Welcome to the book blog of writer and creative writing tutor, Diane Paul.

Thanks to the publishers and kind PR people who send me books and releases about their clients' books for review. Press releases and review copies of fiction and non-fiction are always welcome. (No sci-fi, fantasy or erotica please.)

Due to the barrage of requests from self-published authors for reviews, I'm unable to deal with them all, although I'm sometimes drawn to non-fiction for the subject matter. And because I love print books, the smell, the touch of the paper and the sight of the words, I don't have an electronic reader or review e-books.

E-mail to: bookblogforbookworms@keywordeditorial.com for the postal address.

My writing website: http://www.keywordeditorial.com/

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Penguin revives Sagan

1950s French author re-translated

In 1954, 18-year-old failed Sorbonne student, Francoise Sagan published her first novel. 'Bonjour Tristesse' was a huge success and she followed this in 1956 with 'A Certain Smile'. 'Bonjour Tristesse' was considered too racy for the English reading public, so the English version had the explicit sexual scenes removed.

Now, we can be trusted not to get over-excited, so Penguin's Modern Classics have republished these acclaimed novellas with a fresh translation by Heather Lloyd that includes the uncensored text for the first time. And to be honest, in 2015, I really didn't come across anything that would have reddened granny's face in 1950 or today. Maybe someone felt sensations in the groin but if you're looking for sexual explicitness, you're unlikely to spot it here.

Described by 'The Guardian' as 'the French F Scott Fitzgerald', Sagan had a bestseller on her hands with 'Bonjour Tristesse'. Her writing is sophisticated and mature for an 18-year-old and she gets inside the heads of her characters, male and female, astutely. Her writing is rich and vibrant and her plots are credible and imaginative.

Bonjour Tristesse

Told in first person by the rather sad 17-year-old Cecile, during a holiday in the Med with her womanising father, Raymond (aged 40),  she finds herself sharing their villa with his 26-year-old mistress, the redheaded Elsa Mackenbourg. This is not so bad as she forms a relationship with nearby neighbour Cyril (26) a law student holidaying with his mother. The trouble begins when her late mother's friend, sophisticated fashionista Anne Larsen turns up, having targeted Raymond as her future husband. Pleasant, but distant, divorcee Anne can be intimidating but she does have her softer side.

Cecile, like the author, fails her exams, Cyril falls in love with her and Elsa is out of the running. But fearful that the regimental Anne is about to create structure in their lives and rob her of her best friend - her father - Cecile sets about destroying her. And she works out a diabolical plot. If you've ever discredited someone behind their back, then discovered how nice they were when it's too late to redress the damage, you'll know what guilt feels like and I couldn't help feeling for Cecile's predicament. Her mind seems like a wood full of thorny branches entangled in one another. It's a tragedy so be prepared for an unhappy ending.

A Certain Smile

Also told in first person by Sorbonne student Dominique, fellow student Bertrand's uncle becomes the centre of Dominique's life when uncle Luc and his wife Francoise, take her under their wing. They buy her expensive clothes and introduce her to their friends. Dominique thinks Luc is attractive and a typical seducer and she's not far wrong there. But she becomes obsessed and poor Bertrand is relegated to a back seat. Dominique seems bored with life but this sophisticated couple make life more exciting for her.

When Francoise goes to stay with friends for 10 days - how convenient - Luc takes Dominique out for dinner alone. What flattery! He impresses upon her how much he loves Francoise but he would like to have an affair with Dominique. Pretty textbook behaviour for his type, making it quite plain that this is simply that - an affair - and she should not expect anything else from it. He will never love her. Of course, she ignores the warnings and she ends up having the affair and doing what most dejected mistresses do, sitting by the phone and making excuses for his neglect of her. She feels humiliated. This also has a sad ending.

I had the impression that some of Sagan's work could be autobiographical or based on the lives of people she knew, for her attention to detail and understanding of human nature and behaviour are too accurate to have come from the mind of an inexperienced 18-year-old student.



Otto Preminger presented his version of 'Bonjour Tristesse' in 1958, starring David Niven, Jean Seberg and Deborah Kerr. The same year, the Jean Negulesco film of 'A Certain Smile' starred Rossano Brazzi and Joan Fontaine.

It's worth investing in this double bill from Penguin Modern Classics, as both stories are beautifully written.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Dysfunctional family in Diana Y Paul's 'Things Unsaid'


I'm sure there are lots of people called Diane Paul in the world but imagine my surprise when one of them - from Akron, Ohio - asked me to review her new novel. In truth, my surname is the same as her husband's and her first name is Diana, followed by a Y but we both belong to the same international writers' group, which also happens to be her publisher and we both have an interest in Mindfulness and Buddhism. Diana has authored three books on the subject and she has a PhD in Buddhist studies.

Family saga

Her novel is a family saga about money, familial obligations and guilt. Many of us would recognise some of these characters and situations. They aren't uncommon. Working from her mother, Aida's 80th birthday, the story unfolds mainly through the characters' back stories, so it's slow in moving forwards. In fact, the plot is static for a long time while we're given a glimpse of eldest child Jules's personal life with husband Mike and daughter Zoe and their dwindling finances. And it's all because she is expected to pay off her parents' massive debts and the cost of their accommodation in upmarket assisted care facility, SafeHarbour. They consider it to be her duty in exchange for the upbringing they've given her.

Sister Joanne's personal life and financial difficulties, caused mainly by successive plastic surgery on various parts of her body, are also revealed in expositionary chapters, followed by brother Andrew's marital history and some shocking revelations about two of his children.

To be honest, there was no other strategy for telling this sorry tale because we have to get to know the main characters pretty well to understand where they're coming from and why they can't go any further. Jules is left to make a choice between her husband and daughter's needs or continuing to bail out her parents and sister, despite her mother's ingratitude and narcissistic personality; her father's developing senility and irresponsibility playing the stock market; her sister's financial demands and the veiled emotional blackmail that goes with it.


I have to say I was hooked on the story as it unfolded and found it hard to put down. It's well-written for a start with plenty of attention to detail and a strong sense of place. The characters are amazingly well-drawn. It's almost as though Diana has written about people she knows, she gets into their innermost thoughts and feelings so well. I wondered if it was semi-autobiographical. Then I discovered she has a degree in psychology and philosophy. Perhaps that has something to do with her ability to get inside the heads of these people and understand their motivations.

Aida is infuriating and mean-spirited. She's totally wrapped up in herself and despite her financial difficulties insists on buying the best of everything and pampering herself to the hilt. She's totally unreasonable, is a master of the put-down and a thoroughly unpleasant woman. The only character who stands up to her is Andrew's wife, who gives back as good as she gets. The father, former doctor Bob Whitman, is a shadowy figure in the background who is incapable of learning from his mistakes. I wanted to get hold of Jules and give her a good shaking and was expecting one of the children or grandchildren to stand up and give this ghastly couple some home truths. But it's not to be and the couple never quite get Jules's dilemma in this charade.

'Things Unsaid' is published by She Writes Press. Diana can be contacted at Diana.y.paul@gmail.com/ See her websites: www.unhealedwound.com and www.dianaypaul.com  or Twitter: @DianaPaul10

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Man Booker Prize podcasts

Man Booker 2015 Longlist and podcasts


The 2015 Longlist for the Man Booker Prize can be seen on the panel on the right hand side of this blog. Chairman of this year's judges, Michael Wood admitted that discussions hadn't always been peaceful but they were, at least, friendly. 'We were lucky in our companions and the submissions were extraordinary,' he said. 'The longlist could have been twice as long but we're more than happy with our final choice.'

Telegraph book reviews editor, Lorna Bradbury said, 'this is a strong list that celebrates innovative novels from established writers as well as introducing us to some new voices.' And Guardian writer, Justine Jordan wrote, 'this year, the new internationalism has led to a list with admirable balance and wide imaginative reach.'

New podcasts

Throughout seven podcasts - a new audio series to coincide with the longlist - Joe Haddow, Producer of the BBC Radio 2 Book Club, takes listeners behind the scenes. The next episode is broadcast on Friday 7th August and features judges Michael Wood and Sam Leith talking about the longlist selection process and authors Paul Ewen (aka Francis Plug) and Sarah Waters with Chris White from Waterstones Book Club. 

If you missed the first episode, which featured Viv Groskop, Richard Flanagan's stunned reaction to winning in 2014 and an inside look at the publication of Harper Lee's 'Go Set a Watchman', you can catch up now on iTunes and SoundCloud.

You can join the conversation about the longlist at @ManBookerPrize and #FinestFiction on Twitter.