A Bird came down the Walk....

A bird came down the walk:
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.

E M I L Y  D I C K I N S O N

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

Written in six months, unpublished for almost ten years, A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing has been taking the literary world by storm lately.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

The Catcher in the Rye

“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. 

This is part of the 'My Favourite Book' series: authors, bloggers, and readers sharing their favourite book on 'Reads and Recipes'.  If you're interested in contributing one of your own - you can find out more information here.

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran


How to Build a Girl is the latest offering from bestselling author Caitlin Moran.  Following on from her international feminist hit How to Be a Woman this is a fictional account of a young, overweight girl  from a council estate in Wolverhampton – Johanna Morrigan - who, with thanks to her local library, becomes a music journalist.   Every day Johanna walks the six miles from her council estate house to the town library to read the music magazines and to rent the latest tapes.  The novel takes its name from the idea that your parents can only teach you so much: eventually they will have taught you all that they know, and it is then up to you in to go and build on this with all of the adventures and experiences you will have.  And Johanna does just that.  She becomes a music journalist by day and a lady sex adventurer by night.  Determined to learn all there is to know about kissing, sex, and life in London she jumps at every opportunity, sometimes falling, sometimes flying but always learning and always looking for her next big break.

The thing I found most frustrating about the novel, however, was the author’s note at the beginning.  Noting the similarities between herself and Johanna, Moran goes on to say that despite the large family, growing up in Wolverhampton, and stint as a music journalist readers are to remember that the novel is fictitious, and the events detailed within it are imagined.  Yet with this thick line between the “real” and the “imagined” aspects of the novel and Moran’s own life comes the acceptance that this story is anything but original.  The world has already heard the story of the precocious teenage girl who would write thousands of words a day in a bid to save her family from poverty.  This coupled with the occasional insights from the narrator, that this was what it was like in the nineties, mean the novel is both telling us it isn’t anything at all like Moran’s own life yet seeming a lot like Moran is re-imagining her unique teenage years through Johanna.  The result is a confused message: why cash-in on what makes Caitlin Moran unique and then begin by telling us that this coming of age tale is anything but unique because it can also happen to this girl – Johanna – who just so happens to be from the same town as Moran and born into the same financial struggle with the exact same aspirations.

Overall, however, it was an enjoyable read.  Fans of Moran will enjoy the occasional impassioned speeches which are similar to her articles and How to be a Woman.  This is what Moran does best: through her own unique use of language, short and snappy sentences, she sums up the feeling of a generation.  Taking on the topics which other authors tend to shy away from: female masturbation (female sexuality in general really), cystitis, the welfare state and Thatcher. Moran weaves prose which could be directly lifted from her column or HTBAW between the narrative arc of Johanna’s journey of self-discovery.  If you’re able to overlook the fact that a large chunk of the plot is remarkably similar Moran’s own life story and just see this for a heart-warming coming of age tale of a young overweight girl in nineties Britain then it is an enjoyable read.  Funny, thoughtful, and genuinely thought-provoking whilst not being too heavy handed with her political message – it’s the perfect continuation from How to be a Woman.  The only downfall, as I said, is the author’s note at the beginning telling you it is anything but autobiographical.

How to Build a Girl is available in the Kindle store for £4.72

Have you read it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments or send me a tweet!

Death of the Imagination

What I fear most, I think, is the death of the imagination.  When the sky outside is merely pink, and the rooftops merely black: that photographic mind which paradoxically tells the truth, but the worthless truth, about the world.

S Y L V I A  P L A T H 

Bargains for your Kindle (Part Two)

If you’re anything like me, you will be assiduously avoiding a certain football tournament for the next couple of weeks, and in need of some excellent reads to keep you occupied!  I have scoured the web for the best deals for Kindle reads at the moment (if you come across any – please feel free to share them in the comments) but apologies in advance if you find this post in the future and they’re no longer bargains.  So, fellow football avoiders, here’s some of the best I came across:

The Lemon Grove is tipped to be this summer's to-read novel; so get in before the rush and grab yourself a bargain!  Set on the rugged, mountainous west coast of Mallorca, this taut, sultry, brilliantly paced novel is an urgent meditation on female desire, the vicissitudes of marriage and the allure of youth. 

Life After Life -- £2.50

Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, Kate Atkinson finds warmth even in life's bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here she is at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.

Before being Alan Sugar’s aide on The Apprentice and VC of West Ham United, Karren Brady started out, at 18 years old, at Saatchi & Saatchi and hasn't really stopped taking the business world by storm since.  Strong Woman tells how she balances her personal and professional life; Brady shares how a routine scan revealed that she had a brain aneurysm requiring an immediate and life-threatening operation, and how this has massively influenced her outlook on life and priorities.

One positive to come from a beloved author passing away is everyone reminsicing on how much they love their work.  Maya Angelou's passing was no different: the world was talking about this remarkable woman and her astounding way with words.    On her work, Angelou said: 'I write about being a Black American woman, however, I am always talking about what it's like to be a human being. This is how we are, what makes us laugh, and this is how we fall and how we somehow, amazingly, stand up again'.  If you haven't already, you should almost definitely read this.

From developing his first crush, terrible dates,  to true love – as well as offering his unique advice on how to stay sane in the crazy world of love – Ollie, star of Made in Chelsea is laying it bare. Witty, surprising, touching, downright hilarious and always honest, Laid in Chelsea is an exclusive insight into the mind of the modern man, and a backstage pass to the secret world of Chelsea.  It promises to be a hilarious and light read - perfect for when you're on the beach or just want something relaxing to unwind and entertain you!

For the newly discovered John Green fans wanting some more of his fantastic writing after The Fault in Our Stars comes one of his earlier works.  One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, teenager Will Grayson crosses paths with . . . Will Grayson! Two teens with the same name who run in two very different circles suddenly find their lives going in new and unexpected directions. Culminating in epic turns-of-heart on both of their parts, they team up to produce the most fabulous musical ever to grace the high-school stage.  Told in alternating voices from two award-winning, popular names in young-adult fiction - John Green (author of The Fault in Our Stars) and David Levithan (author of Boy Meets Boy) - this unique collaborative novel features a double helping of the heart and humour that has won both authors legions of fans.

It by Alexa Chung

It's not often that I include a lot of photographs alongside a book review but Alexa Chung's It necessitated a few snaps.  It is a beautiful book to behold: a collection of Chung's own photography, words in beautiful type set, alongside hand-drawn pictures.  Chung details the best way to take a 'selfie', how very little time she has to spend on perfecting her make-up, and elements from her childhood.  It is a how-to guide to being cool written by the quintessential queen of cool and as such it goes without saying that this is vital reading for an Alexa Chung fan but I would add that if you get a chance, even if you're not a fan of hers, this book has a beauty about it which would be a shame to miss.  I am inclined to think that there isn't that much substance to it for non-Alexa fans but on practically every page there is something to catch your eye: a photo, doodle, or quote which makes this book stand out from other celebrity autobiographies.  
It is being released in paperback form on August 7th