HISTORY OF THE RAIN

‘When it comes to Clare, when it passes our house, the river knows it is nearly free. I am plain Ruth Swain. See me, nineteen, narrow face, MacCarroll eyes, thin lips, dull hazelnut hair, gleamy Swain skin, pale untanable oddment, bony, book-lover, reader of so many nineteenth-century novels before the age of fifteen that I became exactly too clever by half, sufferer of Smart Girl Syndrome, possessor of opinions and good marks, student of pure English, Fresher, Trinity College Dublin, the poet’s daughter.’ My friend Kate recommended Niall Williams’ History of the Rain a while ago and I have been listening to it on audiobook. The first part is called ‘The Salmon in Ireland’ and the narration is very much an experience of meandering down river with a fellow poet, a fellow sufferer of the mystery of illness. I love Ireland, as anyone who follows me on Twitter knows because I have made so many friends though our mutual love affair with Marian Keyes – and listening to the Clare accent unfold the story of Ruth Swain is a perfect accompaniment to a tired, bruised soul. IMAG0107 ‘We are our stories. We tell them to stay alive or keep alive those who only live now in the telling. That’s how it seems to me, being alive for a little while, the teller and the told.’ Niall Williams has written a beautiful book – get it out on audio if you can for the truly Irish experience – the narrator is Jennifer McGrath – or read it, because you love attic rooms with skylights, leaping salmon, poetry and the possibility of reading three thousand, nine hundred and fifty-eight books before you die… 27.Niall Williams-History Of The Rain-jacket

VANESSA AND HER SISTER

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Delicious. Cloudsitting. Dust motes in August evening light flurrying around bookshelves in Charing Cross Road approaches the sense a reader gets from the very first pages of Priya Parmar’s Vanessa and her Sister – a historical novel about the Bloomsbury set that reimagines and realigns the most famous sisters. No longer Virginia who holds the centre of gravity; it is the quieter ‘bell that rings true’.

I attended the Cambridge Literary Festival for only one event – Philippa Gregory, author of The Other Boleyn Girl and The White Queen (among many others) in conversation with Priya Parmar (also author of Exit the Actress). Two friends of longstanding having the kind of conversation they would normally have over cups of tea; the only difference being they were in a public room – the Cambridge Union Chamber – and there were many pairs of ears snuggling in.

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I’m an English literature graduate. It is impossible to be unaware of the legacy of Woolf. On my own bookshelf, just behind my Mac, I currently have six Woolfian books. So it is a true delight, a relaxing delight, to listen to Bloomsbury told through the painterly soul of the gentler sister.

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CATHERINE ALLIOTT VS CHEMO

Yesterday as the infusion dripped into me and I snarled tighter under my blanket, I was glad for an audiobook of Catherine Alliott’s A Crowded Marriage, even though I’d heard it all before… Imo, Alex, snooty Eleanor, the fox that decapitates Cynthia the chicken, and not one but two possible Heathcliffian suitors… there is also Rufus, 9, who I think runs away with the story. Suzy Aitchison reads most of Alliott’s novels and she is utterly perfect at almost all voices and accents, except perhaps when she attempts Irishmen. They come out sounding a bit Norfolk…

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When you are undergoing Rituximab, which is chemotherapy but the milder form (the pure monoclonal version untainted by high octane cancer cocktails), a nurse invariably switches on the extra heavy duty fluorescent tubes – the ones that burst onto your cornea with sadistic pleasure. You whip out your sunglasses but really, it is your ears you need to seduce into escape. I recommend Alliott wholeheartedly. Also Jill Mansell. And my beloved Marian Keyes. Georgette Heyer must be saved for home because she must never be interrupted by blood pressure cuffs and the young man who will offer you sandwiches and a rather grisly looking cheesecake and although you feel guilty because he has taken the trouble to carry the tray, and ask so politely, you will refuse; you must refuse… Eat melon instead, brought from home. And chocolate, of course. From the vending machine.