Category Archives: Vintage 21 Rainbow

These are my posts about books from the Vintage 21 Rainbow Collection.

The ones I have so far are:

The Gathering by Anne Enright (teal)
Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor (turquoise)
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (purple)
Possession by A. S. Byatt (violet)
Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee (oxblood)
The Road Home by Rose Tremain (olive)
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres (blue)
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (red)
Arthur & George by Julian Barnes (beige)
Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky (magenta)
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (black)
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (white)

The rest of the books on the list are:

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
American Pastoral by Philip Roth
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Money by Martin Amis
A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

The Road Home

I had never heard of “The Road Home” by Rose Tremain before I started collecting books in the Vintage 21 Rainbow set. It quickly became apparent that it was another immigration-themed novel, but unlike my last experience, this one is actually rather brilliant.

The story follows Lev, a recently widowed man who has left his mother and daughter behind in his home country (never specified, but suggested to be Eastern European) in search of work and a new life in London. While he’s there, he struggles with grief, homesickness, finding work, meeting people and envisioning a future for himself without his wife.

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“The Road Home” is a great novel. There’s no question. Tremain has a real knack for observation, and weaves together all the pieces of her knowledge of people and places to create a work that is striking in its realism. Lev is a real antihero. He’s dreamy, he’s often inconsiderate, he’s aimless and he’s completely relatable. Every thought, every mistake, every little piece of humanity that he notices makes this book feel like it really is something that could have actually happened. The people that Lev meets are just as interesting, complex and human as he is with their own flaws and their own dreams.

Not a huge amount happens in this book, so if you’re looking for something fast-paced and action-packed, you won’t find it here. What you will find is an intricate, thoughtful book about identity, discovery and direction. It’s a book about being an adult and becoming an adult, which for some people can take a couple of decades longer than others. “The Road Home” was a real surprise, and would make a great holiday read or a great weekend book where you can give it a bit of time, savour it and step into someone else’s world for a while.

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Possession

“Possession” by A. S. Byatt is another of the Vintage 21 series and this edition is striking with its purple cover and page edges. Its genre has been described as “historiographic metafiction“, which is a fancy term for a postmodern fusion of historical fiction and alternative history. When aspirational literary academic Roland Michell discovers the suggestion of correspondence between renowned (fictional) Victorian poet Randolf Henry Ash and acclaimed pre-feminist poet Christabel LaMotte, he embarks on a secret treasure hunt with LaMotte expert Maud Bailey to find out the true nature of their relationship. This novel fulfils a sort of historian’s fantasy by uncovering the suggestion of an illicit tryst between two famous poets over 100 years after the fact.

This book is a slow burn. At first I found it hard to see why on earth I should care about the lives of literary figures who have never existed, however the story soon becomes engrossing. “Possession” is both intricate and fussy with a very English infatuation with collected objects, quiet trips, countryside rambles and Roland and Maud’s shared dream about being alone in a bed with clean white sheets.

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In typical Booker Prize winner fasion, “Possession” has rather an unconventional structure with the escapades of Roland and Maud in their modern setting interspersed with letter excerpts, poems and documents from Ash and LaMotte. Byatt is clearly very clever and her writing is beautiful if somewhat stilted. She manages to bring each character to life and give them their own unique voice, particularly when comparing Ash’s poetry to LaMotte’s.

“Possession” did seem a little heavy on the plot devices and it is just a little too convenient that each piece of the puzzle is found in perfect chronology. However, the reader’s efforts are rewarded with a supremely satisfying ending where absolutely everything is tidily resolved.

Nevertheless, this is not a book for everyone. I think opinions about it would largely be divided between “this is boring, I can’t be bothered” and “this is both exquisite and captivating”. To really enjoy Byatt’s novel you need to have a sense of perserverence and a real love for the English language, and if you do, it is well worth the read.

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The Gathering

This was a difficult book for me to read, and almost an equally difficult review for me to write.

My copy of “The Gathering” by Anne Enright is a Vintage 21 Rainbow edition, which means that from a purely aesthetic perspective it’s a great book. It’s an almost forest green with matching tinted edges, and is set (rather aptly) in Ireland. “The Gathering” was the winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2007, so I think you would be likely to find quite a lot of people who would sing its praises. A lot of people who are not me.

I read this book while I was on a weekend away with some friends of mine down the coast. It was rather a windy, rainy weekend and there quite a lot of people squished together in the small house, rowdy with drinking, so really the conditions for reading a bleak, tormented book like this were perfect.

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The story is written from the perspective of Veronica, an Irish mother of two in her late thirties and herself one of twelve children. When her alcoholic brother Liam commits suicide, she and her remaining, and in some cases estranged, siblings rally together for the funeral at their home town of Dublin, where their insipid mother still lives.

While Veronica dutifully goes through the motions of making calls, collecting the body and explaining what happened to her daughters, she attempts to revisit and interpret her family’s past and at the same time struggles to decide what to do with her own future.

There is no question that Enright is a talented writer. Her prose is clever and evocative, and rich (though somewhat blunt) with theme and suggestion. It wasn’t the quality of writing that was the issue for me.

Perhaps it was the approach of the unreliable narrator, and the disjointed blending of past and present. Fellow Booker Prize winner “Midnight’s Children” by Salman Rushdie used both of these techniques in an even more glaring way, and maybe I just haven’t quite recovered yet from reading that book last year. The protagonist’s hazy memories, half recollection and half conjecture, are doubtless an effective storytelling strategy to showcase the difficulty of extracting facts from events where all the other witnesses are now dead. However, just like Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children”, sometimes in trying to make your clever literary point, you sacrifice the flow of the story and, ultimately, your reader’s interest.

Maybe it was the author’s depiction of family that I had difficulty with. Maybe I would be able to relate better had I been one of 12 rather than one of 4. Maybe that’s the point – that nobody could relate, not even the siblings themselves. Not even enough to trust each other with secrets and pain.

Or maybe it was the sheer distaste bordering on disgust with which Enright writes about sex. Her fixation on how grotesque genitals are is a little disturbing, and I found myself wondering (correctly) exactly what she was leading into with this. To be honest, the book reminded me a lot of “Bride Stripped Bare” by Nikki Gemmell, or even “The Almost Moon” by Alice Sebold, with its gripping but ultimately pointless realism.

“The Gathering” is not a bad book, but neither is it a good one. The two questions I ask when determining whether I like a book are:

a) was I entertained? or

b) did I learn something?

My answer for both regarding this book would have to be no. “The Gathering” left me largely unsatisfied and not a little uncomfortable. It was a slog of a read, and did not seem to impart any lessons or messages except to occasionally unveil half-truths about the fictional lives of fictional characters. My struggle with Booker Prize winners continues.

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Star of the Sea

For my first ever post on my brand new book blog, I thought I would start with this absolute gem that I read over the Christmas holidays. “Star of the Sea” by Joseph O’Connor is a book that has everything: murder, suspense, history, politics, tragedy, a ship, romance, culture and philosophy. When I picked this book up solely because it is part of the Vintage 21 Rainbow collection that I have been hunting avidly for the last year and therefore is a very pretty turquoise paperback with matching tinted page edges, I had very few expectations for its actual content. However, the blurb on the back intrigued me, and I packed it (along with a number of others) in my backpack to read during my Christmas holiday in the UK. Serendipitously, it was the book I was reading when the weather was finally still enough to take my aunt and uncle’s narrow boat out for the day. If travelling sedately in a boat, cosied up next to a fireplace, on a canal, on a clear winter’s day in the English countryside is not the perfect place to read about the trials and intrigue of a ship’s journey from starving Ireland to the USA in the mid-1800s, then I have no idea what is.

Star of the Sea

“Star of the Sea”, published in 2004, has an ensemble cast of characters brought together on a journey to America whose lives are far more intertwined than first meets the eye. Posited as a murder-mystery-cum-autobiography of one of the passengers, the  novel is tied together by the looming threat of a murder and the increasingly grim conditions on board the eponymous ship. The chapters are interspersed with political cartoons and newspaper articles which paint an unsettling picture of the racial profiling and blatant discrimination directed at the Irish at the time. As a reader following dramatic revelation after dramatic revelation, it is hard to form firm allegiances or sympathies with any of the main characters and I was left with the impression that each character was as complex as the unlikely set of circumstances that had led them onto the ship in the first place. This book wasn’t boring for a moment, and while I felt as though O’Connor may have overused suspense as his primary plot device, the effect this mishmash of genres had was both surprising and lingering. After I finished it, I found myself thinking about this book for days. I talked to people about it. I exclaimed, I bemoaned and I wondered.

I think that this is a book that just about anyone can get something out of, and if you’re looking for a holiday read to sink your literary teeth into, this is a great choice.

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