Mona Lisa by Alexander Lernet-Holenia

Recently I had to make a journey that would provide an hour where I could attend to nothing other than the bliss of reading. I decided to look through a recent selection of books that have made their way into my flat and my eyes immediately fell on the perfect travel companion. Mona Lisa by Lernet-Holenia has been published by Pushkin Press in a delightful pocket sized format and as I am constantly impressed by their output I knew I would be in safe hands. Coming in at under the 100 page mark this novella is an utterly charming distraction from the world for an hour or so, with a handful of beautiful black and white illustrations throughout I think most readers would be happy to find this popped into their stocking this Christmas.

We are taken back to 1502 as a squadron of the French army pay a visit to Florence while touring through Italy. Instructed to gather gifts for the King, Louis XII, they quickly make their way to the home and studio of a certain Mr da Vinci. After greeting his guests from across the border da Vinci is quick to inform them that he is not currently working on any artistic endeavours, but an entertaining dispute leads to the accidental unveiling of the Mona Lisa. A young soldier is stopped in his tracks by this entrancing beauty gazing at him from the canvas and she quickly consumes his every thought. Determined to find out who, and where, this woman is, our young, smitten protagonist ‘de Bougainville’ finds his life suddenly spiralling out of control as he refuses to accept explanations given about Mona Lisa and is soon making 1 plus 1 equal 5. Assuming there are sinister secrets keeping the woman who is surely his true love away from him we can only sit back and watch as the situation escalates and Bougainville’s sanity is questioned as he goes to extremes for the object of his affection.

Lernet-Holenia always considered his poetry to be where his real talent lay, but he also has several pieces of fiction out there which deal with weighty issues such as World War 1 and the Austria that he knew when he served in the army. This novella may not hold any of this heft, reading sometimes as a historical farce, but I find it to be an entertaining delight, something of an amuse bouche that has left me tantalised to try more.

Mona Lisa by Alexander Lernet-Holenia £10 (Puskin Press)

 

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Mona Lisa by Alexander Lernet-Holenia

Official launch party of Dogeared Reads with Special Guest!

Although the paint has dried, the cushions plumped on the armchair and the first visitors have started to roll on in, we really couldn’t open the dogeared reading space without a celebration could we?! Welcome to… The Launch Party! Grab yourself a glass of bubbly (although of course a pot of tea is at the ready for those who want to keep things ‘dogeared’ style)

If you haven’t visited before, please wander round and make yourself at home. This is a space for those simply dipping their toes into the literary pool to see if they want to further dive in while also very much a safe place for those with book addiction, somewhere they can come and be amongst friends and share their ‘issues’ – struggling at work today as you only had 2 hours sleep because you had to finish those last pages? That is ok my friend, we will soothe and comfort you with our shared experiences, possibly becoming something of book pushers as we divulge the title that resulted in the dark circles under our eyes. So please, introduce yourself in the comments, share any favourite reads of late, or warn your fellow friends of a book that has not given you sufficient enough of a buzz – when bad books happen to good people I think we can all sympathise.

Like all good opening ceremonies we have started supping our champagne but really we need to get cutting the glorious red velvet ribbon to make things ‘official’, and heavens, you didn’t think little old me would be doing it did you?! No! Dogeared readers deserve the best, so if you could all be upstanding to greet our special guest who is going to toast our new home, the wonderful author of ‘Etta and Otto and Russell and James’, Emma Hooper! *room bursts into applause before polite shushing in anticipation of Emma’s speech*

Unlike many other art forms like theatre, film and live music, reading is most often a solitary pursuit. Even visual artist often consumed in public, gallery spaces. There is something wonderfully insulatory about the solitary act of reading, a retreat, a comfort in oneself; however, there is something lonely about it too. To digest art is, very often, to want to share and compare, opinions, interpretations, ideas stirred. That is why forums like this blog are important. They give readers a chance and a place to turn this solitary act, at least temporarily, into a communal one. To achieve the depth of experience that sometimes only comes from sharing and listening and discussing. A wonderful thing indeed, like this blog, and all other forums and formats like it. As an author AND a reader, well, I think this is just about one of the best things there is. Long may this blog continue. Long may this discussion continue.”

Thank you Emma for your lovely words! It is true that this space can be all about community, although I may be the one tapping away the review you guys can make this space just as much your own by chatting away in the comments. If you are not so much one for typing out your thoughts, then that is ok too, read away and engage with this space as much or as little as you want to. Remember – you can also get involved with the content of the site, if there is a book you would like to see discussed, or maybe a list of great recommendations for Christmas presents, do not hesitate to give me a message and I will get straight on it! If you don’t fancy posting in the public comment section you can bend my ear using dogearedreads1@gmail.com.

Now enough of the talkin’ and time to get dancin’ (or to huddle in the kitchen discussing Anna Karenina – hard done by woman or just a bit of a whinge?), kick off your shoes and settle in for the night – just no drinks on top of the book piles ok?!

Until next time – happy reading folks!

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper £7.99 (Penguin)

*Don’t worry gang, we will be hearing more about the wonderful Emma Hooper when I review her wonderful first novel. For more of her beautiful words you can find her on twitter @waitress4thbees or watch her performing, multi talented wonder that she is, in her band, just click here to have a look.

Official launch party of Dogeared Reads with Special Guest!

‘spill simmer falter wither’ by Sara Baume

At first glance it seems only fitting that the first book reviewed on this site should be one that focuses so heavily on all things canine, but it rightly earned this opening position by leaving me reeling by its emotional intensity and poetic language. After finishing the last page and laying the book by my side I found myself staring at my wall for half an hour letting this tale sink into my bones.

We are introduced to Ray, a 57 year old man who feels underserving of a name that summons up images of sunbeams, as he goes about an isolated life in a small seaside town. Living, or possibly sheltering, in a house that he once shared with his father, Ray welcomes in his first real friendship when he makes the decision to take on a dog from the local kennel. Rescued after a life of badger baiting Ray seems to find himself reflected in the dogs now disfigured face, noting when he first gazes on the photo advertising the hounds face in the local newsagents “I see my own mangled face peering dolefully back”. Christened ‘One Eye’ the pair form a close knit duo who head out for coastal walks when the rest of the community close their doors for the night, Ray to avoid the looks that seem to him wary and suspicious, One Eye to avoid aggressive run ins with other dogs or small children.

They begin to fall into everyday routine and Ray confides in One Eye in a way in which he has never managed with a human before. Gradually his story is unpeeled, a complicated and lonely life with his father while friendship always remained firmly on the other side of the window he would gaze out of. An observer of life, he tells the dog “I’m not the kind of person who is able to do things, have I told you that? I lie down and let life leave its footprints on me”. This is not to be the case for much longer though as a sudden altercation on an evening walk forces this solitary sole to take to road with his scant savings to protect this one relationship that has come to mean everything to him.

The pair travel through the countryside by day and sleep on quiet roadsides by night as they push on, running away but with nowhere to go. The reader can do nothing but watch these two desperate creatures struggle on as they find solace in each other and their survival against all odds.

I was struck when reading this novel by the extent to which nature and landscape become almost a third character. The language used by Baume to describe the hedgerows, birds and the darkening sky means you immediately recognise the place they are travelling without it ever being named. The books title reflects the seasons in which this story is told and the pattern of new life awakening and then as the year goes on descending into darkness makes us wary of the arc the pair are on.

Baume has written short stories in the past but this is her first foray with the novel. She has arrived on the literary scene with a book that is tells a tender and fragile tale but is written with confidence and a slightly experimental style that has paid off, writing in both the first and second person, which adds texture to what could appear a quiet conversational piece.

I am a fast reader yet ‘spill simmer falter wither’ demanded that I took my time and absorbed every single word, a book that made me want to read aloud sentences and paragraphs to those around me exclaiming “just listen to how beautiful this is..”. This will be a novel that stays with me long after that last sentence, one that I will be pressing into hands of those looking for a talented new voice, Sara Baume – I wait eagerly for your next outing.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baum, published by Heinemann £7.99

‘spill simmer falter wither’ by Sara Baume