Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Woo! New discoveries!

I've been buying a shocking number of books lately - sshh, whisper it. Time was, when I'd have been sneaking carrier-bags of clothes and shoes into the house, tucking them away behind the sofa before spiriting them upstairs. Later I'd wear my new purchase with that 'What, this old thing? Had it ages!' dismissal of my husband's raised eyebrow. Now it's books that are smuggled past his beady eye. 'But you've got a book, surely,' he'll say, not entirely in fun. Like all addictions, the more you tell yourself you'll break the habit, the more you succumb. I'm the same with chocolate.

The paradox, though, is how hard it is to become genuinely excited by a new writer. When you discover a writer you really love, you devour all they've read and wait avidly for the next production (unfortunate if they're dead - although that doesn't stop the Jane Austens and Margaret Mitchells and Daphne du Mauriers of this world still, mysteriously, being able to churn out sequels ...

Often you get suckered into buying a book that has had loads of hype and attention and it fails to live up to expectation - all the more delightful, then, when you do come across a writer whose style and approach causes a frisson, offers the promise of a new voice, a new slant. This happened to me yesterday: I, erm, just happened to stroll into a bookshop (My name is Lorna and I'm a bookaholic and I haven't had a read for ... five hours), ahem, and discovered not one but two writers whom I've heard a great deal about but had not hitherto read any of. One is Kate Grenville: I bought 'Lilian's Story' and 'The Secret River' - reading a couple of passages at random was all it took: I loved the voice and the observation. Here's a passage: 'He was a white-faced, thin-chested fellow with a little pink rosebud mouth, his curls falling down his cheeks from under his hat, all care as he took his lady by the hand and around her back. His glance at Thornhill, standing in the mud and the water, his hands frozen in shape gripping the gunwhale, was not so much one of scorn as of triumph. Look at me, fellow, and what I have got! It was a look that said that the white silk legs, and everything attached to them, were his property, in a way there was nothing in the world that was William Thornhill's property, excepting only his black cap, shrunk in so many rains, that sat on top of his head like a pimple on an elephant's behind. The gentleman looked as though he would not know what to do with a female leg, and although he touched her, there was no pleasure in the touch: the woman, white stocking and silk slippers and all, was a thing he took pride of ownership in, but there was no love in that my love.'

The second writer is Valerie Martin, who wrote 'Mary Reilly' (seen the film) and won the Orange Prize with 'Property', which I'll certainly be checking out. I bought 'The Unfinished Novel and other stories' (how can you resist a title like that!). I've read two of the stories so far, 'His Blue Period', about the rivalry between a struggling painter and the monstrously egotistical and selfish artist Meyer Anspach. Then 'The Bower', in which an academic falls for a gifted student actor. Both stories were a poignant delight, well observed, witty and sad - she has an especial gift for focussing on how we don't always realise the true significance of people, encounters, events at the time, how things can be too much under our own noses to see the real meaning - how hindsight is both a wonderful and terrible thing.

People always say, when house-hunting, that when you walk into the right house, you just know. It feels right. It's the same with writers. Sometimes you just know.

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