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Quick Outline

The 15th of July, 1988: that first significant day marks the spot. The spot in two people’s lives, revisited yearly by the reader. Significant because it is the day after graduation, when life rolls ahead, mysterious, exciting, unknown. Significant because it is a day of meeting, the opening bracket of Emma and Dexter. Significant because part of living, of being alive, means we live our days blindly, one day refuses to be significant until the aftermath of what it has prompted. We do not know at what point the bracket will close the sentence, at what point any of it will make any sense at all. And so only when the bracket closes at the end of the novel do we realise what weight that one day held.

This is what I love so much about One Day. It is more than just fiddly plot; relationships, love, career, holidays, highs and lows, dreams and regret. Plot allows philosophy, without actually saying anything philosophical: a terrifying (if you allow your mind to wander there) objective response to our lives and the way they happen, without us knowing or even deciding. Nicholls quotes Dickens beautifully before opening the first chapter and makes this point better than I ever could:

‘But it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it and think how different its course would have been. Pause, you who read this, and think for a long moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on that memorable day.’    Dickens, Great Expectations

And so we follow Emma and Dexter until the closing bracket shuts the story tight on them. We regret, we understand, we hate, all the while seeing in their lives our own reflected back. The plot travels fast, of course, when a day of each year takes only a few pages to read. With this speed comes that awful feeling you get when reading a book you love, the nasty feeling that you’re reading to fast and soon it will all be over. And there, cleverly, One Day enforces what all old people say constantly, that idea young people have yet to fully understand: how quickly life slips away from us. How fast the years fly by. Hence, it is a book which makes you stop, and think, even if it’s just for a second after reading, about the fragility and loveliness of life.

A Picture Portrait

The 90’s club scene: Dexter, working as a TV presenter falls into drugs, and becomes a figure of public distaste. His Mother, suffering from terminal cancer, is ashamed of his career and the pair struggle to get on during the significant closing stages of her life. His lifestyle slowly destroys his relationships, the seedy side of London soaking him into its party army. Though this part of the tale is sad and cringeworthy, it manages to be painfully funny at times too. The terrible oxymoron Dexter’s life becomes.

Edinburgh: The place where the pair meet, standing at an idealistic distance away from their modern life. A place where dreaming was encouraged, and, especially for Emma, anything was possible. A time that they look back upon, where a solid idea of who and what they used to be exists, standing tall for them to refer. At times they look back and regret the change, at other times are able to feel glad for it.

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My Favourite Review…

Here is an extract from my favourite review, which is written by Leisl Schillinger for The New York Times. The rest of it can be read here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/20/books/review/Schillinger-t.html

‘Those of us susceptible to nostalgic reveries of youthful heartache and self-invention (which is to say, all of us) longed to get our hands on Nicholls’s new novel, once our friend revealed its premise:

In 1988, the day after commencement, two college graduates briefly, romantically collide. The girl has pined for the boy for years; the boy is more aware of the girl than he lets on. She’s an earnest, outspoken lefty, he a handsome, apolitical toff who “liked the word ‘bourgeois’ and all that it implied” and “wanted to live life in such a way that if a photograph were taken at random, it would be a cool photograph.” Their chemistry is as inarguable as their differences, but because of the pride, carelessness and misplaced optimism of youth, they let time and distraction separate them. Yet they never lose track of each other. “One Day” checks in on their intersecting lives once a year, every July 15, from 1988 through 2007.’

Criticism

The ending is fairly depressing, but I can’t hate Nicholls for it because things like that happen, are realistic, true to life. However, it wasn’t necessarily the right way for the novel to go, and leaves the reader with a lasting impression of the fickle ability human beings have to recover from loss. An endurance which throws into question our changeable nature, whether our type of love is really able to last through anything and everything. Luckily for Nicholls, I don’t mind being left with these depressing kind of thoughts and usually prefer blighted endings to happy, run-over-the-hills-screaming-happily ones. (Be warned: you can’t stop reading this book….I was so tired because I didn’t properly sleep untill it was finished.)

Love,

Zoe

5/5 Stars

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Quick Outline

Cut grass, log fires, candle wax, pine, the must of ancient rooms and cold stone. If you could open a book and smell its story, this is what I’d imagine The Distant Hours would waft in our direction. Quintessentially Englishy smells. The sort of smells that should be taped to a picture postcard. Away from Milderhurst Castle the book smells of hustling-bustling London, pavements, rain on tarmac, petrol fumes, and the bleachy smell of over-efficient middle-class cleaning. Kate Morton creates an England which we recognize affectionately, relate to. An England, pre and post World War II, rural and urban, that we can be contained in, that we nurse and feel completely at home inside. A picture, so well drawn it leaves me unsure; is it this beautiful illustration of our country or the story itself which renders the tale a success?

The three sisters Blythe live together in crumbling Milderhurst castle. Oldest twin Percy, protectively, valiantly, guarding her sisters and their home. Whilst the stones crumble and the rooms are lost to dust, the three sisters, now symbols for the castle (old and decrepit, youngest Juniper decayed in mind) hang blindly onto the secrets which have bound and, simultaneously, parted them for the majority of their lives.

Untill the day that Edie Burchill stumbles across their story. Discovering that her Mother had been evacuated to the sisters’ castle during the war, Edie probes for information. But her mother, mute on the subject of her past, refuses to provide enlightenment. And so the tale stretches on, shifting between Edie and her curiosity, and the past lives of the sisters Blythe; sisters thoughtlessly, selfishly influenced and manipulated by a curious, guilt-ridden Father.

And eventually, Edie is pulled into their tale. Playing her own part in unburdening the older women, unravelling the knots that weigh heavy upon their past. Norton keeps the reader guessing until the very end. Secrets cause the reader to become greedy, as obsessed with the dark past as Edie herself.

A Picture Portrait

Milderhurst Castle: The ancient purpose of a castle as a fort, a protective space, an ancient shield against oncoming battle, providing view and defence, is reopened and explored by the sisters. These terms of warfare are converted now into the inter-personal world of the Blythe family. Generation after generation swells with madness and suicide. Those stories, never forgotten, are locked permanently within the walls; walls which whisper of those Distant Hours. This history, stained upon the walls, is protected and renewed, inflicted upon future generations by the castle itself. The sisters cannot leave because of actions taken by their Father, and so their lives, their future, their history, is shielded and defended from the sanity of intrusion. The castle guarding what it has only ever known.

Writing: Words spill and scatter, the characters’ lives snagged and hitched by their weight. A novel written by the Blythe sisters’ father, which achieves great acclaim and classic stature, haunts him untill his death. The daughters inherit his gift with words, words and stories ever haunted by his presence. Letters, documents, books, haunt Edie and the Blythes. They use them to escape, to dream, to love, to remember. But the words are hard, constantly reminding them of the things they cannot change; past mysteries are recalled and huge gaping holes are reopened. Torn by a few, hurriedly scratched lines, thoughtlessly written years before.

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My Favourite Review…

Found on: http://babbleandbooks.wordpress.com

Beautifully written The Distant Hours will keep readers entranced, I was compelled to keep reading until I knew how the story ended. Kate Morton has written a gripping novel that’s is simply unputdownable. I stayed up late reading this until its stunning and surprising conclusion.

Kate Morton is a master of language, her lyrical flowing verse was so stunning it captured my imagination completely. This is a book that uses language richly. It draws you in to the very last page. The perfect mix of romance, intrigue mystery and suspense. The Distant Hours is utterly absorbing reading. If you like the language of the classics with a modern twist this book is definitely for you. A brilliant slightly gothic tale that is infinitely readable.

Kate Morton has proved yet again that she is a brilliant and talented writer who only gets better with each new book she writes. After I finished The Distant Hours I immediately started reading The Shifting Fog, which is Kate Morton’s first novel and it was a brilliant story as well. Everyone who reads Kate Morton will enjoy the journey.

Critique

Not always moving quite quickly enough, The Distant Hours is one of those books where the number of pages doesn’t adequately represent the length of tale…if that makes sense. Apart from that it’s lovely and well worth a summer read. Real Englishy, nostalgia-ridden writing.

Love,

Zoe

3.5/5 Stars

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It is a very sad fact, but the truth is, my massive geek-freak obsession with K. M. Peyton stems from the fact that she writes about horses/ponies/racing. Now, you must understand that this line of literature is very limited; oh yes, there are a billion trillion betting themed thrillers where men with guns chase trainers and jockeys, trying to sneak information/money from them. And then, on the opposite scale, there are thousands of stories about little Hannah and her fat pony Ginger who waddle around being annoying and well-behaved. So you must forgive my Peyton love, for she is one very rare author; she understands horses and normal people, and writes wonderful stories that flow so naturally without having that ‘try hard’ edge to them which so many authors struggle to shake off. When you read her, you are unaware of style, or even words. It all just floats off the page and grabs you. I’m sure that I could read any one of her books in a sitting without even noticing.

I’m probably a bit too old for some of her books now (most of her novels are aimed at 13/14 + teens), but I fancied some good old-fashioned nostalgia so went for a Peyton spree on Amazon. The first I’m going to review is one I have never read before, and, there’s no need to panic… there isn’t a hoof or tail in sight.

Quick Overview

The novel begins with a brief note from the author which explains how, although authors constantly write about times/places/situations they have never actually experienced, they often fail to cast their own experiences into words:

‘…it occurred to me what an awful waste of material not to write a book set in a very special period with which I am perfectly familiar. So, after all this time, for better or for worse, here it is.’

Hence, the novel is set in the Second World War and concerns Josie, a pretty sixteen year old who is evacuated out of London to live with her Aunt in the country. Of course, the country turns out to be anything but boring, Josie falling in love with kind and loving Jumbo, who cannot join the RAF as he dreams because of a motor cycling accident which has left him with just one leg.

It is all very obvious, from the outset of Jumbo and Josie, that brother Chris, working away as a RAF fighter pilot when they first meet, will be the nail in the coffin of their budding relationship. We know before he enters the scene how handsome he is, how all the girls ‘fall from the trees’ for him. And soon, of course, Chris comes home and Josie is enveloped in an impossible, heartbreaking romance, with a man whose life is no longer his own. Whose days are numbered by the terrifying play performed recklessly, daily, in the sky above.

Whilst this side of the story felt familiar and predictable, Peyton saves the tale from flat-lining with her ending, which is surprising; surprising in many respects because it leaves you cheered (you will have to read it to see what I mean. You, after all, might not be cheered at all. It’s that sort of clever, multi-dimensional ending.)

The title is a wonderful one, easily summarising the theme of love, happiness, and youthfulness; emotions amplified by the backdrop of war. A war which demands passionate relationships, because, after all, there is no time to wait around. No time to sit and wait for the ‘one’. Soul mates are frequently found, the desperation of living life on a thread encouraging belief.

The title also reminds me of a beautiful section where Chris, flying his plane out to battle in the early morning sun reflects on the laughable game of war. The blue sky, the sun rising; men killing one another whilst the world turns; always indifferent to their bizarre charade.

It is a beautiful and wonderful story that will make you hate the little brats on Facebook who moan about girlfriends/ boyfriends/ their lives etc. It made me want to send them all to war, and that’s never a nice thing to do, after all.

A Picture Portrait

Josie, Jumbo and Chris’s lake: the backdrop for Chris and Jumbo’s blissful childhood later, ironically, becomes the place they will both meet Josie, whose presence eventually tears the brothers apart. It also stands as a symbol for the perfect English idyll, something worth fighting for in the great war.

Spitfire and Hurricane: described often throughout the novel as dragonflies (a lovely piece of imagery which clashes beautiful with the mechanical nature of the machine), the fragility and relative new-ness of aeroplanes and flying made the battle of the skies all the more alien and terrifying.

My Favourite Review…

Is written by Val Randall for Books for Keeps, an online children’s book magazine. The whole review can be found here: http://booksforkeeps.co.uk/issue/162/childrens-books/reviews/blue-skies-and-gunfire.

‘As all three characters struggle with the strength of their feelings and the wounds of betrayal and loss, Peyton conveys with frantic clarity the hothouse of emotion generated by the immediacy of war. When both soldiers and civilians alike are on a taut wire stretched thinly between life and death, the rules of emotional engagement are, of necessity, distorted. The dichotomy within the title perfectly represents the tensions of this novel – a disturbing but richly evocative narrative which illustrates the human cost of war.’

Criticism

If it wasn’t for the fact that I have already moved onto my next Peyton novel, I probably would have nothing to moan about. Sadly, though, I have, and my fault lies with the character of Josie. She just isn’t given quite enough time to develop fully, is slightly one-dimensional and puppet-like. For instance, as the novel opens she is shown as a tough young girl, standing up to her mother and arguing. Later, however, none of this feisty nature appears to exist, she is just a tool lost between the two brothers. It is only in comparison to Tessa, heroine of my current read, that this fault came to light….forgive me K.M, I’m still your biggest fan!

Love,

Zoe

3.5/5 Stars

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