Spring is my absolute favourite time of year. Around the time of my birthday in March I suddenly start to feel I have more energy and that usually also comes with more ideas and more inspiration to work on projects. It also happens to be the time of year, where new and emerging authors are often published, so any reading I do at this time of year always feels fresh compared to Autumn where I tend to reread a lot of my favourite classics.
While I spent most of this winter being creatively inactive, I did spend a majority of my spare time reading and looking through the publishers’ Spring catalogues for books that looked promising and ended up falling in love with the description of these four.
Monsieur Ka – Vesna Goldsworthy*
“The London winter of 1947. As cold as St Petersburg during the Revolution. The Karenins keep their vodka under the layers of snow in their suburban garden, in bottles entombed like their Russian past. But when a young Frenchwoman arrives to work as a companion to the aged ‘Monsieur Ka’ he begins to tell his story…
As she is drawn into Ka’s dramatic past, her own life is shaken to its foundations. For in this family of former princes, there are present temptations which could profoundly affect her future.”
Back in March when the Beast from the East swept over the country, I found myself having the first snow day of my life when I woke up to discover my bus wasn’t running. So I trudged back from my stop, snuggled up with a cup of hot chocolate and started reading.
I liked Goldsworthy’s other book Gorsky when I read it a few years ago, so I was excited to read this one, too because it sounded like just my kind of thing. The novel is inspired by Anna Karenina but even though I’ve owned a copy for many years I’ve never actually gotten around to reading it, so I didn’t have anything to compare it with and don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing.
I wasn’t really sure how I felt about the book at first. I was expecting the book to be very atmospheric and it did have some beautiful descriptions of London and the weather but the characters just felt like felt like actors to me, moving from one scene to the next, only there to push the plot forward. I was disappointed, if I’m being honest but then, about halfway through something happened. I’m still not sure what it was exactly but they suddenly started feeling real, so by the time I reached the end, I found myself genuinely caring about what happened to them.
The Gradual Disappearance of Jane Ashland – Nicolai Houm*
“An American woman wakes up in a tent in the Norwegian mountains. Outside a storm rages and the fog is dense. Her phone is dead. She is completely alone. Her name is Jane Ashland, and her life has spiralled out of control.
Moving between Jane’s past and this extraordinary remote landscape, Nicolai Houm weaves a dramatic trail of suspense through one woman’s life – via love, grief, and a devastating accident that changes everything.”
For some unexplainable reason I was eyeing this book on my shelf for weeks without feeling like reading it but the minute I picked it up, I was hooked from the first page. From the very beginning you get such a strong sense of Jane’s voice and what she is like as a person and for me that is what made me like this book so much.
I loved the switches between past and present and there were times when I completely forgot I was reading a story about a fictional person. When I was reading the two chapters that trace the beginning of Jane’s relationship with Greg, I had to look up and remind myself that it was a story and not an account of someone’s actually lived life.
I’m a slow reader but I read it in just a few days because I couldn’t put it down and even though it deals with heavy questions about loss and survival, it still had this lightness about it from Jane’s morbid self-irony and a subtle humour which runs through it.
Tomorrow – Elisabeth Russell Taylor*
“Every year Elisabeth Danziger travels to the Danish island of Møn to spend one week at The Tamarisks, a lavish hotel which was once, fifteen years ago in 1945, her family’s second home. With each annual visit, Elisabeth stays in the same room and walks familiar paths. She visits the local museum to peer at artefacts that once belonged to her family; she unscrews the panel of an old bath tub to retrieve the crumbling piece of paper on which is written her name and that of Daniel Eberhardt – her beloved cousin.
Elisabeth’s annual pilgrimage is part of a long-standing family promise to meet again in Møn after their separation during the War. A promise that only she has fulfilled. And she has no reason to suspect this year will be any different from all the others.”
It’s not often I come across books about Denmark written by English writers and this post includes two!
Taylor’s novel tells the often forgotten story about the Jews living in Denmark at the time of WW2, a part of Danish history I don’t know much about, except for the few stories my dad have told me. It was interesting to see Denmark described from an “outsider’s perspective” and I felt like I could really see the landscape she is describing. Her descriptions made me want to go and see the island, especially as they reminded me that my dad grew up near there and must be familiar with those places.
The novel is heavier than the other three, both in terms of language and subject but it didn’t stop me from enjoying it and it’s beautifully written at the same time as being sad. Such a quietly heartbreaking story about the meaning of returning and what love can endure.
Meet Me at the Museum – Anne Youngson*
“When Tina Hopgood writes a letter of regret to a man she has never met, she doesn’t expect a reply. When Anders Larsen, a lonely museum curator, answers it, nor does he. They’re both searching for something, they just don’t know it yet. Anders has lost his wife, along with his hopes and dreams for the future. Tina is trapped in a marriage she doesn’t remember choosing.
Slowly their correspondence blossoms as they bare their souls to each other with stories of joy, anguish and discovery. But then Tina’s letters suddenly cease, and Anders is thrown into despair. Can their unexpected friendship survive?”
You know how you sometimes come across a book that feels like it was written just for you? That’s exactly how I felt when I first read about Meet Me at the Museum. I mean, a book about a museum, physical objects and a correspondence between an English woman and a Danish man? It’s like Youngson has gone inside my head, picked out the things I like and decided to write a story about them.
Sometimes it’s dangerous to be so excited about a book because it can easily end up disappointing you but it definitely lived up to my expectations. I have always loved the letter writing format and I liked how the relationship between Tina and Anders slowly developed in them. I’ve been really excited to tell people about the book and sent my mum home with my copy when she was visiting last weekend because I believe it was written for someone like her too.
I still can’t quite believe this is Youngson’s first book because it’s absolutely fantastic. Read it if you have ever had a pen pal, fallen in love from a distance, had a quarter- or midlife crisis, wondered what your place in history is or questioned if you are living the life you were meant to. Like Youngson herself, it’s never too late to get started on living it.
Since I started reading the books and began working on this post, Spring has gone through a snowstorm, freezing rains, a heatwave, more rain and now another heatwave. It’s been an odd one this year and right now at the beginning of the last month of Spring it feels more like summer but after the freezing cold we’ve had for so long, I’ll happily take it.
*All four books were kindly sent to me from the publishers at my own request in exchange for an honest review.