Friday, 27 January 2012

Something for the weekend

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Shop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

This is one of my favourite books because it so perfectly conjures up another time and place. Set in America's deep south in a town (surprisingly enough) called Whistle Stop in Alabama, the book jumps between the depression era and the 80's. The story is told via the memory of Ninny Threadgoode as she talks to the depressed Evelyn Couch about her colourful family and friends.

The story mainly focuses on Idgie Threadgoode, her partner Ruth and Ruth's son, who own and run the cafe of the title. Idgie is an unashamed tomboy and after a terrible bereavement in her childhood, loses her joy of life until the pious Ruth Jamieson comes to live with the Threadgoodes for a Summer. It is wonderful to see her falling in love with Ruth and all of the family teasing her as she denies her true feelings. The book is partly a love story about a couple who are accepted without judgement in a time when attitudes were less liberal than now and it is this relationship/ family which forms the emotional heart of the book.

The cafe becomes a haven for people from all walks of life; from tramps to the white professionals of the town, to the disenfranchised black population of Whistle Stop. Set in a segregated America, the race relations add another, more political, layer to what might otherwise have been a more frivolous novel. The Threadgoode family employed a black maid, Sipsey, who ends up cooking at the cafe with her son, Big George and his wife Onzell. We find out as much about their family as we do about the Threadgoodes as the chapters alternate between the two families, and between the past and the present. It is this structure which makes the book so unputdownable, as you sometimes have to wait a few chapters to find out what happens after each cliff hanger Ninny Threadgoode casually mentions.

In the end, we feel as much as Evelyn does, uplifted by spending time at the cafe in Whistle Stop and meeting all of the wonderful people who are getting on with their ordinary lives- though Flagg does give us a murder or two to keep the pages turning. This book will make you laugh, make you cry, but most of all fall in love with the era and people of times past.


Buy it here

Friday, 20 January 2012

Something for the weekend..

Motherless Brooklyn - Jonathan Lethem

This weeks 'Something for the weekend' is a cracking hard nosed detective story.. sort of. Our 'hero' is Lionel Essrog, Lionel, at first sight, seems nothing more than a hired goon. But this is a book with many layers & not everything is as it seems. Set in Brooklyn the tale begins in not unusual 'gangster' fashion with a 'hit', Lionel's beloved boss Frank Minna is 'whacked'  (alright I'll stop with the speech marks you've all seen Goodfellas right? or the Sopranos at least). As Lionel was supposed to be keeping watch on Frank that night & as Frank was Lionel's Father figure this causes Lionel a great deal of chagrin.

And so Lionel, alongside the rest of Frank's 'Minna men', sets about attempting to discover the identity of the killer & the reason for the murder. The key to the enjoyment of this book however is not the plot (not to say it isn't gripping) it is Lionel, & Lionel's condition. You see Lionel is (as far as i know) the only literary Private detective with Tourettes.
This isn't a caricature of Tourettes, Lethem doesn't have Lionel shriek expletives to get cheap laughs. More, Tourettes provides the rhythm of the pages, it, or rather Lethems portrayal of it, gives the book it's edge & it's propulsion. There is humour here though, Lionel jerks out some hilarious phrases & you can tell Lethem is having a ball forming the mangled sentences ping ponging round Lionel's frustrated skull, but there is always a sadness behind it - people treat Lionel as if he were a performing clown or a 'freakshow' (the reader of course realising his true nature).

Some of Lethems work can be pretty dense (though I've yet to read one i didn't enjoy) & i couldn't wholeheartedly recommend them to everyone. But Motherless Brooklyn is the exception, I challenge anyone not to enjoy this book.

Plus you'll find out why 'Kiss' by Prince is the perfect Tourettes song.


Friday, 13 January 2012

Something for the weekend..

Hello & welcome back to Charing Cross Read - Blackwell's Charing cross road Blog. We hope you had a relaxing & enjoyable Christmas & New Year break & are ready to get back to some serious reading! We have some tempting, tasty & tremendous events on the horizon. But just to ease you  back in here's a little something for the weekend..

The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher

Except it's not little it's a whopper! Yes it's another 'Something for the weekend' that you'd have to be a secret robot to actually read in a weekend.

Hensher's Northern odyssey begins in Sheffield 1974 & at the beginning it may remind you of the piquant humour of Alan Bennett or 'Abigails party' - all cocktail sausages & gossipy neighbours. The devil is in the detail for Hensher as we follow his wonderfully well drawn characters through the years. He makes you care about there (admittedly) fairly ordinary lives.

That's not to say it's without incident, but this is more about how the people react to events than the events themselves.It's about how peoples actions can reverberate through time. As the intertwined stories move through the years you will be touched, amused but most importantly you will need to know what happens & that is all down to Hensher's skillfull prose.

A joy from to start to finish -  it's one of those books that you just know you will one day read again.