What We’re Reading in… June

Books can make you feel familiar in places you’ve never stepped foot in, or pull you right back home, regardless of geographical location.

Inspired by the great site Trip Fiction, dedicated solely to promoting books that “let you see a location through an author’s eyes”, we think of books that have taken us around the world…..

alchemistCatherine, Design and Production Manager:
I’m currently, finally, reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (HarperCollins)- a slim volume from the pile of books yet to be read on my bedside table – only a few years after everybody else, then! So far I have travelled with Santiago, the book’s main character, from the Andalusian Hills in Spain where he tended his sheep to Tangiers as he heads towards the Egyptian pyramids. It’s an uplifting tale about hope and following your dreams while learning from the setbacks on the journey.

I must also recommend A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini (Bloomsbury)a-thousand-splendid-suns – set in war-torn Afghanistan, it is beautifully crafted. Although harrowing and brutal at times, the writing is utterly compelling as the relationship between Mariam (sent to Kabul aged 15 to marry the surly and callous Rasheed) and Laila (a girl who is forced to become a second wife to Rasheed nearly 20 years later) develops. Hosseini’s descriptions of life in Kabul through its tumultuous history are vivid and heart-breaking, and yet the story is inspirational. These women endured so much but still show great courage and self-sacrifice in the face of the most awful circumstances. While it is fiction, there is no doubt that Afghani women have suffered greatly in reality. This book is nothing less than a masterful piece of literature.

netherlandSarah, Marketing and Publicity Manager:
I recently read Netherland by Joseph O’Neill (Harper Perennial), the story of a banker who becomes friends with an unsavoury New Yorker after he is left living alone in New York City when his wife returns to their home in the UK. I’m a little obsessed with NYC and try to read a book set there whenever I get a craving for it. O’Neill conveys the sense of being in the city incredibly well, incorporating the good and bad aspects of it. This is my favourite line: “Sometimes to walk in shaded parts of Manhattan is to be inserted into a Magritte:  the street is night while the sky is day.”


Sam, Design and Production Assistant:
I read Burmese Days by George Orwell (Penguin Modern Classics) on a nine hour bus trip from Zagreb to Berlin. I have a tendency to read books about personal suffering in foreign places while travelling long distances. Also on my list that trip was Richard Flanagan’s soul-pulverising but brilliant Booker Prize winner The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Vintage) and W Somerset Maugham’s The Gentleman in the Parlour (Vintage), although the latter’s author doesn’t suffer much more than being rigid and inescapably British in South-east Asia.
narrpw road                  gentleman in da parlour

Burmese Days’ protagonist is a fairly commonplace wood merchant with a distinctiveburmese days facial disfigurement, whittling out a living for himself in British imperial Burma. Despite having the best of intentions, he is universally derided and disdained by his fellow expats, a shallow and charmless flock of breakfast drinkers.

He is less dismissive of the local culture than his countrymen and befriends an Indian doctor whom corrupt local officials seek to defame and banish from his profession. The doctor hopes to safeguard his reputation by gaining membership into the British club, which the merchant struggles to get past the deeply bigoted committee. The merchant is introduced one night at the club to a charming but manipulative Englishwoman, who he projects his views of acceptance and egalitarianism onto despite her own bigotry and aristocratic pretentions.

The book is more than a thinly-veiled critique of the entrenched racism of British imperialism that Orwell would have witnessed as an officer of the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. It plays on themes of lust and delusion, loneliness and impotence, and the consuming and in this case degrading struggle for decency in an immoral culture.

helen dunmoreEsther, Editorial Controller:
Love of Fat Men by Helen Dunmore (Penguin) is largely set in Scandinavia, though a few are set in places such as Austria and New York. The whole book has a distinctly un-English feel to it, in that the world Dunmore creates features icy, endless winters, glorious summer nights and European styles and traditions. She writes about human pain, sexuality, isolation and love between a parent and child, but you can never be entirely sure where exactly in Scandinavia these stories are taking place, which is part of the beauty of it all. I found the most memorable stories to be ‘Love of Fat Men’, ‘The Ice Bear’, ‘Short Days and Long Nights’, ‘North Sea Crossing’, ‘Spring Wedding’ and ‘Smell of Horses’ because they have a languorous, sensuous effect, and offer vivid imagery of snow-capped mountains, appetising European breakfasts, afternoon siestas and hot days near water’s edge – things we don’t have much of in the UK. When characters travel, we – the audience – travel with them and bask in their un-English ways that feel so alien to us, we long to be in those countries, even if it’s too hot or too cold!

And finally, some inspiration for your next trip….

9780719808784 (2)         9781910208120        9781910208014

 

 

 

 

What We’re Reading in… May

This month in the Hale office, we think about books we’ve re-read, and how these stories have fared over time.

Catherine, Design and Production Manager:

There are two books that I have re-read several times for pleasure rather than having to re-read them as part of school studies: Dickens’ Hard Times, anyone?!

The first is C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (Harper Collins). As a child, lion - coverit was my favourite book and I never tired of escaping to the magical world of Narnia along with Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter. Then, I never quite saw it as a Christian allegory but a simpler triumph of good over evil. As an adult, I read it to my own children as part of bed-time reading. I still enjoyed the fantasy with some of the delightful animal (-like) characters such as Mr Tumnus, the Beavers and the very wise, Christ-like Aslan. I also better understood the darker theme in the book, betrayal. Poor Edmund turns bad rather slowly – from resentful child, to bully, to liar, to traitor. Thankfully, there is a happy ending and Edmund is redeemed with the help of Aslan and the unconditional love of his brother and sisters. It’s still a very positive message in the end: no matter how far down the slippery slope someone has gone, everyone can be helped to change if they want to.

The second book is Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (Virago), first read in my early teens after studying Jamaica Inn at school. ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.…’ is among the most memorable opening line of any book. I was captivated by Maxim de Winter and how the evil Mrs Danvers made life so difficult for the narrator, the second Mrs de Winter. I was always intrigued by the fact the rebeccanarrator is never given a first name but, finally understood on the latest reading that it’s a very effective way of making her seem a lesser person than Rebecca – less confident, less capable, less attractive to Maxim – particularly with Mrs Danvers’ frequent undermining of the narrator as well. The Cornish connection was also a great attraction for Rebecca and other du Maurier books as our family visited Cornwall often for holidays – Daphne du Maurier’s Cornish house, Menabilly, was part of the inspiration for Manderley. I read it again three years ago when Rebecca was one of the World Book Day titles, and I took part by giving away several copies of this book at my local railway station to the commuters coming home.

It’s a 20th century gothic romance and, for me, an all-time classic.

Isobel, Marketing and Publicity Assistant:
For some reason, (maybe drawn in by the cute, welcoming cover), aged nine, I picktrainspotting-covered up a copy of Trainspotting (Vintage) by Irving Welsh. We were visiting my cousins in Glasgow, and my family were probably just happy I was occupied. When I reread it recently, I realised approximately 99.99999% of it must have gone over my head the first time around. The story centres on Renton, a heroin-addict living in Edinburgh, and his junkie friends, as they try and fail to get clean. While I might not have followed the storyline entirely, I remember being moved by Renton’s character. I thought he came across as basically a good person, if a bit confused. I couldn’t work out why he never stuck to his word about quitting.

It was strange recognising the naivety that formed my first reading of the book. I am not as instantly sympathetic to Renton’s character now.  I also remember finding the Edinburgh dialect used by Irvine Welsh throughout the novel a lot easier to understand when I was nine, though maybe the phonetic spelling appealed to my far from advanced spelling abilities..

What We’re Reading in… March

psycho film psycho

Back in 1959, Robert Hale published Bloch’s psychological thriller Psycho, which was quickly snapped up by Alfred Hitchcock and made into a film the following year.


What are our favourite book-to-film stories at Robert Hale? 

 

Sarah, Marketing and Publicity Manager:
My favourite is Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Trumabreakfast at tiffanys filmn Capote (Penguin Classics). The first half of the film follows the book very closely, albeit set in a different decade, and much of the early dialogue is almost word-for-word, but of course the film was given an ending much better suited to Hollywood audiences than that in the book.
TRUMAN_CAPOTE_Breakfast_at_Tiffanys_2009
The film certainly deserves its spot among the classics, but it’s a shame that the book is often overlooked. Truman Capote’s writing is so captivating, and the story is the ideal anti-fairytale for twentieth-century American life. And who doesn’t identify just a little with Holly Golightly’s desire for self-reinvention?

 

 

 

Esther, Editorial Controller:
They always say the book is better than the film, and in this case it is true. Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin (Serpent’s Tail) somehow seems far more shocking in print; Eva’s narrative in the form of letters to her estrangkevin filmed husband, post Kevin’s organised mass-shooting at his school, shows how she’s suffering as a consequence of his actions. The fact that she jumps back in time through her letters, chronicling Kevin’s sixteen year existence, suggests she’s been suffering the entire time. Straight from the letters, there are unknown truths, long-hidden secrets and twists.kevin book

The film itself, compared to the book, seemed quite tame. With books, we imagine how the action plays out but when it comes to the film, it’s often very different. While the adaptation stays relatively faithful to the book, the pace was slow, it had an eerie quietness to it and the most brutal scenes felt a bit anti-climactic. Lynne Ramsay (director) probably was right to censor most of it; after all, it is horrendous to talk about.

 

 

Gill, Managing Director:
I suppose like all avid readers, film adaptations of much loved books are often a disappointment. The adaptations of Jane Austen’s books are for the most part no exception, but one film in particular is very well done. 

Persuasion (Vintage Classics) waspersuasion-1995 produced for television in the first instance by the BBC and then put on general release. Although it differs from the book in subtle respects, the performance of Amanda Root as Anne Elliot has never been bettered, and she inhabits the character completely. I fell out with the casting of Ciaran Hinds as Wentworth but then, every Janeite has their own vision of what their heroes should look like, but he has, over time, also persuaded me of his claim to the role.

The book is my favourite Austen and read every year or so in the original edition my aunt gave me as a girl. Pride and Prejudice had me hooked from the age of nine (again as persuasiona result of a gift from my prescient aunt) but Persuasion is the ‘adult’ Austen to which I turn when in need of comfort in both book and on film.

Hale’s series on Jane Austen continues her wonderful legacy. Adding to great contributions by Maggie Lane and Hazel Jones on ageing and travel in Austen’s books, Hale are publishing a new book by Stephen Mahoney in the autumn on wealth and poverty.

 


Isobel, Marketing and Publicity Assistant:
Ifight club book think Fight Club (Vintage) is a good example Fight-ClubMovie-Still2CRof a
book-to-film success story. Both book and film hold their own, but also complement one another. While it’s a lot to do with great script and actors, I think the subject matter – of crazy insomniacs and manic addictions – helps out too.
 The story is a fragmented, schizophrenic narrative which moves all over the place and works really well in book or film setting.

half yellow sunOn the other hand, one of my favourite books, Half of a Yellow Sun by  (4th Estate), was recently adapted until a film. Even though the two leads – Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton – are very good actors and the author has endorsed the project, I’ve resisted going to see it just in case it disappoints. I think there are some books for each person where its better to preserve the characters as you imagined them when reading the story.


What We’re Reading in… February

recent article in The Bookseller told us what we already know: reading is good for us.

So, what are we at Robert Hale currently reading?

Esther, Editorial Controller:

9536900_Zola_LadiesParadise.indd“I tend to read a couple of books at the same time but for the last few months, my main read has been Zola’s The Ladies’ Paradise (Oxford World’s Classics). This French classic captures Victorian Paris very well; fashionable ladies, ambitious members of staff of the Ladies’ Paradise shop, and a desire to love and be loved are all prominent features, not to mention the rise of commercialism that was sweeping through Europe at this time. It’s a good read so far. The reason I read 19th century literature is because these books have the power to pull us back to an earlier period in history to let us experience what we don’t know – entertainment, politics, and industry – and imagine what life could have been like had we been there at the time.”

 

catherine - pile of booksCatherine, Design and Production Manager:

“I’ve had to promise myself not to buy any more books until I’ve got through the pile on my bedside table (see photo). I’ve been a fiend for buying books but not having enough time to read them!

cathering - broadchurchI’m currently enjoying Erin Kelly’s Broadchurch (Little Brown: Sphere) which gives extra background on the characters in the TV series. She’s written the book based on the first series with its creator Chris Chibnall. The stories are only available as eBooks at present but it’s a genius marketing tool. I’m a big fan of Erin Kelly’s books – her latest, The Ties That Bind (Hodder & Stoughton), being among my book pile. In addition, I’m about two thirds of the way through Jo Nesbo’s The Bat (Vintage). It’s the first Harry Hole case but issued in translation somewhat after his other books in the series. I have found previous Jo Nesbo books take a while to get into but worth persevering with!”


Sarah, Marketing and Publicity Manager:

“I’m reading The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (Bloomsbury).Sarah - signature of all things
It tells the story of a fictional female botanist, born in 1800, who has dedicated her life to her science, but finds this life turned upside down when she falls in love with a man whose beliefs run contrary to her own.

The book fuses together the Victorian concerns of science, divinity, magic and exploration. It’s very engaging and beautifully written for a story laced with science, and I’m enjoying learning about botany and related historical events, such as the foundation of Kew Gardens.”

 

Isobel, Marketing and Publicity Assistant:

“I’m reading Picked Up Patched Up and Sent Home: Why I Love the NHS by Carl Walker (Robert Hale). It’s a nice way to look at a subject that is veryIso - NHS topical, but can be a little morbid/ overwhelming. Carl’s tales of his many encounters with the public health service reminds me how fragile our bodies are, but somehow this isn’t done in a depressing way. Carl humanises the people who work for and use the NHS, and makes fun of sensationalist headlines that have turned the acronym into a political buzzword of horror. His style of writing is silly and clever at the same time, and makes me laugh loudly while I sit in Pret on my lunch break.”