#bookswap – the reviews

Thank you to Kate for her beautiful #bookswap reviews – I’ve read both books yet want to dive straight back into them. If you’ve been pondering writing your review/s, please do – we can’t wait to hear more about what everyone got and what you thought.
I was lucky enough to receive 2 breath-taking books (thank you again Anna!) and I took a while to read and savor them. Then I took a while to let them sink in, as they demanded a bit of sinking-in time.
[Anna, remember I said that I actually had read After You’d Gone  before, but couldn't remember the details? I didn't understand why or how I’d forgotten it, but knew I loved it,  until I was a good way in, and even then it wasn't the plot I remembered.  It was heartbreak.  I was barely coping after an ended relationship when I read it the first time, and I think I must have read it on a purely sensory and emotional level.  The watery themes were instantly familiar and the loss and grief portrayed is so stark, so raw that I could actually taste my own old loss. I think when those emotions in me healed up the book went away with them, it was linked to something too painful to be an easily accessible memory.  Mystery solved.
I was so pleased to come away from it this time with a more rounded experience of the whole beautiful book, but my god what writing. ] Anyway,  here are my reviews:
After You’d Gone  – Maggie O Farrell
This book is achingly beautiful; both the story-line and the writing.  Simply put, it’s a bittersweet love story with themes of family, love and moral choices.  It deals with Alice, her family, the love story of Alice and John, and how Alice comes to be in a coma.  It’s written as a series of vignettes which are not in chronological order, allowing the reader to experience snapshots of intimately observed and detailed scenarios of Alice’s life in London, Alice and her sisters growing up in Scotland in her grandmother’s house, her mum’s married life, and her love affair with John.  These snapshots of Alice’s memories build suspense, yet flow and meld together eventually forming a clearing picture of how and why Alice is in acoma – accident or suicide attempt?  The inconsistent chronology is handled with finesse, echoing the way our memories work and enhancing and adding realism to Alice’s condition. The author’s writing is pared down to create a haunting, deeply emotional and above all, luminous book.
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
I was delighted to receive this as The Goldfinch has become one of my favorite books but I’d never read this.  It begins by revealing that Richard and his student friends have been involved in a murder.  The plot then takes second place to the development of these strong central characters and the creation of a romantic, vividly picturesque university campus setting.  Eventually the pace quickens and plot thickens, and with it comes the reasons the characters were involved in the murder, the looming of an inexorable climax and a clinging hope that perhaps, things may not end as intimated. There are murky and complex themes throughout which make this book dense yet enlightening reading: – tragedy; Greek history and philosophy; friendship and the yearning to belong; beauty, decay and destruction.  The author gains powerful control over the reader with her beautiful prose and deliberate structure and pace, then creates tension by pitting the fundamentally unlikable characters against the compulsion to follow their actions.  This book is very clever, thought-provoking, and utterly, darkly compelling.
Categories: Books
7 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted July 30, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Wow sounds like perfect book choices! May have to go visit my local library to give these a try now…

  2. Posted July 30, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Maggie O Farrell is a fantastic writer, one of favourites. Such a lovely, simple but lyrical clarity to her writing. I love ‘After You’d Gone’ but I also very much loved ‘Disappearing Act of Esme Lennox’.

    You might like Helen Dunmore if you like Maggie…Similar, but perhaps more poetic and sensuous writer (o-errr!).

    • Posted July 30, 2014 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

      I LOVE The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. I think Maggie O’Farrell has a certain structure to her books though so I can’t read too many too close together.

      Also as a note on the main post I MUCH preferred The Secret History to the Goldfinch. I need to finish my books from Anita. I have been struggling with reading lately though I romped through the Vacationers in one day, so it may just be the sort of thing I am in the mood for reading. So far this year the best thing was Monsieur Linh and his Child. Broke my heart wide open.

  3. Posted July 30, 2014 at 5:01 pm | Permalink


    Putting both of these on the list. The best book I’ve read this year so far is The First 13 Lives of Harry August (courtesy of lovely Gemma). Twas ace.

  4. Posted July 30, 2014 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    I feel like I’ve read After You’d Gone before but at the same time I’m fairly sure I haven’t so will have to check it out. Also intrigued about The Secret History – have got Goldfinch on my to-read list but haven’t got round to it yet (probably because it’s on my kindle and I’m really into taking books out of our library at the moment.

    The best book I’ve read this year is Witch Light by Susan Fletcher (also published under the title Corrag), all about witchcraft and Scottish/English history and society pre-1707. Highly recommended.

    • Posted July 31, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      I really liked Susan Fletcher’s ‘A Silver Dark Sea’, which is based around myths of the lure of the sea, and love and losing someone you love.

  5. deltafoxtrotcharlie
    Posted July 31, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I preferred The Little Friend to the Secret History (I liked them both, don’t get me wrong but I liked TLF more…)

    Highly recommend that to Tartt-lovers (?!)

    Is it just me or does anyone else wish she’d be a bit more prolific??

    My bookswaps were ace, must get round to writing review

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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