According to Fiction, Swindon is the dullest place on Earth!(?)

I’ve never actually been to Swindon, Wiltshire in England BUT according to two novels I read in the last week, it may actually be the dullest place on Earth.

I’m almost begging readers out there to tell me I’m wrong… but i’m just getting the feeling that it’s a bit of a running joke that nothing really happens in Swindon and it’s just not, well, stimulating.

Here’s how I’ve come to this opinion via the two books I’ve read this week.

The first book I read this week was “The Eyre Affair “by Jasper Fforde:

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First of all, this book was a big hit with me because it was like the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch and the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett  merged together into this awesome book. I’ll definitely be reading the next in the series as I am a bit of a fan of the female protagonist, Thursday Next (yes, such a cool name!).

I really loved the urban fantasy/alternate history/sci-fi mixture that was at the heart of this book. I tried to read Inkheart by Cornelia Funke recently and I feel like Jasper Fforde was able to carry off that awesome concept of “characters coming out of the book” and into real life.

Now, the main character is a Special Ops officer in there LiteraTec department (dealing with crimes to do with literature) and moves from London to her home town of Swindon after a particularly nasty clash with a criminal mastermind.

The fact that this character comes home to Swindon to recuperate after getting injured in a battle and everyone is surprised that she’s “downgrading” from her job in London, to a lower one in Swindon, shows to me that Swindon is probably not the place to be if you want to get places in life. This is just what I’m getting from the book and no offence at all meant to the people who live in Swindon. Again, this is just what I’m getting from the books and I am genuinely curious to see what the real Swindon is like!

On the flip side, I also read “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon this week.

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This book reminded me of a lighter version of Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”. Set mostly in Swindon, this book is written by the main character Christopher Boone, a young boy of 15 whom we start to understand is likely on the Autism Spectrum. I thought it was charming and I really felt for Christopher as he uncovered certain things about his family and couldn’t quite understand them and process them as other people not on the Spectrum would.

Christopher actually says at one point in the book that he is happy that he lives in Swindon because it is a place that helps his brain stay quiet. This is directly contrasted with a couple of moments in the second half of the book when he tries to get to London by himself and stays there for some time. Again, that contrast with London and Swindon really makes me think that they are polar opposites! I mean, I acknowledge my own bias since I’ve spent some time in London (and love the place!) and have never been to Swindon, but come on two authors have painted this picture of Swindon as this place that is a haven for people mentally and physically broken and who need a time-out for London. I don’t know if that’s really a selling point. (But seriously, do people take vacations to Swindon or is this just a “i’m just passing through” place? Seriously, I’m really curious about this!)

I chose to read these two books from my To-Be-Read list because my local library happened to have copies of these books and they were also both put on my Goodreads TBR shelf one after the other about 5 years ago. As per my previous blog post, I’m trying to eliminate my TBR in a methodical (probably OCD-ish) way.

I absolutely did not know that both of them were set in London/Swindon but I’m really glad it just happened to be that I read both of these books in the same week.

Now my Dear Reader, let me know what your thoughts are on Swindon, Wiltshire, because I really am so curious about this place. I may even have to plan another trip to the UK for some… um… research.

 

Review: “Whispers Through A Megaphone” by Rachel Elliott

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From Goodreads:

Miriam hasn’t left her house in three years, and cannot raise her voice above a whisper. But today she has had enough, and is finally ready to rejoin the outside world.

Meanwhile, Ralph has made the mistake of opening a closet door, only to discover with a shock that his wife Sadie doesn’t love him, and never has. And so he decides to run away.

Miriam and Ralph’s chance meeting in a wood during stormy weather marks the beginning of an amusing, restorative friendship, while Sadie takes a break from Twitter to embark on an intriguing adventure of her own. As their collective story unfolds, each of them seeks to better understand the objects of their affection, and their own hearts, timidly refusing to stand still and accept the chaos life throws at them. Filled with wit and sparkling prose, Whispers Through a Megaphone explores our attempts to meaningfully connect with ourselves and others, in an often deafening world – when sometimes all we need is a bit of silence.

This book kind of reminded me of “A Visit From the Goon Squad” – I can’t put my finger on it, other than the fact that both of them are contemporary fiction, but I make the comparison in the nicest way possible.

The characters are all flawed (some incredibly so) and have their own regrets/crises that they need to deal with throughout the novel. Some are resolved, some are left for the reader to think about, but I suppose this isn’t the type of novel where we need happy, complete endings to each of the characters’ trials and tribulations. The irony is definitely not lost on the psychotherapist that needs to “get lost in the woods” to “find himself”.

Personally, my favourite (and teeny, tiny) character in the novel is Alfie Delaney, who dresses like The Doctor (Matt Smith’s incarnation) and carries a little Amy Pond doll. I may be biased though, since I am myself a freshly recruited Whovian.

I know that this book won’t be for everyone, but if you do like contemporary fiction about people dealing with mid-life crises and some rather disturbing childhood trauma manifesting itself in adulthood agoraphobia, then I say you should definitely give this one a go.

Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review!

Review: “The Dogs of Littlefield” by Suzanne Berne

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From Amazon:

Littlefield, Massachusetts, named one of the Ten Best Places to Live in America, full of psychologists and college professors, is proud of its fine schools, its girls’ soccer teams, its leafy streets and quaint village centre.

Yet no sooner has sociologist Dr Clarice Watkins arrived in Littlefield to study the elements of ‘good quality of life’ than someone begins poisoning the town’s dogs. Are the poisonings in protest to an off-leash proposal for Baldwin Park – the subject of much town debate – or the sign of a far deeper disorder?

The Dogs of Littlefield is a wry exploration of the discontent concealed behind the manicured lawns and picket fences of darkest suburbia.

Mention the phrases “darkest suburbia” and “town full of college professors and psychologists” to me and I will want to read this book cover to cover in one sitting SO BAD, that I will probably hurt you if you try and talk to me for the rest of the day. (I’m not even being hyperbolic, I will get cranky if you try to interrupt my binge reading session!)

This book wasn’t what I thought it would be. I liked that it was quirky, dark, mysterious and a bit different to some of the contemporary and literary fiction novels on the market at the moment. As an aside, I wasn’t completely surprised to see that when I went looking for the blurb (above) Amazon told me that “People who bought this” had also bought Anne Tyler’s “A Spool of Blue Thread”. Yes, both novels are about the darker side of suburbia – but I think Suzanne Berne brings a lot more comedy to her story about suburbia and the seemingly normal but downright disturbed people she portrays. Either way, both novels made me feel so much better about myself and I consider my family to be relatively normal and my suburb rather boring compared to Littlefield. If you’re wanting to feel normal and happy that your life isn’t as messed up as it could really be, I would recommend this book (and sure, “A Spool of Blue Thread” too, if you’re not really picky about there being a plot involved).

A big thanks to Netgalley for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review!

What’s everyone else reading on this fine Monday? Let me know in the comments below.

Review – “Elizabeth is Missing” by Emma Healey

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From Goodreads:

In this darkly riveting debut novel—a sophisticated psychological mystery that is also a heartbreakingly honest meditation on memory, identity, and aging—an elderly woman descending into dementia embarks on a desperate quest to find the best friend she believes has disappeared, and her search for the truth will go back decades and have shattering consequences.

Maud, an aging grandmother, is slowly losing her memory—and her grip on everyday life. Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, whom she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger.

But no one will listen to Maud—not her frustrated daughter, Helen, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth’s mercurial son, Peter. Armed with handwritten notes she leaves for herself and an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth and save her beloved friend.

This singular obsession forms a cornerstone of Maud’s rapidly dissolving present. But the clues she discovers seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II.

As vivid memories of a tragedy that occurred more fifty years ago come flooding back, Maud discovers new momentum in her search for her friend. Could the mystery of Sukey’s disappearance hold the key to finding Elizabeth?

I’m a sucker for punishment and tend to be drawn to stories about sufferers of dementia and their loved ones. Not being in the same time and place as a loved one sitting right next to you must be heartbreakingly difficult.

I really enjoyed this book in the way that some books make you want to stop random people in the street and say, “Are you looking for something good to read? Stop looking – I’ve found it for you!”

I actually got really excited when I noticed someone in Dymocks pick up a copy right near me while I was doing my ritual once-a-week browse. I felt like walking right up to the person and commending them then and there on their great taste in books. I swear I only get these urges to approach strangers over books, babies and food.

One thing I really liked about this book was the parallel storylines running through the book. There were two mysteries that wonderfully and cleverly overlapped, something which could have come across as clunky, but considering this was a debut novel, Healey pulled it off well. I expected to get teary while reading this book and that definitely happened. I can honestly say I will never look at a tin of peaches in quite the same way now.

I’m really looking forward to the three part TV adaptation. I just hope they get the casting right. With Downton Abbey wrapped now, surely Dame Maggie Smith is free?