Category Archives: C. S. Lewis

Novel Insights’ Top 12 Books – 2011

I am savouring my last day off work today and feeling a little bit smug to be sat indoors out of the rain with nothing more taxing to do than mull over my favourite books of the past year. Actually, I say it’s not taxing but I started by trying to pick five books, then changed it to ten, and then bumped it up to twelve – whoops! Well that is one for every month – a perfectly good excuse in my opinion. Here they are:

How To Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran

5 stars 5/5

“…challenges all the stupid things that women are told (and tell themselves) with a big bucketful of humour…” Read full review.

Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

5 stars 5/5

“…an important book and one that I think is up there with some of the best dystopian novels.” Read full review.

Never Let Me Go

In Love & Trouble, by Alice Walker

5 stars 5/5

“…each time I picked up Alice Walker’s collection of short stories, I felt as if time was suspended and I was transported completely to heat of the Southern America… The richness and vitality of Walker’s writing makes this book an utter pleasure to read.” Read full review.

Through the Wall, by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

5 stars 5/5

“The stories sound barmy, and there is a heavy dose of the surreal, but at their heart Petrushevskaya’s tales  are real human experiences of grief, love and loss.” Read full review.

Through the Wall, by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Purls of Wisdom, by Jenny Lord

5 stars 5/5

“…a book that I know I will refer to time and time again. I love the informal writing style because it feels just as if a friend is teaching you…” (AKA the book to blame for my knitting obsession in 2011!) Read full review.

Purls of Wisdom: The Book of Knitting

Mr Chartwell, by Rebecca Hunt

4.5 stars4.5/5

“I struggle to think of many other books that convey what is a very serious message with so much originality and seemingly so effortlessly.” Read full review.

Mary Anne, by Daphne du Maurier

4.5 stars4.5/5

“…a book, packed with with witty lines, and a richly described period setting which creates the backdrop for the story of a fascinating protagonist based on du Maurier’s own great-great-grandmother.” Read full review.

The Mermaids Singing, by Val McDermid

4.5 stars4.5/5

“I think that I might have found a new favourite crime writer to add to my list!” Read full review.

The Mermaids Singing

A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis

4 stars4/5

“Of course, this is a sad book to read, but also so beautifully and eloquently written… In an odd way, I believe that this little book could be comforting at a time of loss, if only because of how openly the author shares his experience.” Read full review.

Fateless, by Imre Kertész

4 stars4/5

“… 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…” Read full review.

Fateless, by Imre Kertesz

Journey by Moonlight, by Antal Szerb

4 stars4/5

“…has the qualities that I associate with a real classic… A rich and many-layered story.” Read full review.

Before I go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson

4.5 stars4.5/5

“…smartly plotted, written compellingly and the premise is well-executed.” Read full review.

Before I go to Sleep

A retrospective look at Novel Insights tells me that in 2011 I read a total of 43 books which is a whole 30% lower than last year’s count of 62. I don’t get too hung up about the number of books that I read because I don’t like to over-organise or analyse the things I do for pleasure and for this reason I don’t really make reading resolutions.

That said, I do think that my reading and blogging can be seen as a bit of a barometer of how I’m feeling. While sometimes I read less because I’ve been occupied with nice, fun stuff (including quite a lot of knitting this year!) I have felt quite busy over the past few months and it is one of my resolutions to find a better balance between work and my leisure time.

Well that’s my little bit of naval-gazing over and done with! How was your 2011? Do you have any reading resolutions? What books really stood out for you this year?

A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis

4 stars4/5

Does it seem morbid to choose to read a book about grief? I spotted this slim volume – A Grief Observed – on the library returns shelf and was drawn to the title which stood out as unusual.

Faber paperbacks, 1966 edition (first published 1961), 64 pages - library loan

I like the element of chance involved in picking up a book recently selected by someone else for reasons known only to them. I hope that the person who borrowed it previously read it like me, out of curiosity rather than personal grief. Having only read Lewis’s children’s books I felt it might be interesting to read outside of my typical reading scope, but with a familiar voice.

A Grief Observed, is an almost scientific title. It suggests abstraction as if the author is conducting analysis of another person’s state of mind. However this book is intensely personal. It reads like a diary and at the same time, a conversation. The reader comes to feel as if they are a true confident, trusted with Lewis’s most personal moments as he goes through the process of grief after the death of his wife, who is referred only as “H”.

At times his writing feels like a eulogy and at others a simple therapeutic act. At the beginning of the book, Lewis is working through his immediate emotional response, frightened that he might forget “H”, or worse still that he will create a false memory of her – a sort of idol or lifeless doll. He criticises himself for being self-pitying, angrily questions his idea of God and rails against the seemingly glib advice and words given by others trying to offer their awkward yet well-meaning words to a bereaved friend.

Of course, this is a sad book to read, but also so beautifully and eloquently written. The raw human feeling expressed by Lewis is moving. It is also frightening – who amongst us, as we become more aware of our own mortality and those around us does not occasionally think how terrible it would be to lose someone we love? In an odd way, I believe that this little book could be comforting at a time of loss, if only because of how openly the author shares his experience.

Fascinating for me (yet also perplexing), was Lewis’s exploration of his feelings towards God. At times he wonders whether he truly exists and in the depth of his anger declares that if he does he must surely be cruel.

“I am more afraid that we are really rats in a trap. Or worse still, rats in a laboratory. Someone said, I believe ‘God always geometrises’. Supposing the truth were ‘God always vivisects’.”

He uses the epithet “The Cosmic Sadist” to God, and the description of Him as a “Vivisectionist” is such a harsh yet vivid image of a person feeling literally pulled apart… experimented upon by some higher detached being.

In the later passages of the book however there is a distinct change in tone. The writing becomes more conciliatory, less passionate with convoluted explanations for why God does exist and isn’t cruel. Although I was unsure of some of Lewis’s logic, I felt relieved that the process of writing his grief seemed to have helped him to move through and beyond his initial pain. Still though, the knowledge that he has that he may be yet surprised by a new fresh sadness, lingers and reminds us of how deeply he loved his wife.

“Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process. It needs not a map but a history, and if I don’t stop writing that history at some quite arbitrary point, there’s no reason why I should ever stop. There is something now to be chronicled every day. Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape”.

I felt admiration for how the clarity and beauty of his words. Although A Grief Observed is a sad piece of writing, Lewis’s obvious passion for his wife inspires me and his words make me wonder at how strongly humans can be bound together by love.

What books have you read that really affected you?