Monday, September 1, 2008

Sure, I Know the Queen, September 2008

By Jodie

The Olympics are here and at the time of beginning this column Great Britain are blowing away all medal expectations, even before Team GB get to the velodrome . Nicole Cook was possibly the most excited woman ever after winning Britain’s first medal of the games and it was a real thrill to watch a British woman achieve a gold medal on the second day in Bejing. After that the medals just kept coming: double bronze in the equestrian events, gold and bronze in the pool, silver in time trials and silver in kayaking. I’m sure there will be many more medals in rowing, cycling and sailing before the end of the week and am enthralled by the talent of our athletes.

Unfortunately not everyone (read me) can be an Olympian and sometimes the television schedulers foolishly put other programs on instead of constantly playing Olympic highlights from slightly different angles. What can I do in these Olympic down times to continue to immerse myself in the greatness (dramatic pause for corniness) of Britain?

Annie from Reading, Writing and Ranting has provided me and other Olympic fans with a fun reading challenge based around the games. From 08 August 08 till 24 August 2008 ‘It's country against country in the battle to prove your reading patriotism.’. You sign up and read as many books by authors from your own country as possible and post about them along the way. For every book you read and post the title of in the comments section of the challenge post your team gets a silver medal. If you write a review of a book and post the link that earns your team a gold medal. Annie keeps team and individual tallies in the sidebars and holds out two tantalizing prizes from first and second place.

Competing against team USA who had six participants was always going to be impossible for a lone girl from the UK, especially as I didn’t have a book blog to post reviews in, but every medal counts as we know, Togo looked pretty happy with their bronze and Georgia’s win was legendary. Taking part sounded like it was going to be really enjoyable, especially as Annie is a great big Olympics enthusiast herself. So I collected my equipment, thought about my technique and in the end just abandoned myself to a mass quantity of lovely British books. Here is the story of my Olympic journey:

Day One

I didn’t see the challenge soon enough and had already started ‘Wicked’ by Gregory Maguire. I try to finish this as fast as I can but I almost don’t want Elphelba’s story to end. I resolve to buy ‘Son of a Witch’ soon. The Americans have one gold medal already and two silvers!

Day Five

The first medal goes on the board for team GB. It’s silver as my book blog still isn’t up and running but I’m just so excited to be up there on the scoreboard. The Americans have about a begillion gold medals by now, I think someone needs to get the marshall.

I earn the silver by reading ‘The Outcast’ which is a fantastic debut by Sadie Jones. Lewis Aldridge is a happy child whose world constricts when his father, Gerald, returns from the war. Lewis’ happiness is then destroyed when his mother drowns. Gerald, cold and unemotional, fights to keep his son’s grief away from him and in doing so damages their relationship in many ways. He becomes convinced that Lewis, unable to answer questions after his mother’s death and unwilling to accept his new stepmother is abnormal and dangerous. He imposes extreme restrictions on Lewis which makes him rebel and unwillingly become the dangerous version of himself that everybody else believes in. In a parallel storyline Kit Carmicheal, the younger daughter of Gerald’s boss, is also dealing with a controlling father who thinks little of her. These two main characters are easy to love until it hurts.

Day Seven

Second medal achieved. What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn from the West Midlands gets me to my second silver. Kate Meaney disappears on her way to sit an entrance exam for boarding school, twenty years later a little girl very like her is seen on CCTV cameras at GreenOaks shopping centre. Kurt, the security guard who sees her and Lisa, an employee in the centre were both involved with Kate as children and begin to search for the girl on the CCTV.

The first portion of the book is about Kate trying to navigate life without her dad and make him proud by being a detective. Catherine O’Flynn has captured the spark of an intelligent, lively child and some parts of this section, where Kate finds herself besieged by grown ups who want her to change are very affecting. O’Flynn has addressed many of the same issues that Ali Smith brings up in her novels, consumerism, the failure to live life fully but by using a child and likeable characters O’Flynn softens the instructional suggestions of the book, making it harder to disregard her ideas as bitter or unworkable. Even though I now know what happened to Kate I’d happily re-read this book.

Day Fifteen

A big reading gap is caused by a weekend at a music festival. It’s pretty hard to read when your tent is leaking.

I earn my third and final silver by reading Louise Welsh’s ‘The Bullet Trick a book that’s been on my to read list for a while along with her other two books. William Wilson a working magician, never at the top of his profession finds himself in a dangerous position between a retired police officer and evidence that links him to a crime. The book operates two narrative strands at the same time. In the first, initially predominate strand William becomes involved in hiding an incriminating photo then runs to a job in Berlin when a friend and his boyfriend are murdered. In the second strand which begins to take over in the later part of the book William returns to his home town of Glasgow, washed up after committing his own crime and set on trying to expose the criminals who sent him on the run. While the seedy atmosphere of the book’s several locations was created quite brilliantly and both characters and plot are compelling the ending is limp and a bit of a let down. The story focuses around magic and illusion, operating multiple plot strands I was expecting big, shocking revelations at the end of the book but these were missing.

Day Sixteen

It’s unlikely I’ll finish any more British books before the 24th but I’m now hooked on reading book after book by British authors. I disregard the hard lesson that Sebastian Faulk’s ‘Birdsong’ taught me (which was don’t read books by Sebastian Faulks) and start ‘Engleby’. An hour later I return it to the shelf and remind myself not to be swayed by Faulk’s promising sounding plots.

I dither a bit and then pull out ‘Sleep Pale Sister’ by Joanna Harris. This Victorian gothic style novel is what I thought I’d be reading throughout this entire challenge but I seem to have ignored this type of book in favor of those with more modern settings. I settle down for a Bank Holiday weekend spent in spooky company.

Day Seventeen

The final Olympic medals have been won, everyone looks very happy as they wander around the in the final parade. Britain are taking home a massive haul of shiny things and I’ve had fun reading some of the best of British authors.

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