Emma Jane Unsworth’s Hungry the Stars and Everything‘s been knocking around my shelves for some time. I’ve heard good things about Animals but I’m afraid the Katie Fforde endorsement on Hungry’s jacket was somewhat off-putting, suggesting it might be a tad fluffy. Well, it’s not. Helen Burns is a restaurant critic with a talent for calling up the devil now and again. She lives with a man she loves but maybe not quite enough. When she hears about a stunning new restaurant she books a table, deciding to dine alone and finds it to be not just a sublime experience for her taste buds but a revealing one about how she came to be where she is now. Each exquisite course on Bethel’s tasting menu calls up a formative episode in Helen’s life and by the end of her meal she’s come to a momentous decision. It’s a clever structure and it works well although the occasional appearance of the devil seemed a little contrived. Only goes to show that there’s gold in them there TBR shelves.
It’s often the case that these monthly roundups include a non-fiction book of some kind. Regular visitors to the blog will know that I mostly deal in fiction but I always have some non-fiction on the go. July’s was Canadian writer Ann Walmsley’s The Prison Book Club which I began a little sceptically and finished wanting to give Walmsley a big hug. She was drummed into helping her wonderfully enthusiastic and energetic friend, Carol, to establish a book club in a men’s prison. Not easy, as you can imagine, but the formidable Carol isn’t one to take no for an answer, managing to set up not one but two groups. Walmsley had her own concerns to surmount after a vicious mugging outside her home. Walmsley records the groups’ monthly meetings, covering a wide range of books including The Grapes of Wrath, The Woman Who Walked into Doors – Roddy Doyle agreed to answer the prisoners’ emailed questions – A Fine Balance, The Cellist of Sarajevo, and ending with Alias Grace. The prisoners’ observations are intelligent, perceptive and often enlightening. So successful was the initiative that when Walmsley met a couple of inmates after their release, they were busy setting up their own groups. If you’re wondering, my initial scepticism was prompted by both Carol and Walmsley’s comfortable lives – both are clearly well-off – which made me think that this was simply a rich person’s pet project. I was, of course, completely wrong. Both are openly appreciative of what they learn from the prisoners who in turn find reading a solace and an enlightenment. It’s a wonderful idea and Walmsley’s courage in overcoming her anxiety at being surrounded by the kind of people who damaged her so badly can only be saluted.
That’s it for July’s roundup of books read but not reviewed. I hope you’ve managed to find a few gems hidden in the old TBR.