Book review: Grandmothers by Salley Vickers

Book cover: Grandmothers with endorsements from Sunday Times and Philip Pullman

I borrowed Grandmothers from the library. At the beginning I found it rather slow as the scene was being set for three different families. I enjoy Salley Vickers’ writing and as I continued to read I found much to think about. A passage in which a child is asked to tell a grandmother about a book she has read, but is reluctant to do so as it would be a spoiler, was followed by a reply that the adult enjoyed reading stories when she knew what was going to happen. This prompted me to read to the end of the book, take a break and then reread it. I was glad that I did as I picked up details I had missed on my first impatient reading of it.

The views of the adults and the difficulties in their various families are interesting. An incident in Kew Gardens reminded me of a book I had read on BorrowBox, A Thousand Paper Birds by Tor Udall. I didn’t review that book because some of the content was unsuitable for a blog intended for all ages.

The views expressed in Grandmothers about Jesus Christ’s death do not reflect Christian beliefs. I wonder how many people among the general public agree with the suggestion that it was Jesus’ fault that he died unnecessarily.

The Bible and the Christian creeds (statements of belief) teach that Jesus died to redeem humans, who were separated from God by their sinful nature. By his death, resurrection (rising from the dead) and ascension into heaven he provided the means of salvation so that people can live in relationship with God through the Holy Spirit (spirit of Christ).

Grandmothers is a gentle read. There are references to poetry and works of art. The characters are interesting and Salley Vickers obviously observes people’s characters and behaviour closely, giving her characters some of her insights.


What I read in June 2019 (Part 1) The Librarian

I borrowed a hardback copy of The Librarian by Salley Vickers from the library on a recent trip to the city for a meeting of a writing group. I had been looking out for it as I have enjoyed other novels by this author.

Spoiler alert! Please skip the 2 paragraphs following this if you are like me and do not want to know much about a book before reading it. It took me a few days to read as I was busy with other things.

It is mainly a historical novel, being set in the 20th century! I hadn’t expected the librarian to be a children’s librarian. I still reread children’s books (or read them for the first time). In this story some of the books borrowed from the library affected subsequent events.

I was surprised when, towards the end of the book, I turned a page and found Part Two. This part is about how the lives of some of the children in Part One turned out. In particular two of them now over 70 years old, who had been good friends and then lost touch, compared their memories. They looked back on the events of their childhood with their adult understanding.

End of Spoiler! Salley Vickers has once more demonstrated her understanding of human nature.

There is a list at the end of the book of her recommended reading from the children’s library in the book. Some of the titles are new to me, but many are books I read as a child and have reread as an adult. I am going to reread Tom’s Midnight Garden, which I did not read until I had children of my own. It had particular significance in The Librarian and I can’t remember it at all!

Other readers of The Librarian may also wish to do some background reading.


What I read in November (Part 2)

The Boy Who Could See Death by Salley Vickers

When I borrowed this book from the library I hadn’t realised it is a book of short stories, which takes its name from perhaps the most haunting one. I may have mentioned previously that I prefer novels to short stories. Starting to read a short story is as much work as starting to read a novel. Then a few pages later it comes to an end. I don’t always manage to work out what the whole story has been about! There was at least one story in this collection, which left me guessing. (I like all the ends tied in and no room for doubt in a story!)

However, Salley Vickers writes extremely well and remains on my list of authors to look out for in the library. A review of another of her books appears in a previous post.

Meadowland: the private life of an English field by John Lewis-Stempel

I am cheating by including this library book here as I had not finished it by the end of November. It is a book I have been savouring. Each month of a particular year has a chapter to itself. The author describes life on his farm in Herefordshire near to the Welsh border. The history of the area, traditions, literature and patient observation of creatures and plants go to make this book rather special. While the author is very knowledgeable, he manages to communicate his knowledge in a way that is interesting to those with different levels of knowledge of the natural world.

It is the kind of subject, where the more you know, the more you learn. I found the prose particularly enjoyable, with a very gentle sense of humour being apparent. As in many of my favourite books, a map is included at the beginning. This one is of the farm. There are also lists of species observed, a list of nature books in the author’s possession and a list of music.