Sunday 4 November 2018

Love and Fame by Susie Boyt @SusiBoyt @ViragoBooks #RandomThingsTours - My Life In Books

Susie Boyt's sixth novel is the story of the first year of a marriage. 
Eve a nervous young actress from a powerful theatrical dynasty has found herself married to an international expert on anxiety called Jim. Could it work? Should it work? Must the show always go on? 
This is a highly-strung comedy about love, fame, grief, showbusiness and the depths of the gutter press. Its witty and sincere tone - familiar to fans of Susie's newspaper column - will delight and unnerve in equal measure.

Love And Fame by Susie Boyt was published in paperback by Virago Books in June 2018.

As part of the #RandomThingsTours Blog Tour, I'm delighted to welcome the author here today, she's talking about the books that are special to her in My Life In Books

My Life in Books - Susie Boyt

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild is the only book I have ever finished and begun again immediately, and then finished and started again right away! I remember spending days on end with it in my top bunk bed, wishing it was my life. Ballet Shoes tells the tale of the three Fossil orphans, Pauline, Petrova and Posy  who are brought up by their guardian in genteel poverty in South Kensington and become obsessed with the stage,  although  Petrova gradually  becomes  more interested in cars for some reason.. I was obsessed with the stage as a child and still am to a certain extent. I am drawn to  the traditions and exacting nature of the performing life.  On one level I cant help believing show business is the highest calling in the land. When I was eight I looked up Noel Straetfeild’s number in the telephone directory and rang her up and told her I loved her books. I still remember her cultured voice, which was stealy in tone, softening slightly to indulge the nerves of her junior fan.

What Maisie Knew by Henry James
When I first read What Maisie Knew by Henry James, a novel about a little girl at the centre of her parents’ acrimonious divorce, I felt the smash of Maisie’s experience on my heart and mind.
Grappling with James's preface as a teenager, I was very taken with his notion that "the muddled state too is one of the very sharpest of the realities". This seemed to me to convey something very acute about childhood and its intensity. I had wondered as a child whether most people experience their strongest feelings before the age of ten as I was certain I had.

In What Maisie Knew, Maisie's girlish attempts to make sense of things, the lucky guesses that lead to false impressions, the innocent mistakes that sometimes catch at greater truths, and the deepening of character that comes with experience, are all conveyed with both verve and delicacy. There are two reasons that this book about a girl growing up within the cage of her parents’ cruel selfishness isn't more terrible than one can bear. Firstly, James gives us the "muddle" with such symmetry, as if it were almost a formal dance: the separation of the parents, the new pairings, the changes of partners, the Kensington Gardens incidents that are mirrored, the father's yellow-and-black shoes patent set against the stepfather's dove-grey gloves with black stitching. All these things lend a sort of wit and pattern to the proceedings that spare one slightly from their horror.
However, it is Maisie herself who makes this novel a delight to return to regularly. James called her his "interesting small mortal" and, while this hints at her vulnerability, it tells next to nothing of her charm and nerve in the face of betrayal, which are heroic. Her unfailing character, her lack of misgivings, her indulgences, her capacity for joy and above all her faith in the idea of faith itself are wildly attractive on the page. I love her.

The Dream Songs by John Berryman
I discovered The Dream Songs when I worked in a bookshop where we were unsupervised on Sundays and used to sit about reading, hoping no-one would come in and disturb us. The hero of Berryman’s sequence of 385 individual three stanza poems that make up this work is Henry, a highly endearing, hopeless, refined, sensitive, hard drinking to put it mildly, lecherous, cultured white middle –aged American who has suffered some kind of incalculable loss.

I think of Henry with great interest and compassion as he navigates his world with a mixture of despair and cheer, heightened sensibility, dereliction of duty, alcoholism and high standards. There are two types of poets it seems to me, ones who use the language as we know it to furnish their worlds, and the ones who break and/or remake language in order to express things in a newly-minted way. Berryman is in the second camp. His language is lively in the extreme, drawing on the rhythm and diction of jazz, spirituals, psychoanalysis, chat-up, advertising, Shakespeare, panic attacks and baby-talk. I have three copies of the book at home as I never like to be very far from one.

All my Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews is one of the saddest books I have ever read, but I feel great respect and admiration for the quality of the sadness it conveys. It tells the tale of two sisters, one of whom, a distinguished concert pianist, cannot stop trying to kill herself much to the dismay of her loving family. 
Toews writes prose of tremendous emotional clarity  and fierce humour,   at which I marvel. 

The book I am re-reading currently is Unless by Carol Shields. Shield’s heroine, Reta Winters, is a happily married translator and novelist whose successful career and stimulating home-life are almost shattered when her eldest daughter abandons university, withdraws from her life and starts begging on a Toronto street corner next to a sign saying ‘goodness’. Nobody knows why, but Norah will not come home to her supportive and loving family, nor will she explain herself. She wears torn clothing and has matted hair and winter is on its way. Her mother lives days filled with grief and all sorts of mental contortions, trying to understand her first-born and to bear her own sorrow. Is it the harsh pressures and limitations inflicted on women in society that have caused Norah to withdraw in this way? Is Norah herself grieving for a life she cannot fathom? The effect of this crisis on all Norah’s family is rendered with great insight, subtlety and intelligence. I think it is a masterpiece.

The daughter of Suzy Boyt and artist Lucian Freud, and great-granddaughter of Sigmund Freud. Susie Boyt was educated at Channing and at Camden School for Girls and read English at St Catherine's College, Oxford, graduating in 1992. Working variously at a PR agency, and a literary agency, she completed her first novel, The Normal Man, which was published in 1995 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. She returned to university to do a Masters in Anglo American Literary Relations at University College London studying the works of Henry James and the poet John Berryman.
To date she has published six novels. In 2008, she published My Judy Garland Life, a layering of biography, hero-worship and self-help. Her journalism includes an ongoing column in the weekend Life & Arts section of the Financial Times. She is married to Tom Astor, a film producer. They live with their two daughters in London.
Twitter @SusieBoyt

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