Book Review: The Frequency Of Us by Keith Stuart

Last year I loved the BBC2 Book Club programme “Between The Covers” presented by Sara Cox. Recently she revealed the books which will be featuring on the upcoming new series – and ‘The Frequency Of Us’ really appealed, and NetGalley were lucky enough to grant me an advanced review copy. Here’s the blurb:

“In Second World War Bath, young, naïve wireless engineer Will meets Austrian refugee Elsa Klein: she is sophisticated, witty and worldly, and at last his life seems to make sense . . . until, soon after, the newly married couple’s home is bombed, and Will awakes from the wreckage to find himself alone.
No one has heard of Elsa Klein. They say he was never married.
Seventy years later, social worker Laura is battling her way out of depression and off medication. Her new case is a strange, isolated old man whose house hasn’t changed since the war. A man who insists his wife vanished many, many years before. Everyone thinks he’s suffering dementia. But Laura begins to suspect otherwise . . .”

The book follows two timelines – firstly back during the Second World War and the romance between Will and Elsa, and then 2008, where Laura is assigned Will as a client for the care agency that she’s working for.

(This did actually make me realise that it would be difficult to write a book in the present day with people having memories of the Second World War. My Grandmother – who died at the age of 90 two years ago – was an evacuee during the war. My children have been so lucky to be able to talk to their Great Grandma about her experiences when they’ve studied evacuees at school. As the last few people of her generation pass away, so do the real life stories of the war, which has made me quite emotional.)

I enjoyed both timelines a lot – and I have to say the city of Bath was a character in the book in its own right. The descriptions of it were excellent – and it’s made me want a weekend break there (when we’re allowed again, obviously!)

The relationship between Will and Elsa was beautifully written – and I wanted to find out more about them. Equally the very different relationship between Laura and Will is also interesting, if not conventional. Laura has so much ‘stuff’ going on in her own life, and her struggles with her own mental health – that being able to focus on helping Will seems to help her too.

The comparison of young Will (radio geek, passionate about his work. madly in love with Elsa) and old Will (grumpy, rude, loner) were excellent – and as the story develops you realise why this has happened.

The book also looks at Laura’s past and her relationship with her every present Mother – and absent Father – and why this has made her the person she is today. It’s not been an easy life for Laura or Will.

The run up to the ending was really unusual – and not what I’d expected at all. I don’t even want to compare it to anything (although I have a book and a TV programme that I could easily reference!) but I think it’s better reading it without any spoilers at all.

Overall I enjoyed the book and a big thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC – but you don’t need to worry, as if you like the sound of it, it’s out now so you can order it immediately!

Book Review: Till The Cows Come Home by Sara Cox

Till The Cows Come Home.jpg

I’ve always felt an affinity with Sara Cox.  We were both born in 1974, although I was the school year above (honestly, why is that still ‘a thing’ in your mid 40s?!) I spent the 90s being a ‘ladette’ and keeping up with the lads booze consumption-wise.  Admittedly Sara’s ‘party girl years’ were spent being a model around the world and making it in the world of TV – whilst I was training to be a chartered accountant in The Midlands – but otherwise, practically parallel lives?!  Thankfully my exploits never made the Daily Mail (but if anyone has back copies of the Birmingham Chartered Accountants Student Society newsletters – there are some dodgy photos of me at BCASS Balls!!) We both then had short lived first marriages, and thankfully longer lived second marriages – and our kids are similar ages.  In fact some Christmasses ago Sara and I shared a tweet exchange about a particular Sylvanian Families house we were both having to put together for our firstborns – when they were about half the age they are now! I made the move from Radio 1 to Radio 2 at a similar time to Sara – admittedly only as a listener rather than a presenter – but on numerous occasions Sara has read out my texts (in the olden days) and more recently tweets – which I like to think is because we are kindred spirits (and not just because there wasn’t much sent in by listeners that day……)  Anyway – when I saw Sara had written a book about her childhood I was keen to read it – and as I’ve said before, I’m lucky enough to be sent loads of free books to review – so it’s quite unusual for me to part with cash for a book – but in this case I did!

Here’s the blurb:

“Till the Cows Come Home is DJ and TV presenter Sara Cox’s wonderfully written, funny coming of age memoir of growing up in 1980s Lancashire.
The youngest of five siblings, Sara grew up on her father’s cattle farm surrounded by dogs, cows, horses, fields and lots of ‘cack’. The lanky kid sister – half girl, half forehead – a nuisance to the older kids, the farm was her very own dangerous adventure playground, ‘a Bolton version of Narnia’.
Her writing conjures up a time of wagon rides and haymaking and agricultural shows, alongside chain smoking pensioners, cabaret nights at the Conservative club and benign parenting. Sara’s love of family, of the animals and the people around them shines through on every page. Unforgettable characters are lovingly and expertly drawn bringing to life a time and place.
Sara later divided her childhood days between the beloved farm and the pub she lived above with her mother, these early experiences of freedom and adventure came to be the perfect training ground for later life.
This funny, big-hearted and often moving telling of Sara Cox’s semi rural upbringing is not what you’d expect from the original ladette, and one of radio’s most enduring and well loved presenters.”

 

The book tells the story of Sara’s life (and how she ended up Sara rather than Sarah professionally at least) from her birth and childhood, up until she started on TV with The Girlie Show.  It’s not strictly chronological – but basically is – with some meanderings, just as you’d expect if you were chatting to a mate. In fact, because Sara’s voice is so familiar – you can almost hear her saying what she’s written and it feels like chatting to a mate – albeit a bit one sided.  (Actually, if you were to buy the audiobook you would exactly hear it in Sara’s voice!)

Being the same age, loads of the reference points were the same – shops, TV programmes, dress sense, sickly sweet drinks etc – which was great.

I grew up in the suburbs of Brum – and not on a farm – but in recent years we have acquired chickens, pigs and horses – and so lots of those references were also apt.  We also have a horse traumatised by a plastic bag blowing the breeze…….

I really enjoyed the romp through the 80s and 90s and was keen to know how the story developed – as this isn’t the ‘Sara’ that you have read about in the papers over the years.

The book made me realise we have other things in common too – a shared love of our families – immediate and extended, and more than anything, a powerhouse 4 foot 11 inch mother to credit for where we are today (although my Mum is probably now going to comment that she’s actually 4 foot 11 and a half?!)

All in all a great read – and I look forward to a future instalment in a few years time.