Monday, 28 February 2011

The Gingerbread Woman by Jennifer Johnston

The Gingerbread WomanThe Gingerbread Woman by Jennifer Johnston

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Gingerbread Woman is the story of an unlikely friendship between two strangers. A man walking on Killiney Hill in Ireland comes across a woman standing perilously close to the edge and warns her, but she claims she is in no danger and has no intention of committing suicide.

Subsequently they bump into each other again and she invites him to stay as a lodger for a few days, since he is temporarily away from home. The relationship is not sexual, they don’t ask questions and they give each other space while offering friendship. They talk over cups of tea, and during the course of these conversations they learn about each other and what has brought them where they are, in terms of time and of attitude. Their stories are both of loss and sadness, and together they manage to find a way of accepting and overcoming the past to look at the future.

The book is a story of bereavement and grieving, and somehow these two people seem to understand each other by the force of their similar feelings. Everyone else, despite being well-intentioned, just doesn’t seem to get their message across and, most of all, nobody is really helpful regardless of their efforts. After all, what do you say to a bereaved person? These two people are both grieving in a different, and personal, way.

It is perhaps impossible to set a book in Ireland without making reference to the political situation, but this is not so strong in the book – it is rather a background, something present every now and then in the dialogues. What is strongest is the sense of loss and how it affects the two characters in the form of anger, sadness and despair, and how they deal with it.

Excellently written, it is a book I recommend heartily.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Sara Paretsky in Oxford

Thursday 17th March at 7pm
Sara Paretsky
Blackwell Bookshop, 48-51 Broad Street, Oxford
Tickets: £2
Internationally bestselling author Sara Paretsky will be with us on Thursday 17th March at 7pm to talk about her latest book, Body Work.

“Doctors take days off—why not P I’s?” V I Warshawski demands. When America’s hardest-working private eye visits a club, a stranger is shot, and dies in her arms. Club Gouge is Chicago's edgiest night spot, where a woman known as the Body Artist turns her naked body into a canvas for the audience to paint on. A tormented young painter shows up too, and the intricate designs she creates on the Body Artist drive one of the audience, a former soldier, into a violent rage. When the painter is shot and the shell-shocked war veteran accused, the soldier's family hires V. I. to clear his name and the detective uncovers a chain of ugly truths that stretches all the way from Iraq to Chicago's South Side in her most challenging case yet.

Sara Paretsky's critically acclaimed V. I. Warshawski series has revolutionised female characterisation in mystery writing since 1982. Body Work is the fourteenth outing in the series.

Tickets cost £2 and can be obtained by telephoning or visiting the Customer Service Department, Second Floor, Blackwell Bookshop, Oxford. 01865 333623.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Alessandro Perissinotto in the UK

We have just finished the author “tour” with Alessandro Perissinotto to discuss his books and celebrate the publication of the English version of Una Piccola Storia Ignobile (Blood Sisters).

The events, at the Italian Cultural Institute (ICI), the Royal Holloway and the University of Leeds, went extremely well, with a very interested and engaged audience. Alessandro talked at the Italian Cultural Institute with Michael Gregorio (pen name for Daniela de Gregorio and Michael Jacob) in conversation with the always brilliant Barry Forshaw, who discussed with the authors anecdotes on their first meeting, and the north-south divide in Italy together with the stereotypes that go with it.

At the Royal Holloway, in the Department of Italian, the discussion was more literary and was centred on the giallo and its developments and origins.

In Leeds the discussion expanded onto his latest book, Per Vendetta, which is not a crime fiction book but a more investigative journalism take on the connections between the Vatican, Italian politics and the Argentine dictatorship, continuing on talking about the latest generation of crime fiction writers in Italy and predictably on the current Italian political situation. The conversation continued in a nearby pub accompanied by local ale!

So thank you to all involved for their great hospitality, the stimulating discussion and the great company!

A blog entry on the ICI event by Ayo Onatade in Shots Magazine is here.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Censorship on books?

I would have liked to start my blog with something less controversial, and definitely less worrying.

But I felt compelled to write about something that is happening in Italy and that hasn't yet had enough national and international coverage: the decision of some libraries in the Veneto region, after a suggestion by members of the PdL (Berlusconi's party) Roberto Bovo and Paride Costa, supported by the councillor for Education Elena Donazzan, to boycott (i.e. remove from the shelves) books by a number of “banned” authors.

These Italian writers, among which are Roberto Saviano (author of Gomorrah), Valerio Evangelisti, Massimo Carlotto, Sandrone Dazieri and many others, signed in February 2004 an open letter asking for the release of Cesare Battisti, arrested in France after a number of years in hiding.
Cesare Battisti was a member of a far-left militant group in the Seventies, which supported violent revolution in Italy during the Anni di Piombo (a period which saw extremist groups fighting each other in episodes like the Piazza Fontana massacre and the kidnapping of Aldo Moro). Battisti had indeed been convicted in absentia of killing two policemen, a butcher, and of helping to plan the killing of of a jeweller, although he has always denied these charges.

He fled to France where he claims to have renounced violence and wrote a number of books, including fiction and non-fiction. After his arrest in France in 2004 he fled to Brazil, where he has been ever since. Recently his extradition was refused, creating a diplomatic incident, by the outgoing president Ignacio Lula da Silva.

The matter of whether the trial was fair, and of whether Battisti is guilty or not, is something for the law courts and for Battisti's conscience, although if the trial was indeed unfair he has the right to a retrial. What is most worrying is that books are removed from the shelves because they happen to have different views from ours. What shall we do with Mein Kampf?

For those who would like to follow the topic on twitter, the hashtag is #rogodilibri