Tag Archives: The Party

Almost Three Days in Lille and One Book

Lille Post Office towerI’d been toying with the idea of a weekend in Lille for what must be a decade but had somehow never got around to it. When the train which took us to Amsterdam last year stopped there, less than 90 minutes after we’d left St Pancras, it seemed ridiculous not to go so off we set last Thursday, leaving Bath at 10.13 and arriving in Lille at 15.25 their time.

By the 1990s Lille was an industrial town in decline but the mayor pressed hard for a Eurostar stop which breathed new life into the city. We’d found ourselves a hotel in the old town which is all beautifully restored buildings, upmarket shops and restaurants. Some of the houses reminded me of Amsterdam or Brussels but then Lille is very much a Flanders town; think beer and waffles Art Nouveau (Lille)rather than wine and olives. There were a few arresting art nouveau fixes for me, too.

Friday morning was taken up with a visit to La Piscine in Roubaix, a 20-minute metro ride from Lille where the local authorities have turned their art deco swimming pool into a gallery. Neither of us were particularly keen on the paintings but there were some pleasing ceramics. The first floor offered some very fine textile exhibits plus a few fashion pieces including a lovely, simple, full-length dress by Jean Paul Gaultier, subtly patterned but for the designer’s name La Piscine (Robaix)which marred it ever so slightly for me once I’d spotted it.

No visit to Lille is complete without popping into Méert, beautiful both outside and in with its stained glass and tiling. The window displays of cake and chocolates would induce even the most puritanical tourist to step inside and neither of us is of the self-denying persuasion in that department. We went for Friday afternoon tea with cake for me and a gaufre for H which looked a bit sad when it arrived but proved quite tasty. Meert (Lille)

On Saturday morning we took ourselves off to the Palais des Beaux Arts where, rather like La Piscine, we were more taken with the ceramics than the paintings including a seventeenth-century two-handled mug, touchingly designed for the ‘tremblant’, presumably too shaky to hold it one-handed. We spied a few gilets jaunes through the window and a long line of parked gendarme vans. We’d seen no sign of a march but learned later that there’d been trouble, with the CRS wading in and one street filled with tear gas.

Sea Unicorn (Hospice Comtesse Lille)Our own Saturday afternoon’s outing was much more peaceable taking us to, for me, the best museum we visited in Lille: the Hospice Comtesse originally established in 1236 by Joan, Countess of Flanders. Rebuilt in the seventeenth century, the hospice now houses local artefacts offering a glimpse of Lille’s history. It’s a beautiful building whose entrance takes you into a kitchen entirely covered in blue and white tiles depicting a multitude of scenes and creatures including what appeared to be a sea unicorn. One for the brexiteers, I couldn’t help thinking.

We left Lille Europe station promptly at 12.35, arriving home in time for tea. Oddly, we’d heard very few British voices while in Lille. It’s such a delightful town and so easy to get there, I’m amazed it’s not overwhelmed with weekenders like us. Cover image

And the book? Not much time for reading on such a short break but I enjoyed what I read of Elizabeth Day’s swipe at the British class system, The Party. It’s about the friendship between two men who met at public school, Hotel L'Abre Voyageur (Lille) wallpaperone a scholarship boy, the other a privileged member of the upper classes. An incident at the eponymous fortieth birthday party results in a police investigation during which long kept secrets are spilled. Perfect holiday reading: well written, intelligent and absorbing yet unchallenging.

I don’t usually post pictures of wallpaper but this, from the corridor outside our hotel room, could not be missed. Yes, those are monkeys

Paperbacks to Look Out For in April 2018: Part Two

Cover imageWhereas the first part of April’s paperback preview had its feet firmly planted in the States, this second instalment wanders around Europe beginning in the UK with Elizabeth Day’s The Party. Scholarship boy Martin Gilmour meets Ben Fitzmaurice at Burtonbury School, becoming firm friends with him despite their wildly differing backgrounds. Over the next twenty-five years, these two are bound together both by friendship and by a secret about Ben that Martin is determined to keep. However, as the blurb hints, things may be about to change when ‘at Ben’s 40th birthday party, the great and the good of British society are gathering to celebrate in a haze of champagne, drugs and glamour’. Sebastian Faulks is quoted as finding it ‘witty, dark and compelling’.

Over the North Sea in Denmark, Ellinor, the recently widowed narrator of Jens Christian Grøndahl’s Often I Am Happy, stands in front of her dearest friend Anna’s grave and tells her about the death of Georg who was once Anna’s husband before she died in a skiing accident together with her lover, Henning, then Ellinor’s partner. Ellinor and Georg had been married for decades but she’s never quite shrugged off the feeling that she’s leading Anna’s life. Now that he’s dead there’s no one she wishes to talk to except Anna. At the heart of this quietly powerful, beautifully crafted novella is a loving, forgiving friendship. It may be a meditation on love and loss yet the title is a reminder that life goes on.

East across the Baltic to Latvia for Eli Goldstone’s Strange Heart Beating in which Seb takes himself off to the birthplace of his beautiful wife Leda after she drowns in the lake at her local park, her boat capsized by a startled swan. Grief and how well we know those we choose to share our lives with are explored in this witty and original piece of fiction which has a rich vein of dark humour running through it nicely offsetting its sombre subject.

We’re turning back on ourselves and heading for Ireland with Molly McCloskey’s When Light is Like Water which rounds off April’s paperbacks. This slim, quietly brilliant novel tells the story of Alice who came to Ireland from Oregon as a young woman and fell in love with an Irishman. Decades later, back from her job with an NGO at a Kenyan refugee camp and blindsided with grief at her mother’s death, Alice finds herself obsessively thinking about her brief marriage.

That’s it for April’s second batch of paperbacks. A click on the first title will take you to a more detailed synopsis and to my reviews for the last three should you want to know more. If you’d like to catch up with the first batch of paperbacks they’re here. New titles are here.

Books to Look Out for in July 2017

Cover imageJuly sees publishing well into its summer reading season with far fewer books than usual to tempt me although Nickolas Butler’s The Hearts of Men more than makes up for that. His debut, Shotgun Lovesongs, was a wonderful, heart-tugging piece of writing. As ever, there’s that nagging worry about second novel syndrome but this new one sounds set in similar thematic territory. Nelson and Jonathan are very different – one diffident the other popular – but they become friends in 1962, the same summer Nelson’s family is rocked by his father’s betrayal. Butler’s novel follows these two into adulthood with all its many challenges and setbacks. ‘The Hearts of Men is a lyrical, wise and deeply affecting novel about the slippery definitions of right and wrong, family and fidelity, and the redemptive power of friendship’ say the publishers. Fingers firmly crossed for this one.

Continuing the friendship theme Victoria Redel’s Before Everything is about five girls who dub themselves the Old Friends, aged eleven. They see each other through the multitude of ups and downs that adult life throws at them until one of them is diagnosed with a recurring cancer and decides enough is enough. Each of the five reacts differently to their friend’s decision. It sounds like quintessential summer reading but I can never resist that old evolving friendship theme.

It’s also the theme of Elizabeth Day’s The Party although perhaps this time with more of a bite to it. Scholarship boy Martin Gilmour meets Ben Fitzmaurice at Burtonbury School, becoming firm friends with him despite their wildly differing backgrounds. Over the next twenty-five years, these two are bound together both by friendship and by a secret about Ben that Martin is determined to keep. However, as the blurb hints, things may be about to change when ‘at Ben’s 40th birthday party, the great and the good of British society are gathering to celebrate in a haze of champagne, drugs and glamour’. Sebastian Faulks is quoted as finding it ‘witty, dark and compelling’.Cover image

I’m not entirely sure about Maile Meloy’s Do Not Be Alarmed  which doesn’t sound up my usual alley. Two families are enjoying a cruise together. Both adults and children go ashore in Central America where things go horribly awry: ‘What follows is a heart-racing story told from the perspectives of the adults and the children, as the distraught parents – now turning on one another and blaming themselves – try to recover their children and their shattered lives’ say the publishers. This sounds so different from the three previous novels I’ve read by Meloy that I had to check it was the same author but I enjoyed them so much that I’ll be giving this one a try.

I’m also a somewhat doubtful about Yuki Means Happiness but Alison Jean Lester’s Lillian on Life was a treat. A young woman leaves America for Japan, keen for adventure. She takes a job as a nanny to a two-year-old, immersing herself in the routine of the household and becoming increasingly attached to her charge until she becomes aware that the Yoshimura family isn’t quite what it seems. ‘Yuki Means Happiness is a rich and powerfully illuminating portrait of the intense relationship between a young woman and her small charge, as well as one woman’s journey to discover her true self’ according to the publishers which sounds very different from the worldly Lillian’s tale.

Cover imageI’m ending with Nicola Barker’s H(A)PPY, which from the title alone, seems certain to be a Marmite book. The publisher’s blurb is a little opaque although I suspect they’re not to blame for that given Barker’s idiosyncratic approach to fiction. Best to quote it at length, I think: ‘H(A)PPY is a post-post apocalyptic Alice in Wonderland, a story which tells itself and then consumes itself. It’s a place where language glows, where words buzz and sparkle and finally implode. It’s a novel which twists and writhes with all the terrifying precision of a tiny fish in an Escher lithograph – a book where the mere telling of a story is the end of certainty’. I loved The Cauliflower with all its wackiness although there’s no guarantee I’ll feel the same about this one.

That’s it for July’s new books. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you be interested. Paperbacks to follow…