The Comforters - Muriel Spark

In Muriel Spark's fantastic first novel, the only things that aren't ambiguous are her matchless originality and glittering wit.
Caroline Rose is plagued by the tapping of typewriter keys and the strange, detached narration of her every thought and action. She has an unusual problem - she realises she is in a novel. Her fellow characters are also possibly deluded: Laurence, her former lover, finds diamonds in a loaf of bread - could his elderly grandmother really be a smuggler? And Baron Stock, her bookseller friend, believes he is on the trail of England's leading Satanist.


I absolutely loved this book and I'm not sure I'll be able to do it justice with my thoughts. You might actually rather read Ali Smith's words on it [here]. (You definitely should read Ali Smith's words on it.)

The book follows novelist Caroline Rose as she converts to Catholicism. After coming back from a retreat, she suddenly starts hearing the sound of a typewriter and voices who seem to comment on her thoughts and what is happening in her life. Her boyfriend Laurence is convinced his grandmother is part of a gang smuggling diamonds in the UK and he is investigating the matter.

There are so many characters in this book and they are all colourful and different. Not just different from each other but different from most characters you read in books. They are all described vividly and we get to see their good and not-so-good actions and thoughts.
I adored Louisa Jepp who proves that one can never be too old to start a gang and smuggle diamonds in bread loaves. It feels that unique characters were hand-picked, thrown together in a small arena and put through various challenges. And no, this isn't a prequel to The Hunger Games. Though how awesome would a Hunger Games book written by Muriel Spark be? No, really, think about it!

The writing is quite simply exquisite. There is so much personality running through the pages that I can't wait to pick up Muriel Spark's other books. There is wit, irreverence, playfulness, as well as musings on human nature and life. I feel that by seeing the darker traits of the characters, we're given a glimpse into who they really are and we can't help seeing them as flawed human beings. Except Mrs. Hogg who is just plain evil *shudders*

The book is also a metafiction because of the story in the story. Caroline seems to hear the narrator telling the story of her life and the narrator also hears Caroline's remarks on the storytelling. It gives an original twist on an already unique book.

There are many topics in this book (religion, mental illness, language...) and they are balanced by the deadpan writing and some truly comical scenes. I felt it was such an effective way to talk about such serious topics in this manner as it jolts the reader into paying more attention to what is being said.

There is A LOT happening in this short book and I still can't believe it was published in the 1950s. I'm really happy I set myself this challenge because Muriel Spark's books are an amazing - and timely - discovery for me. The book has already been a great source of inspiration (for writing and reading) and I can't wait to discover all her other books.

Also head over to the New York Times website where you can read articles about Muriel Spark and reviews of her books [here].

Temeraire - Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik’s stunning series of novels follow the global adventures of Captain William Laurence and his fighting dragon Temeraire as they are thrown together to fight for Britain during the turbulent time of the Napoleonic Wars.
Captain Will Laurence has been at sea since he was just twelve years old; finding a warmer berth in Nelson's navy than any he enjoyed as the youngest, least important son of Lord Allendale. Rising on merit to captain his own vessel, Laurence has earned himself a beautiful fiancée, society's esteem and a golden future. But the war is not going well. It seems Britain can only wait as Napoleon plans to overrun her shores.
After a skirmish with a French ship, Laurence finds himself in charge of a rare cargo: a dragon egg bound for the Emperor himself. Dragons are much prized: properly trained, they can mount a fearsome attack from the skies. One of Laurence's men must take the beast in hand and join the aviators' cause, thus relinquishing all hope of a normal life.
But when the newly-hatched dragon ignores the young midshipman Laurence chose as its keeper and decides to imprint itself on the horrified captain instead, Laurence's world falls apart. Gone is his golden future: gone his social standing, and soon his beautiful fiancée, as he is consigned to be the constant companion and trainer of the fighting dragon Temeraire…


I absolutely loved this book, and its sequel Throne of Jade and I am happily going to continue reading this series. It is a really exciting and original idea to have an alternate reality where the Napoleonic wars are fought with dragons and I was hooked from the start. The fantasy aspect weaves itself perfectly with the historical period to the point that it doesn't sound weird after a while that dragons fight alongside humans.

The friendship/love between Temeraire and Laurence is a deep bond of respect and admiration. The writing is beautiful and their feelings leap off the pages. You also kind of want a dragon for yourself, but maybe that's just me. It was utterly refreshing to have a main character very concerned with propriety and being a gentleman while having his life completely changed with the arrival of Temeraire. The interactions between the various social groups seen through Laurence's eyes and how the dynamics evolved throughout the book were fascinating to read. Obviously he's not a perfect character and his views are a little traditional but it's interesting to read about his struggle to adjust to his new life.

I also really loved how the dragons were not treated like mere beasts and had an ever evolving intelligence. They can talk and learn languages and choose their rider. Many other books on dragons have this aspect as well but the relationship between dragon and rider here is less exclusive and closed. There is a whole team taking care of a dragon and each person has a job taking care of the dragon and a duty during a battle. Additionally, even though the book stays close to the cultural aspects of the period for the most part, it also includes some different aspects in the organisation of this alternate society: women can serve in the military because some dragons only accept female riders. There is no princess to be saved in this book and Laurence's very conservative views about women have to evolve. 

There is a lot of action and I particularly enjoyed reading the military combat scenes involving dragons. Aerial combat with dragons is not a simple affair and the depth of detail over each dragon's ability and strengths are amazing. The battle scenes make sense historically which makes this book more of an alternative historical novel than a straightforward fantasy book.

The writing is very good. The story is told in the third person, mostly from Laurence's point of view. I found the descriptions of dragons, places and feelings practically flawless. Even the battle scenes involving dragons appear so realistic that it's as if you're on top of the dragon, holding on to a leather strap.

All in all, I thought it was a deeply original book with an interesting voice and could be a good fit for both fans of fantasy and/or historical fiction.

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Muriel Spark Reading Challenge

Hi all,

I have rather abruptly decided that I wanted to read all (or most) of Muriel Spark's books over the next few years after realising how amazing she was and how shameful it was that I had yet to read one of her books. I, of course, had to make it official with a list (I love lists!) and a logo. Muriel Spark is one of Scotland's most talented novelists and I have been missing out on her books so I am really looking forward to this. 

Below are the books I intend to read. I don't know if anyone else wants to join me in this endeavour, it can be just for a few books if her complete works look a bit daunting! I'll update this list as and when I read the books.


1957    The Comforters [My thoughts here]
1958    Robinson
1959    Memento Mori
1960    The Ballad of Peckham Rye
The Bachelors
1961    The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
1963    The Girls of Slender Means
1965    The Mandelbaum Gate
1968    The Public Image
1970    The Driver's Seat [My thoughts here]
1971    Not to Disturb
1973    The Hothouse by the East River
1974    The Abbess of Crewe
1976    The Takeover
1979    Territorial Rights
1981    Loitering with Intent
1984    The Only Problem
1988    A Far Cry from Kensington
1990    Symposium
1996    Reality and Dreams
2000    Aiding and Abetting
2004    The Finishing School


1950    Tribute to Wordsworth [edited by Muriel Spark and Derek Stanford]
1951    Child of Light [a study of Mary Shelley]
1952    The Fanfarlo and Other Verse
1952    Selected Poems of Emily Brontë
1953    John Masefield [biography]
1953    Emily Brontë: her life and work [by Muriel Spark and Derek Stanford]
1953    My Best Mary [a selection of letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, edited by Muriel Spark and Derek Stanford]
1954    The Brontë letters
1957    Letters of John Henry Newman [edited by Muriel Spark and Derek Stanford]
1958    The Go-away Bird [short stories]
1961    Voices at Play [short stories and plays]
1963    Doctors of Philosophy [play]
1967    'Collected Poems'
'Collected Stories'
1982    'Bang-bang You're Dead' [short stories]
1982    'Going up to Sotheby's' [poems]
1992    'Curriculum Vitae' [autobiography]
2001    'Complete Short Stories'
2004    'All the Poems'

Summer Reads

Summer is here (sort of) and that means we can read all the books we haven't managed to  read yet this year!

I have a few books I've read and a few which are on my radar so I thought I'd share some of them!

First is A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki which has been one of my favourite books this year and has just been longlisted for the Booker. A writer living on an island on the coast of Canada finds a Hello Kitty lunch box with a diary of a teenage girl named Nao, a watch and several letters written in Japanese. This is a fascinating book that will take you to Japan, will enlighten you about awesome Buddhist nuns, will make you think and dream and travel. The book is also about stories. The stories we tell ourselves, the story we read and the stories around us we didn't even know were there. I absolutely loved it.

I haven't read Life after Life by Kate Atkinson yet but I have heard SO MUCH about it that I really can't wait to settle down with it during a long weekend this summer. I am just fascinated to read the many lives of Ursula Todd and how each life intertwines with world events. Kate Atkinson is such a talented writer and I was completely won over when I heard her talk about this book. 

Yes, yes, I was totally late on this bandwagon but Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is absolutely, mind-blowingly AMAZING. If you haven't read it yet, do. If you have read it, well you know what I mean. This book is SO tense and addictive I was an emotional wreck for two weeks. Nick Dunne's wife Amy disappears on the day of their 5th anniversary and the police start to suspect him. More or less everything goes downhill from there. How exciting, right?

I'm putting A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin here but it can be any next book in the series you need to read (I'm waiting for a long weekend to start on the second book!). I think more or less everyone loves the show but the books are so SO amazing, you HAVE to read them. And it's not just the fantasy fans all around the world saying this, it's literally everyone else as well (more or less everyone else in the world). The characters are all amazing (Tyrion and Arya are obviously my fave), the plot is incredible (well, the 1205794310 plots there are through the series) and it's just amazing so go read it at once.

If any book has to compete plot-wise with Game of Thrones, it kind of has to May We Be Forgiven by A. M. Homes. I know, it sounds weird, but I'm reading this at the moment and I have come to the conclusion that A. M. Homes might be, just a little bit, related GRRM. I mean, this book is INSANE (in a really good way, don't get me wrong!!). The characters, the plot, the themes are quite simply brilliant. The book is hilarious and after reading the first 50/100 pages you wonder what on earth the rest of the book can contain if this is only the beginning. It won the Women's Prize for Fiction this year and you have to read it if you haven't. So there. 

I haven't read Angelmarker by Nick Harkaway yet but my better half has been raving about it for months. It was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award. 

Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi has been one of my most anticipated books for this year and I can't wait to read it. She was announced as one of Granta's Best of British Young Novelists this year. This is a book about family, how it tears itself apart and how it reunites. I've been told the book will appeal to fans of Zadie Smith (which I am) so I can't wait to read it.

I read The Humans by Matt Haig earlier this year and I loved it. It's witty, moving and utterly heart-warming. Professor Andrew Martin of Cambridge University solves the world's greatest mathematical riddle and then he disappears. When he is found again, he is somewhat different and seems to have to learn again what it is to be human. 

I have been hearing about Wild by Cheryl Strayed for a while and I've been meaning to read this book ever since. My better half - and everyone else she has given the book to - has been raving about it and I feel this summer I'll finally get around to it! At 26 years old, Cheryl lost everything - her mother, her marriage, etc - so she decided impulsively to walk 1100 miles of the West Coast of America alone with just a backpack. At 26 years old myself, I feel compelled to read Cheryl Strayed's memoir (slightly easier than the hiking, but I have sensitive feet).

A new Curtis Sittenfeld is already an event in itself, so there was no doubt I would want to read Sisterland. I have loved (and at times loved to hate) Prep and American Wife is still on my list of books to read. But also: twins? Special powers? Curtis Sittenfeld's masterful prose? YES PLEASE!

Anyways - here is my little list, what other books should be on my radar?


Blue is the Warmest Color - Julie Maroh

In this tender, bittersweet, full-colour graphic novel, a young woman named Clémentine discovers herself and the elusive magic of love when she meets a confident blue-haired girl named Emma: a lesbian love story for the ages that bristles with the energy of youth and rebellion and the eternal light of desire.
First published in French by Belgium's Glénat, the book has won several awards, including the Audience Prize at the Angoulême International Comics Festival, Europe's largest.
Julie Maroh is an author and illustrator originally from northern France.


I have to say that this has become one of my favourite graphic novels of all time. The story whole-heartedly encapsulates attraction, first love and identity. The book is a diary of Clémentine's life from the early years of her adolescence all through her life and it is an amazing coming of age story. The illustrations serve the story in such a way that you see Clémentine's feelings bubbling up on the page. The use of colour as well as the emphasis put on perspective makes you see things through Clémentine's eyes, allowing you to watch her life unravel (and also ravel - which really should be a word), from her point of view.

Everything seems pretty good for Clémentine at first but when she meets Emma, her world turns upside down. She has to deal with her feelings and the fact that they don't seem to have any sort of relation to what her brain tells her she should feel. Clémentine has never been attracted to a girl before and she has some issues when dealing with it at first. I do think this is one of the best "coming out" type of stories (though I do dislike the term) because it shows you in words and images the effect such a realisation has on a person. It's as if you've lived all your life with an image of you, of life, of things, of everything and all of a sudden your life and this image, this certainty you've had all your life don't match up. And you find yourself having to choose between your heart and your mind and it is sometimes the hardest thing you will have to go through because either way you go, you could feel you are betraying yourself. 

I don't really want to say more about the book because I read it without knowing much and I cried big fat ugly tears from the first pages and I felt I was right there with Clémentine while she was going through these moments. 

I've read it in French but the English version is out in September this year from Arsenal Pulp Press and the film based on the opening chapters of the book has found a UK distributor (Curzon) so it should be in UK indie cinemas soon. The film has been praised by the critics and won the Palme d'Or at the Festival de Cannes but has received quite a lot of criticism over the shooting conditions and the fact that the director didn't thank the author, Julie Maroh, in his acceptance speech. Julie Maroh has written a blog post about the film and has pointed out the lack of realism of the love scenes as well as her issues with the film in general, so do give the graphic novel a chance whether you like the film or not.

Back to basics

I seem to want to get back into this blogging madness so I thought I'd change everything and start again.

This time around, I'm planning to talk about what I really want to talk about: books and films and other things I love without any obligation or stress. I also want to talk about what inspires me, what makes me want to be a better person and so many other things that simply catch my eye. I want this to be as fun and inspiring as it was when I first started.

So I am back, but not exactly the same... hope you'll stay for the ride.