Tag Archives: Lynne Reid Banks

My reading year 2012

This year reading has been pretty similar to previous years.  The books I’ve read have been a mix of recommendations, book club choices and stuff that takes my fancy, chosen at a whim.  Where things have differed massively this year, is this blog.  I started it in February to offload some of my thoughts on books, but it has become so much more than that.  I have met, albeit virtually, many lovely people  through blogging.  Whether that’s readers popping by, or stumbling across other bloggers with interesting things to say about books and reading.

I might not have been dependable as a blogger (just see my last post where I promised one more review this year – that’s not happened!), but I have managed to maintain my reading habit and to some extent upped my game in certain areas by reading books slightly out of my comfort zone.

Having also challenged myself to read a few more books by women, I managed to exceed the number of post 1950 books I wanted to read.  This exercise made me realise that there is some brilliant writing out there by women and I don’t know why I’ve not read more.  I will continue this policy of positive discrimination into next year!

I’ve read so many great books this year, I’m not sure there is much merit in me writing my “Best Books of 2012” but I will mention four books that really touched me and still mean a lot to me weeks and months after finishing them, if you fancy discovering something different in 2013, I can highly recommend any of the following (I’ve left my favourite till last).

TofWHThe first is a classic Victorian novel.  The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte is special for me because unlike other Bronte novels where I slowly grew to admire the characters, I instantly fell in love with Helen and Gilbert and was completely swept away with their misery, desperation and difficult lives.   Anne Bronte gets the action going almost immediately in this book, there is very little scene setting, which I absolutely loved.  She also had great courage publishing this book as some of the themes would have shocked to the Victorian reader.  The beautifully descriptive language is a pleasure to read but the main thing going for it is its fabulous story of love overcoming many pitfalls, rooting it most definitely in Bronte country.

L-shapedThe L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks is a book everyone should read just to get a glimpse of what life was like for women and minorities in the 1950’s.  The story follows a young woman after she is thrown out of her home when she accidentally falls pregnant.  She moves into a boarding house and encounters various characters while there.  They become her surrogate family.  It is a wonderful tale of survival and friendship as well as being an amazing commentary on the social norms of the mid twentieth century.  Reading this book makes you appreciate how far we’ve come since then, but also makes you realise how different things were only a generation or so ago.

next worldI read Next World Novella by Matthias Politycki (trans. Anthea Bell) for the only common reading/blogging event I joined this year.  German Literature Month took place in November and is quite self-explanatory by its name.  Peirene Press is fairly new and specialises in short European fiction.  They chose a corker with this book.  It well and truly fills its 140 pages with more than some lengthier books manage, focusing on how a small change can cause a devastating ripple effects, leaving upset and destruction in its wake.  It is a sad story of ageing, loneliness and  fear of dying, but it is so sensitively written you can’t help but admire it.

pig ironIf you’ve visited this blog before or read any of my twitter feed you will know that Pig Iron by Benjamin Myers is a real favourite. It is not only my favourite book of this year, it is quite possibly the best book I’ve read for several years.   Reading my original thoughts on Pig Iron, I’m not sure I did it justice.  It is a haunting tale of a young man trying to do the right thing whilst attempting to distance himself from his violent past.  John John Wisdom’s voice is so engaging and realistic it sucks you in and elicits an emotional response.  It is beautifully written and Ben Myers deserves much more praise for this book than he gets.  I tell everyone who will listen how brilliant it is and now I’m repeating myself to you!

So there you have it.  There is a definite theme running through the four books getting a special mention above.  They all deal with loneliness, personal hardship and dealing with the crap life deals you sometimes.  Maybe, these sorts of books make me appreciate what I have in my own life, who knows?!  One thing I do know is that I’m looking forward to finding some more gems next year – I’ve already read a couple that I’ve not managed to review in December.  So roll on midnight and a new year of exciting bookish finds!

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The L-Shaped Room – Lynne Reid Banks

There are moments when you read a story so well put together, where the characters are so well-developed, which captivates you so much that you feel you are looking through a window and getting a glimpse of life at the time of writing.  I had such an experience whilst reading The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks.  The story is not only engrossing, but I also learnt much about attitudes in 1950s Britain; it could be used as a history set text as a comment on social norms in the post war years.

The story might not seem remarkable in a modern context; an unmarried woman unexpectedly and unintentionally falls pregnant.  In the class-bound late 1950s this sort of mishap was shameful and seriously frowned upon.  Unfortunately, this is the predicament Jane Graham finds herself in.  Her only parent, her father, throws her out of their home and she punishes herself by moving into a bedbug-infested, dark and dismal room, which happens to be L-shaped, in a large boarding house in Fulham.  Her father’s reaction is the first in a series of incidents and encounters with other characters that serve to highlight the shame Jane has brought onto herself.  She is determined to punish herself further by deciding not to get to know anyone else in the house.   It doesn’t work out as she planned.  Lynne Reid Banks introduces a fabulous supporting cast of characters to help tell Jane’s story during her time in the L-shaped room.  Even the characters with the smallest parts are so well described they provide realism and authenticity.

Toby and John, who play the most important roles in Jane’s life during her time in Fulham are the antithesis of the norms of the era, providing a glimpse of times to come.  They are positively bohemian compared to some of the stuffier, uptight characters, but both tortured and constrained in their own ways.  They are not immune to internal struggles and like Jane punish themselves as a form of catharsis.  In fact, this idea of punishing oneself for personal failure is a recurring theme of Reid Banks’ book.  There are several other characters who go through similar emotional journeys while dealing with their problems.

It is depressing to think of the treatment women such as Jane endured during the 1950s and for a long time afterwards, but equally depressing are the other prejudices introduced in such a matter-of-fact manner throughout The L-Shaped Room.  Those of racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia.  You only need to catch a glimpse of programmes like Rising Damp or Till Death us Do Part (both of which aired later than the setting of this book) to realise such insulting behaviour and opinions was commonplace and not considered offensive at the time.  Although Jane experiences prejudice as a result of her “condition” she herself displays prejudice towards Jews and gay men, which are only partly resolved by the end of the book.

Despite the themes and issues regarding life in 1950’s Britain seeming heavy-duty, the book is actually a delight to read.  I felt real empathy towards many of the characters and loved that it was not a long-winded saga, but provided a snap-shot of Jane’s life before she moved on to a new chapter.  The L-Shaped Room is the first in a trilogy of books about Jane, but I’m not sure I need more, it is perfect on its own.