Stalker by Lucy Hamilton

 

Stalker by Lucy Hamilton Shearsman Books, 2012 ISBN: 978-1848612242

Stalker by Lucy Hamilton
Shearsman Books, 2012
ISBN: 978-1848612242

From the book cover: The insidious peril that haunts these pages appears in various guises […] Stalker is a collection of prose poems in which the narrator attempts to make sense of everyday experience, turning to Rilke, Van Gogh, Steinbeck and others in her quest for understanding.

Stalker is Lucy Hamilton’s first full length collection, and it’s telling of her intellectual integrity and confidence as a writer that she chooses to launch her career for a wider readership (she’s already had a lot of success with her Hearing Eye pamphlet, Sonnets for my Mother, and her translations) with prose poems – not many contemporary poets would have the balls to do that.Sonnets_for_my_mother_lucy_hamilton

The poems in this book are at once both beautiful and ugly, disturbing and tranquil; and yet they are always elegant in the writer’s choice of exactly the right word, the right turn of a line, the right shift of tone or scene. Hamilton is a poet who knows when to hold a line and when to let it go – she understands the give and take of cadence, the control of brevity (and when to swell the scene a little), and how to make the lines work for the poem; her similes stand out for their freshness (without being irritatingly quirky, which much contemporary poetry is guilty of) and the ability to convey perfectly what the poems mean them to, e.g.:

`I find him stacked up in the archives, row upon row, layer upon layer, like a slice of the paupers’ graves.’ (`Clochard’)

– this still gives me a chill when I think of it, even though it was a while since I read it.

The space of the collection is far reaching – not just across the geographical locations of the book France, Germany, Scotland, Greece, America, and England – but how it traverses the space of the heart: love, fear, regret, anticipation, sorrow, and those moments of happiness that we all have an echo of in our own hearts.

If you buy only one poetry book this year, you can’t go far wrong with this one. That it was shortlisted for the Forward Prizes’ Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection in 2012 is not surprising (that it didn’t win it is!)

(a shorter version of this review appears on AmazonUK)
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Boneland – Alan Garner

Cover of Alan Garner's Boneland

Boneland by Alan Garner
Published: 2012, Fourth Estate.
ISBN: 978-0007463251

Boneland is the third book in the Wierdstone Trilogy, started over 50 years ago with The Weirdstone of Brisingamen.

Taking up the story decades on from the end of the second book, The Moon of Gomrath, it’s set in Cheshire (as the other books were) and (a huge treat for me) at Jodrell Bank Observatory – home of the beautiful Lovell telescope. It centres around the character of Colin, and his amnesia of the first 13 years of his life – including any knowledge of his twin sister, Susan, and the adventures they had.

Boneland isn’t a straightforward sequel – much time has passed between the stories and while Weirdstone and Gomrath were books marketed to children, this is definitely a book for adults. And all the more wonderful for being so! It continues the literary ambitions Garner first established in Red Shift, and executed so beautifully in Thursbitch and The Stone Book Quartet, and his later books. It’s a mature telling of a complex story that has developed over years, rather than a capping off of two books that, while being wonderful novels in themselves, had different ambitions for language and literature relevant to the times they were written in. They reflect something of the interests of the author back then, as Boneland does now.

When the book first came out the reviews were mixed; many people felt Garner should have produced a straightforward ‘Whatever happened to Susan?’ kind of book in the same vein as the first two – when we love something, we want it to continue – and I think I Weirdstone_of_Brisingamenwould have been happy with that, but I’m much, much happier with the book he did write. It’s a book for this reader – one who started reading fantasy because of Weirdstone and who has grown up in the intervening years with that first love of reading intact. It’s also a book that honours the development of a writer, and of an intelligent mind, and that is what calls to me – something numinous and important (a bit like the calls Colin hears in Boneland – although not as frightening!) and it’s something to go back to time and again.  It’s true Boneland is a book of confusions and wrong-footings on the first-reading – but so is most of Virginia Woolf’s oeuvre and T.S. Eliot’s.  Boneland is a book about excavation and exploration and looking for answers – if in Thursbitch Garner looked to the earth for answers, in Boneland he looks both to the earth (a common motif in Garner’s books) and to the night skies. And the way he makes Jodrell Bank a character rather than just a setting is just wonderful!

If you’re looking for a very easy science-fantasy read, then this is probably not the book for you, but if you want to get your teeth into something special then buy it, read it, then read it again.

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In with the new…

year_of_the_horse_papercutSo far 2014 is looking good. I start a new job in February, the sun is shining, there are blackcaps and siskin in the garden, it’s still light at tea-time and all in all things don’t seem quite so grey. After the broken leg and shenanigans of last year I have to say it’s definitely a relief; it’s very unusual for me to get to the end of a year and say ‘I’m glad that year’s over’ but, well, I’m glad 2013’s over!

A very good friend of mine said it was a crappy year for most of us (and chatting with friends, I’d say there’s pretty much a consensus on that), and her reason is because it had a 13 in it. I’m not generally a superstitious person (apart from a few residual childhood ones like not putting new shoes on the table!) and I’ve never had much of a problem with 13 in the past, but it gets you thinking. But by and large I think we make our own luck and take the opportunities that we want to, even though I have to admit I check my yearly Chinese horoscope (a simple weakness in my otherwise relatively rational make up!). This year will be the Year of the Horse. It’s meant to be quite good for me; I’m a Dog. Woof! To be honest, I’m probably more Gaspode the Wonder Dog than Lassie, but there you go.

One thing I did over the Christmas period was to take some proper time out for myself. I wanted to get a good stretch of reading done that had nothing to do with reviews or feedback on other people’s work or editing. My birthday was in November, which always means books. Lots of lovely books. I ploughed through them like an eager snow plough (a snow plough that loves books!). One volume that’s stayed with me was Alexandra Harris’ biography of Virginia Woolf. It was an easy read broken up into sensible chapters. A1Lyv9SkjfL._SL1500_The images scattered throughout it distracted me a little but that’s because I prefer sections of image plates over this kind of distribution. I wouldn’t say it was the most incisive book on Woolf, and it skimmed over some of the more contentious criticism made about the novelist but what I liked about it, and why it stayed with me I think, was that it read like a sort of love song to Woolf – fluid and elegant and easy to engage with. It made me wonder how many other biographies were love songs, and in fact how many books in general were love songs to their subjects. I would certainly say Terry Pratchett’s Raising Steam is a love song to the steam train. And why not? 390px-The_front_cover_of_the_book_Raising_Steam_by_Terry_PratchettThe thing itself is full of heat and romance and passion – anything other than a love song to it would surely be a lost opportunity. Is that cliché? Maybe, but then so what? Sometimes a story has to be written because its subject demands it. In fact, probably most stories have to be written because the subject demands it – it just takes a very good ear to listen and understand before the fingers hit the keyboard!

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