Book Review: The Clutter Corpse and Other Murders

Simon Brett

This week, our Book of the Week is The Clutter Corpse and Other Murders, by Simon Brett. Instead of a Recommended Reads this week, we’re handing over to Chelsea Library’s Zvezdana to talk about why she loves Simon Brett’s novel. Plus, read on for an exciting opportunity to hear Simon Brett speak for yourself…

Over to Zvezdana!

Continue reading “Book Review: The Clutter Corpse and Other Murders”

Pride and Intersectionality

pride womenpride man


Intersectionality is a crucial part of LGBTQ+ identity which has often been overlooked. The experiences of black members of the LGBTQ+ community are often cast aside, or homogenised within a very white understanding of what being LGBTQ+ means. Furthermore, black people who identify as LGBTQ+ often experience racism from within the community, and as a result often feel excluded from a supposedly diverse group.

W.E.B. DuBois coined the phrase ‘double consciousness’ to refer to the experience of being African-American, to simultaneously belong and be excluded from both Africa and America. This principle can be applied to being both black and LGBTQ+; some people who are black and LGBTQ+ may suffer from a crisis of identity and belonging which neither heterosexual black people or white LGBTQ+ people can fully relate to.

“Black LGBT people in Britain are often the victims of double discrimination: disadvantaged and discriminated against for being black; disadvantaged and discriminated against for being LGBT.  LGBT and BAME people are both disadvantaged minority groups in the UK who continue to fight for equality, but too often LGBT blacks also have to fight for equality within these groups, defending the other part of their identity.” Maroon News


Celebrating our diversity is what being LGBTQ+ is about. In that vein, we’d like to share some BAME LGBTQ+ figures who have fought for representation.

Marsha P. Johnson: A black transgender pioneer and activist, Marsha P. Johnson was a key figure in the Stonewall Riots. Her life was extremely colourful; she was a sex-worker, was homeless, and also modelled for Andy Warhol. We owe Pride to Marsha, and she deserves to be remembered.

June Jordan: Jordan was a Jamaican-American poet, essayist, and activist. Her work explores gender, race, and bisexual representation. She was one of the first people to really write about the heart of intersectionality and its politics.

Karamo Brown: One of the Fab Five on the hit Netflix show Queer Eye, Karamo Brown is a T.V. personality and activist. He speaks frankly about being both black and gay, and co-founded, an organisation working to combat HIV stigma which provides mental health support and HIV education to black members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Jackie Kay: Kay is a black, Scottish, lesbian writer who is currently the third ever modern Makar (Scottish poet laureate). She has written many novels about black LGBTQ+ experiences, including The Adoption Papers, which you can read for free with your Westminster library card here.



Books we love

This week, Monica from Paddington Library is reviewing The Bluest Eye in celebration of the 50 year anniversary of its publication. The Bluest Eye was the first novel written and published by African American author Toni Morrison, who passed away last August.  Her work has been widely acclaimed, earning her many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for literature.  Toni Morrison was a strong advocate for race equality and her work never shied away from showing the harsh realities of the impact of racism within American society.  Over to Monica…

This novel is about Pecola Breedlove a young, dark-skinned girl growing up in Lorain, Ohio, US, the same town where Morrison was born. Set in 1941 after the Great Depression, Pecola, who believes herself to be ugly, every night wishes for blue eyes in the hope that they will make her beautiful like the privileged white schoolchildren.

The Bluest Eye, Morrison’s outstanding debut, is about many things: self-worth; poverty; violence; finding joy where there should be none; beauty in its many forms; beauty being given and taken away. 50 years on, The Bluest Eye exposes the truth in the same way it did when it was first published.

Monica, Paddington Library 

All of these books are available to download from our cloudLibrary here.  You just need a Westminster library card and if you are not a member, don’t worry,  just click here – it’s completely free to join and use our resources.




Recommended Reads

Our Book of the Week is Chan Ho-Kei’s Second Sister. This novel deals with the themes of crime, family, and investigation, so we have put together a list of similar titles we hope you will enjoy.

11 missed calls jpeg

11 Missed Calls, by Elisabeth Carpenter

If you’re a fan of psychological thrillers and suspense, this book is perfect for you. Past and present are woven together in Anna’s desperate search for answers. What happened to her mother 30 years ago? And, on the discovery of another woman’s love letter in her husband’s wallet, is there anyone left she can trust?

dead man's folly book cover

Dead Man’s Folly, by Agatha Christie

A classic crime favourite, Dead Man’s Folly is a detective story featuring one of Christie’s best-loved detectives, Hercule Poirot. Summoned to Devonshire to investigate the details of a Murder Mystery Party, Poirot begins to realise not all is as it seems as a real murder plot emerges amongst the summer festivities.

cat spitting mad book cover

Cat Spitting Mad, by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

If you’re looking for a more modern read, try Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s Cat Spitting Mad, a humorous take on the crime genre narrated by felines. Joe Grey and Ducie are two former housecats turned detectives in their bid to absolve an old friend from a gruesome murder. Will they prove successful?

splinter book cover

Splinter, by Sebastian Fitzek

Our last recommendation is Sebastian Fitzek’s Splinter, a chilling tale of memory loss and illegal experimentation. Wrecked with grief after the death of his wife, Marc wants nothing more than to forget everything. When Marc returns home one day to find his wife still alive, he is plunged into a nightmare unable to recognise reality from fiction. But is there a deeper conspiracy at work?

All of these books are available to download from our cloudLibrary here.  All you need is a Westminster library card and if you are not a member, don’t worry,  just click here – it’s completely free to join and use our resources.

Books we love

This week, Andrea from our Charing Cross branch is reviewing Walking Dicken’s London  by Lee Jackson.  Over to Andrea.

This book takes you on a journey of eight walks through Dickens’ London. The guide not only directs you to famous locations that Dickens would have known, such as the Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral but, for me, the enjoyment would be that it takes you into back alleys and lonely courtyards that are definitely off the beaten track and that you probably wouldn’t know existed. Each chapter has many interesting photos, drawings and maps that should help you on your way. The author says each walk should take about one to two hours.  I have downloaded it to my iPhone, which should make it more accessible and easier to read when walking than if I were carrying the book around.

This book can be downloaded  here on cloudLibrary.  You can log in using a computer or download the app.  You just need your library membership number to log in.  Not a member?  Don’t worry, click here to join our library service.

Three books read by Marianne and Connell in Normal People

A big part of Marianne and Connell’s world is literature.  Books are mentioned, talked about and read all the way through the novel.  Their shared love of writing is also what bonds them and makes them different from the people around them.  Here are three of the books mentioned in the novel that you can download now from our cloudLibrary.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro tells the story of three young orphans living in Hailsham, a mysterious and oppressive boarding school, where all is not as it seems.  A tender coming of age story and a gripping mystery, intensified by a love triangle between the three main characters and their gradual uncovering of the sinister reality of their origins.  Marianne reads this while struggling with her own surroundings.

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

The Golden Noteboook is the story of a divorced novelist, Anna Wulf, trying to find her identity and make sense of her inner turmoil through writing in a set of different coloured notebooks.  It has been called “inner space” fiction as it focuses on the characters inner life as a mirror for societal breakdown.   Not a likely choice for a typical teenage boy, but for Connell, who finds expresses himself through writing rather than words, and who struggles with his own inner turmoil, it is a fitting choice.

Emma by Jane Austen

When asked at college to name a divisive female protagonist, Connell names the rich, clever and high-spirited Emma Woodhouse.  Austen herself described Emma as a heroine that “no one but myself will like”.  Could she be reminding Connell of anyone…?

Fiona, Brompton Library

If you would like to read any of these books,  including Normal People, they are available here on cloudLibrary.  You can log in using a computer and download the app to start reading.  You just need your library membership number to log in.  Not a member?  Don’t worry, click here to join our library service.

Books we love

Join us every Sunday for our new series, Books We Love.  We will be sharing staff reviews of all the great books they have been catching up with lately.  This week This week Andrea from Maida Vale Library reviews Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

This is a late Nineteenth Century novel set in the rural west country or Hardy’s fictional ‘Wessex’. It is now considered one of Hardy’s (and literature’s) major masterpieces, although it was seen as shocking by the standards of late Victorian England.

Tess Durbeyfield is a young girl from a poor uneducated family, whose father finds out from the local parson that they may be related to the noble D’Urberville family. Her father insists that Tess seek out the D’Urberville family to claim kinship; a fateful decision which leads to a series of tragic events.

Thomas Hardy by Downey/Getty Images

Hardy’s pessimistic and fatalistic outlook on life inevitably leads to tragedy. Hardy was ahead of his time in his sympathetic treatment of women, calling Tess a ‘pure woman’ in the sub-title, and he condemns the double-standards of the day.  This powerful novel has great characters and lovely descriptions of rural scenery. I particularly like this book as I am familiar with its locations such as the cottage envisaged as Tess’s, which brings it  to life for me.

Woolbridge Manor, Wool, Dorset. The Wellbridge House of the novel.

I would recommend this book and it is available to borrow as an e-book.  Click here to download your copy.  You just need your library membership number and don’t worry if you’re not a member, you can join our library service here.  Its free to join and free to dowload.

City Limits: perambulating in Westminster

The boundaries of the present City of Westminster were set in 1965 when the boroughs of Paddington and St Marylebone were incorporated into the City.

A safe bet that you’re within the City’s precincts is if you have one of Westminster’s distinctive street nameplates in view.  Designed in 1967 by Sir Misha Black, these harmonious metal signs have become a design classic. Their popularity spawned a large trade in replica signs sold as souvenirs – which prompted the City Council to buy the copyright in 2007 from Sir Misha’s estate. Their reproduction is now permitted only under license from the Council.

Ordnance Hill Street Sign
Ordnance Hill street nameplate [staff photo] © Westminster City Council
The signs, with some small revisions and special editions (e.g. for those celebrating Theatreland and Chinatown), have almost entirely replaced the former street nameplates of the three old boroughs. A few of these do exist still and there is the odd street sign that predates the creation of the London Metropolitan Boroughs in 1901.

Even older symbols of name and place are parish boundary markers.  A surprising number survive in Westminster, some weathered and illegible, others preserving inscriptions of number, date, or parish name.  A cache endures undisturbed (and largely unnoticed) in the Royal Parks.   Boundaries of the parishes of St Margaret Westminster, St George Hanover Square, Paddington and Kensington all traversed some part of Kensington Gardens or Hyde Park; the parishes of St Marylebone and St Pancras met in Regent’s Park.

Boundary stones in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park
Boundary stones in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park [staff photos]
The boundary markers took various forms: stone and iron posts and pillars; flagstones; stone and metal tablets; and painted and lettered marks.  Survivors are a fraction of those that once existed. In 1856 there were 137 describing the united parishes of St Margaret and St John the Evangelist, Westminster; in 1882, St George Hanover Square counted 142; and there were 87 in the parish of Paddington in 1904.

Boundary markers were important because they described the geographical extent of parochial assets and responsibilities.  The main asset was the taxes paid by parishioners; the responsibilities the ecclesiastical and civic services parishioners relied upon. The parish vestries were therefore keen to mark and maintain the boundaries and guard against encroachment.

The signs and stones defined the route for the ceremony of the beating of the bounds, walking a circuit of the parish limits.  The origins of the ritual are ancient and were originally a means of asking for God’s protection and blessing.   Before the 1860s there were few accurate local maps that detailed parish boundaries, hence the practical need for the beating of the bounds.

Documented in the parish records held at Westminster’s Archives Centre are inventories of boundary markers, descriptions of the perambulations, and financial accounts relating to attendant festivities. The processions generally took place every 5-10 years, at Rogantide before Ascension Day.  They were well attended.

St Marylebone, Perambulation of Parish Boundaries, 27 June 1866, Order of Procession (Ref: Ashbridge 018 – Acc 1977)

There is evidence of young parishioners, commonly charity school boys, suffering certain indignities with the aim of soundly fixing in their memory the location of a boundary marker. The trials might include unannounced clouts around the head, being held upside down and shaken by the ankles, or even whipping. The accounts for the perambulation of St Marylebone in 1760 records:

“To sundry boys whipped at the Perambulation, 4s 10d”.

But also:

“For Dinner for the Charity Children: £3. 3s 0d”

The accounts for the same parish in 1828 list the costs for some of the merriment accompanying the perambulation:

“Wine 39 dozen (468) bottles: £121 1s 0d”
“Ale and porter”: £72 12s 6d”

The total expense associated with the day amounted to £453 0s 10d.  There were critics of this particular largesse and the parish vestry was reported to a committee of the House of Commons.  The next St Marylebone perambulation in 1836 appears to have been more abstemious: the total cost fell to £45 19s 9d.

As buildings and utilities were commonly constructed without respect for parish boundaries, markers were often to be found in unusual or inaccessible places. A St George Hanover Square description of its bounds in 1882 records: “then along the line of covered sewer behind Chester Cottages to an iron Tablet fixed on the face of North side of wall of Metropolitan District Railway station (Sloane Square Station), over the crown of the sewer near the engine house, at the point where the sewer crosses the railway”.  A map of the same year shows the boundary between St George Hanover Square and St James Piccadilly cutting through Buckingham Palace.

St George Hanover Square parish map, 1882
St George Hanover Square parish map, 1882, detail showing Buckingham Palace
(Ref: C765b)

When in the later nineteenth century Ordnance Survey maps plotted boundary stones, the practical value of beating the bounds fell and the practice declined. Today the ceremony continues to be observed in some parishes, commonly as a means of charitable fund-raising.

Beating the Bounds, St Clement Danes, 1930s
Beating the Bounds, St Clement Danes, 1930s (Ref: Acc 2232-49)

Do keep an eye out for these stubborn relics: they may conjure up the shadows of festive, marching beadles, bell-ringers, charity school children, and parish officers in their pomp.