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A LIFE'S WORK

BARBARA TRAPIDO

 

Reviewer Mandy Jenkinson perfectly sums up this favourite author's work: "Barbara Trapido’s books are always engaging. She is wonderful at juggling her intricate, often labyrinthine, plots and bringing all to a satisfying if, on occasion, somewhat implausible conclusion. Her novels are often funny, if only on the surface, and her clever eye for the minutiae of everyday life and the foibles of human nature coupled with an often acerbic wit make all her novels entertaining reads."


Brother of the More Famous Jack

by Barbara Trapido (Bloomsbury)

978-0747599586 | £7.99 pbk | 260pp


Brother of the More Famous Jack

It was a real joy to read this again – it had been such a long time since the first reading. I had forgotten with what confidence and humour it was written. It is difficult to believe it was a first novel. I can remember eagerly scouring the library shelves for more books by this author.

  

The novel begins with the young heroine, Katherine, going off to university. She has come from a conventional middle class suburban home, but has always felt a sense of rebellion.

  

‘I was, in a minor way, a trouble-maker at school, always polite, guilty of little more than reading James Joyce under the desk in religious education classes…’

 

She gets caught up in the family life of her Professor of Philosophy, Jacob Goldman and falls in love with their way of life and the family as a whole (and some individually). The Goldman family are charming bohemians, who absorb her into their family. We follow her life and loves for the next decade. Katherine is a delightful heroine – full of determination, humour and the courage to make the most of opportunities offered to her.

 

This isn’t a deep or complex novel, there are no major tragedies – just the usual sad times and joys that we all encounter as we grow up. Readers will find many things that resonate with their own life. Like Katherine, I had never eaten ‘foreign food’ until I went to university, so this passage rang true for me.

 

‘My understanding of foreign foods at that time was limited to the conviction that paprika in the stew made it Hungarian and tinned cocktail fruits made it Caribbean.’

 

With this first novel, Trapido showed the style and skill that she would develop in her subsequent books. She has an excellent ear for dialogue and is able to develop interesting and likeable characters. Her novels are always full of charm and intelligence and written at a lively pace.

 

Maddy Broome, Fishburn, County Durham

 

 

Having never read any of Barbara Trapido’s books before, and selecting this one for the title alone, I started the book with a little trepidation.

If I’m honest, I came very close to giving this book up, life’s too short to read a book you don’t enjoy, however I could not believe so many people who raved about this book could have got it wrong, so I persevered ……..

How glad I am that I did.

Katherine, the heroine of this novel is an endearing narrator, who guides us through her coming of age, through heartbreak, relocation, tragedy and, as with her own Literary Heroine ‘Emma’, a happy ending. She also introduces us to the fabulously flamboyant Goldman family, as she is propelled into their family by a bohemian mutual acquaintance, and they provide the sometimes comedic back drop throughout most of the story

This is a real ‘winter’ book, best enjoyed wrapped up warm by a fire, the literary equivalent of a mug of Cocoa.

 

Sarah Irwin 

 

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Noahs Ark

by Barbara Trapido (Bloomsbury)

978-0747599616 | £7.99 pbk | 304pp


Noahs Ark

When the book begins Ali is married to Noah. The opening scene neatly captures her passivity and Noah’s bossiness. As the novel progresses we dip backwards into how they came to be married and the difficulties and complications that Ali in particular brings to bear upon herself and Noah and how their strong loves for each other, despite many ups and downs, keep the Ark of their marriage afloat and eventually to solid ground.

For this is a story of a marriage of complete opposites. Ali loves clutter and mess and collects people as well as objects. Noah craves space, order and quietness. From this love between polar-opposites, Trapido has created a richly complex novel that I enjoyed from beginning to end. She is brilliant at revealing character in sharp one-liners such as this from Ali’s ex- husband’s new partner,

‘Le Creuset oven-to-tableware…was the birthright of every superior cook.’

But she is also brilliant at pouring ridicule on the mores of the English-speaking white South Africans before the end of Apartheid, which is where her writing works best for me.

This is a deep and warm novel where every character has his or her flaws. There are times when I wanted to shake Ali for being so ‘wet’, but others where I could see exactly why she’s happy to be as she is. Noah can be the most awful prig but you love him because his love for Ali is unwavering even when he leaves her temporarily. Others characters are very well drawn too.

I recommend it to book groups to discuss and enjoy.

 

Sally Zigmund  

 

Personal Read: Four Stars

Group Read: Four Stars

 

 

 

Having first read this book some twenty years ago, I was anxious that it might seem dated – and so it did, but to some degree that is part of its charm. In subtle and incidental ways it gives an intriguing picture of 70s' and 80s' life.

 

The story is of how Ali, a somewhat fey and irritating redhead with a history of being exploited by almost everyone, meets and marries – and eventually nearly loses – the stolid and single-minded Noah. All the things one expects from Trapido are here – an entertaining and gripping story thoroughly well-told, with fascinating characters, not least the heroine in need of rescue (though I must confess to thinking that one would find Ali excessively tedious in real life). There are curious incidents, numerous entangled relationships, academic overtones, all of which contribute to a satisfying read when delivered with Trapido's sympathy & wit.

 

One of the features of the book that I most enjoyed was Ali's South African background - I lived there in pretty much the same era, and like Ali returned for visits in later years. And the author's portrayal is spot-on – I especially loved touches such as the student preparing for a “demo”, complaining about the maid's failure to iron her jeans. However this enjoyable aspect of the book also proved one of its disappointments on re-reading – in many ways it made it seem a rather pallid forerunner for Frankie & Stankie, which is my favourite of her books.

 

On balance, not one of her best and ideally should be read before Frankie and Stankie– but nevertheless well worth reading, demonstrating just how perceptive and entertaining a writer she is – I look forward to returning to the other early books.

 

 

Clare Turner
 
 

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FRANKIE AND STANKIE

by Barbara Trapido (Bloomsbury)

978-0747599593 | £7.99 pbk | 336pp



frankie and stankie

This book was first brought to my attention in The Directory part of nb16 . The title itself was intriguing so I borrowed a copy from the library. This second reading reminded me why I'd picked this author to review. Trapido tells it as it really is.

 

Frankie & Stankie are clowns - when one is upright the other is upside down - which I actually think describes South Africa and its apartheid days quite well. Trapido dealt with the topic in such a way that, not only did I get a cinemascope picture of its appalling consequences, but I found myself laughing at times with the white main character, Dinah. She is growing up in a household with dissenting views and, as a result, doesn't fit in with the South Africa at large. Her thoughts on the human race as she is experiencing it often mirrored my own as I was growing up as a black in Britain.

 

Since re-reading the book I have had a great discussion with a white person who grew up in South Africa under these laws. She joined protests against apartheid and did her bit for change. She agreed Trapido was spot on, apart from one or two streets being in the wrong place (that's the beauty of fiction). She also pointed out that apartheid wasn't just practised in South Africa but America and Australia (to name a couple) and is still prevalent in many parts of the world today in the form of a 'Caste System'.

 

To quote from Brother of the More Famous Jack, ‘... Education is what I got ...’ from Frankie and Stankie. The book should be part of schools' reading curriculum.

 

Lucy Massiah, Dunfermline

 

Personal Read: Five Stars

Group Read: Five Stars

 


Barbara Trapido writes here, at a cracking pace, about growing up in South Africa in the days just after the war until the 1960s when she escapes to London with her academic husband. The casual racism and barbarity of the governments of those years is seen through her liberal family’s mixture of disgust and impotence. Yet this is a novel of hope and humour as well as an instructive history lesson in just how thoroughly the white races (Dutch, Boer, English) colonised and kept the blacks, the coloureds, the Asians in their ‘designated’ places.

In parts of the novel the writing becomes anecdotal, with character succeeding character and the plot disappearing below these layers, but this flaw is sometimes an engaging way to change key and move onto the next stage in her protagonist’s (Dinah’s) life. Dinah grows up in a white suburb in Durban, sleepier and less politically charged than other cities on the Cape and these early chapters give a thorough grounding in the moribund education system of the time. It is only later that Dinah and her sister Lisa come to understand the perfidious lies of history that have been constructed around them.

The move to a university life opens their eyes further and gradually Dinah in particular gains a more educated insight into her country’s shameful heritage.

This book is instructive about how divisive that society was. Dinah and her white milieu rarely even come into contact with non-whites, except in the role of black servants, as, under increasingly draconian laws, their social and political lives are so utterly divorced and conflict is relegated to newspaper reports or the undercover exploits of a few “dangerous” radicals on the campus. Finally she escapes to England with a new husband and there the novel ends. One hopes that Barbara Trapido is planning a further book about the remaining South African story because she writes with such verve and wit that it could only be another winner.

 

Eileen Shaw, Leeds

 

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BARBARA TRAPIDO IS THE AUTHOR OF SEVEN NOVELS

 

Brother of the More Famous Jack (1982)

Winner of the Whitbread Special Prize for Fiction

 

Noah's Ark (1984)

 

Temples of Delight (1990)

Shortlisted for the Sunday Express Book of the Year Award

 

Juggling (1994)

 

The Travelling Hornplayer (1998)

Shortlisted for the 1998 Whitbread Novel Award

 

Frankie and Stankie (2003)

Shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel Award and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize

 

Sex and Stravinsky (2010) 

Barbara Trapido Image

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Born in 1941 in Capetown, South Africa, Barbara Trapido gained a BA at the University of Natal in 1963 before moving to London. After many years teaching she became a full-time writer in 1970. Barbara Trapido now lives in Oxford with her family.

Finding day-to-day life distracting, she tends to rise early, around 4 or 5am, to write, either in bed with a cup of coffee or curled up in a chair. Eschewing computers Barbara usually writes with oily biro pens or records herself before scribbling it out again. Her attic study, a nice little nest at the top of their tall house, is where the endless corrections are carried out.

 

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SEX AND STRAVINSKY

by Barbara Trapido (Bloomsbury)

978-1408809815 | £7.99 pbk | 320pp


SEX AND STRAVINSKY

Arty Josh does all he can to please Accomplished Caroline who seems dependent on the approval of her Grasping Mother who favours the Less Fortunate sister, while poor daughter Zoe reads ballet books and longs for lessons. Meanwhile across in East Africa Tiny Hattie writes ballet stories to escape from her husband Herman, huge in stature and confidence, and their Difficult Daughter. And then there’s Jack with his silver desk.

 

Thus the stage is set for another of Trapido’s opera-like stories as the wrong couples get married and the wicked seem to prosper, until…

 

Set in Oxford, France and Africa this convoluted story delights as the wonderful cast of characters move from scene to scene.

 

Barbara Trapido is one of the most accomplished and entertaining writers around today and with book she is back on form. For me she is a personal pleasure but there is plenty to discuss for reading groups. Read and enjoy.

 

Alison Glinn, Winchester

 

Personal Read: Five Stars

Group Read: Four Stars

 

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THE TRAVELLING HORNPLAYER

by Barbara Trapido (Bloomsbury)

978-0747594727 | £7.99 pbk | 272pp


the travelling hornplayer

The Travelling Hornplayer is typical of her style and approach. She is particularly good at showing how people’s lives are inextricably linked and the reverberations one character’s actions can have on so many disparate people. In The Travelling Hornplayer we observe how the tragic death of 17-year old Lydia Dent impacts on all those who have come into contact with her, however tangentially.

 

For me this isn’t one of her best books, as the plot is just a little too contrived, as is the set-piece ending. There are just too many characters, not all of them totally successful. I personally prefer Juggling, which has many of the same characters, or Frankie & Stankie, which refers back to her own early experiences in South Africa. But all Trapido’s hallmarks are in evidence here and it is, in spite of its faults, an excellent read.

  

Mandy Jenkinson, Cheltenham

 

Personal Read: Four Stars

Group Read: Five Stars

 

 

 

Laced with humour and droplets of Shakespeare, cake recipes, historical fact and fiction, and wonderful characterisations of fathers in particular, how can Barbara Trapido not be addictive? I read this book ten years ago, and it inspired me to take up the cello. Perhaps what I really wanted was lots of red beautiful hair like Stella, the wayward cellist in the book. Nonetheless, her books have a way of enticing you on to read good literature, or sight-see around old cities, or else just sit and read all day in your dressing gown. Her plots are woven around sets of (usually) middle class arty people, with dashings of (often) terrible sex, but what lifts them above and beyond many girlie (and they are girlie) books, is the wonderful use of vocabulary, the marvellous believable characterisations, and the way that you are left with a complete feel of the time and place that she has created. I have a tiny criticism and that is that she sometimes likes to tie up the plot rather tenuously, when it may be better left to the imagination. My favourite book is Frankie and Stankie, which has the best fictional father that I can imagine and is a fantastic historical eye opener. Juggling is my least favourite, because I felt that it was too formulaic, but still a book to counter the darkening days with. More please, Barbara, winter is coming.


Suzanne Hudson 

 

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TEMPLES OF DELIGHT

by Barbara Trapido (Bloomsbury)

978-0747594710 | £7.99 pbk | 368pp


temples of delight

What I love about Barbara Trapido's books are her "quirky" characters. In Temples of Delight Jem is such a character and you love her from the start. She is  a multifaceted character who is larger than life in her manner, appearance, conversation and general style. Alice is a much quieter character. There also many other interesting people in the book such as Giovanni, who you might love or hate. Throughout the book there is humour, intrigue and sadness. Also many losses of one kind or another.

 

Barbara Trapido's novels are very readable and she has a very straightforward style. Her characters sometimes remind me of ones from Iris Murdoch's books but they are much lighter hearted! 

 

Having re-read this after a gap of almost twenty years I still thoroughly enjoyed it. It rolled along with it's mysteries and intrigue and has stood the test of time remarkably well. I shall now have to revisit the rest of Trapido's works.

 

B. Harrison, N.Wales

 

Personal Read: Five Stars

Group Read: Four Stars

 

 

I have never read any of Barbara Trapido's books before but when I saw the one about the story of the more famous brother Jack I thought that might be about Jack the Ripper. Being something of a Ripperologist thought Id like to review it, but was too late and was given Temples of Delight.

This book is portrayed as a work of literary comedy which I didn’t find in the book, it was slightly written with all the feelings and emotions of the young and how we graduate and live our lives, jealousy, fantasy, outrageous fantasy as often young people especially girls tend to live in, a girl growing up disappointed in her parents, falling for another’s imaginary father all these things a young girl goes through. I was not particularly struck by it and found it hard going, as most of the plot seemed contrived. However it was very subversive in its undertones revealing sexual tensions between three protagonists. All from very different backgrounds but surprisingly very similar. I’m sorry not to find any ray of light in my review but this book I’m afraid did nothing for me. But I will try to read Brother of the More Famous Jack and see if that is more my style.

 

Ann Bell

 

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Juggling

by Barbara Trapido (Bloomsbury)

978-0747594703 | £7.99 pbk | 320pp


Juggling

I’ve never read anything by Barbara Trapido before. Well, that’s not quite true – I tried to read Frankie and Stankie and just couldn’t get to grips with it at all. But I found Juggling in a charity shop and thought Barbara Trapido’s reputation had at least earned her another try. And how I loved this book! The cast of characters demands advanced juggling skills – the edgy Christina, her adopted sister Pam, the ethereal Peter, the slightly dangerous Jago and a vast cast of other characters like the exotic Dulcie, Christina’s pushy dad Joe, the fragrant Alice, the bohemian Judith, the unfrocked priest, the long-lost twin. The plot is labyrinthine, but handled with a deft lightness of touch – and some of the most wonderfully quirky language. The parallels with Shakespearean comedy – and tragedy – are explicitly drawn. The story ranges through religion, the academic world, childhood, sexuality, religion and more. Parts are shocking, parts are laugh-out-loud funny, others are unutterably sad. And the drawing together of the story threads at the end is satisfying, shocking and wonderfully appropriate. I was expecting dry erudition, but instead I enjoyed a highly entertaining read. Why did I leave it so long?

 

Anne Williams, Wetherby 

 

It’s very difficult to talk about this book without also discussing Trapido’s preceding book, Temples of Delight, as the books follow on one from the other. I’ve read Juggling once immediately after its prequel and once on its own and my enjoyment and understanding of it was greatly enhanced by seeing it as a continuation of Temples of Delight.

Many of the characters who are teenagers and young adults in the first book reappear in the second novel as parents with their own teenagers. Unfortunately, the young people, especially the male ones, in Juggling are not as interesting or as sympathetic as those in its predecessor. Alice whose story and search for her ideal man is told with such wit and black humour in the earlier novel is a much more sympathetic character than her two daughters, the annoying Christina and the curiously passive Pam.

Moreover, the story of Temples is much more focussed and controlled. It is almost exclusively about Alice with a few amusing minor characters, all of whom have some sort of relationship with her. Juggling, as its title suggests, has a much larger cast of characters, which at times becomes confusing, especially when a lot of them are introduced in a short time at the beginning. The most enjoyable part of the book is the middle, which concentrates on Christina’s education, before a frantic ending when everyone swaps partners. For me the ‘juggling’ doesn’t work.

But there are things to be enjoyed in this book especially Christina’s time at Cambridge engaging with Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies. To me, however, it’s not one of Trapido’s better novels. The light touch in plotting and the black humour of books such as Temples of Delight seem to have been replaced with a much darker tone. For instance, there is a nasty rape of one of the main characters, which I didn’t find amusing. Definitely not one I’d recommend, unlike many of her others. It certainly did not impress my reading group much recently.

 

Sue Glynn, Dorset

 

Personal Read: 2 Stars

Group Read: 3 Stars


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"Thus the stage is set for another of

 

 Trapido’s opera-like stories as the

 

wrong couples get married and the

 

wicked seem to prosper."