Today I'm posting a sort-of book review that is part of one of those blog tour thingeys. It's Fiona Robyn's book 'The Letters'...and I'll get to it in a minute...first a couple of bits and pieces.
Firstly I must thank Dominic Rivron for his great tune for 'Before I drop' (see last post). When we've got enough for an album we'll let you know!
Secondly the night in Dundee at the Apex hotel on Sunday was a real experience – there was so much to do for a start. What with compering what was a very busy night with lots of different musical performers (and quite a few spontaneous changes to the programme!), reading some poems (I got 8 in altogether...a mixture of styles and subject matters and sizes...), making sure I got all the announcements and information right, managing the raffle...plus enjoying the music...I was pretty worn out by the time it was all over. Still it was a brilliant night and thousands of pounds were raised for Medical Aid for Palestinians. On a personal note I got to hear Sheena Wellington sing for the first time (and I loved her own songs especially - I didn't know she was a songwriter as well as a singer). I also got to introduce Michael Marra (and not mess it up!) and to read poems in front of probably the biggest audience I've faced (about 250 people)...so it was all pretty exciting. I know size isn't everything (audience-wise) but it does change your mindset a little to begin with when you look out and see quite so many faces looking back! I was a little nervous to begin with but at the end of the day they weren't there for me (they were there for the cause or for Michael Marra or both) so even if I had messed up...what would it have mattered anyway! I read the 'Before I drop' (as a poem) and mentioned the song to the excellent women's choir Loadsaweeminsingin (who were performing on the night too). I would just love it if they would sing it – they are so fantastic and put so much energy and positivity into everything they do.
But now...on with the blog tour...
I first came across the writer Fiona Robyn via one of her blogs – A Handful of Stones (and I think I came to that blog via poet Juliet Wilson). Then a little while back I saw Fiona had a novel coming out and I offered her a book swap. Swap we did and here is my kind-of a, sort-of a review of Fiona's book 'The Letters' (I don't do newspaper-ready reviews any more...no more neat and tidy packages tied up with string from me...bring on the rambling, wandering pondering affairs...).
OK...well..if I'm going to be honest (and honesty is practically my middle name...) my first thought when the book arrived and I saw the cover was 'oh no – it's one of those books...'. Here's the cover:
I'm not saying it's hideous or anything but I suppose I am saying that I don't often read books with covers like this (I do sometimes but it's usually when I'm ill or something and even then it usually ends with me thinking 'bloody hell, that's hours of my life I won't get back!). Let's look at it again...a slim, model-like mysterious (headless!) woman in a long red dress that is blowing in the wind...Eek! A lady in red! I wondered...was this going to be a cheesey romance? Or a 'book for the beach' (and therefore fairly useless for me as I don't do beach holidays...I should explain...we live near the beach anyway, plus flying and crowds make me twitchy). So I panicked (a little). What would I say to the no doubt charming Fiona about her book if it was a...beach read? “It's really not my kind of thing”? The infamous “not my cup of tea”? Still, the book was already here in my house, ready to read...I'd best give it a chance. I do say I like to try all kinds of writing...
So I read it. And phew! Double phew! Triple phew with some extra phews on for good measure. Because I really enjoyed it and it's an interesting, well-written, thoughtful book. I can only think that the (for me) fairly wishy-washy cover is a ploy to get lots of women who do like romantic novels and beach novels to pick it up in bookshops (or supermarkets or airports...) and thereby enter a far more interesting written world than the one that lassie on the cover might suggest. Phew again.
So, now that's all out of the way...what did I enjoy about 'The Letters'? That's a tricky one but only because 'The Letters' is one of those novels where some of its best features are surprises and I really don't want to spoil anything for potential readers. All I will say is – the characters are strong and varied and totally cliché free, the story is unpredictable (a major plus!), the writing is poetic and carefully detailed and the book definitely has that must-keep-reading factor (unputdownability?). I read it in two days...and I would have read it in one night if I didn't have a family to organise and, oh you know, stuff to do. I passed it on to a friend who also really enjoyed it and we will pass it on to others too. All those friends are women, so far, because I'm not sure how many male friends I would pass it on to in all honesty. That's another tricky subject (books about motherhood and relationships and families) because whilst there is no good reason why men shouldn't read books like this by women (hell, men and women both read 'Anna Karenina' and 'Madame Bovary' – classic books about relationships and families...) it is still one of those things that doesn't quite work both ways, don't you think? It's a huge subject (and one I'm not sure I should open up right here, right now) but one thing I do know...that cover may help some women to pick up the book (girlier women than me, obviously...) but it definitely won't entice any men to do so. Maybe the publishers and author decided that men wouldn't read the book anyway so it wasn't an issue. Or maybe I'm way off. Any thoughts?
But what more can I give you without giving too much plot away? The book has two time zones...one present and one back in 1959...and the stories from both are very well woven together. I loved the way Fiona dropped in lots of little references to stones ('stone' must be her favourite word I think) and I admired the way she made her central character really quite selfish and annoying at times. Overall I''d say this book has an awful lot that makes it worth reading and I would recommend it for sure. Yes, unreservedly I would say read it...and whether you read it on a train, a plane, a bus, a beach, or in the bath...well, that's really up to you.