I have saved up this repeat of Jessica Norrie’s Literary Column to share as we move into the gift buying season… these books are timeless and the recommendations are never out of date.
Picking the right book for the person you are buying for is an art. Jessica shares the books that she has gifted her daughter….
I was lucky enough as a child to be given books every birthday and Christmas. (Overheard in a bookshop last year: “I do love books. What a shame you can’t give them as presents!” I immediately took a couple extra to the till, for the next time I need a birthday present.)
Anyway, I always give my children books, too. My son isn’t necessarily a fan, apart from Harry Potter, and, nowadays, Akala. But my daughter, now 27, reads and reads. I choose what I think she’ll like, but with an eye too on what I’d like to borrow when she’s finished with it. These are some I picked out for her last year – not worthy mother to daughter life lessons, just entertainment and humorously expressed thought.
We both agreed Yuki Chan in Brontë Country ticked lots of boxes. A bit quirky, quite sad, often funny. Mick Jackson, the author, is as far as I know a middle aged Lancastrian male, but he doesn’t make a bad job of the voice of a teenage Japanese girl, although I think he over estimates her capacity for alcohol and physical pain. Yuki Chan has a refreshing view of British eccentricities, a shoulder shrugging, eye rolling opinion of the elderly Japanese coach party she’s travelling with, and a reaction to Haworth and the Brontës like none other, as she follows her late mother’s footsteps on a journey through the UK. It’s a story of cultural difference, but Yuki’s grief for a parent would cut hearts in any culture, gender or age group. A book we’d recommend – especially if, like Yuki, you find men with enormous beards rather peculiar and sometimes hope on falling asleep that when you wake “all your little obsessions would’ve been smoothed away and your life would be solved, like a puzzle.”
“This one’s a bit grim!” Ros commented, avidly soaking up Sarah Schmidt’s debut See what I have done. Lizzie Borden, who “smiled too wide for her face” and as we know “ had an axe/ gave her mother 40 whacks/When she saw what she had done/She gave her father 41.” Ah, but did she? Schmidt retells the story as fiction, narrated by Lizzie herself, her older sister Emma, the maid Bridget, and a passing ne’er do well called Benjamin – between them, these four know what really happened but the reader is kept guessing to the end. Schmidt slept several nights in the Borden house, which you too can do if you’re in Fall River, Massachusetts, and comments: “It’s an odd thing to be in the bedroom of an accused murderer.”
This is another book in the vein of the excellent The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale, perhaps slightly less awful, since Mr Whicher was investigating the death of a three year old child. But if you like a dose of true crime, both of these are readable, informative, and entertaining.
For untrue Victorian era crime written with relish, have I mentioned Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series before? Good for Young Adults and anyone else in need of jolly good yarns with a strong woman at their heart.
Ros thought Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body by the comedian Sara Pascoe was “a bit obvious”. And Pascoe can be irritating, full of arch, self conscious comments. But she is also very funny and sometimes illuminating, when she decides to explore femaleness because “like other animals, we should have a programmed set of instinctual behaviours, but no-one seems to agree what they are.” She is deadly serious when it comes to discrimination, cruelty, and rape, among other issues that affect women worldwide. It’s an easy introduction to feminist arguments and if my son would only read it I’d give him a copy too. Here’s Pascoe objecting to the fashion for Brazilian hair removal: “…wasn’t it insensitive to name a near-total wax after a country suffering from widespread deforestation? SAVE THE RAINFOREST! Leave the Amazon alone.”
When Ros unwrapped The Dressmaker, by Rosalie Ham, she complained that I’d already given it to her the year before. It must have been the cover that appealed to me so much, Kate Winslet gazing shrewdly at her home village in the 2015 film. The book’s quite a good read, if a bit jerky. I could see why it appeals, if you like fashion, quirky characters, the Australian outback brought to life with a dash of sophistication battling all the prejudice. It didn’t quite add up for either of us but I include it because for many other readers it was very special, including a scout on the lookout for a hit movie, obviously.
Their Finest Hour and a half by Lissa Evans is a good book made into an equally good film in 2016. In wartime London, a young woman is employed to “write the slop” (the women’s angle) for propaganda films. Her associates are young men unfit for military service and a washed up actor (Bill Nighy in the film) only hired because the younger ones are at the front. She’s good at her job but of course not paid or treated equally with her male colleagues, and not treated well by her war artist husband either. It’s a novel about coming to terms with what’s possible, and we agreed it’s rather moving whether you’re in your twenties or your fifties.
That’s what we liked about all of these – easy, well paced reads, with humour and emotion making serious subjects approachable. I hope they work as well for you as they did for Ros and I.
The Magic Carpet – Jessica’s recent release.
Outer London, September 2016, and neighbouring eight-year-olds have homework: prepare a traditional story to perform with their families at a school festival. But Nathan’s father thinks his son would be better off doing sums; Sky’s mother’s enthusiasm is as fleeting as her bank balance, and there’s a threatening shadow hanging over poor Alka’s family. Only Mandeep’s fragile grandmother and new girl Xoriyo really understand the magical powers of storytelling. As national events and individual challenges jostle for the adults’ attention, can these two bring everyone together to ensure the show will go on?
One of the recent reviews for The Magic Carpet
I so enjoyed this book! The interwoven voices and experiences of 5 families, all coming from different parts of the world, living in the same street, but in isolation, hardly knowing one another at the beginning of the novel and who slowly come to form a community through the Magic Carpet, a school project involving pupils and their families, brought me back to East London when I spent the last 18 years of my career. Each character, including children who have their own voices, is well drawn and developed. The writing, fluid and lively, deceivingly simple, brought me at the centre of scenes, and gave me a sense of intimacy with characters. Some of the unexplained parts of their past added a halo of mystery and pulled me closer to them. I wanted to remain in the street and continue being with each of them, their new lives enriched by their neighbours. Loved the last page with the local Pied Piper (the ice-cream man). A good way to part.
Also by Jessica Norrie in English and German
Read the reviews buy the books: Amazon UK
and: Amazon US
Find more reviews : Goodreads
About Jessica Norrie
Jessica Norrie studied French literature at Sussex University, and trained as a teacher at Sheffield. Then she wandered into parenthood, told her now grown up children stories, and heard theirs. A qualified translator, she worked on an eclectic mix of material, from health reports on racehorses to harrowing refugee tales. She taught adults and children, co-authored a textbook and ran teacher training. In 2008 came the idea for “The Infinity Pool”, which appeared in 2015 (and in German in 2018). Her second novel “The Magic Carpet”, inspired by teaching language and creativity in multicultural schools, was published on July 22nd 2019, and she is working on a third. She also spends time blogging, singing soprano, walking in the forest and trying to move out of London.
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I know Jessica would love your feedback on the post and it would be great if you could share. thanks Sally