Sunday, 16 October 2016

Virginia Woolf in Manhattan by Maggie Gee

I bought this book almost two three years ago, when Maggie Gee was keynote speaker at the Society of Authors North event at the Imperial War Museum North, Salford. Yes that’s how far behind I am with my reading. 

This is an incredibly well written book and it is extremely engaging. The point of view switches constantly between the three main characters – Virginia Woolf, who has come back to life and materialized among the manuscripts of her work that are kept in a private collection in New York, Angela Lamb, a novelist and expert on Woolf and Angela’s daughter, Gerda, who runs away from school to join her mother first in New York and then in Istanbul.   

All three characters are rounded and believable. Gee admits that Woolf is fictionalized, though to some extent based on her diaries. Nevertheless, the Virginia Woolf presented here seems very much to me as she would be if she was suddenly whisked into the 21st century. Both Angela and her daughter have to face some demanding logistical problems and these are to some extent what keep us reading. 

That and the voice which is delightful, with some difference for each character. 

What will happen after Istanbul where the three of them attend a conference about Woolf’s work? A final chapter offers a suggestion and indeed hints at an explanation about how it all came about.  In the end, though, it is left for the reader to decide.    

Monday, 3 October 2016

Any Other Mouth by Anneliese Mackintosh

This is a truly extraordinary book. The blurb suggests it is a novel. Soon into reading you’re convinced that it is a series of unrelated short stories and then about a third of the way through you realise that the stories are related. The protagonist is the common factor.
Anneliese Mackintosh keeps us engaged.  Each “story” or chapter is relatively short and totally unpredictable. There is no recognisable story arc. She uses no well-worn formula. There even seems to be a different voice in each piece though we eventually recognise Greta’s voice as a unifying factor. Greta changes as she moves through her grief for her father.
The stories are not given to us in chronological order. Yet there is a logic to them: they track the changes that bring Greta to where she is today.
Frequently biographers use fictional techniques to enhance their work. Here we have a writer of fiction using the habits of memoir to keep us intrigued.
This all certainly works: I personally could hardly put this book down. Mackintosh’s prose is also of the finest.