'Abide with Me' by Elizabeth Strout Staps Language Lab le 13/10/2017 à 12:15

"In her luminous and long-awaited second novel, bestselling author Elizabeth Strout welcomes readers back to northern New England in the late 1950's.

Tyler Caskey has come to love West Annett. The short, brilliant summers and the sharp, piercing winters fill him with awe–as does his congregation, full of good people who seek his guidance and listen earnestly as he preaches. But after suffering a terrible loss, Tyler finds it hard to return to himself as he once was and his congregation begins to question his leadership and propriety.

In prose clear and saturated with feeling, Elizabeth Strout draws readers into the details of ordinary life in a way that makes it extraordinary. All is considered–life, love, God, and community — and all is made new by this writer's boundless compassion and graceful prose."


The Truth According to Us Staps Language Lab le 16/06/2017 à 12:15

The Truth According to Us by Annie barrows

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society comes a wise, witty, and exuberant novel, perfect for fans of Lee Smith, that illuminates the power of loyalty and forgiveness, memory and truth, and the courage it takes to do what’s right.

Annie Barrows once again evokes the charm and eccentricity of a small town filled with extraordinary characters. Her new novel, The Truth According to Us, brings to life an inquisitive young girl, her beloved aunt, and the alluring visitor who changes the course of their destiny forever.

In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck’s father, a United States senator, cuts off her allowance and demands that she find employment on the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program. Within days, Layla finds herself far from her accustomed social whirl, assigned to cover the history of the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia, and destined, in her opinion, to go completely mad with boredom. But once she secures a room in the home of the unconventional Romeyn family, she is drawn into their complex world and soon discovers that the truth of the town is entangled in the thorny past of the Romeyn dynasty.

At the Romeyn house, twelve-year-old Willa is desperate to learn everything in her quest to acquire her favorite virtues of ferocity and devotion—a search that leads her into a thicket of mysteries, including the questionable business that occupies her charismatic father and the reason her adored aunt Jottie remains unmarried. Layla’s arrival strikes a match to the family veneer, bringing to light buried secrets that will tell a new tale about the Romeyns. As Willa peels back the layers of her family’s past, and Layla delves deeper into town legend, everyone involved is transformed—and their personal histories completely rewritten.


The Heart Goes Last Margaret Atwood Staps Language Lab le 31/03/2017 à 12:15

The Heart Goes Last (Positron 0.5)
by Margaret Atwood (Goodreads Author)
3.37 · Rating Details · 26,208 Ratings · 3,762 Reviews
Living in their car, surviving on tips, Charmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month – swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their ‘Alternates,’ the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire begin to take over.


Discussion Staps Language Lab le 27/01/2017 à 12:15

About Sweet Caress/les Vies Multiples d'Amory Clay
If you read on kindle,you can have an English version with synonyms for difficult word. Choose the option wordwise.


Amory's first memory is of her father doing a handstand. She has memories of him returning on leave during the First World War. But his absences, both actual and emotional, are what she chiefly remembers. It is her photographer uncle Greville who supplies the emotional bond she needs, and, when he gives her a camera and some rudimentary lessons in photography, unleashes a passion that will irrevocably shape her future.

A spell at boarding school ends abruptly and Amory begins an apprenticeship with Greville in London, living in his flat in Kensington, earning two pounds a week photographing socialites for fashionable magazines. But Amory is hungry for more and her search for life, love and artistic expression will take her to the demi monde of Berlin of the late 1920s, to New York of the 1930s, to the Blackshirt riots in London and to France in the Second World War where she becomes one of the first women war photographers. Her desire for experience will lead Amory to further wars, to lovers, husbands and children as she continues to pursue her dreams and battle her demons.

In this enthralling story of a life fully lived, William Boyd has created a sweeping panorama of some of the most defining moments of modern history, told through the camera lens of one unforgettable woman, Amory Clay. It is his greatest achievement to date.
- See more at: http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/sweet-caress-9781408867976/#sthash.Thrl9YOp.dpuf


Discussion Staps Language Lab le 21/10/2016 à 12:15

Where my heart used to beat by Sebastien Faulks

On a small island off the south coast of France,Robert Hendricks, an English doctor who has seen the best and the worst the twentieth century had to offer, is forced to confront the events that made up his life.

His host, and antagonist, is Alexander Pereira,a man whose time is running out, but who seems to know more about his guest than Hendricks himself does.

The search for sanity takes us through the war in Italy in 1944, a passionate love that seems to hold out hope, the great days of idealistic work in the 1960s and finally – unforgettably – back into the trenches of the Western Front.

The recurring themes of Sebastian Faulks’s fiction are here brought together with a new stylistic brilliance as the novel casts a long,baleful light over the century we have left behind but may never fully understand. Daring, ambitious and in the end profoundly moving, this is Faulks’s most remarkable book yet.


Discussion Staps Language Lab le 01/04/2016 à 12:15

The Light years by James Salter.
"This exquisite, resonant novel by PEN/Faulkner winner James Salter is a brilliant portrait of a marriage by a contemporary American master. It is the story of Nedra and Viri, whose favored life is centered around dinners, ingenious games with their children, enviable friends, and near-perfect days passed skating on a frozen river or sunning on the beach. But even as he lingers over the surface of their marriage, Salter lets us see the fine cracks that are spreading through it, flaws that will eventually mar the lovely picture beyond repair. Seductive, witty, and elegantly nuanced, Light Years is a classic novel of an entire generation that discovered the limits of its own happiness—and then felt compelled to destroy it."

Book discussion

The Restoration of Otto Laird by Nigel packer Staps language laboratory le 29/01/2016 à 12:15

Elderly architect Otto Laird lives a peaceful existence in Switzerland. Once renowned for his radical and controversial designs he now spends his days communing with nature and writing eccentric (and unposted) letters to old friends. But his charmed life is rudely interrupted when he learns that one of his most significant buildings, Marlowe House, a 1960s tower block in south London is to be demolished.

Otto is outraged and wants to do everything in his power to save the building. So, he reluctantly agrees to take part in a television documentary that will mean returning to London for the first time in twenty-five years to live for a week in Marlowe House. As he becomes reacquainted with the city he called home for most of his life, his memories start to come alive. And as he explores his past, ponders his present and considers the future -- for himself and his building -- he embarks on a most remarkable journey.

Book discussion

'We are beside ourselves' by karen J Fowler Staps Language Laboratory le 06/11/2015 à 12:15

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2014*** Rosemary's young, just at> college, and she's decided not to tell anyone a thing about her
> family. So we're not going to tell you too much either: you'll have to> find out for yourselves, round about page 77, what it is that makes> her unhappy family unlike any other. Rosemary is now an only child,> but she used to have a sister the same age as her, and an older> brother. Both are now gone - vanished from her life. There's something> unique about Rosemary's sister, Fern. And it was this decision, made> by her parents, to give Rosemary a sister like no other, that began> all of Rosemary's trouble. So now she's telling her story: full of> hilarious asides and brilliantly spiky lines, it's a looping narrative> that begins towards the end, and then goes back to the beginning.> Twice. It's funny, clever, intimate, honest, analytical and swirling> with ideas that will come back to bite you. We hope you enjoy it, and> if, when you're telling a friend about it, you do decide to spill the> beans about Fern - it's pretty hard to resist - don't worry. One of> the few studies Rosemary doesn't quote says that spoilers actually> enhance reading.

Book discussion

'A spool of blue thread by Anne Tyler D302 campus le 19/06/2015 à 12:15

Way back in 1986, when Anne Tyler had already written 10 novels, including perhaps her most admired, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, critic John Blades marshalled his arguments against “the heiress apparent to Eudora Welty as the earth mother of American writers”. We might grant him a little leeway and acknowledge the pervading cultural climate in which female novelists could see their work so smoothly slotted into the language of maternity, but there were graver accusations to come. Tyler, he announced, was America’s “foremost NutraSweet novelist”, her “annoyingly synthetic” fiction “seriously diluted by the promiscuous use of artificial sweeteners”; what she offered were “sedative resolutions to life’s most grievous and perplexing problems”.

“NutraSweet”, in this context, is worse than sugary; the sweetness isn’t even real, and may furtively do us harm. We think we’re being comforted, but in fact we’re being fooled. But although Blades’ attack was swaggeringly hyperbolic, the question of whether Tyler’s work errs too heavily on the side of consolation has lingered, despite (or because of) her immense and loyal readership and high-profile fans such as Nick Hornby and John Updike. Not unconnected is the fact that Tyler has determinedly mined the same seam throughout her career, basing the vast majority of her novels in a Baltimore that seems far from the fictional landscape of The Wire or the non-fictional landscape of Serial. We are more likely to find ourselves around a dinner table than at a homicide scene in Leakin Park.

Her terrain is the family, and the micro-interactions between both its members and interlopers from without; her tone is superficially uncomplicated, her insights cumulative, her mode of realist fiction essentially conventional. Nothing about it signals the possibility of shock. Rather, it suggests that we are about to watch some fairly decent characters go through a bad time – one that will neither be entirely resolved (too pat) nor become entirely apocalyptic (too distressing) by the novel’s close.

But this is a novelist’s feint, a deceptive move that Tyler has practised throughout her career and deploys again in A Spool of Blue Thread, her 20th and, according to a rare interview given when her last book was published, her final novel (though she is writing a version of The Taming of the Shrew for the Hogarth Shakespeare series). Here, as elsewhere, we are pointed in one direction only to find the narrative sidling off in another. The story of family becomes more a story of the multiple versions of reality past and present that its members tell themselves to keep the show on the road.

The Whitshank family – Red and Abby, now in their early old age, and their two sons, two daughters and numerous grandchildren – cleave to the myth of family precisely because they lack an elaborate foundation story. Their “patriarch”, Junior, is Red’s late father, a carpenter who dreamed and schemed his way to establishing the family’s rather grand and much-admired house, which becomes central to both their story and the novel’s. The shortness of their family tree means “they didn’t have that many stories to choose from. They had to make the most of what they can get”, and such characteristics as they have managed to build up are pretty self-effacing: they pride themselves on not being melodramatic, and their tendency to pretend things are going to turn out fine even leads them to deny their own mortality. “Whitshanks didn’t die, was the family’s general belief. Of course they never said this aloud. It would have seemed presumptuous.” (Not to mention the fact that some of them have died already.)

Tyler gradually dismantles their myth-making, but she does so with a compassion that recognises that few of us will be immune to similar accommodations with the truth. She notes, for example, that what the Whitshanks infer from Junior’s acquisition of the family house – having built it for some wealthy clients, he painstakingly engineers their eventual departure – is a thoroughly admirable patience. But an alternative reading would see this as a story about disappointment; the house never quite satisfies him, and he fiddles and tinkers with it for the rest of his life. And while this is water under the bridge, their refusal to face up to other, more current, unhappinesses is a different matter, perhaps explaining why their son Denny is so cantankerous and unreliable, or why Red and Abby are so unable to repudiate their children’s intrusive help as they get older.

Traumatic episodes from the past are detonated at intervals, but their impact is muffled by the narrative’s apparent calm. There is a kind of delayed shock as we realise we have just discovered that one of the family’s four children is in fact an orphan quasi?adopted by questionable means, and kept in ignorance of his mother’s identity even as she sat around that heavily symbolic meal table. Or, via one of the novel’s piercing forays into the long-distant past, that a husband and wife had even less love between them than their descendants imagined. Or that a daughter with severe postnatal depression has turned not to her loving social worker mother but to her flaky brother when she fears she might injure her child. This is the stuff of personal life, for sure, usually enacted in a domestic arena, and most likely familiar to us from some major or minor variation in our own lives. We are not reading the fiction of estrangement, or of disorientation, but its power derives from the restless depths beneath its unfractured surface.

What have the Whitshanks gained from their comforting myths, their refusal to be showy? Some things, Tyler insinuates, are worth being melodramatic about, and that we habituate ourselves to them is the sad part of the story. Perhaps we should be more like one of Abby’s “orphans”, the dispossessed and maladroit she takes pity on and opens her home to. One such, Atta, arrives at the worst possible moment and is still welcomed in. “Yes,” she says bombastically, in response to a polite question about her own background, “my family was exceptional. Everybody envied us.” Tyler, never short on mundane detail, describes her actions as she speaks: “She plucked a packet of NutraSweet from a bowl and held it close to her eyes, her lips twitching slightly as she read the fine print.” A lesson to us all: ignore the fine print at your peril.

Book discussion

The Deaths by Mark Lawson Staps Language Laboratory le 17/04/2015 à 12:15

review from the Guardian of The Deaths by Mark lawson

Mark Lawson lives in Towcester, Northants. While Derrida urged us to believe that there was nothing "hors-texte", this biographical snippet provides a useful entry point to Lawson's fifth work of fiction, The Deaths. Towcester, situated on the grubby toe that Northamptonshire pokes into the home counties, enjoyed a grandstand view of the excesses of the noughties boom, when bankers bought up much of neighbouring Buckinghamshire and, just a few miles to the west, the Chipping Norton set were converting their Cotswold barns into plate glass palaces. Now reeling from the levelling tremors of the credit crisis, the hedge-funders, lawyers and Tory politicians who colonised the countryside around Chez Lawson, where "every home is almost a village of its own", provide fertile ground for satire. The Deaths joins John Lanchester's Capital, Justin Cartwright's Other People's Money and Sebastian Faulks's A Week in December to suggest that the satirical state-of-the-nation novel (at least when it's written by white males of a certain age) has done rather well out of the financial crash.

The setting for this grotesquerie of fat cats and their too-thin wives is the fictional town of Middlebury, Buckinghamshire, where four splendid manor houses stand, facing each other pugnaciously over lawns and swimming pools. We first meet the lords of these manors on a commuter Pendolino, travelling to work in London to pay for the homes they rarely see. The husbands are ghastly to a man; the wives – barring the genial (but frighteningly well-paid) doctor, Emily – equally odious. "The Eight," as the four couples call themselves, are filthy rich, and, in scenes that would make EL James blush, often merely filthy. As the narrative perspective hops from one posh twerp to the next, we encounter sexism, racism and all manner of perversions. The Deaths gives us a glimpse into the lives of the 1%, showing all the unhappiness that money can buy.

Nothing stirs up authorial ire so much as the question of "likable characters." In a recent interview, the novelist Claire Messud was asked if she'd want to be friends with one of her characters. Her response was something like an explosion: "For heaven's sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert?... If you're reading to find friends, you're in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn't 'is this a potential friend for me?' but 'is this character alive?'" Lawson's novel wrestles with exactly this – how to keep the reader engaged when the characters are so uniformly repellent. He even has one of his (dislikable) characters bring it up during a book group discussion: "Ali Rawlinson complained that she wouldn't want any of the characters as a friend." The Eight are venal, small-minded and bullying, and if you didn't find out on page one that a handful of them have been murdered – the deaths of the title – you'd be tempted to crawl inside the pages of the book and bump off several yourself.

The murders are McGuffins that drive the narrative engine of the novel, every bit as meaningless as the "We Want What You Have" mystery that knits together Lanchester's Capital. They are mere device, there to keep us turning the pages while slowly, hesitantly, human beings crawl out from behind the hateful carapaces that the Eight present to the world. Somewhat astonishingly, given that the author spares no spleen in his presentation of these moneyed goons, we find ourselves moved as the grim facts of the murders are laid out in the book's denouement. If we follow Messud's line on likable characters then the Eight are most definitely "alive" and, for all their monstrous flaws, we end up caring about them. It's perhaps something to do with the novel's use of the close third-person viewpoint. We spend so much time inside the brains of these people, seeing the world as they see it, that we can't help but sympathise with them – one of the novel's subtle alchemies.

There are some missteps along the way though. Lawson is most comfortable in the narrative skin of Jonny Crossan, the smarmy barrister, whose pet names for everything from his Walter to his wife's Georgina to his morning Smedgwick provide regular guffaws. The women are handled less well, and while in fiction as in law it may not be criminal for a 51-year-old man to enter the body of a 16-year-old girl, it is to be strongly discouraged. "Jeez, this is awks… He's really old (thirty?) but dead fit and definitely gives her the full body scan, even though Mumsie made her wear a body-burka and what she calls the Sensible Coat. Tilly was, like, I'll be inside all day but she was only on transmit as usual. Troll." You get, like, the picture.

The Deaths is a fine, acerbic satire nailed to the frame of a pacy police procedural. As with his earlier novels – particularly 2005's Enough is Enough – the pleasure of reading Lawson's prose is in the observational detail, the sardonic humour, the mirror held up to the present day (there's a good riff on Cameron/Brookes "lol" confusion). His southerly neighbours may not enjoy it, but the rest of us will find in The Deaths a bleak, compelling portrait of the way the 1% live now.