Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Page 2 of 218

Capturing her memories…

Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher

shockaholicIn my review of Fisher’s previous slim volume of anecdotal memoir, Wishful Drinking, I wished she would write a full memoir a couple of years down the line. Instead, she has done more of the same, but you know what, I don’t care that it’s not the full memoir I previously craved, I loved being back in her company, however briefly.

In this volume she tells us about half a dozen episodes in her eventful life, all recounted with her characteristic tell-it-like-it-was wit, very self-deprecating humour and plenty of insight and true emotion too.

At the end of the introduction, she neatly paraphrases Proust to nail the flavour of the following pages:

So, before I forget, what follows is a sort of anecdotal memoir of a potentially more than partial amnesiac. Remembrances of things in the process of passing.

As you might guess from the title, she starts with an account of what it’s like to undergo ECT (Electro Convulsive Therapy), which is often seen as a treatment of last resort and portrayed in the media often as if it had never moved on from the original violent fitting effects when it was first devised.  Now carried out under mild anaesthesia, it takes just minutes. It blows away many of the effects of depression and mania, but at the cost of memory – mostly recent memory and an inability to form new memories for a short period.

Another thing is that I find myself forgetting movies and books, some of which I only recently enjoyed, which, if you think about it, is really not that bad, because now I can be entertained by them all over again. And grudges? How can you hold on to something you don’t remember having to begin with!

Having got the pretext of ECT out of the way, we dive into the episodes, starting with a story about briefly dating a senator in the mid-80s and holding her own at dinner against a usually dominating Ted Kennedy who continually tried to quiz her about sex – this was hilarious.

The next story tells of what you’d think of as an unlikely friendship with the ‘otherly’ Michael Jackson. However, both being addicts from dysfunctional families, they had a unique understanding and she personally witnessed him as a great father to his own children. Jackson had some redeeming features for her, despite his alleged inappropriate friendships with kids and the consequences; she gives her take on that, which is fascinating.

Another of Michael’s friends was of course, Elizabeth Taylor. She was Fisher’s step-mother for some years, Eddie Fisher having dumped Debbie Reynolds for Taylor, who later ran off with Richard Burton.  Taylor, famously loved to receive jewelry (Fisher’s spelling) and Michael Jackson obliged.  However Fisher recalls some other jewelry:

I remember coming into her dressing room one time and she was wearing this diamond as big as a doorknob that she always wore – the famous diamond Burton had given her. ‘What did you do to get that?’ I asked her. And she smiled sweetly and softly said, ‘I was loved.’

Presumably, this was Taylor’s ring containing the Krupp diamond (33+ carats) bought for her by Burton in 1968.

Taylor and Fisher had always had a distinctly frosty relationship until one day at an Easter Egg hunt at her ranch, Taylor pushed Fisher into the swimming pool for making fun of her in a speech at an AIDS benefit. This finally broke the ice, and Fisher has the photographs of the event to prove it.

Running through this collection of anecdotes though are memories of her father who died in 2010. Largely absent during her childhood, they would later get together when his star began to fade and she was turbulently married to Paul Simon:

Eventually (and/or after a year) my father moved to an apartment around the corner from Paul. And it was not too long after that that he began sneaking drugs to me.  This was when, like most fathers and daughters, we begain doing coke together. Our relationship had started with me longing for him to visit, eventually evolving into my being desperate for him to leave, setting finally and comfortably into us being drug buddies.

The final chapter is again about her father, but this time his last months, when addled by marijuana use and suffering dementia she became a carer, and she reflects how glad she was that they had managed to develop a relationship despite that difficult childhood.

Whereas Wishful Drinking was derived from her successful stageshow and sometimes came across as a performance on paper, Shockaholic is still just as wise-cracking but, tempered by the loss of her father, comes across as more thoughtful in tone. I do hope for more installments to read of Fisher’s fascinating life. (8/10)

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below (affiliate link):
Shockaholicby Carrie Fisher (2011). Simon & Schuster 2013. Paperback, 176 pages.
Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher (2008).


Extra Shiny time…

SNB logo tiny

It’s August 20th – and we’ve just published 28 pages of wonderful Extra Shiny reviews and features for you.

The Shiny Book Club discussion of The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters is now open too! I finished reading it last week (full review to follow here).

We’ve also announced a Poetry Competition – with a panel of super judges … and me! I’m a bit scared by this, but am really looking forward to it.

I’ve also got several reviews dotted around the Extra Shiny – but will link to them later.

Meanwhile I’m delighted that we have lured YA author Non Pratt over to Shiny to talk about the presentation of sexual experience in teen novels – her article titled Great Sexpectations is so interesting and very timely.

The Acrostic Meme

I found this meme over at Margaret’s blog where it comes by way of Lori’s and I thought I’d join in the fun:

The meme is to make an acrostic of your name in book titles you’ve read this year. I thought I’d extend that from Annabel to Annabookbel. Here is mine, with links to the original reviews:

A is for Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance – the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer

N is for Naked at the Albert Hall by Tracey Thorn

N is for Naked in Death by J.D.Robb

A is for Acts of Omission by Terry Stiastny

B is for The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

O is for Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

O is for Orient by Christopher Bollen

K is for (The) Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell

B is for (The) Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse by Ivan Repila

E is for Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

L is for (The) List of My Desires by Gregoire Delacourt

Feel free to have a go.

Extra Shiny tomorrow – back to book reviews soon!

A Japanese Nightmare…

Fear and Trembling by Amélie Nothumb

Translated by Adriana Hunter

fear and tremblingThis unsettling novella has an apt title. When I looked it up to see where it might have come from, I found a bible quote (also the source for a work by Kirkegaard):

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

Philippians 2:12

Further investigation revealed that it also refers to the old Japanese protocol that you should look upon the Emperor with fear and trembling to show your reverence. Until 1947, the Japanese Emperor was considered a living god. The line of legendary Japanese emperors goes back to 660 BC, although the first one who probably actually existed ruled from 97-30BC, so precedes Paul’s letter to the Philippians…

Nothumb’s story is not about emperors or gods however, hers is a satire about office mandarins and the politics of the workplace in Japan of the late 1990s.

Nothumb is Belgian, and her father was the Belgian ambassador to Japan. They lived there for several years when she was small, moving on to China, like the heroine of her story, also called Amélie who is returning to Japan for a year to work (as Nothumb did too). As a young Western woman she is lucky to get a job in a large Japanese import-export company, Yumimoto, she is hired for her ability to speak Japanese.

On day one, she has the chain of command explained to her – from Vice President Mr Hameda at the very top down through another two levels to her immediate superior, Fubuki Mori, one of the few women employees. Then comes Amélie, right at the bottom of the food chain.

Her first task is to write a letter for one of the bosses accepting a golf date with a supplier. Giving a flavour of what is to come, he just rips up each draft. One of her jobs is to bring tea and coffee to the workers, and one day she has to bring coffee to a meeting in Mister Omochi’s office. She serves it to the visitors with discrete greetings in perfect Japanese.  Later all hell breaks loose, and Mister Saito (between Mister Omochi and Fubuki) has to tell her off:

“… Mister Omochi is very angry. You created the most appalling tension in the meeting this morning. How could our business partners have any feeling of trust in the presence of a white girl who understood their language? From now on you will no longer speak Japanese.”

I was dumbfounded.

“I beg your pardon?”

“You no longer know how to speak Japanese. Is this clear?”

“But – it was because of my knowledge of your language that I was hired by Yumimoto!”

“That doesn’t matter. I am ordering you not to understand Japanese any more.”

“That’s impossible. No one could obey an order like that.”

“There is always a means of obeying. That’s what Western brains need to understand.”

Instead of quitting, she carries on. Given nothing meaningful to do she shows initiative – memorising the list of employees names and details she starts delivering the mail each morning – only to discover she has upset the mail boy who comes in the afternoon who was now worried for his job. Bawled out again, she is given a huge photocopying job to do, but the boss is never satisfied the copies are straight – she repeats and repeats it – only to find that it’s the rules for his golf club.

All along, she thinks she has an ally in Fubuki, the beautiful and serene woman who sits opposite her. Of course, Fubuki is jealous of this Western girl when she herself has taken nine years to get to one step above Amélie. Fubuki gets her cross-checking employee expenses, but Amélie proves incapable of using a calculator (this annoyed me!) and Fubuki has to take it back. However, when a boss from another department secretly borrows Amélie to help with a report on Belgian goods, guess who dobs her in to Mister Omochi? Amélie still have seven months left to go on her contract, she will not quit and lose face. The only job left for her is to clean the toilets – and even that comes with its problems in this honour-bound society…

Until we got to the toilet cleaning I was enjoying this story. With its depiction of a department ruled by alpha males stuck into a rigid pecking order, workplace bullying and glass ceiling firmly in place, it reminded me of Helen DeWitt’s brilliant satire Lightning Rods (which I reviewed here).  However, in DeWitt’s witty office fantasy, the women are ultimately able to play the men at their own game which maintained the plot in a full-length novel, whereas Fear and Trembling started to peter out half way through its 132 pages becoming less witty and fresh.

Arguably, having worked in a Japanese office, Nothumb is qualified to comment in her fiction on her experiences there, however it did make me feel rather uncomfortable.  First published in French in 1999, and English translation in 2001, it won the Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie française in 1999. However, its depiction of Western stereotypes of Japanese office-life do sit a little uneasily – and given that she calls her protagonist Amélie and builds in elements from her own experience it is hard to know where the satire begins and ends. However much of it is based on real-life, I hope that things have moved on some nowadays.

Having previously read another of Nothumb’s novellas, The Book of Proper Names reviewed here, which was an absurdist ugly duckling tale, I was looking forward to reading this one. I was slightly disappointed by Fear and Trembling, but I am still keen to read more by France’s ‘literary lioness’ as Nothumb is often monickered. (6.5/10)

witmonth15* * * * *

Don’t forget that August is Women in Translation Month – hosted by Meytal at Biblibio.

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK (affiliate link), please click below:
Fear and Tremblingby Amélie Nothumb, trans Adriana Hunter. Faber, paperback, 132 pages.

A Books Into Movies Day Out near Watford

Harry Potter – Warner Brothers Studio Tour

I didn’t fool you for a minute, did I? It could only be the Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour – my first visit, a return for my daughter, and I think I was more excited than she was! I feel compelled to share some of it with you. It was utterly fabulous, and in comparison with places like Madame Tussaud’s which has similar entrance prices – much more worth it! Even better, is that apart from the mannequins wearing some of the costumes, everything you see was really part of the films – no reproductions. We took copious amounts of pictures, you could just treat it as one long photo op – but I tried to spend time reading at least some of the explanatory texts and watching snatches of video around the tour – but my inner big kid took over a lot of the time… here’s a few snaps of our favourite bits:


Hermione’s ball dress from HP IV

You go through the huge doors after watching a short video introduced by Dan, Emma and Rupert into the Great Hall with its real Yorkstone flagged floor. From there you pass into the Aladdin’s cave of props, costumes and smaller room sets. The level of detail in everything is fantastic!

My daughter still loves Hermione’s ball dress from the Goblet of Fire.  I was fascinated by the wigs:

DSC_0099 I think Snape is my favourite character of the whole series, doubly so because of Alan Rickman, but I love Snape on the page too.

We did some obligatory selfies in the mirror of Erised – it didn’t show anything different, but maybe as we were enjoying ourselves so much …

P1020640You could spend hours looking at all the items in Dumbledore’s study, but we did spot the Sorting Hat lurking on a high shelf. Likewise the kitchen in The Burrow (home of the Weasleys) complete with all the animated gadgets.  Juliet spotted their cereal box – Cheeri-owls! I marveled at the green tiles of the Ministry of Magic, of my favourite sets.

P1020684New for 2015 at the studio tour is the arrival of the Hogwarts Express. (Engine plus one carriage on the full platform 9 3/4)

We went through the carriage – which is a revamped original – I remember those compartmented carriages as a child.

I took an obligatory photo of Juliet pushing her trolley through the wall, but we decided not to pay £14 for an official photo of us sitting in the train carriage.

DSC_0134Then it was time to pause in the cafe for a Butterbeer. We had to try this bizarre beverage, which looks like cider, but tastes a bit biscuity with butterscotch froth on top. The froth is essentially unfrozen ice-cream and was a bit sickly sweet, but it was all part of the fun.

Out onto the backlot to see the Knight Bus,  and the exterior of No 4 Privet Drive etc.  I loved the rickety Hogwarts bridge – they only ever made the one section, special effects made it span the valley.

Then I indulged in a photo op instead of my daughter, getting behind the wheel of the Weasley’s Ford Anglia! This vehicle is the subject of one of my favourite HP film quotes.  The Weasley boys  are being told off for using Mr Weasley’s car to rescue Harry:

P1020726Molly Weasley: “Your sons flew that enchanted car of yours to Surrey and back last night.

Arthur: “Did you really? How did it go?


Next came the animatronics and special effects section. All kinds of servo-driven creatures and things were on display – from Buckbeak, to Hagrid’s head, presided over by Aragog hanging from the ceiling!

P1020751Then through a gallery of architectural and technical drawings and card models. It’s a shame that some of the drawings weren’t available as prints – I’d have bought one like a shot, but sadly the only art print in the shop was a small sketch of Hogwarts castle for £40 unframed.

The final highlight of the tour is the huge model of Hogwarts Castle which gets a whole room to itself.  A spectacular end to a wonderful experience (although the shock of the prices in the shop is a whole other level of experience!)



A brilliant trip!  Have you been? If not, I’d recommend it to all Harry Potter fans, young or old.

Meeting Commissaire Adamsberg

Seeking Whom He May Devour by Fred Vargas

Translated by David Bellos

Adamsberg 2Although not my first read of French author Fred Vargas (that was The Three Evangelists – reviewed here), this was my first encounter with her detective Commissaire Adamsberg. SWHMD is the second novel featuring him. I prefer to read a series in order, but don’t have the first, The Chalk Circle Man, and in this case I don’t think it really mattered in introducing me to Adamsberg who, until well over halfway into this novel is peripheral to the action!

I was intrigued by the English title of the novel, which I found comes from the bible:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.

1 Peter 5.8

What is stranger is that it contrasts so much from the original French title: L’Homme à l’envers – The inside-out man – which is not such a good title in English.

The novel is set in SE France, amongst the villages nestling near the alpine foothills surrounded by sheep farms and where life conforms to a rural idyll.  Le Parc National du Mercantor is a forested region bordering Italy, and wildlife experts are closely monitoring the wolves who have crossed the Alps from Italy. One of the experts, a taciturn Canadian called Lawrence Johnstone, is obsessed by the wolves,  he even looks after one that is too old to hunt by leaving him rabbits.  Johnstone lives with Camille, an enigmatic musician, who when not composing soundtracks for TV programmes, does plumbing.

One night, some sheep are killed. The toothmarks seem to indicate a giant wolf. Johnstone believes that it may be a large wolf who has not been seen for a while, whom he names Crassus the Bald.  More sheep are killed and their owner Suzanne thinks it is a werewolf:

Camille tried to make out Johnstone’s face in the dark, to see whether he was having her on, or what. But the Canadian’s expression remained stony and serious.
“Are you talking about the kind of guy who turns into a monster at night with claws that grow and hair that sprouts all over and canines that stick out over his lower lip? The sort of guy who goes around eating people lost at night in the woods and then stuffs his hairy chest inside his suit jacket in the morning before going into the office?”
“You got it,” said Johnstone, seriously. “A werewolf.”

…which explains the French title.  But Suzanne is brutally murdered in similar fashion the next day.  When a local man, Massart, a misfit who lived alone goes missing, and a map is found in his hut with crosses where the sheep were killed and a route going through the region marked on it, Suzanne’s friends decide it must be him and form a posse to catch him. Johnstone heads back into the park to track the wolves.

Soliman is Suzanne’s adopted son. Presumed to be African, he was abandoned as a baby, and being the only black person around stands out amongst the locals. Watchee is Suzanne’s ancient shepherd. Neither of them can drive, so they persuade Camille, who it turns out has an HGV licence, to ferry them in a converted sheep truck.  They set off on the chase through the perilous mountain roads, living in the back of the lanolin-steeped old lorry. They’re always one step behind though, there are more sheep killings and two more men are murdered. This always playing catch-up gives the trio time to talk, bicker and bond. They are a likeable band, but you do wonder what they would actually do if they caught up with Massart.

What of Commissaire Adamsberg?  He has been following the sheep murders on the news back in Paris where he has his own problem, living in hiding as a woman stalker has vowed to kill him for putting a bullet in the gut of their gang leader:

Adamsberg could see her now, standing on the other side of the street. […] when she came out in the open, like today, Adamsberg did not know whether she had a weapon on her or not. She often kept visible watch on him like that – to try his nerves he reckoned. Adamsberg’s easygoing nature kept him at a steady rhythm, which was always slow, almost detached. It was not easy, therefore, to know whether he was taking a genuine interest in something or whether he didn’t give a damn. More out of indolence rather than courage, Commissaire Adamsberg did not know what it was to be scared.
His imperturbable low key had an almost magical calming effect on other people, and brought about genuine miracles in the interrogation of suspects. People like Inspector Danglard, who felt all of life’s big and little bumps in his bones, like a cyclists for ever riding a new leather saddle, despaired of getting Adamsberg to react to anything. Just to react? That wasn’t asking for the moon, was it, now?

The trio need help, and Camille knows a flic who can – Adamsberg; they used to be lovers.  She makes the call. Adamsberg is happy to be drawn into the investigation, and to see Camille again. With him on the team, the quartet should surely be able to find the killer, whatever or whoever they are…

Like the other Vargas book I read, SWHMD was an unconventional crime novel, but always fascinating. It has brutal crimes within its pages, yet managed to have an engaging, wry sense of humour that drew me in, due to the strength of her characters.  Camille is such a strong woman, I have to hope that she might crop up again, but Adamsberg himself is enigmatic and, in his considered manner, reminded me a lot of Maigret!  It is a brave author that doesn’t bring her detective into the fray until page 162 out of 263, although he does follow the crimes from the start of the book.  I also liked the way that the superstitious villagers could believe in the old werewolf legends, building up the tension. More Vargas novels are definitely on the cards after reading this one. (9/10)

witmonth15Don’t forget that August is Women in Translation Month – hosted by Meytal at Biblibio.

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon, please click below (affiliate link):
Seeking Whom He May Devour (Commissaire Adamsberg) by Fred Vargas (1999), trans David Bellos (2004). Vintage paperback.

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