Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sequins and Sequelae

wow, read this book in less than a day - not only is it unputdownable, but also a hardback which I don't want to shlep in the luggage.

Ruth Thomas' first novel 'Things to make and mend' is a brilliant book, also reviewed here. Thanks, Mum for sending me the TLS review of it - and never realised you can read that online! It drifts between now and the 70s, when the two main protagonists were 15 and the best of friends; but this does not last for long. Teenage life in the 1970s in East Grinstead in Sussex, as well as 'today's' Edinburgh, is described extremely well, from the scholarship girl at the posh school, the girls having needlework lessons, to the traumas of teenage life, in one case being rather more traumatic than average. Actually, the book is also very funny, though under the circumstances it might easily not have been. After the two friends fall out they only reconnect when 28 years later they accidentally meet in Edinburgh. Nothing is what it seems, and every time you think you have worked out what has happened to whom, another unexpected turn appears.

How do I know that today's Edinburgh is described extremely well? When someone mentions street names and the relationships between hills and streets, describes the bronze pigeons sitting on the ground at the top of Leith Walk (very close to the best Scottish, if not UK-wide, Italian deli Valvona and Crolla, incidentally), has a taxi driver asking one of the protagonists, on the way from the airport, 'Ken Embra*?', describes the bungalow on the way in from the airport (I stayed in one in the first few weeks when living in Edinburgh), then I think she has a grip on Edinburgh (the Scottish Arts Council grant for the writing of this book helped, too, I suspect).

The two characters speak, roughly, alternately, although one has more to say. Interestingly, one tells her story in the third person, the other in the first person; often it is written as if they are chatting to you directly, or writing their own autobiography. It's quite an easy read, and totally fascinating, including also the small quotes from, it seems, needlework instructions from the classroom and embroidery details which I am very unlikely to ever come across.

Highly, highly recommendable - the only problem is, it's too quick a read - but it's just the right length for the content.

*'Ken Embra' = 'Are you already acquainted with Edinburgh?'


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