Saturday, 30 December 2017
Full of flawed characters and the stupid things they do
Monday, 11 December 2017
Neither American nor Russian
Saturday, 30 September 2017
A glass of Chardonnay can make everything better
Jan Morris is the optimistic traveler that I should like to be. No matter how grim the experience, she finds no excuse for self-pity, and there is no mishap, however grave, that cannot be accommodated with a glass of Chardonnay.
Thursday, 7 September 2017
How terribly interesting little things are
Lucia is a snob. She professes to speak Italian, although in truth only a few words, her superior knowledge of music is accepted on the basis of her ability to play only the first movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, and she imposes her taste by disdaining the gramophone and new composers such as Debussy. With her right-hand-man Georgie she ensures that she is the leading light in the cultural and social life of the village. But revolution brews in Riseholme with the arrival of opera singer Olga Bracely.
Tuesday, 29 August 2017
Don't work too hard
Prior to the couple's arrival the previous paediatrician had run amok and killed 10 people, and as Jane becomes more engrossed in her work, Paul becomes obsessed with finding out what had provoked the bloody massacre.
Tuesday, 15 August 2017
Magic, dragons and witches
The tale unfolds in the narrative style of an ancient saga, as Ged learns his craft and becomes a powerful wizard. His youthful arrogance unleashes an evil shadow which must be hunted down and destroyed. It's a quest that takes Ged on a journey of self discovery.
Ursula le Guin tells a great story, but I was perhaps a little too old to really be captivated by it. I wish I'd read it as a teenager, when I was entranced by The Hobbit, and The Once and Future King.
Thursday, 10 August 2017
The future problems of debt
Rather than prison, Karl signs himself and his wife up for a six-month project called "The Transition", which involves them living with and being mentored by Stu and Jenna, a successful, older couple.
Saturday, 29 July 2017
Midsomer Murders with witches
The story's premise is appealing in that it brings fantasy into a modern, stereotypical village setting; a sort of Midsomer Murders with witches. Its three main characters are likeable: Judith the elderly witch, Lizzie the vicar, and her childhood friend Autumn who runs the local witchcraft shop.
Wednesday, 19 July 2017
The new gods of America
"[-] there are new gods growing in America, clinging to growing knots of belief: gods of credit-card and freeway, of internet and telephone [-]"Neil Gaiman's American Gods imagines what it would mean to be a god in the modern world. Its premise is that the gods brought to America by successive waves of immigrants, are growing old and forgotten through lack of belief. Modern gods have been created out of media and technology; these are the things in which people now put their faith.
Tuesday, 11 July 2017
Hollywood highbrow in 2050?
"... most of [Hollywood] 2050's productions would have seemed incomprehensibly highbrow to 1950."Oh dear. I can't see this vision of the future becoming reality any time soon.
Childhood's End begins in the aftermath of WW2, when the development of nuclear weapons threatened to annihilate life on earth. Spaceships arrive and hover over the world, and alien Overlords establish order to ensure humans do not destroy themselves.
Wednesday, 28 June 2017
Pulling the wings off bluebottles
The book has many of the hallmarks of a gothic novel, and indeed this was what led me to read it. It had been sitting on a shelf for 30 years, a gift from a band who used the title as their name, and I always associated it with young men in their late teens and early twenties. As I started reading I understood why.
Tuesday, 20 June 2017
Punctuation? Who cares?
The grammatical style matches this lack of detail. If I had handed in English language homework with so little punctuation and such lack of conventional sentence structure, it would have been handed back to me covered in red ink and with zero out of ten.
But none of this matters. It certainly wouldn't matter if the world as we know it had ended. The only thing that matters is how you would act if you were in this man's shoes.
Beach or book? Both
It was an easy choice to make on a sunny Saturday afternoon on the Cote d'Azur. I could have gone to the beach, stretched out in the sun and read the next story in Wayward Girls and Wicked Women. Instead I sat in a cool back room at the Scotch Tea House to listen to a bunch of authors talk about their books. Bliss!
Meet The Authors (3 June 2017) was organized by Margo Lestz as a fringe event during Nice's Festival du Livre. Adrian Leeds directed the afternoon and ensured the seven writers passed the baton smoothly from one to the next. Most of the speakers used their knowledge of the South of France to write a variety of fiction, fact, and memoir.
Wednesday, 14 June 2017
Not my sort of thing
I liked the story, was engaged by the themes of religion and the misuse of technology, and amused by the humour. Unfortunately it just wasn't my sort of thing. I didn't connect with any of the characters, and the style of writing, although clear, didn't capture my imagination. Fortunately, with a whopping 127 chapters, many only a couple of pages long, it was easy to keep reading.
I'm glad I finished it, but I doubt I'll read anything else by Kurt Vonnegut.
Friday, 9 June 2017
I sought trains; I found passengers
"Why spend so much time traveling by train?" a friend asked when I said I was planning a rail journey through Europe. "What's the point?" One reason, according to Theroux, is that train travel animates the imagination and provides the solitude to order one's thoughts; it can be stimulating, relaxing, and sometimes monotonous.
I picked up The Great Railway Bazaar for inspiration in writing my own travel journal. It provides some excellent descriptions of places: Tehran before the overthrow of the Shah (a place I've never been), Singapore on a return visit (a place I've been to a couple of times), where a report in the Singapore Straits Times foresees the electronic delivery of mail and news to every household.
It also shows how the journey affected the author. The final leg on the Trans-Siberian Express was depressing to read, yet vivid. Theroux had clearly had enough. He was having difficulty communicating with his fellow passengers, couldn't keep his promise to get home in time for Christmas and had unsettling dreams about his family.
But above all, the book is about the people that Paul Theroux met on his epic journey by rail through Asia; a slice of life as seen from a train in the early 1970s. As he says, "I sought trains; I found passengers."
Tuesday, 6 June 2017
What's life about and why does shit happen?
This is the first Philip Roth book I've read and I'm quite ambivalent about it. There were lots of things I didn't like, including the way the narrative jumped around, the unwieldy length of the sentences, and many of the characters.
For a while I was also quite annoyed at the way the book was constructed as a story within a story. The character Zuckerman imagines the life of his high school hero, Swede Levov based on a few facts he learns at a school reunion. He cannot know the truth of Swede's life, and for a while, I found myself constantly aware that "this is a made-up story". Of course all fiction is "made-up", but I was initially frustrated by this knowledge.
Saturday, 13 May 2017
Whatever happened to Depeche Mode?
I'd completely forgotten about Depeche Mode, and I didn't bother to refresh my memory because by the time I made enquiries about the gig at Nice's Stade Ehrmann it had sold out.
The Man wanted to see them. He said they were one of his favourite bands, and lucky for him, we got two tickets that were going spare because his mates' girlfriends decided they didn't want to go.
I wasn't sure I wanted to go either, so I did a bit of browsing to find out what the Essex band's top hits had been, and what their recent output was like. A YouTube search followed, to see if I recognized anything.
And the memories came flooding back…
Saturday, 29 April 2017
The price of a fur coat or thereabouts
I'm reading and re-reading, in chronological order, books by Graham Greene, one of my favourite novelists. Stamboul Train is new to me, published in 1932. It focuses on the lives of several travelers on what is more commonly referred to as The Orient Express (Agatha Christie's crime novel came out a couple of years later). Social norms have changed somewhat in the past 80 years and perhaps this explains why I initially found many of the characters in the book unsympathetic; the bullying female journalist, the dancer who felt herself to be under a sexual obligation, the prejudices that were shown by many.
But as the players interact and the story develops, I started to enjoy it more. About half way through, the Greene that I love came out when the character Dr Czinner reflects on his life and his feelings about duty, religion, revolution and the working class.
Thursday, 27 April 2017
No happy endings
The writing style was initially difficult, but I soon got used to it. Knowing the story, I found myself sympathising with the main character rather than being appalled by his situation and actions. In many ways it was quite a depressing read. There was never going to be a happy ending for any of the characters.
Something I did find positive was the book's Afterward, in which Palahniuk explains how the novel developed from a short story. This was a brief but illuminating insight into the creative process.
After finishing the book, I watched the film again. It's still a good movie, but the book is much better.
Tuesday, 25 April 2017
Lancashire weather and religious superstition
Most of the action takes place in an isolated house, somewhere near the coast around Morecombe, where a group of Catholics are staying whilst on a pilgrimage. Strange things happen during Holy Week which have far reaching consequences for the two youngest travelers.
Sunday, 23 April 2017
No satisfactory ending
I wish I'd read that quote by author Elena Ferrante before beginning My Brilliant Friend.
It starts, as so many books do now, at some unspecified point in the future. A mystery is posed. Raffaella Cerullo, aka Lina, aka Lila, has disappered. Her friend Elena says, "It's been at least three decades since she told me that she wanted to disappear without leaving a trace". The reader is drawn into the story in the hope of finding a resolution at the end of it. Most of my disappointment with My Brilliant Friend stems from the failure to resolve this mystery once the end is reached. And it's important, I think, to know this beforehand.
Friday, 21 April 2017
Initially, I just didn't connect with Charles Pooter, the Nobody who records his day-to-day life and thoughts. Intellectually, I can see that Pooter is a funny character, pompous, old-fashioned and overly deferential to those he sees as his superiors. But I never properly laughed at his domestic and social misfortune, his groan-worthy puns and the antics of his small group of friends. The only character I really liked was Lupin, Pooter's modern, individualistic son.
I did enjoy it, but as an amusing and interesting satire of aspirational middle-class society in the late 19th century, not as one of the top ranked humorous books of all time.
Thursday, 20 April 2017
It describes the 1962 wedding night of 21-year-olds Edward and Florence, both inexperienced sexually and unable to talk about their fears. Childhood and teenage experiences are weaved into the narrative, and their family backgrounds and hopes for the future are explained. However nothing has prepared them for their first sexual encounter.
I found myself sometimes wanting to laugh at the characters' embarrassment and misunderstanding, but overall, my heart ached for them. On Chesil Beach is not only a beautifully written book, but it also provides a convincing argument for openness in discussing sex.
Monday, 17 April 2017
Phil Mitchell's fidgety sausage
Caitlin Moran takes us through her personal discovery of what it means to be a woman and a feminist. She traces her development from puberty to motherhood, and comments on how women are still being repressed by society's idealistic views of femininity.
Sunday, 16 April 2017
More depth on the page than the TV
Friday, 14 April 2017
The pain of youth
There are episodes of Philip's life that I completely connected with; his relationship with his uncle, his experience of religion, his desire to escape small-town life through travel. His adventures in Heidelberg and Paris reminded me of my own youth, trying to discover what to do with the rest of my life.
Thursday, 13 April 2017
The people, not the scenery
Before I read George Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier, I was given the impression that it contained a scathing attack on the working class of the North West of England, but I was completely misled. Orwell wanted to tell people about the terrible conditions of unemployed miners, and to make a case for supporting socialism in order to counter the 1930s rise of fascism.
Wednesday, 12 April 2017
Marvellous mystery but class-ridden characters
The book's detective is Lord Peter Wimsey, amateur sleuth, who finds himself stranded in the Fenlands on New Year's Eve. To be honest, I didn't really warm to Wimsey, and I can't say I liked many of the characters in the book. They all seemed a bit too class conscious, but perhaps this was intentional. The Industrial Revolution ignored the isolated village of Fenchurch St Paul, which seems stuck in the early 18th century. It's a place I would have wanted to escape from. Characters are obsequious or in-bred, and I found Wimsey somewhat patronizing.
Tuesday, 11 April 2017
New life not all it's cracked up to be
Kate experiences the problems of finding herself in a new place and having to make new friends, few of whom have even remotely similar interests or experiences that she can relate to. The life she now lives is banal, her days are monotonous, and her chief roles of child-carer and home-maker are dull.
Monday, 10 April 2017
A novel without a hero
I wasn't keen on Thackeray's regular asides to the reader, commenting in general about the faults of his characters and society in general. In spite of this, it was a throughly enjoyable read.
Sunday, 9 April 2017
Loretta's last stand
There's no murder investigation in this book, it's about how Loretta deals with unwanted male attention, harassment and stalking. In spite of this, I enjoyed the story, especially scenes involving a pet dog that Loretta has to look after. As a stand-alone story, it may not be everyone's cup of tea, but having followed the development of Loretta's character over the previous four books in the series, and having got to know her friends, it was a satisfying read in which there were references to the plots of previous stories and the tying up of a loose end.
Saturday, 8 April 2017
.... and what women don't say
I thought the book might be subtitled "and what women don't say", since the story revolves around the relationship between Loretta and her friend Bridget.
Friday, 7 April 2017
An ansaphone, Vivaldi, and the Communards
Set in London over Christmas and New Year, the amateur sleuth reluctantly puts up an old acquaintance on her sofa bed. We discover Loretta's conflicting feelings about her friends, lover and ex-husband, which I think make the character more sympathetic and give her more depth.
Thursday, 6 April 2017
More 80s sleuthing
This time the action takes place shortly after America's air strikes against Libya, in mid-1980s UK. Our feminist investigator is recuperating in the neighbourhood of a women's peace camp on the perimeter of an airforce base, no doubt inspired by Greenham Common.
Wednesday, 5 April 2017
Feminist blast from the past
Loretta Lawson is an English professor at a university in London. She's a feminist in an era when feminism was often equated with lesbianism and radical political views. However, with the benefit of around 30 years' hindsight, Loretta is just a normal woman, living a normal life. It must have been more of an eye-opener when it was written in the mid-1980s.