'The Sisters Brothers' by Patrick deWitt

'The Sisters Brothers' by Patrick deWitt will now forever make me think of the tiny island of Sipan, a short ferry ride off the coast of Dubrovnik, Croatia, as I read the majority of this book in the two days we were there, back in June this year (I've written previously about an art gallery in Split from the same holiday), lazing happily in the sun. Croatia is not the most intuitive partner for this book, however, seeing as it is actually set in the US during the 1850s Gold Rush. It's also really good.

The story is that Eli and Charlie, the two Sisters brothers of the title, are hitmen on the trail of notorious prospector Hermann Kermit Warm (what a name!) through California, under the orders of the mercurial and untrustworthy Commodore. It's a classic Don Quixote/Odyssey type caper, with the inner journey at odds with the outer one and a whole load of unusual, charming and downright threatening characters  who you don't know whether to trust from one moment to the next. Eli is our narrator, and we find him increasingly sickened and disillusioned with the life he leads and the work that he does.

The humour of this book as a black as a pit of tar and in moments it's incredibly surreal and bemusing, but I felt that it veritably pulsed with verve and life. It's like not much else I've ever read either, which either means its rather original, or that my reading tastes have become too limited. Either way, this book was a refreshing break during my refreshing break, and I'd wholeheartedly recommend it.

Not that it's light reading though. The style is realist-surrealist-historical maybe (?), in that it has a historical setting, but is realist in a very modern way, whilst using the vernacular appropriate for the time, and is quite surreal, if that makes sense? Maybe if the Coen Brothers did a funny, free-wheeling, literary Western with a lot of dark humour, it might be a bit like this. There are a few particular instances of tooth-ache or horse illness or old crones casting spells that are downright disgusting, described with almost unbearable realist gore, that are also hugely compelling and memorable in a way that I almost wish they weren't, whilst the characters are complexly drawn and completely of their time. You just feel so bad for Eli, and confused about everyone else. I would never expect to find a noir Western so emotionally involving or so wholly creepy.
'Charlie's face had grown hard. 'This isn't your cabin, is it?'
At this she stiffened, and did not look to be breathing. She pulled back her rags, and in the firelight and lamplight I saw that she had almost no hair on her head, only white tufts here and there, and her skull was dented, appearing soft in places, pushed in like a piece of old fruit. 'Every heart has a tone,' she said to Charlie, 'just as every bell has one. Your heart's tone is most oppressive to hear, young man. It is hurtful to my ears, and your eyes hurt my eyes to look at them.'
A long silence followed with Charlie and the old witch simply staring at each other. I could not, from either of their expressions, understand what they were thinking. Eventually the woman rewrapped her skull and resumed her work, and Charlie lay down on the floor. I did not climb onto the bed, but lay down beside him, because I was frightened by the woman and thought it safest for us to sleep close together. I was so weak that despite my uneasiness I soon fell away into a dream state wherein I envisaged the room just as it was, thought I was standing by, watching my own sleeping body.'
This is a fab book and I kinda regret taking so long to read it after receiving it from the More4 TV Book Club at the beginning of the year. Here's Patrick deWitt himself talking about it to round things off, plus an excerpt from the show: 

Title: The Sisters Brothers
Author: Patrick deWitt
Publisher: Granta Books
Date: 2011
Format: Paperback, 325 pages, and I was sent it by Cactus TV/More4 TV Book Club.  


'A Suitable Boy' Readathon, No. 2

So, I'm a little behind on where I should be at this point in the 'A Suitable Boy' readathon (I've read 265 pages of the target 495) but I thought I'd sum up anyway at this one month point as I'm far enough through to have a good grasp on what it's about. There maybe a few spoilers in this review, FYI.

This book is a sweeping saga in the finest tradition, which is expressed not only in its length and revered reputation, but also in the fact that a wholly necessary set of four family trees sits at the beginning of the book to give you hope of keeping track of who everyone is. 

The book, as far as I've read anyway, centres around Lata Mehra, a Brahmpur student who is of marriageable age, which means her mother, the classic busybody martyr Mrs Rupa Mehra, is on a quest for find her that elusive 'suitable boy' of the title. Lata's not so keen and has other ideas anyway, which so far have included Kabir Durrani, a unacceptable Muslim boy who her mother packs her off to Calcutta to keep her from seeing. This central theme of suitable marriage is then extended out using vast tentacles through the book to reach all corners of the Mehra's extended family and circle of acquaintances: each section centres on a different branch of the family, or a different protagonist. Some of the marriages are presented as 'suitable', some are not; the epic scope of this novel seems to include types of metaphorical marriage in the definition, such as work relations, political relationships and the living 'marriage' of different religious and caste types that all seem to meet and clash in Brahmpur. I have a feeling that the conclusion we will come to is that no 'marriage' is perfect and that people must just learn to live together as best they can considering their circumstances, but there are a fair few pages to go (a meagre 1084) before we come to that point!

This novel is beautifully atmospheric and hugely evocative of India, which acts as both the platform and as an integral character of the novel. The characters are wonderfully drawn - Lata and Mahati are particular favourites of mine already, as is cheeky Maan - and I am already so involved with the majority of them and their own particular predicaments.

I'm enjoying it slightly less generally when it moves from the personal, e.g. Lata and the families, to the political: I am currently smack bang in the middle of the repercussions of the Misri Mandi riot, and although I can see how their discussion is integral to expressing the religious and caste tensions inherent in the story, I'm finding the characters and situations associated with this slightly less compelling. The writing throughout is excellent though - it's impressive how the quality is so consistent when there's just so much of it - and I feel in very safe hands. The pacing is also much quicker than you might expect for a novel of this size.

So, onwards! I'll report back next month, by which time I'll hopefully be around page 947... :)

Thoughts thus far from other Readathon participants:

(I'll add the others as they publish)

Title: 'A Suitable Boy'
Author: Vikram Seth
Publisher: Phoenix House
Date: 1993
Format: Hardback, 1349 pages, and my copy is a library book.

Blogaversary Giveaway Winner!

To celebrate my two-year blogaversary last week , I announced a free giveaway of Ned Beauman's 'The Teleportation Accident', which I'm not ashamed to say I bought for the cover rather than any of the reviews or the Man Booker Prize long-listing.

I had lots of lovely entries and I'm pleased to announce that the winner is *drumroll please*:
Misha Mary!
(I used this random integer generator to pick the winner.)

Thanks to everyone who entered and look out for more giveaways on Tolstoy is my Cat soon!


Blogaversary Series: Day Five

'The Teleportation Accident' by Ned BeaumanSo, here we are on the final day of Tolstoy is my Cat's two-year blogaversary week, and thanks to everyone who's stopped by! I've had lots of new readers pop in, especially from Stumbleupon (hi guys!), which has been fab; who knows, maybe if people continue to stop by, there'll be a third anniversary and a fourth etc. :)

Anyway, don't forget to enter yesterday's giveaway of 'The Teleportation Accident' by Ned Beauman; here are my last two links from the archive:
  1.  'Show Me Something New' is one of my more craft-of-writing earlier posts, which discusses the issue of originality and expressed my frustration at the time about finding out that my novel, when described in brief, sounded like lots of books that people had read before.
Reason: Originality is obviously an on-going concern, for others as well as myself, and I find it telling that my thoughts on this haven't really changed since writing this post 18 months ago and, rather exasperatingly, that the same novel isn't finished yet either! I must get and finish it, mustn't I? Ah, well. Until then, I'll entertain myself by watching hilarious word sketches like the one included within it.
2. My final blogaversary link is to a piece of flash fiction called 'Früh', which is one of the first pieces I ever wrote, sometime before I even started this blog.
Reason: It's not perfect - far from it - but is so full of the optimism and fun I felt, and still feel, when I get down to writing that it's the highest note I could possibly end on, and it's a delight for me to go back and read it once more. I hope you like it too.

Thanks for everything guys, and don't forget to click back and enter the contest!


Blogaversary Series: Day Four

Howdy campers, and welcome back to day four of my little blogaversary! It was two years ago today that this little blog sprung into existence :) As promised in the week's previous posts, today we have another post from the archive and my very first giveaway!

The link first:
  1. Today's choice is the, I'll admit, rather idiosyncratically named Lyndsay, Put the Pen Down..., in which I explore the notion that I've been trying too hard, to my detriment.
It's a timely piece, seeing as the Elle UK Talent Competition is now open til the 17th Sept, and is about how I over-wrote and over-wrote until I just hated entry from last year, finally coming to the realisation that my grip was way too tight on the pieces I really cared about.

So,  I reworked it for another magazine (Side B Magazine), deliberately letting the wheels run whilst writing it and, lo and behold, it worked! It was an important lesson for me, and one I'd never read about elsewhere, although I can't believe I'm the only one who's made this same mistake. So, care less: it might do you good :)

'The Teleportation Accident' by Ned Beauman
2. Now, giveaway time! I have one copy of Ned Beauman's 'The Teleportation Accident' to give away, and all you need to do to enter is either share this link on Twitter (tagging me at @lyndsay_wheble so I see it), or sign up for my email subscription list (the box above on the right).
 So, easy! This book was recently long-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2012, which speaks very highly of it, especially as the short list has yet to be announced. The tag-line seems to be
'History happened while you were hungover...let's hope the party was worth it.'
which is a good 'un, but I really  chose it for the breath-takingly beautiful cover that had me swoooonniing in the store. I love it, so judging it by its cover, I'll love the book too, which hopefully means you will too.

I'll leave this open for a week, so tweet this link or sign up above by midnight GMT next Thursday, the 23rd August, to be in with a chance of winning. I'll chose the winner at random, of course, and am already excited at the thought of passing this lovely cover on! International entries are fine, FYI.

So, the final day of my blogaversary series will be published tomorrow - see you there! :)


Blogaversary Series: Day Three

So, my blogaversary series continues apace, and today I have two more links for you from the archive:
  1. The first is my review of Wilkie Collins' 'The Woman in White', entitled, quite dramatically, 'I am a Literary Sensationalist!' , from October last year.
Reason: I think 'The Woman in White' was the first book that I read purely because it had been so highly recommended in the book blogs I read. Before I started blogging about books a lot myself, my reading choices were based on things that caught my eye in the library or store, things by authors I already knew, and the classics that you hear so much about and feel you should get on and read. This book fell into none of those camps, as, to be honest, it was never a book I'd really heard of and there is no reason nowadays to place it at the front of the library or store. It was pure book blogger love that did it, and it was pure love that I felt for this book. Also, my review got a bit feminist-political at the end, which is always nice. A complete win all round. 
2. Link two today is a post called 'This is Why Writing is Awesome', which describes a realisation I had at a career mentoring day for teenagers, where I was the writing representative.
Reason: Well, obviously I knew before the day I wrote this post that writing is awesome, but it was so nice to see that reinforced back to me on the faces of kids that I really wanted to write about it. A lot of Twitter discussion followed this post and it was nice to see that other writers felt the same way. And it's good to do something for the kids, of course *air grab* and nice to feel that you can be a role model of sorts.

Check back tomorrow for another look and a sneaky giveaway...


Blogaversary Series: Day Two

So, following on from yesterday's post, which kicked off this blog's two-year-anniversary celebrations (aah!), I have two more links for you that you might not have seen unless you've been reading this blog since way back when...
  1. First of all, we have the rather narcissistically named post Tolstoy is my Cat?, one of my first ever posts, in which I explain why my blog has the name that it does.
Reason: It's quite interesting for me to chart my blog's progress, re-reading posts like this, as it started out very much as a showcase blog for the writing I was doing and to chart this writing journey as I progressed down its rocky and confusing pathway. Gradually over the last two years, it has become more book-based, which I think happened because my writing progress began to happen elsewhere - professionally, in short stories sat on my hard-drive and, more recently, in other publications - and I became irritated with the notion of pretending I had real writing advice when I was just a newbie myself. 

I still quite like this post though - such optimism! and it's true that my cat Tolstoy - who has little idea of his internet presence - is still my biggest fan, and no matter what happens, that will probably never change! Such are pets and owners, I guess.
2. Today's second link is far, far more recent, and features a review of both the book and the play of Mikhail Bulgakov's 'The Master and Margarita', which has been causing mini explosions in my head whenever I've thought of it since.
Reason: I've chosen to highlight this post particularly as I am proud of the two-handed review, but mainly because this books screams to the world that BOOKS. ARE. SO. IMPORTANT.

I am never happier than when I'm being schooled in the ways of life and literature by a book that I know I do not fully understand, but know that maybe if I read it over and over and over again as I get older, maybe I will. Or I won't, which almost doesn't matter, as I will gain so much more each time. It gives me optimism for my own personal and spiritual development, and a great amount of faith that these fabulous, wonderful, life-changing books might remain my constant, life-long friends.

Also, BEHEMOTH (yes, I'm capitalising again.) Oh my goodness. Did ever an animal have more personality than the lowly cat?

Check back tomorrow for my third blogaversary retrospective post! (I'm having such fun:)


Blogaversary Series: Day One

Hello readers! As you might have guessed for the title of this post, Tolstoy is my Cat is two years old this week!

I wanted to celebrate this as a way of saying a big THANK YOU to all my readers who've visited and perhaps stayed during that time, so I thought I'd delve back into the archive and post two links every day with a little explanation of why I have chosen to bring them from the dusty basement of my back-list back into the foreground once more. Also, look out for a give-away on one of the days this week...
  1. My first link of the day is my post How Pathetic is your Fallacy? from January 2011, in which I talk about reading Emma Forrest's 'Your Voice in My Head' and Boris Pasternak's sublime 'Doctor Zhivago' whilst in Austria in the snow. 
Reason: When I first started this blog, I was quite focused on exploring the techniques of good writing, probably because I was doing a number of writing courses at that time. In a way, I used blog posts like this one as a test for myself, to check that I really understood what I was talking about when it came to things like literary devices and also to check that I could somehow incorporate them into something I was writing.

Pathetic fallacy was always a literary device I revered and was entertained by, even when I'd sit in the classroom becoming quietly obsessed with such things, probably like a lot of other bookish people out there. Also, this is a nice post for me to re-read as it features two of my favourite books from recent years and reminds me of a really beautiful, peaceful holiday.
2. My second link for the day is 'Snow', a flash fiction piece I posted on the blog early last year, which was nominated for the 3 Quarks Daily Art & Literature Prize 2011.
Reason: It was so exciting for me to be listed amongst pieces from The MillionsMillicent and Carla Fran and the oft mentioned Simon from Stuck in a Book: it was a real confidence booster for me, and brought many new readers into my fledgling blog. It was also my first experience of the connective power of blogging - I asked people to vote for me and they very kindly did, so much so that I finished first - and it was my first piece of fiction to be approved in some way by anyone other than a course-mate or a relative, which was obviously lovely and, again, gave me a great confidence boost.
So, check back tomorrow for two more of my favourite links from the archive... 

Also, feel free to share this post as a small blogaversary present to me, as what is a party without some new friends?


'A Suitable Boy' Readathon, No. 1

Group Read LogoAs I mentioned in my previous post, I'm participating in a readathon of Vikram Seth's Indian masterpiece, 'A Suitable Boy', with Sam at Tiny Library, JoV at Book Pyramid and many others, and I'm excited!

If anyone else wants to join, the plan is to read to part 7.46 by the end of Aug, part 13.38 by the end of Sept and to the end by the end of October. I'm currently at 1.7, so need to do some serious reading to catch up over the next few weeks. It is really good so far though, so that will be a pleasure, I think.

As is easy to believe if you've ever seen a physical copy of this book, it is a front-runner for the longest book ever published in a single volume, at 1349 pages. Lols. 

I picked my copy up from the library last week and had to keep shifting my bag on my shoulder with the weight of the book combined with all my usual paraphernalia. This might not be one for carting pretentiously around my usual cafes; more one for balancing on the edge of a sofa or knee for long, cosy stretches...

Vikram Seth's 'A Suitable Boy'
Regular sized from the front...

Vikram Seth's 'A Suitable Boy'
...and two inches thick from the side!


Blogs You Must Read

A few weeks ago, the lovely Ali at 12 Books, 12 Months nominated me for a 'Versatile Blogger' award, passing on the baton that she'd received from two blogs a while back. And I'm thrilled! I love this big-up-the-community aspect of blogging - thanks Ali!

The rules of receiving it are that you then have to pass it on to 15 other blogs that you read and love, and then reveal 7 fascinating facts about yourself. The blogs first:

  1. 12 Books, 12 Months, and not just because she nominated me - having actually managed to get through the writing of 12 books in 12 months, Ali also features interesting industry Q&As, guest posts (including mine!) and articles about her own writing work, which are great.
  2. Martini and a Pen, run by the lovely and talented Tom Andrews, who posts his own mad-cap fiction in the run-up to the publication of his first novel, which I am beside myself with excitement about. He was also one of the first ever commentors on my blog, way back when.
  3. Tiny Library, which is a more recent addition to my reading routine, features fab reviews and community features, like the Vikram Seth readathon that I am excited to be participating in over the next few months.
  4. Literary Musings is another great book blog, and a recent discovery of mine. Brenna reviews a great and interesting variety of books, and I love that these often have an American Lit focus, as I know little about US lit and enjoy learning more.
  5. The Lost Beat is a fabulous poetry blog, run by Tom Andrews (from Martini and a Pen, above) and Natasha Gdansk: reading just a few posts is a great invigorator for getting on with your own stuff as it is So. Damn. Inspiring. A lot of the poetry is tres funny too.
  6. Alas, Book Lush has been sleeping for a good few months now whilst the lovely Nicole does other things, but it's still a fave site of mine for the great book reviews and articles, and for learning some things about baseball too (!)
  7. A very popular site, Reading Matters, is the perfect email subscription for keeping me up-to-date with newly published fiction - particularly British, Irish and Australian - without me having to actually search it all out for myself :)
  8. Changing tack for a second, Bear and Bug is a great craft blog run by Anna who I used to work with that posts interesting and beautiful things. She also custom-made me a cuddly toy monster for my godson which he LOVES, so it's a win all round.
  9. Back to book blogs again, A Room of One's Own, run by Jillian, was the original home on 'The Classics Club' (see my list above). She writes really, really well about how books have shaped her life so far, helping her deal with some rather big issues along the way.
  10. Kirsty Logan's site and work are totally inspiring (and intimidating): she is so talented that it turns me rather green :)
  11. Chasing Bawa, which recently turned three (congratulations!), is a great blog which features fiction from across the world, written by Sakura, who sure as hell knows her stuff. We've also done one or two work things together in real life, so I know also that she's a lovely person to boot.
  12. Another fab blogger/lovely person is Simon at Stuck in a Book, who rarely writes about books I've actually read - his tastes centre around middle-brow pre-WWII fiction, I think - so it's great for colouring in my black spots and pointing me to things I really should read.
  13. I know they won't notice that I've nominated them, but I adore The Hairpin and feel weirdly like every contributor to it could be my friend. Some great, great writing.
  14. Same for McSweeney's, if you're not familiar with it...
  15. And I'd like to leave this fifteenth space free for all the great blogs I'll find in the next few days, weeks, months...one thing I love about the book blogging community is that new people are arriving all the time.

 So, to the seven things about me:
  1. Like Ali, my accent also changes at will, so much so that I sometimes have to watch it. I think it comes from years of language learning and generally moving around.
  2. Ali was sad to discover that her first gig wasn't The Deftones; I'm proud to reveal that mine was to see 3T (remember them? Jacko's nephews) at Plymouth Pavilions, supported by Shola Ama. My friend and I went with our mums. Good times.
  3. As you all know, I have a cat called Tolstoy. If I were to get a dog, I'd get a red King Charles Spaniel and call it Joan, in tribute.
  4. The only times I really realise how small I am (155cm) are in the mirrors at Pilates next to all the taller people, and when I have to stand on tip-toes to order at bars. Otherwise it never occurs to me. Naturally, I get ID'd ALL THE TIME.
  5. When I studied in Japan, I did a several-month-long stint of hair modelling for a local salon. Photos of yourself in crazy Japanese wigs in regional, Japanese-language hair magazines = best souvenirs ever.
  6. I'm a pretty good cook. My favourite things to make are Greek salad, Scandinavian beetroot and ginger soup and pasta of all types. Tomorrow night I'm making a three course Thai feast for some friends.
  7. And my final thing...having worked in the arts/theatre for a few years now, I've met a good number of famous literary, thespy and general celebrity-esque people. The majority are disappointing in some way, so it's with pleasure that I reveal that the nicest celeb I've met is Deborah Moggach, who has written many things, including the 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel', which was recently made into a film. She was so nice and friendly that she wanted to talk at length about my writing - where I was with things, how I find it, what my writing is about etc. - and waved away any suggestion of talking about her own. 
So, who would you nominate? And what secrets would you tell?
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