Hill's book is a collection of very short, very loosely interconnected stories. I had high hopes given the evocative title and the charming cover--but honestly, I did not love this book. The essays were light and generally fairly enjoyable, but they did not come across as especially thoughtful or insightful. I might have enjoyed the book more if I had read a chapter here and there in odd moments instead of in one big gulp. If you're planning to read it, keep it stashed in your car so you can read a few pages while waiting for someone, or next to your bed for a little insomnia relief.
Some of the essays seem more like name dropping than like critical or appreciative reading. I don't mean that Hill tells us much about the authors she mentions. That might be interesting and even useful. But just telling us that she met someone? Not so much. For example, Hill tells us that she met Iris Murdoch but "can only remember the Iris I knew, not closely, not well, but with honour and respect and with singular affection." No real details to flesh out who that Iris was. (One of the better essays is on Anthony Trollope--and I can't remember whether or not Hill mentions that she never had the pleasure of meeting him...)
Other essays seem to have a lot of potential--and just as they seem to really get going, they end abruptly. And sometimes Hill just names books on her shelves without really mentioning actually reading them, much less what she thought of them. Honestly, many of these essays feel like rushed blog posts put up on busy days.
There are a few gems. I find Hill's chapter about Virginia Woolf far more thoughtful--about Woolf and about Hill herself. Her discussion of Roald Dahl also has a flash of insight when she analyzes why Dahl's books are beloved by children and hated by so many adults. Finally, Hill's discussion of reading carefully ("Slow, Slow, Slow-Slow, Slow") raisea interesting questions for me that I hope to address in a future post.
I also like this paragraph:
Books help to form us. If you cut me open, will you find volume after volume, page after page, the contents of every one I have ever read, somehow transmuted and transformed into me? ...So just as my genes and the soul within me make me uniquely me, so I am the unique sum of the books I have read. I am my literary DNA.I've never read any fiction by Susan Hill before. Have any of you? I'd love to hear how this book compares to her other writing.