I thought that my next Book Bag post would be a long one. I went to Scotland with a bag that contained no less than six books to read. But what with the pretty views stealing my attention and dismissing the majority of them a couple of chapters in I come to you having only finished two of the books I took away.
Number 10 by Sue Townsend
Behind the doors of the most famous address in the country, all is not well.
Edward Clare was voted into Number Ten after a landslide election victory. But a few years later and it is all going wrong. The love of the people is gone. The nation is turning against him.
Panicking, Prime Minister Clare enlists the help of Jack Sprat, the policeman on the door of No 10, and sets out to discover what the country really thinks of him. In disguise, they venture into the great unknown: the mean streets of Great Britain.
And for the first time in years, the Prime Minister experiences everything life in this country has to offer – an English cream tea, the kindness of strangers, waiting for trains that never come and treatment in a hospital – and at last he remembers some of things he once really cared about . . .
I really enjoyed reading this; it was satirical and has a few pointed points to make but it never loses it’s delightful silliness. Whilst my heart never fully warmed to the poor prime minister, I did love Jack the policeman who accompanies the PM on his journey. Jack is the white sheep in a family of criminals whose mum often explains that even though he is a policeman; ‘she loves all her children just the same.’
Quite a few episodes in the book had me chuckling out loud especially the dilemma of trying to pay two men for delivering a mattress when no-one has a tenner to hand and the hotel that was so friendly and make-yourself-at-home that you were expected to do the washing up!
My only small grudge was that the ending was abrupt and I would like to have seen a bit more of the PM reuniting with his family at the end.
The Fantastic Book of Everyone’s Secrets by Sophie Hannah
Everybody has their secrets, and in Sophie Hannah’s fantastic stories the curtains positively twitch with them. Who, for instance, is the hooded figure hiding in the bushes outside a young man’s house? Why does the same stranger keep appearing in the background of a family’s holiday photographs? What makes a woman stand mesmerised by two children in a school playground, children she’s never met but whose names she knows well? And which secret results in a former literary festival director sorting soiled laundry in a shabby hotel? All will be revealed…but at a cost.
First of all, that is one brilliant title for a book! I quite like collections of short stories, although by the end of them I tend to feel a little sad, it seems short stories lend themselves to being a bit bleak and dark. (Marian Keyes is the exception, only person I know who can write more than one happy short story in the same collection) Nothing wrong, of course with a few dark stories but after a while you kind of long for someone to crack a smile.
The first story in this book; ‘The Octopus’ Nest’ was my favourite; great mystery set up, all the clues laid out, then a great ending that wraps it all together.
The rest of the stories were good too, each one putting you in the mind-frame of a completely different character; sometimes funny, often a little mad. As I got closer to the end of the pages I did become a little bit frustrated because story after story seemed to have an ambiguous ending. I get that sometimes an open ending is a clever understated way to leave things, but I only think it feels satisfying if an ambiguous ending is a rarity…otherwise you just feel like it is unfinished.
That aside if you have a streak of dark humour and a sympathy for people being pushed to their mental limit then you will enjoy this collection of unsettling short stories.