Stopping to read

I just stopped for a weekend. It was wonderful. No dance auditions – just some Highland dancing exams which were only fifteen minutes away and didn’t require me to stay. I had automatically packed a bag with my usual combination of laptop, books, camera, Kindle, paper and pens. And I took it all home, put it in the corner and read a book. Two, actually, both of which I had started but just not got through. My main incentive was that I had a draft book to “review” which I couldn’t start until I had got to the end of the other two. It was just what I needed. That and sleep. And I took a weekend off from writing, so it was close to a mini holiday.

The two books couldn’t have been more different.

The Scent of Lemon Leaves is the story of a young woman, Sandra, who finds herself pregnant on a beach in Spain, having left her job and boyfriend. There she meets an elderly couple from Norway, who take her in and look after her, and an equally elderly man, a survivor of a concentration camp who is one of the last remaining Nazi hunters. The book sort of worked for me. I wasn’t wildly convinced by the character of Sandra which didn’t help. And the plot felt like it petered out when it ran out of steam towards the end. Everything was tied up, but not in a particularly satisfying or credible way. But an interesting read from the perspective of how the plot was developed and revolved around putting two people into a situation and watching what happened next.

And then there was Anthony Horowitz’s Moriarty. I heard him talk about this book a few months ago at an event in Edinburgh and finally bought the book (a lovely hardback with a gorgeous cover – ebooks can’t compete on that front!). The first twist in this book is (this is not a spoiler) that it takes place after Sherlock Holmes has tumbled over the Reichenbach Falls, so it’s not really a Sherlock Holmes book in anything like the traditional sense, although the writing of Doyle is well replicated. Including the fact that all the clues to what the second twist is are there in plain sight. You just don’t see them at the time. A brilliant read with a convincing and enticing ending.

And on the subject of endings, we watched The Time Traveller’s Wife at the weekend. I had read the book years ago and loved it. The ending in particular, which was the part which has stuck with me ever since. I spent the hour and a half or so just wanting to see how they filmed that ending as I had such a strong visual image of it. I was even crying at the memory of how the book ended. I don’t think anyone noticed.

And then they changed the ending. Not just the ending, but so much of the last few chapters of the book, all of which was unnecessary, in my view. Then I had to tell the girls what the ending should have been, but this time I was trying to do it through tears and was fairly incoherent. I then had to get the book back out again to reread the last two pages. I felt better after that. Although I realised that not everything in how I visualised the scene was actually in the book. There was no rocking chair in the book, for example, even though I know it was there. I think it’s amazing that we can all have our own mental image of scenes that someone else has written, and know exactly what the people and places looked like.

I remember telling someone a few years ago that I wasn’t going away for a holiday, but was going to read a few books instead. They thought it was a missed opportunity. I thought that for each of those books I was going to get to experience living at least one different life in a city and country I didn’t know. I wonder how many lives I’ve lived now?

And with that, I need to return to 1970s East Berlin to live a life I never had but am now living through the eyes of my twenty-something Natalie. You can tell me she doesn’t exist, that she’s just a figure of my imagination. You can believe that, but you’d be wrong.

Building the Wall Socialism

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