as a play - my confession is that I've never really understood what the fuss was about and why this is considered one of the masterpieces of theatre.

I didn't enjoy the Barbican's Hamlet a couple of years ago and I had reservations about the was Shakespeare is staged at the Almeida from when we saw Richard III last year so why on earth were we going to see a four hour version of Hamlet at the Almeida?!

As the play started my trepidation grew yet further as this was a Hamlet in the modern world, complete with big screens and breaking news on cable television. Old Hamlet's ghost is first noticed on the CCTV...

However this version worked absolutely and the time flew, in fact I was quite sad as I realised we were entering the final act.  The updating of the setting worked perfectly, all of the cast seemed real and alive - they all had an (unspoken) back story and the tragedy that unfolded seemed real.  Hamlet was a broken man after the death of his father and swift remarriage of his mother.

When he learns that his uncle/step father murdered his father he tips from grief into insanity and although he claims he is feigning the madness I utterly believed that he lost his grip on reality and became mad.
Equally I believed that Claudius and Gertrude did love each other, that it wasn't just regicide and a power grab. The play was just a series of tragic accidents. The only time I fell out of love with this play was late on when poor Orphelia has become unhinged due to grief too. She seemed sidelined and unbelievable and her death/suicide was almost glossed over, as was the later graveside scene.

This small point didn't detract from the play however and for me this was a fantastic afternoon of theatre and  I finally see why this play is one of Shakespeare's masterpieces.

We decided to see this play mainly because of the lead actor, Andrew Scott, and we've been caught out by this before but our gut instinct was right. His delivery of the lines was spot on and at no point did I think I was watching Andrew Scott play Hamlet - I was just watching the tragedy of a Danish family fall apart.



Wednesday, 22 March 2017

My own personal landmark birthday reading challenge

The Norfolkbookworm Birth Year Reading Challenge 


Being 40 later this month it would have been far too easy just to say that my reading challenge was just to read 40 fabulous books this year.  The problem with that is however I have already finished 60+ books this year and 2017 might not be a stellar year and there might not be 40 fabulous books...

Instead I've thought about this a little more and I've set myself twelve goals for the year and they all relate to books that have a connection to 1977.

This year I will try to read the following books from 1977:
  • The Booker Prize winner – Staying On by Paul Mark Scott
  • The Carnegie Medal winner – The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler by Gene Kemp 
  • The Greenaway Medal winner - Dogger by Shirley Hughes
  • The Whitbread Best Book Award winner – Injury Time by Beryl Bainbridge
  • The Newbery Medal winner – Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D Taylor
  • Miles Franklin award winner – Swords and Crowns and Rings by Ruth Parks
  • Governor's General  Award winner (English language) – The Wars – Timothy Findley


In addition to these I also am challenging myself to read the following:
  • A book written by an author who was born in 1977
  • A book written by an author who died in 1977
  • A non fiction book published in 1977
  • A sci-fi book published in 1977
  • A book in translation from 1977
I will also try to see a play that was originally from 1977, as well as the Oscar and BAFTA winners - hopefully over the next 12 months I will manage all of this and  using lists from Good Reads and Wikipedia I might even discover some other great reads/watches from the year!




Sunday, 19 March 2017

Reading with purpose

It has now been almost a year since I finished my MA and have been able to read what every I've wanted. Sure there have been some books I've been required to read for projects such as the Fact Not Fiction book club on Radio 2 but generally I've just been browsing the web, Netgalley and bookshops looking for things that appeal.

In the main this style of reading suits me fine, as soon as I am required to read something my obstinacy gene seems to kick in and I struggle mightily - I've failed as a member of so many book groups it is unbelievable, especially as I am such a bookworm generally!

I am feeling like I do need some sort of guide to my reading and so this morning I have been browsing the web, and other bookblogs to see what other readers have challenged themselves to.

Lots of the challenges appeal as they suggest reading from a genre rather than giving a title, and I might follow some of them 'unofficially' rather than signing up and feeling bad if I don't complete them.

The two that particularly appeal are the Bookriot #ReadHarder Challenge and then the Picture Book Challenge complete with a bingo card to keep track of your progress!
I particularly like the Picture Book bingo as these are books that I do rarely read, even when I was a bookseller I didn't read that many and so to get a little more familiar with this genre will be a 'good' challenge.

However the challenge that appealed the most to me was a really obvious one - read books from the year you were born.

This year does see me celebrate what is termed a 'mile stone' birthday and so what better way for a bookworm to celebrate than by reading books that are the same age?!

I'm just in the process of working out how to actually make this a manageable challenge but I'll post the details very soon and then try to remember to update my progress regularly!





Friday, 17 March 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Ten - Mamma Mia!

Mamma Mia! Theatre Royal, Norwich. March 2017.


I wrote about seeing this show, with my mum, when we went to New York and in that review I explained why, however cheesy the show is, I am always going to think of it fondly. I was wary of a return visit to the show - what if it was all location, location, location that made me enjoy it before?

I'm pleased to say that the slightly scaled down tour version made just as fun event as before, and in fact with a better behaved audience it might have even been just a little bit better as nothing got drowned out.

What really impressed me was just how much like Greece the set looked, and also just how well some lighting and a backdrop created absolutely the light and feel of a Greek island in summer.  The shutters were thrown open and with a simple cloth, a cut out tree and the lights I believed I was looking out over the Aegean sea.

I also noticed a lot more of the peripheral action this time, perhaps because we had such excellent seats in the circle, however there did seem to be a lot of character acting from the support cast which really added to the main characters.

All of the cast seemed in fine voice this week and once more my admiration for anyone who can sing, dance and act in ridiculous costumes is total.

However I think that my favourite bit of the evening came from the audience. Just in front of us was a family of mum and three teenagers. When it came to the last number/curtain call where audience participation is encouraged these three teenagers sat there literally head in hand in embarrassment as their mum danced and sang along - they really didn't want to be there at that point.

Mamma Mia! has a daft plot but it is great fun and I can even recommend it as a cold cure - I felt really quite rough with my first cold of the winter when I saw this but for the 2 1/2 hours I forgot everything and had a super trouper time, well worth the money. money, money!

Saturday, 11 March 2017

A reading holiday

A week doing nothing!

Mr Norfolkbookworm and I have just spent a week in Tenerife where the only thing on the agenda was relaxing. For me this meant a lot of sitting around reading with breaks taken for lovely food and drink.

Once more the week's break allowed me to read 13 books of my own choosing - I have several review projects on the go as usual but I didn't take any of them with me.

So again in no particular order here's what I read:
Call the Midwife - Jennifer Worth. I was intrigued by these books as so many people watch the TV series, and some that I wouldn't necessarily expect to be fans.  It has to be said I skipped some of the medical details but I loved the social history of the East End and I have ordered the next two from the library to see how things change as the years move on. 
The Smell of Other People's Houses - Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock.  I heard the author on the radio last year and thought the book sounded good. It is set in Alaska just as it became an American state and the treatment of the indigenous people is the underlying theme told through the eyes of a group of teenagers. I'd forgotten that this was a book aimed at the young adult audience and in truth I would have liked it to have had more details and been longer but it was a really nice insight into another America. (Netgalley electronic proof) 
Three Martini Lunch - Suzann Rindell.  This could easily be billed as a sort-of-sequel to Catcher in the Rye, none of the characters are particularly nice but the car crash of their lives made the book a real page turner. 
The Bear and the Nightingale - Katherine Arden.  Fabulous. Set in a Russia pre the Tsars it blends history and folklore beautifully. It was odd to read a book set in such a cold location while being in the sun but this was the best fiction book I've read for ages. (Netgalley electronic proof) 
The Good People - Hannah Kent.  I didn't find this book quite as good as Burial Rites but the clash of traditional beliefs and religion made a gripping tale as played out in one Irish village. (Netgalley electronic proof) 
Once in a Blue Moon Lodge - Lorna Landvik.  Wonderful family saga from one of my favourite authors. Unashamed chick-lit which did move me to tears at several points. (Netgalley electronic proof) 
The Stars are Fire - Anita Shreve. Another chick-lit family saga. This one set around a real event in New England just post-war. I loved the first two thirds but found the ending a bit rushed and I'd have liked it to have been a bit longer to allow this part to match the bulk of the book. (Netgalley electronic proof) 
A Little in Love - Susan Fletcher. Eponine is one of my favourite characters in the musical Les Miserables and so finding a book all about her story was great. Sadly in this I found her to be a modern woman removed to the era of the book rather than a real character from Hugo's time. Fun but not the best fill in/ sequel to a classic. (This got a brief mention in my end of February review but I did read the majority of this while on holiday.) 
Idaho - Emily Ruskovich.  A nice idea for a book and the use of different characters to tell the story was good but the end left me confused. I had no idea of motives or what had actually happened. Subsequent reading about the book calls it experimental and for me the experiment didn't quiet work. (Netgalley electronic proof) 
Little Deaths - Emma Flint.  Another book set in New York in the mid twentieth century and this is a book with a crime at the heart of it so quite an unusual read for me.  Two children are dead and as the mother isn't behaving as society thinks a grieving mother should it is decided that she is guilty of their murder.  A fascinating study into preconceptions and stereotypes. This has gone on to be nominated for the Bailey's prize and I hope it does well. (Netgalley electronic proof) 
Mussolini's Island - Sarah Day.  A new to me tale set in Italy just before WW2 and all about the treatment of a group of gay men on Sicily under the fascist regime. It is hard to describe this book as again many of the characters are deeply unlikable but it was an interesting read and I want to know more about the trues story behind the novel. (Netgalley electronic proof) 
Greatest Hits - Laura Bennet. This is the life story of a successful musician told in snapshots as she is selecting her 'greatest hits' for a new album. This was a deceptively light weight book, on the surface it seemed like any novels about a person's life but Cass really worked her way under my skin and I was on the edge of my seat at some of the events and did have a huge lump in my throat at several points.  I really hope this does well. (Netgalley electronic proof) 

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simonson. Simonson's book The Summer Before the War was one of my top books last year so I was looking forward to reading her first book and while I did enjoy it to a certain extend I wasn't as bewitched as I'd hoped. The dry humour was fun and the challenging of long held views great but it did occasionally feel a little didactic.

Interestingly several of the books I read seemed to have connected themes. Two were about the clash of traditional beliefs and organised religion, two were about matricide, two included characters with eating disorders and several were all about challenging stereotypes/long held beliefs/prejudices.  Not all of these themes were clear from the book blurbs and so I found these connections intriguing.

Hopefully after this reading splurge I won't lose my reading mojo this year - however I think switching to reading some non-fiction will help this.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Talking Books Four: Reading Allowed

Reading Allowed: True Stories & Curious Incidents from a Provincial Library by Chris Paling.


This book should be given to everyone who wants to work in a library, or thinks that we just get to sit around reading all day once we have the coveted job!

Paling's accounts of his life in a public library were like he'd just popped into our staff room and written down many of the conversations we have.  It was bittersweet to know that what we experience daily is the same as in other libraries!

People who like fly on the wall television, and blog-to-book style writing will probably enjoy this as well as anyone working in a library - but it will shatter a lot of people's ideas of what a modern library is.

The most important message I took from this book, and my day to day job, is that libraries are vital. They are still the heart of a community - just not in the way they once were. Please fight to keep your local library open - sign petitions, demonstrate etc. but most of all use it.  Where else can you get a dozen or more books for free as often as you like?



Friday, 3 March 2017

February Reading Round Up

February was another book filled month for me and for the first time in a while when I've looked back through my journal I can see that it was a month in which I read a lot of young adult fiction.

This was unintentional, one book did just lead to another but I don't think I've read so many in one go since I worked in book retail.  I'd forgotten how good they can be and reading for pleasure is what it is all about after all!

Highlights this month included those that I have blogged about here and here and I blame the latter for the number of sequels and reworkings I have gone on to read this month - these including A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher (Les Miserables retold for a teen audience from Eponine's point of view) and Lydia by Natasha Farrant (Pride and Prejudice from Lydia's point of view).


Another sort of sequel that I enjoyed was recommended by a friend at a book group meeting. The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R King introduces a young woman to a mostly retired Sherlock Holmes and as she can almost match his intellectual powers they join forces to solve mysteries.  I think I will go on and read some more in the series but I did have an element of unease as I read this - the historically accuracy was a little out (WW1 dates in particular) and the close relationship of such a young woman with an older man was just a little creepy at times, although the action did mostly occur when Mary Russell was over 18.

Thanks to Netgalley I also got to read Katherine Woodfine's The Painted Dragon which again is a simple younger teen mystery.  I didn't know that this was the third part of an on going series when I started it and I'm pleased to say that it didn't matter as the book stood perfectly on its own but yet made me want to read the prequels. Happily for me a friend has reviewed this book on her blog so you can read more about it there.

In adult fiction the stand out this month was the next installment of Jack Sheffield's series of being a head teacher during the 1980s, these books cover my primary school years wonderfully and it is a slice of true nostalgia reading them.  Winters really were colder and snowier then even in my home county of Kent rather than the Yorkshire of the books.  Star Teacher is the tenth in the series and it is like catching up with old friends when a new book comes along.

There's one more book that blew me away in February but it was so special it deserves a whole post to itself - which will be coming very soon!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Nine - The Red Shoes

Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes, Theatre Royal, Norwich. February 2017.


As has become clear to regular blog readers I have developed a real love of ballet, and especially those choreographed by Matthew Bourne.  A group of friends contemplated travelling to London in the height of the Christmas madness to see this but as Norwich was announced as a tour stop we decided to see it closer to home.

Theatre location didn't seem to matter at all for as soon as the curtain rose you were fully immersed in the show and travelled between London and France with the cast as the story unfolded.

Although Mr Norfolkbookworm is a huge Powell and Pressburger fan, and has seen the film, I only had a vague outline of the plot in my head but as with the best storytelling that didn't matter at all as it all unfolded clearly and with great emotion in front of me. In fact when it comes to emotion on stage I think that this was one of the most erotic pieces I've seen as well as the most romantic - I utterly believed in the love and relationship of the two leads.

The set was so clever, for the most part recreating a theatre on the stage with the house curtains spinning to take you front and back stage as the action needed. When we were taken to France this again was clearly and simply shown with a simply balustrade and a back drop. I think the way to sum up the whole set is 'deceptively simple' with the finale coming totally out of the blue (for someone unfamiliar with the film) and packing an incredibly emotional punch.

Everything about this production was superb, the dancing, set, costumes, music all worked together to create a feast for the senses.  I think that special credit must go to the dancers who had to fake poor dancing as part of the plot - I can only imagine how hard it is to make something look bad while doing it safely and professionally.

As a friend said afterwards - the only problem with this show, and anything by Bourne, is that there are so many details you just want to see it again instantly to make sure you catch everything. Sadly for us however it is a total sell out in Norwich and this won't be possible currently.  I do urge you to give it a go if it tours near where you are this year.

This is definitely my show of the month for February and I think it is likely to appear in my 2017 top 10 at the end of the year.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Norfolkbookworm at the Movies: Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures (film and book)


Here's something you don't often hear the Norfolkbookworm say - the movie was as good as the book!

From reading past entries on this blog it is pretty obvious that I have an interest in reading biographies/autobiographies and that I am fascinated with space travel. Here the two passions collide and for once everyone wins.

The book by Margot Lee Shetterly is a great read, it covers the lives of many of the people involved in the early era of manned (and it was only men at this time) space flight but this time from the rarely covered point of view of the backroom women. In addition to this these women were black and living in a segregated America in a highly segregated/racist state.

The book covers their lives from childhood through their fights for education and then into their wartime careers where colour of skin temporarily mattered less than winning. After the war these women - incredible engineers and mathematicians continued to work for NACA/NASA and were an integral part of the space program.

I've read a lot of books about this era and I'd never heard of them so they really were hidden figures. I enjoyed the book but found it a little chaotic in style, however it covered so much time and so many people that I was worried how a film could ever be made from it.

The film sensibly narrowed its focus to tell the story of just three women and tightened the time frame to a taut two years or so.  This lead to a fast paced, tense story with real heart.  It also retained most of its accuracy and I do feel that if you just saw the film you would get a pretty fair idea of what the space program and NASA were like at this time. Apart from the amalgamation of NASA characters in to one or two leads the space history itself was spot on too if occasionally played a little too much towards dramatic crescendos.

I had two issues with the film, while I didn't expect the actors playing the Mercury Seven astronauts to look exactly like their real life characters the wrong hair cuts, especially on John Glenn really annoyed me.

The second issue is a little more nuanced - in no scenes where the actors depicted as smoking, and I really do think that in those offices where people were frantically trying to solve problems to safely send men in to space there would have been a *lot* of smoking taking place. Even in the climactic scenes of the film no one lights up in Mission Control and I know that is inaccurate from NASA images of the time!  Further investigation into this by Mr Norfolkbookworm gave the answer - if there had been accurate portrayals of smoking in the film then the cinema rating would have been higher and the distributors rightly wanted as many people to see this as possible! Full details on this here.

My final thoughts are a little more controversial, and point the finger at an American Hero somewhat:

In this film (and book) John Glenn is portrayed as the Mercury Astronaut who is the most accepting of the black women's roles. In the film his trust in Katherine Johnson is so great that he won't fly without her working a mathematical problem.
Yet... I've also read a lot of books about the Mercury 13 - the women who also went through the same training as Glenn et. al. (and performed better on many of the tests) - and it was Glenn's word that got their training scrapped and the idea of women in space, via NASA, postponed until 1983 - 21 years.

Since learning this I've always felt very ambivalent about Glenn's status as 'all American hero' but I guess that this just shows that no one is as good as they are portrayed and at least he wasn't a racist as well as sexist.

Digressions over - Hidden Figures is nominated for 3 Oscar awards this weekend, including Best Picture, and I would love for it to win. It is a heartwarming film, based on a great book, that shows viewers that gender and colour of skin really shouldn't be a barrier to doing what you love and being successful in it. #ThisGirlCan

Edited to add - Mr Norfolkbookworm has just let me know that his mum was also a computer, just like the women in Hidden Figures, in the UK and Switzerland - including on this project http://www.chilton-computing.org.uk/acl/literature/earlyhistory/p014.htm.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Eight - The White Devil

The White Devil, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare's Globe, London. February 2017.


The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse really is the perfect place to see these wonderful Jacobean revenge tragedies. The eerie lighting really does let the evil of the plots shine through.

The White Devil was wonderfully nasty (in the best way) within this setting. The playhouse was dimly lit at the start and at first it was hard to work out who all of the characters were but as more candles were lit it became clearer to work out who was who and then the absurdity and evil really shone through, and as the play drew to a close the candles were put out and the room grew darker as the madness drew to a close. I don't think that the candles have been used to greater effect in anything I've seen in this location.

Vittoria is unhappily married - her family arranged this to save their own reputation and finances - and pursued by Bracciano who seems to love her despite being married himself.  We also have a scheming brother who will do anything, including pimp his sister, to advance his position, a disgraced Duke who will do anything to get back into the good books and then there's the corrupt cardinal and his lackey.

It is a revenge tragedy so no spoiler to say that by the end of the play the stage is littered with corpses - all of whom the audience doesn't really grieve over. And some of the deaths are wonderfully staged and incredibly amusing to watch. At the start I was concerned that the darkness of the plot wouldn't emerge as there seemed to be much overplaying of the crude humour but, like the lighting, this all just helped to show the true nature of the characters.

Since coming out of the Playhouse I've been discussing the play on and off with Rebecca and the Upstart Wren and like the best things I am liking it more and more.  As I said there are no characters that you admire wholeheartedly but unlike so many plays from this era I find Vittoria to be a believable and strong female lead. She is manipulated and used by all around her and yet throughout this production she remains strong and dignified, her crime is to fall in love with a man who is not her husband and then be caught up entirely in the wider politics of the time.

Unlike Rebecca I didn't dislike Bracciano completely, he is an out and out cad but he is also being manipulated by forces that he doesn't quite appreciate. His fickleness was played superbly and in the end he did seem to love Vittoria, however short their union was!

The true villain for me was Flamenio who had no care for anyone and would do anything to get what he wanted, the way he was played on stage actually made my skin crawl slightly.

On reading the programme on the train home I've learned that this production has cut text from the original and reassigned lines so I am now off to read Webster's original and see how it compares...

Monday, 20 February 2017

Talking Books Three: Sequels again

Finding Black Beauty by Lou Kuenzler


After the success of Holly Webb's Return to the Secret Garden I ventured back in to the work of reworkings/sequels to classic children's books.

Black Beauty is one the books that my dad recommended to me as a child, in fact I do still have his childhood copy on my shelves, and so to discover that there was a modern reworking available was exciting and nerve wracking!

Once more I am pleased to say that, for the most part this book, I really enjoyed this book.  Rather than being a sequel or prequel (something that the Pullein-Thompson family have already done*) this book took one small, but pivotal, character from the original and imagined a story around this.

Most of the story was believable, even the cross dressing, and Kuenzler's love for the original shone through and I found myself believing her version of the action totally.  My misgivings came in the London section when I thought the plot became a little obvious and unnecessary - although it had been signposted since the beginning. My quibbles might just be because I am an adult reading a book for children and so can spot this in writing more easily.

My main query about all of these modern day reworkings and sequels is hard to articulate - they seem to be so much easier to read than the originals. I know I read the source books as a child and these as an adult but they do somehow seem easier. I can't tell why though as I can't actually spot any clear examples of 'dumbing down' and in some ways these new books cover topics more adult and more explicitly than the originals.

It was good to be pleasantly surprised by this book and I think that the balance in good/poor reworkings has now equalled out so I will continue trying them with hope.

*I am 90% certain that I read this as child (I probably chose the book because of how thick the book was) and that it wasn't a book I reread unlike Black Beauty itself.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Seven - The Simon and Garfunkel Story

The Simon and Garfunkel Story, The Leas Cliff Hall, Folkestone. February 2017.


I first saw this show in 2015 and even back then I knew that I wanted to see the show again. It has taken me a while but the duo's tour took in Folkestone on a weekend that I was in Kent seeing family it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.

This time my companions were my mum and dad - and as it was thanks to them that I fell in love with the music it seemed right we all went together.

The show hasn't changed since I saw it last and once more it hit the spot totally for me - a great mix of the classic songs, some less well known ones and chat about the history of Simon and Garfunkel.  Again the two performers nailed the originals and it was a little like travelling in time.

Mum and Dad were doubly revisiting the past as they used to go to the Leas Cliff Hall to see theatre/bands long before my sister and I came along.  The venue did have some drawbacks as it was a little large for the size of audience in attendance and it was also decidedly cold in the room, but for me it didn't matter it was just like being at a concert again and I love hearing this music live.

Once more I was one of the youngest people in the audience but it was more mixed this time, and to show the true appeal of this music when we saw my 90 year old grandmother the next day she also professed to be a fan of the duo and expressed some regret that she hadn't come to the show too!

I know that I will look at this show's schedule occasionally and if it does come back to Norwich on a date I can make I will see it a third time.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Talking Books Two

Apollo Pilot: The Memoir of Astronaut Donn Eisele. Edited by Francis French.


I've read an awful lot of biographies and autobiographies from the early manned space programme but none of them were quite like this one.

Eisele died before he could revise or publish his memoirs and they only came to light a few years ago despite being first penned in the 1970s and boy are they frank.

Eisele flew on Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission, and it wasn't an entirely happy mission. This was partly due to illness and partly down to the temperament of the commander causing issues with those left on the ground - almost to the point of mutiny.

Even though ultimately the mission was a success it was never highly respected and none of the crew flew in space again and Eisele is not backwards in coming forwards in saying exactly what he thought about all of the treatment the crew suffered, nor does he spare his tongue when giving his thoughts on his commander.

Eisele also talks frankly about the behaviour of the astronauts when they were away from home, which has been alluded to before but never in quite such frank terms!

This book is interesting as it was put together by French from notes that Eisele left and I imagine that he had to also be respectful of Eisele's remaining family (sadly his second wife passed away before publiciation) but even so this is a book that fills in the details gleaned from histories of the era but never mentioned in the official autobiographies and biographies.

It probably won't appeal too much to people who aren't intimate with the players from the Cape at this time but I loved the background colour this gave.