Tony Webster had always wanted to lead a quiet and uneventful life. Recently retired, he is puzzled when he is bequeathed £500 from the mother of a girl he dated in his early twenties. Yes, her mother seemed to like them when they dated, but it was over thirty years ago and the relationship ended badly. In a bid to determine why she has left him this money he gets back in touch with his ex-girlfriend Veronica; finding her uncooperative and evasive when he asks the pertinent questions. Tony reasons that he will find the answers to these questions by looking back on his time at University, his relationship with Veronica, and her subsequent relationship with one of his school friends.
Tony remembers his relationship with Veronica to be one-sided; ending acrimoniously she left him and soon moved on to one of his school friends, Adrian, whom Tony had introduced her to. Within their friendship group Adrian had been the intellectual and the boys struggled to stay in touch with him past his education. He remembers Adrian committing suicide shortly after sending Tony sent him a letter warning him off Veronica. He remembers Veronica being selfish and manipulative; so it makes sense that she’s withholding information from him. It doesn’t, however, make sense for Veronica’s mother to bequeath him money and some pages from Adrian’s journal. Tony is determined to find out why his present doesn’t match his memory of past events. Why did Veronica’s mother leave him money and Adrian’s diary? Why did Veronica leave him for Adrian? In other words, he’s seeking the sense of an ending.
I think that you can enjoy this book on two levels: an intellectual treaty into the trustworthiness of the memories which ground our sense of self and a thrilling mystery with twists and turns as Tony uncovers long buried secrets and surprises. Either way, it is extraordinarily well written with twists and turns in the plot to keep the reader interested. I know people are usually put off by the ‘Booker Prize’ label as this usually indicates a dense and hard to follow plot but this was genuinely unputdownable. So much so that I was stood in the kitchen reading it whilst attempting to prepare dinner…!
I've wanted to try and make my own pizza for some time now but have always been put off by the fancy recipes I've seen online. Some require a granite slab, others for you to be making the dough on your counter, to pre-heat your baking tray, to own a specialist pizza oven, the list goes on..... They all seemed so complicated and trying to one-up one another. I have tried to keep things basic here; the key thing here is learning how to make the dough. It's pretty easy once you get the hang of it and you can make it in a big batch, freeze it, and use it later on. Practice is key - so if, like me, you're a beginner I recommend you also ignore the fancy chef recipes and try this one and remember to let me know how you get on!
If you're an experienced pizza chef feel free to share some pearls of wisdom in the comments!
To make two medium pizzas, you will need:
for the base:
- 300g strong white flour
- 1 tsp salt
as well as the yeast mixture:
- 7g dried yeast (these come pre-weighed in sachets)
- 300ml lukewarm water
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 1.5 tbsp olive oil
- lashings of mozzarella (I used one 125g ball between two and would've preferred two if I'm honest)
- tomato paste
- whatever toppings your heart desires!
mix together the dried yeast with the sugar, olive oil, and the lukewarm water; let this rest for a few minutes.
sift 300g of strong white flour into your bowl; add the tea spoon of salt; create a well in the centre of the bowl
gradually pour the yeast mixture into the well; using a fork bring the flour into the mixture; keep adding the mixture and stirring until a dough-like consistency has formed
turn out this dough onto a floured surface; knead the mixture for a few (four or five) minutes; when the mixture is smooth put it back into the bowl and cover with a damp cloth; if you want a thicker crust let the dough prove for a while, after the dough has risen you will need to knead it some more.
on a floured or olive oil surface (depending on your preference) roll out the dough into two rounds. the dough should be quite thin as it will rise in the oven. place onto a baking sheet with some tin foil and a dash of oil (if you like your base crispy!)
add your toppings! start with the tomato sauce, add some mozzarella, and whatever your heart desires!
heat your oven to 240'C / 220 fan / gas 8. bake for 8-11 mins until golden and crispy.
He did not know I saw;
He bit an angle-worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw.
And then he drank a dew
From a convenient grass,
And then hopped sidewise to the wall
To let a beetle pass.
He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all abroad,-
They looked like frightened beads, I thought;
He stirred his velvet head
Like one in danger; cautious,
I offered him a crumb,
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home
Than oars divide the ocean,
Too silver for a seam,
Or butterflies, off banks of noon,
Leap, plashless, as they swim.
Written in six months, unpublished for almost ten years, A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing has been taking the literary world by storm lately. Picked up by a newly formed independent publisher in Norwich the untouched manuscript has gone on to garner international prizes such as the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction as well as garnering rave reviews from many critics. It has been heralded as a new narrative form, mimicking Joyce’s Ulysses, with a broken syntax and weaving narrative leaving the reader unsure of the certainties and very insecure as they begin to read this startling debut novel.
It is difficult to read. If you are used to narrators talking you slowly through their lives: pointing out the important people, what he said and what she said, this will be difficult for you to wrap your head around. Personally, I found that by around page 20 my own thoughts had begun to be formed in the same manner as the novel: short, succinct, the bare minimum. And for something which everybody will tell you is difficult to read it isn’t difficult to read because it is boring, obtuse, or longwinded it is difficult to read purely because we, as readers, are so used to narratives being easy to follow and all of the necessary information being neatly and helpfully presented to us when we begin reading.
McBride sought to mimic the pattern of thought, the speed, the brevity of words rushing through a girl’s mind as she grows up in tragic circumstances. Her father is absent, she later learns that he died when she was growing up, and her brother has a scar, for reasons nobody is truthful about, and severe learning difficulties which mean she’s ostracised at school. She seeks comfort in sex, in the physical sensation, not the emotional connection and you read what she thinks, in the jumbled and messy order she thinks them. She’ll spot something and the narrative will jump from a to b and back to a again but I think once you’re used to the style it becomes quite natural and as McBride has said herself: reader’s want to be challenged. And you will be challenged with this read: it deals with heavy emotional issues in an appropriately complicated format but it leaves you deeply connected with this girl, despite never learning her name.
If you’re dubious over whether this novel deserves the hype it has been receiving recently I, personally, believe the answer is yes. I am also well aware that I am a fan of stream-of-consciousness narrative style which others find deeply off-putting. I would say though – don’t give up on it immediately. Keep reading, and if you’re at page 50 and still don’t really know what’s going on, you probably won’t find much enjoyment from the rest of the novel as it continues in the same vein. I hope you will persevere though and come to appreciate the wonderful work which McBride has done.
If nothing else, this is a novel which has shown-up the big name publishers, and hopefully given them something to think about the next time they come across a difficult manuscript. Some readers DO want to be challenged and don’t just want another rip-off of 50 shades of grey, thanks.
A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing is available on kindle for £4.20
“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.”
Holden perfectly describes in the above quote how I feel about The Catcher in the Rye. It’s narrated in the first person so you get sucked into Holden’s mind; although you know that Holden is unreliable, (he is very troubled) he is a somewhat charismatic narrator whose unhappiness seems to speak to a lot of readers- myself included.
I first read The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger as part of my English course when I was 17. At that age, life can feel really topsy turvy and I remember feeling really disillusioned and struggling with the idea of growing up. The character of Holden Caulfield really resonated with me and I found that I identified with him. Now, I’m (quite a) few years older, the book inspires me to be positive and at times, I feel infinitely sad for the protagonist: a character who is dealing with a lot, seemingly by himself.
The book deals with Holden’s mental breakdown and the consequent emotions of it; loneliness, lying and deception, the ‘phoniness’ of the adult world. For me, they are themes that are prevalent during your teenage years but it’s only as you get older you learn to deal with them instead of letting them get you down and recognise and ask for the help you need.
The Catcher in the Rye is a coming-of-age story that you can turn to time and time again, who says you have to be 16 or 17 years old to feel lost or disillusioned with the world? It also shares themes with some of my other favourite books – The Perks of being a Wallflower, Silver Linings Playbook, The Spectacular Now, The Bell Jar. For me, the fact that this book is still so popular and well read, even though it was published in the 1950’s, emphasises that it really is a brilliant book and one that I will continue to read time and time again.
Today's post is written by Danielle who can be found on twitter here & her blog, where she shares details of her life in Guadalajara, Mexico (jealous!) is here.