I’ve been spending a lot of time on youtube recently enjoying book haul videos.  Contemplated doing it myself until I saw the pilot.  It’s not going to happen without pre-requisite plastic surgery and that’s never going to happen.

Instead, I shall share my annual Edinburgh splurge here, and given that it was financed by my final pay cheque, this may be the last splurge ever (unless I finance another by eating bread and jam for a month or two.). This post will also prove how irresistible the festival  bookshop in Charlotte Square is to me.  Although I am not alone in that. 62,000 full-price sales in 17 days is phenomenal book-selling,  isn’t it?  Publishers must love #edbookfest as much as I do.  Anyway, here is my small contribution to the book-buying frenzy.


The #edbookfest dozen

From left to right:

James Robertson: To Be Continued *
Each year  I pick out the best looking cover in the shop and acquire the book.   Oh yes, judging a book by its cover has benefits.  I’ve discovered some great reads this way.  Usually I add to my gold-gilted collection rather like Fitzgerald’s Flappers and Philosophers which I purchased about three years ago.  This year, however, I found quirky to be the most attractive look.  Couldn’t work it out … Until I got home and looked at my new party dress.


Setting the trend in matching accessories

I’m not worried about not enjoying the novel.  I’ve read plenty from James Robertson before.  This will be good.

A Country Road, A Tree – Jo Baker / Dat Trickster Sun: Poems – Christine De Luca  / The Lamentations – Mark Lawson / The Woman Next Door – Yemande Omatose * 

Four novels, the acquisition of which were directly fuelled  by the authors during their events. Fellow Lancastrian Baker’s second novel takes on the years Samuel Beckett spent in Paris; the years that, according to Baker, transformed him from a talent to a literary giant.     Christine de Luca is the current Edinburgh Makar and this pamphlet of poems in English and Shetlandic joins my collection of the Makars’ poetry.  The Lamentations deals with the devastation of historic sexual abuse allegations, tapping directly into contemporary issues and my unease with how we, as a society, are dealing with this. My interest in Omatose’s novel was spiked when I realised that the neighbour from hell  wasn’t a Hyacinth Bucket figure, but that her novel, dealing with post-apartheid racial issues in South Africa has much more depth to it than that.

How to Look For A Lost Dog – Ann M Martin
Ah, the dangers of spending a sunny afternoon on the Charlotte Square lawn in bookish chat with  other festivallers.  Anne from Dublin, suitcase in tow, had just arrived, but had already succumbed to the children’s bookshop.  Of course, I asked her what she’d bought, and, following the conversation, I had to get a copy of this book for myself.

Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story – Bernadette Murphy *
Ah, the dangers of standing in a queue waiting for Susan Fletcher to sign my copy of Let Me Tell You About A Man I Knew and striking up a conversation with her publisher, which turned to this book.  Given that my house is full of Van Gogh prints (not Pre-Raphaelites, surprisingly) of course I sought a review copy.

Walking with James Hogg – Bruce Gilkinson / How to travel without seeing – Andres Neuman
I’m going to be taking some long trips in the next 12 months (and blogging may be sporadic, depending on wifi access).  I’m contemplating writing about these travels, but have no idea how to go about it.  Hence my attendance at these events and the addition of these travelogues to my shelves.

The Nature of Autumn – Jim Crumley
Because autumn is my favourite season, and watching the leaves on the trees in Charlotte Square change colour is  one of the great pleasures of the book festival.  Plus this was the runner up in my favourite cover competition and I had a discount voucher to trade.

Dragon Games – Jan-Philippe Sender / Dream Story – Arthur Schnitzler
Because coming back from the Edinburgh International Book Festival without some new German literature simply will not do.  German Literature was poorly represented this year. (Mind, I can’t think off-hand of any big UK-published releases this year.) Anyway,  I read and enjoyed the first in Sendker’s Dragon Rising Trilogy last year and, although I couldn’t attend his event this time, I’m looking forward to reading this.  As for Schnitzler in the new coloured Penguin classics format, how could I resist?

So there we have it.  12 acquisitions during the first 10 days of the festival.  (Books marked with an asterisk are review copies, kindly sent by the publishers.) Just think what might have happened had I been able to attend for the full 17 days. (Which is the plan for next year. Now where is the bread and jam?)

imageTranslated from Hebrew by Sondra Silverston

Ayelet Gundar-Goshen is a psychologist and her deep insight into human nature infuses every page of her second novel to be translated into English.  At her recent Edinburgh Book Festival event she made the following points:

a) We each have more than one personality.  Our lives do not follow a single arc.
b) We spend a lot of time hiding our true nature.   We make ourselves attractive so that  others do not see the real person beneath.
c) We often choose not to see what is right in front of us.

The drama involving Eitan, his wife, and an Ethiopian illegal immigrant, Sirkit is designed to show how this plays out in life.

Eitan Green is a neurosurgeon.  He lives with his wife, Liat, and his two young sons in Beersheba.  They are happy despite his posting to a dusty, southern outback being a kind of demotion, a punishment for causing waves in his previous post in Jerusalem.  Yet Eitan’s life and all his assumptions about himself are changed in an instant.

He’s thinking that the moon is the most beautiful he has ever seen when he hits the man.

What is Eitan going to do?  The doctor in him forces him out of the car.  The doctor in him ascertains that the man, an illegal Ethiopian immigrant, is beyond help.  The man in him realises that reporting the accident could lead to the loss of his family and career.  Also that there are no witnesses.  So, surprising the honest Eitan in himself (see a) above), he drives off.

The following day, with Eitan feeling no guilt, there is a knock at the door.

The woman at the door was tall, thin and very beautiful, but Eitan didn’t notice any of those details.  Two others captured his full attention: she was Eritrean and she was holding his wallet in her hand.

And it is at that moment that Eitan’s universe tilts on its axis because the woman, Sirkit, holds more than the wallet, which Eitan dropped when examining the dying man.  She holds, for the first time in her life,  absolute power.  The lion, the predator within her, has been awoken and she is on the prowl. What does she want?  Not money.  She wants Eitan to establish an illegal field hospital for the multitude of sick Eritrean immigrants and for him to treat them, for free, whenever he is not working at the hospital.  However, don’t believe that Sirkit is motivated by altruism.  It takes a while for her motives to be revealed.  Bear in mind point b) above.

Which leaves us with point c) and Liat, Eitan’s wife, is the prime example of this.  She is a detective and ironically, tasked with finding the hit and run driver.  While the rest of the force is happy to sweep it under the carpet (it’s just another illegal immigrant), Liat is not. Yet when faced with Eitan’s ever-increasing absences, his deteriorating appearance, and the breakdown in their up-till-now model communications, she is not prepared to ask the questions that need asking – at least not until the point of almost no return.

The foregoing basically scratches the surface of the psychological drama at the heart of Waking Lions.  The relationship between Sirkit and Eitan, blackmailer and blackmailee,  isn’t confined to hatred.  Gradually the muscles of hatred grow tired said Ayelet Gunden-Goshar.  Which leads to more complications for Eitan. His involvement  makes him aware of the Etritreans and their plight for the first time.  He begins to feel empathy for them, which  means he does not walk away when circumstances lead to the balance of power shifting between Sirkit and himself.


Ayelet Gunden-Goshar 20.08.2016

At times the relationship between Sirkit and Eitan feels like a deadly embrace. There needs to be a catalyst to break it.  And that is provided by the fact that Eitan not only killed an illegal immigrant but also a drug-mule.  Not only does this provide the acceleration to the thrillery climax, it gives Gunden-Goshar opportunity to investigate the stratified nature of contemporary society in Israel.  At the bottom the illegal, and for the most part invisible Etritreans, who find they have not walked to a promised land.  Above them – just – the Bedouins, reduced to making a living by providing tourist shows.  And then the Jews:  the Arab Jews who are discriminated agrainst by the European Jews.

Such an informative and surprising novel with lots of content in its 409 pages.  I did feel a little drag around the half-way point, but, I suppose this reflects the situation Eitan was in at this point – there was no light at the end of the tunnel for him.  It may also have been the efffect of reading the novel in snatches, as I travelled back and forth to Edinburgh.  Regardless I’m glad I pushed on through.  I was well rewarded for my efforts.

imageTranslated from Czech by Alex Zucker

Experts agree that animals are almost like people.. As long as they’ve got a nice place to live and something to keep them entertained, they can do without freedom … In a good zoo, where they’re well-fed and have a chance to socialize, most animals are happier than they would be … in lonely and dangerous freedom.

That quote neatly summarises the attitude of the Communist regime in 1950’s Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia. Kovály’s novel demonstrates the impact of such on the citizens of Prague, or more accurately the impact on a microcosm of society, the 2 usherettes and their manager at the Horizon Cinema in Steep Street, who come under the close scrutiny of the security services following the murder of a young child in the projection room.

The ladies all have uncomfortable secrets.  At the centre is Helena Nováková, whose husband has been falsely imprisoned on charges of espionage.  Guilty by association, fired and spurned by her former publishing colleagues, she is now working at the cinema because it is the only way she can earn a living.  The regime cannot, however, accept her innocence, and so begin to track her every movement.  The manager is a state informant, tasked to do just this.  The second usherette is having an affair with a local police inspector, who, despite having solved the child’s murder, continues to keep a watchful eye on the cinema.

The puzzle of who is who and what they are up to is not easy to piece together – deliberately so, to reflect the realities and paranoias in 1950’s Prague. Chapters often begin with a knock on the door and the entry of an as yet unidentified character. There’s no way of knowing whether the entrant is friend or foe.  The culmulative effect of this found me breathing a sigh of relief when it wasn’t state security on the threshold.

In Part I the focus is firmly on Helena, whose experiences draw much from the life of the author herself  (explained in the introduction by Kovály’s son).  The narrative, often in first person, takes us deep into the thoughts of a lonely, confused woman who wants nothing more than to ease her husband’s predicament.  She is convinced by others that the best way to do this is to have an affair with a powerful man, Hrůza, who may be able to help.  For his part, Hrůza, who works for State Security, only wants to get closer to her to find evidence of her husband’s guilt (because, of course there is none).  He uses their relationship in the most cynical way with tragic consequences.  The big question is can Helena be said to have colluded with the State?

Thus ends Part 1 and Part II begins with the actual murder of the title.  The victim is Nedoma, the local police inspector, who has infiltrated his way into almost all of the various intrigues. The result is that he knows too much and everyone has motive to kill him. Some more than others.  Enter Vendyš, the official in charge of the case, a man with no political agenda, his concern a straight-forward murder investigation.  Did I say straight-forward?  No chance.  Although Vendyš, based on Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe,  is an ample match for the twists and turns that present themselves in the case, no-one can match the interference from the powers that be.

There are many misdirections in the denouement. Only one character in the whole sordid tale has a crisis of conscience and seeks redemption with  a confession that satisfies the needs of the authorities.  That this isn’t the whole story  is revealed only in the final chapter when two fat men (one fat, one even fatter) converse.  Who these men are and what the information is passed onto them in the cinema is never revealed, but there is a delicious irony that, despite the intense levels of surveillance by the authorities, there are times when they can’t see what is right under their noses.

Innocence, or Murder on Steep Street is clever and satisfying.  It demands patience, however.  There are a lot of characters, many addressed by more than one name.  Action is often not on the page, but indirectly observed during conversations. At the heart is an expose of an inhuman and corrupt society but more than that, a hard and depressing lesson that true innocence in such is unsustainable.   To quote the epigraph from Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast,  All things truly wicked start from an innocence.

… while I attend to other priorities.  Needs must.



Esmahan Aykol, Paula Hawkins and Rosie Goldsmith (Photo Credit: Max Easterman)

It was a clever piece of programming. Teaming Esmahan Aykol with multi-million-copy-selling Paula Hawkins guaranteed a sellout audience in the Studio Theatre and hundreds of potential new readers for the lesser known (in UK reading circles) Turkish crime writer. Assigning doyenne of translated fiction, Rosie Goldsmith, to be chair ensured a lively event too.

For Women in Translation month, this post focuses solely on insights into Esmahan Aykol gained during the event.


Photo Credit: Chris Close

Q: Which authors inspire you?
A: Patricia Highsmith. (Ed: She is a lady of finest discernment.)

Q: What are your objectives in writing the Kati Hirschel mysteries?
A: I want to depict the Turkish lifestyle told through the eyes of a German. (Aykol is Turkish, who lived for many years in Germany, before returning to Istanbul. Her protagonist, the amateur sleuth, Kati Hirschel, is German and the owner of a specialist crime-writing bookshop in Istanbul.)

Q: Is Kati’s bookshop based on a real place?
A: Unfortunately not.  There is no crime-writing bookshop in Istanbul.

Q: Life in Istanbul now isn’t like that in your books, is it?
A: I’m showing how Turkey was at the beginning of the 21st century. It was a liberal country then.

Q: Why did you move back to Istanbul?
A: I write in Turkish about Istanbul. I simply need to be in the place and to hear the language.

Q: How do you view the world?
A: I look at the world with a detective’s eye. Politicians lie all the time and you need to do that to find the truth.

Q: Does crime fiction have a purpose beyond entertainment?
A: I use my novels to address contemporary social issues: Hotel Bosphorus addresses child abuse; Baksheesh, political corruption; Divorce Turkish Style, domestic violence and being gay in a Muslim world.

Q: (From audience). How long can you remain living in Istanbul, in the current political climate?
A: Life is frightening at the moment. Istanbul is a city of fear, bombs and police. But I have dual citizenship and a German passport. I feel this gives me a certain freedom which I still use to criticise. But I don’t know how long this will continue.


Photo Credit: Lizzy’s mobile phone

Q: (From Lizzy in the signing queue.). Do you miss Germany?
A: Not at all. I don’t miss the discrimination I experienced, although this has been reducing in recent times.
(This led to a conversation in which it became apparent that Lizzy’s German homesickness is partially fuelled by the scarcity of sunshine.  Not a problem for Esmahan Aykol in Istanbul, of course.  But she would struggle in Scotland.  I left her shivering in her quilted jacket and that on a positively balmy Scottish evening.  It was 16C.)

The welcoming committee were on hand – lined up, all spick and span ready for the next 17 days of bookishness.  The rubber ducks are iconic – they are as much a part of the festival as the books and authors themselves.


Ducks on their green pond (a nod to the Olympic Diving Pool, perhaps?)

In an unusual start for me, my first event was a non-fictional one.  Having spent the last 4 weeks removing all traces of myself from the office, discarding 20 years worth of notebooks, files and the like, the title of Alexander Masters latest A Life Discarded proved quite intriguing.  It is a story of discovery, a story of how Masters pieced together the identity of an unknown diarist having studied 148 diaries that had been discovered in a skip.  Not as easy as it sounds because diarists speak more of others than themselves, there being no need to reveal their names, gender or details of their appearance.  Masters told of the surprising numbers of wrong assumptions he made and false trails he followed to identify his diarist.  And then after 4 years of research, he made a discovery that threatened publication … When he revealed it to the audience, there was an audible gasp of astonishment.  The fact that the book has appeared means that disasters have been averted, but the whole story shows that fact can be just as fascinating as fiction.

The book festival is as much about discovering new authors for me as about listening to established favourites.  And Geoff Dyer has been on my radar for a while, and, as I have plans for significant amounts of travelling during my “gap year” – i.e 1st year of retirement – his latest White Sands will be the first of his I read.  But what is White Sands – travelogue, fiction, non-fiction, a collection of essays?  Dyer wouldn’t say, but playfully hammed it up, reading from an anecdote (?) in which his wife Rebecca has been renamed Jessica.   What is that all about?, he asked.  He was merciless to his chair as well.  The chair was once Dyer’s publisher at Hamish Hamilton.  Remember that funny little book The Missing of the Somme asked Dyer.  The one that didn’t sell? Not surprisingly really that Hamish Hamilton are no longer publishing me.  This was the event of the day – ascerbic wit and sardonic commentary, plus the honesty to talk about how expectations of place don’t always converge with him to produce a piece of writing.  I can’t wait to read White Sands now.

At my final event of the day, it was lovely to welcome Rosie Goldsmith, champion of translated fiction, to the Edinburgh Book Festival stage.  She was chairing an event with  multi-million-copy-Girl-on-a-train fastest-ever-adult-novel-selling Paula Hawkins together with Turkish crime writer Esmahan Aykol, author of 4 Kati Hirschel crime novels, 4 of which have been translated into English.  (As it’s Women in Translation month, I’ll focus on Aykol in a separate post.) The discussion was wide-ranging, and lively  and reminded me of just how good The Girl on The Train is – although I can’t remember much.  (That’s what happens when I read on a Kindle.). In addition, Rosie Goldsmith fearlessly asked the question that we all wonder about.  To Hawkins:  So what’s life like now you’ve got all that money?  As Hawkins stared at her in stunned silence, Goldsmith added, surely all your friends have asked that?  Yes, agreed Hawkins, but they’re not usually that direct!  I loved it, and hope that I attend more of Goldsmith’s events this year.


In just a few hours, I’ll be home from home, in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square once more for the biggest and best public book festival in the world.  I’ll be spending 8 out of the next 10 days there, bankrupting myself in the bookshop listening to the authors of the books I’ve been enjoying over the last month or so.


10 books for the first 10 days

I intend to unveil all ten (and possibly a few more) as the days pass, though blogging time will be limited.  My twitter account, @lizzysiddal, will be extremely active.  Follow along especially if you want to keep in touch with the action as it happens! Better still, follow the hashtag #edbookfest, because that’s where ALL the action is.  I can’t wait to being right in the midst of it!

Let the festival begin!