Category Archives: Book Places

Daphne Discoveries

A trip to Hitchin, Herfordshire today ended up in a little Daphne discovery! The lovely friend I was visiting took me to this rather lovely bookshop:

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Eric T.Moore Books is a wonderful treasure trove of a bookshop with a wide selection of used and antique books at very reasonable prices. It has plenty of nooks and corners to discover but books are well ordered (really jumbled shops are a bit of a bugbear of mine).

I went straight to ‘D’ of course and found this little selection…

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I was very tempted by a copy of The Flight of The Falcon and also an old hardback embossed copy of George du Maurier’s Trilby. In the end I restrained myself and picked up a copy of Rebecca as my Virago edition is buried in the attic somewhere until I have some shelf space!

What do you think? 🙂

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I can’t decide if it’s terrible or so bad, it’s good (hasn’t Savidge Reads done a post on naff du Maurier’s covers today…?), but for 50p I couldn’t really complain.

While I was at my friend’s house she also brought out this gem…

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It seems Daphne is following me everywhere (or I’m following her).

Has anyone made any exciting bookshop discoveries lately, du Maurier or otherwise?

Barter Books

Hello again! What with running about like a yo-yo and a lovely camping trip Novel Insights has been off-grid for a little while. Last weekend I went up to the North East coast to enjoy some sea air and time away from everything. We stopped by Alnwick – an attractive little town with a historic castle that had a starring role in earlier Harry Potter films. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to stop into the wonderful Barter Books, one of the UK’s largest second-hand bookshops and a veritable emporium of loved books.

Set in an out of use railway station, it has shelves and shelves of treasures, well organised and lovingly laid out with a comfortable seating area for lingerers. As the name suggests you can bring in your old books for credit to spend on new ones. Echoing the theme of the station location, there is a train set running along the top of the shelves in the front area of the shop. The whole place has a homely feel to it.

Here are some pics from my brief but pleasurable visit…

I didn’t remember to bring any books to barter but I still couldn’t resist picking up a couple of penguin classics. Barter Books cleverly arranged these to be end of row and temptingly visible. I’ve never read any Collette but I liked the sound of The Vagabond, and I’ve always meant to get a copy of classic crime novel Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. Here they are:

If you are ever in the area I definitely recommend that you stop by! Would love to hear of anyone’s recent used book discoveries – have you found any treasures lately?

Fateless / Fatelessness, by Imre KertĂ©sz

4 stars4/5

Fateless is a novel by 2002 Nobel Prize-winning author Imre Kertész.

Fateless, by Imre Kertesz

Vintage Books, 2006 edition (first published 1975), paperback, 262 pages - library copy

I borrowed it from the library in advance of my recent trip to Budapest. It isn’t set in Hungary, but I thought I should sample some writing by local authors. I’m really not a big fan of the cover (left), as I have an aversion to movie-versions of books and if I’d have been buying it for myself would have had to get the 2004 Vintage International, or the 2005 Harvill Press edition which, also incidentally both have the more accurately translated title – Fatelessness.

The story is told by Gyuri, a fourteen-year-old Hungarian Jew. Gyuri has the day off school so that he can witness his father signing away the family timber business before being sent to a labour camp. Two months later school is closed due to the war (World War II) and Gyuri is placed in a group of boys tasked with physical jobs such as bricklaying. It’s not long before he is unexepectedly pulled off a bus and detained without explanation. This is the beginning of his journey to Auschwitz.

As it is told in the first person, one of the most striking things in the book for me is Gyuri’s voice. When I first began reading Fateless, I couldn’t help but draw parallel’s with John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (read my review here). Although Gyuri is older than Bruno, there are similarities in the way that the author has chosen an innocent-sounding tone for the narrator. This made me wonder, especially because this book in concentration camps, whether Boyne had been inspired at all by KertĂ©sz’ novel. Quite honestly, to begin with I thought that Gyuri sounded a bit simple, and then wondered if it was something to do with the translation, but actually as I read on the innocence of his tone felt authentic – especially the teenage-sounding comments such as “as far as I should know” at the end of nearly every sentence!

As the book continues, Gyuri does become less naive. He becomes aware of what is happening in the camp – previously he had just been going along with events, as I suppose a child on a school trip might. His simple reasoning though is actually an effective way of conveying the true horror of the the human decisions behind the circumstances:

“After all, people would have had to meet to discuss this, put their heads together… in all likelihood – gentlemen in in imposing suits…One of them comes up with the gas, another immediately follows with the bathhouse, a third with the soap…”

Through Gyuri, KertĂ©sz causes the reader to observe the many ironies of the situation: How a man who previously fought on the side of the Germans in World War I, is now in a concentration camp. How a young man like Gyuri who is actually considered an outsider by other Jews because he isn’t actually religious is singled out purely because of his race. I felt that the discursive quality of the book was very effective. It really drew me in, and while I never felt emotionally attached to Gyuri, the distance made his experiences feel even more chilling.

I interpreted the idea of fatelessness as freedom. Through a series of chance decisions, such as the choice to lie about his age, he survives the camp and also leaves with his sense of self intact, in spite of a gruelling experience. It is by an arbitrary fact of birth that Gyuri is in the camp to begin with but so too are the circumstances by which he makes it through. In this respect, while Fateless is not a cheerful book, it is actually uplifting. It is a provocative book, because the narrator has a unique view on the situation – he is very accepting, and in a way, it is as if this saves him. I wonder how many people who had been in a concentration camp would though, have the same perspective as Gyuri in the following passage;

“…even there, next to the chimneys, in the intervals between the torments, there was something that resembled happiness. Everyone asks only about the hardships and the “atrocities,” whereas for me perhaps it is the experience which will remain the most memorable. Yes, the next time I am asked, I ought to speak about that,of the happiness of the concentration camps.”

Fateless is a novel that will stay with me, because it is unique in the way that it addresses the experience of concentration camps. The writing is deceptively simple, and peppered with imaginative ideas – for instance the description of the tattooed numbers on prisoners as “celestial phone numbers”. I can’t help but compare it to The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and I definitely think it was more hard-hitting. A less ‘enjoyable’ read, but more complex and intense. This would be a brilliant book group choice as there are so many elements to discuss. A fascinating perspective from a character who is neither hero nor victim.

Have you read any books with an unexpected perspective like this?

Books Set in Hungary

Next month I’m off to Budapest for a weekend break. Very excited!

Budapest - River View

Image courtesy of treckexchange.com

I’ve already picked up a copy of Imre Kerteszis Nobel Prize-winning Fateless, but was interested in what other Hungarian Literature (or at least books set in Hungary) were out there. A Google search didn’t actually turn up very much, so I turned to the bookish brains on Twitter to help me out, and wow what a great response I got!

Life Is A Dream, Gyula Krudy

Life is a Dream

Life is a Dream (1931) is Gyula Krudy’s magical collection of ten short stories. Creating a world where editors shoot themselves after a hard day’s brunching, men attend duels incognito and lovers fall out over salad dressing, Life is a Dream is a comic, nostalgic, romantic and erotic glimpse into the Hungary of the early twentieth century. Focussing on the poor and dispossessed, these tales of love, food, death and sex are ironic and wise about the human condition and the futility of life, and display fully Krudy’s wit and mastery of the form.

My Happy Days In Hell, Gyorgy Faludy

My Happy Days in HellMy Happy Days in Hell (1962) is Gyorgy Faludy’s grimly beautiful autobiography of his battle to survive tyranny and oppression. Fleeing Hungary in 1938 as the German army approaches, acclaimed poet Faludy journeys to Paris, where he finds a lover but merely a cursory asylum. When the French capitulate to the Nazis, Faludy travels to North Africa, then on to America, where he volunteers for military service. Missing his homeland and determined to do the right thing, he returns – only to be imprisoned, tortured, and slowly starved, eventually becoming one of only twenty-one survivors of his camp.

Both of the above found via Iris on books who directed me to these translated European Penguin Modern Classics.

Then Stu from Winstonsdad’s Blog suggested;

Skylark, by Dezso Kosztolanyi

SkylarkIt is 1900, give or take a few years. The Vajkays-call them Mother and Father-live in Sárszeg, a dead-end burg in the provincial heart of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Father retired some years ago to devote his days to genealogical research and quaint questions of heraldry. Mother keeps house. Both are utterly enthralled with their daughter, Skylark. Unintelligent, unimaginative, unattractive, and unmarried, Skylark cooks and sews for her parents and anchors the unremitting tedium of their lives. Now Skylark is going away, for only a week it’s true, but a week that yawns endlessly for her parents. What will they do? Before they know it, they are eating at restaurants, reconnecting with old friends, attending the theater. And this just a prelude to Father’s night out at the Panther Club, about which the less said the better. Drunk, in the light of dawn, Father surprises himself and Mother with his true, buried, unspeakable feelings about Skylark. Then, Skylark is back. Is there a world elsewhere, beyond life’s daily monotonous grind and creeping disappointment? Not only for Mother and Father, but for Skylark, too? This question is unanswerable, but the crystalline prose, perfect comic timing, and profound human sympathy that make Dezso Kosztolányi one of the masters of European literature conjure up a tantalizing beauty that lies on the far side of the irredeemably ordinary. To that extent, Skylark is nothing less than a magical book.

Embers, by Sandor Marai (suggested both by Stu and Sakura from Chasing Bawa)

In Sándor Márai’s Embers, two old men, once the best of friends, meet after a 41-year break in their relationship. They dine together, taking the same places at the table that they had assumed on the last meal they shared, then sit beside each other in front of a dying fire, one of them near-silent, the other one, his host, slowly and deliberately tracing the course of their dead friendship. This sensitive, long-considered elaboration of one man’s lifelong grievance is as gripping as any adventure story, and explains why Maáai’s forgotten 1942 masterpiece is being compared with the work of Thomas Mann.

Carnelian Valley tweeted;

The Ninth Circle, by Alex Bell

A man comes round on the floor of a shabby flat in the middle of Budapest. His head is glued to the floorboards with his own blood. There’s a fortune in cash on the kitchen table. And he has no idea where, or who, he is. He can do extraordinary things – speak any number of languages fluently, go three days without food or sleep, and fight with extraordinary prowess. But without a name, without a past, he’s isolated from the rest of the world; a stranger to everyone, including himself – until a chance encounter with a young scholar leads to his first friendship, and his first hint that someone out there knows more about him than he does. Someone is sending him clues about his past. Photographs hidden in books and crates of wine. Cryptic clues pointing towards a murdered woman. And clear warnings against Stephomi, his only friend. But that’s not all; Gabriel Antaeus is seeing strange, impossible things: a burning man is stalking his dreams and haunting his mirrors, his dreams are filled with violence from the past, and his pregnant young neighbour is surrounded by an extraordinary golden aura. Something dark and violent in Gabriel’s past is trying to resurface. And as he pieces the clues together, everything points towards an astounding war between angels and demons . . . and a battle not just for the future of the world, but for the minds and souls of everyone in it.

The Travel Bookshop and Cliona Lewis directed me to;

The Door by Magda Szabo

A young writer, struggling for success, employs an elderly woman called Emerence to be her housekeeper.From their first encounter it is clear that Emerence is no ordinary maid.Although everyone in the neighbourhood knows and respects her, no one knows anything about her private life or has ever crossed her threshold. Only a great drama in the writer’s life prompts Emerence to unveil glimpses of her traumatic past – a past which sheds light on her peculiar behaviour. The Door brilliantly evokes the development of the bond between these two very different women, and the tragic ending to their relationship.

Journey by Moonlight, by Antal Szerb

Anxious to please his bourgeois father, Mihaly has joined the family firm in Budapest. Pursued by nostalgia for his bohemian youth, he seeks escape in marriage to Erzsi, not realising that she has chosen him as a means to her own rebellion. On their honeymoon in Italy, Mihaly ‘loses’ his bride at a provincial station and embarks on a chaotic and bizarre journey that leads him finally to Rome. There all the death-haunted and erotic elements of his past converge, and he, like Erzsi, has finally to make a choice.

Finally Nancy (sorcerapprent) suggested these last three books;

The Good Master, by Kate Seredy

Two cousins spend an adventurous summer on a ranch on the Hungarian plains.





Prague: A Novel, by Arthur Phillips (which despite the title is apparantly mostly set in Hungary!)

A group of American expats en route to adventure, inspiration, or perhaps even history-in-the-making in Prague, somehow get sidetracked and settle instead for the enigmatic city of Budapest. Arriving in Hungary’s capital to pursue his elusive brother, journalist John Price finds himself drawn into the din of Budapest’s nightclubs, a romance with a secretive young diplomat, the table of an elderly cocktail pianist, and the moody company of a young man obsessed with nostalgia, all in a bid to forget the larger questions that arise in a city still pocked with bullet holes from war and crushed rebellion. With humour, intelligence and masterly prose, Phillips captures the character of his contemporaries and brilliantly renders a very weird ‘modern’ city.

Danube, by Claudio Magris

This is a very Italian book, reminiscent of Italo Calvino or Roberto Calasso. Part history, part philosophy, part travelogue and literature in the richest, most amply rewarding sense. Writing with tremendous exuberance, Claudio Magris has produced a paean to what Hölderlin called “the river of melody”–the Danube, Europe’s main artery, and the heart of that elusive but fascinating zone known as Mitteleuropa.

That’s a pretty serious list – I might just have to use this as an excuse to have a little wander around with my book vouchers from Christmas and see what I can pick up!
In the meantime, have you read any of the books above? Have you been to Budapest?

Green Carnation Prize Readings

On Thursday, I went along to hear readings of books shortlisted for the Green Carnation prize.

The three authors reading were:

Unfortunately, two authors were not able to make it but we toasted them in their absence!

I enjoyed all the readings, although I have to mention that I laughed out loud and was rather charmed by Christopher Fowler’s self-depreciating style in his reading from Paperboy.

I have to also admit to being distracted by some amusingly titled books (one in particular about how to deal with being overly-well endowed!) on the shelves at venue. Gay’s The Word which counts Sarah Waters and Ali Smith amongst it’s supporters is a gem of an independent bookshop tucked away near Russell Square Tube. I was particularly impressed by it’s clever categorisation of books which makes it perfect for casual browsers to discover something new.

All in all I had a really enjoyable evening and will be very much looking forward to finding out who the final winner is!

Lost in Austen

Yesterday I watched all of ITV drama Lost In Austen (2008) on DVD with Savidge Reads – yes three whole hours! Definitely recommended for lots of laugh out loud daft moments, slightly bizarre but brilliant storyline and excellent lead actress Jemima Roper. We giggled ourself silly throughout.

Lost in Austen

Sitting on Wimbledon Common at lunchtime I found myself slightly lost in Austen myself, considering the slightly bedraggled puddle of water passing for a pond that I was sitting in front of might be vastly improved by a Mr Darcy / Colin Firth moment. You know the scene and shame on you if you don’t!

Could be improved by…

Speaking of which I’m off to the Peak District this weekend! Perhaps a trip to Chatsworth house (which some people believe was the basis for Pemberley in Pride and Predjudice) will inspire me to read some Austen… Or perhaps I should take a Mitford book…?

Chatsworth House

Can anyone recommend any other bookish locations I might be tempted to stop at between London and Derbyshire?

Books to read in Sri Lanka – Sakura’s List

When I told Sakura of Chasing Bawa that I was travelling to Sri Lanka she kindly came up with a list of books and authors of Sri Lankan origin to read or look out for while on holiday. I thought I would share it with my fellow book-lovers!

I plan to buy Anil’s Ghost, by Michael Ondaatje (who is better known for The English Patient) and while I was visiting the Barefoot Bookshop in Columbo I also picked up a copy of The Road from Elephant Pass which I am looking forward to reading.

Thanks again to Sakura for the recommendations – they gave me a good excuse (not that I really need one…), to go book-shopping while holiday. She has written reviews of quite a few of these books over at her blog so do pop over and take a look.

Do you, like me, enjoy reading books about the country you are travelling to when you go on holiday?