Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Book Lovers



Daunt Books
My daughters and I participated in the London Bookshop Crawl on a Saturday in the month of February this year.
When we came to know about the event, we placed our orders electronically  and  had  the  tickets downloaded and printed before our trip to London. I was certainly looking forward to hitting some bookstores while we were in London and the Bookshop Crawl happened to take place on my birthday. Hooray!
That Saturday morning, my girls slept in while I took my time to get ready. I was rather indecisive about which outfit to wear and whether to put on a dress. Whenever I am being fickle minded, I know I should simply settle on whatever I put on next without further ado. Later that evening I felt that I could have paid a bit more attention to some details for those picture moments. The cold weather looked to be warmer ( 4-12 degrees celsius ) and the prospects of a day spending at bookstores made it a brighter day indeed.

We started with London Review Bookshop in Bloomsbury amongst some fifty participating bookshops.When I was at the London Review Bookshop around 11.30 a.m. , I met a young woman who was already onto her third bookshop. If we were taking part in the Amazing Race, we would have been eliminated.

The range of books available at the London Review Bookshop (LRB)was simply amazing. After spending sometime browsing around, both my girls picked up a non-fiction each while I picked up a book of fiction. Being a  bibliophile, I had to remind myself to be prudent. The cakes at  the London Review Bookshop Cafe were irresistible and we had to treat ourselves to some. They were delicious!! Our next stop was  Foyles  where  we acquired  a few more books. For both bookshops, as participants of the Bookshop Crawl, we were accorded some privileges, namely 10% discount  at LRB and 15% off the listed price at Foyles plus a gift bag in the case of the London Review Bookshop. After a late lunch,  we went to Daunt Books in Marylebone where they organise all of their books by country. My girls and I wandered around separately. As I browsed around the wonderful array of books, I heard my girls' exclaiming in unison when they discovered that they had both picked up the same book, Wish Lanterns Young Lives in China by Alec Ash.  I picked up a copy of  The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing and moved on to look under the country, France where I settled on a couple of fictions  by Patrick Modiano and also Toujours Provence by Peter Mayles. An hour  later, we gathered our find and headed  to the check-out counter.When I produced the electronic ticket  for the Bookshop Crawl, we received a free copy of The Trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover by Sybille Bedford and published by Daunt Books. Splendid. Seeing that we still had an hour or so before our dinner , I suggested grabbing a coffee from Monmouth coffee shop , one of  my favourite things to do in London. Outside the Monmouth cafe, I joined the many customers in need of  a caffeine fix.The queue moved steadily and I managed to pick up a black coffee fifteen minutes later. We then agonized  if we should take a bus that would stop right in front of the restaurant and as we headed towards the bus stop, I told my girls to retract  our steps and head back to Leicester Square  to catch a tube to London Bridge. That was probably the umpteenth time that I was being indecisive on that day.

Happiness is holding a cup of steamy hot black coffee and sipping it as one braves the cold. Even though my boots were killing me after all that walking up and down the roads and in and out of the tube stations, coffee and  books in the bag definitely kept my spirit up. 

Neal's Yard, London
Invisible Ink written by Pippa Kelly click is  amongst my acquisitions from the Bookshop Crawl.  I was drawn to it partly because the protagonist is a lawyer. Though I have my reservations about becoming a lawyer given another life, I have a tendency to read fictions involving a lawyer and also  fictions and  non-fictions written by a lawyer. 

Max Rivers has it all – burgeoning career , a beautiful partner , an exclusive address in London. But life is not perfect as he harbours a long buried secret from his childhood. He has to take care of his elderly mother and feels  overwhelmed by the declining health of  his aging mother and the onset of her  dementia. He  is very much weighed down by the guilt he feels over the disappearance of his younger brother, Peter when they were both children. Maxi’s dad walked out on the family when Peter was still a baby and Maxi was  five years old. 

The story unfolds through two narratives. Maxi as a child is  narrated in the first person’s voice where as for Maxi's adult life, the narration is in third person’s voice .  Here is a flashback as Maxi waits for the ambulance to arrive.
As he sat on the cracked, worn lino his legs grew stiff under her weight and, shifting slightly, careful not to disturb her now that she’d finally drifted off, he leant back against the table leg and shut his eyes. The house seemed to wrap itself around him. The  smells ,the  creaks, the very texture of the air, all seemed to be pulling him back, reclaiming him, and an image, a scene as clear as crystal , came into his mind.   
  The three of them are standing in the kitchen. Mum’s trying to brush Peter’s hair. It’s all mussed up from where he’s been playing in the sandpit. She’s pushing his thick fringe out of his eyes but he’s squirming away.
   “ Stand still !”
   Peter’s arm shoots out and shoves her in the tummy.  Max knows that she’d kill him if he did that . Kill him! But instead all she does is scowl and pull Peter closer. Max watches out of the corner of his eye as he kneels to pack his satchel. The sight of the dog-eared covers of his books soothes him. Nothing – nothing – can get to him today because it’s the last day of term. His very last day at St Joseph’s. In September he’s off to the Grammar on the other side of town. Where the big boys go – the clever ones that is .
           Mum’s yanked Peter back so she can finish fiddling with his hair. “You’re not to go up on the fields love because the grass will set off your coughing and we don’t want that. “ He chews on his bottom lip and doesn’t answer. Max knows that Peter will disobey Mum and like always he’ll get the blame. As if she’s reading his mind, Mum says, “You ‘ll make sure that he doesn’t go up there won’t you  Maxi?” He stands up and flings his satchel over his shoulder. “ Maxi?” She’s let go of Peter and is staring at Max, her eyebrows dipping into a V as she frowns.
     “ Yes ,yes .”
“Because he’s not been well Maxi.
Doesn’t he know it? Peter’s kept him awake with his coughing.
    “ Maxi !” She repeats loudly.
   “ Okay Mum. I get the message.” 

The story is about a missing child and  sibling rivalry. It is about how jealous Maxi had felt as a ten year old  when his mother constantly fussed about his brother, Peter who was five years younger than him. In  trying  to suppress and conceal his past from his partner Eleanor, Max Rivers puts his new role as a parent at risk.

The past is an integral part of us and it cannot be reversed nor forgotten. While we cannot re-write the past,  we need the strength and grace to accept that the past cannot be changed but to  move on.

Pippa Kelly's novel explores the complex emotions about loss, guilt and caring for an aging parent. The prose is well written and as the author cleverly mixes the narratives and in describing  the conflicts that are within Max, the reader is  offered images of how Maxi and his younger brother Peter used to play together on the trapeze and climbing into their hiding places. A commendable debut.



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