My cousin said this book got her back into reading after a long (including child-making) absence. I enjoyed the teasing friendship among the protagonist, her publisher and his sister. Juliet narrative voice quite appealing. Interesting for an example of the difficult task of writing about a mix of ‘literary types’ and ‘ordinary readers’. What is the criterion for success here? It has proved very popular (and did make me want to visit Guernsey).
Archive for the ‘reading journal’ Category
Colette is continuing my education in the early works of Ian McEwan. Great example of a book exploring how terrified we all are of children. Brilliant premise, horrific and hilarious at the same time. Think I prefer The Comfort of Strangers (1981) though, for its understated exploration of sadism and intimacy, juxtaposing the two relationships and breaking the ‘normal’ one open.
My reading journal has fallen slack for too long, but now it’s August, the book manuscript has just gone off for reports on the second draft, and I have a few blissful weeks to think about everything.
Andrew Nightingale and I have been reading long poems with a view to what makes them tick, and I chose the Aeneid because I’ve never read any classical epics. I picked the C. Day Lewis translation and was surprised at how readable it is. He somehow manages to balance a conversational tone with relating grand (and very bloody) events around the founding of Rome (my Latin is at pre-GCSE level, so not sure how far this is a feature of Virgil’s writing).
I found the manipulation of time and space interesting – the way that action is made to fit around the discussion of a character’s background or status, or comparisons with nature, or attention to customs. How the narrative is distended or shrunk in order to dwell on key moments.
Liked wolf similes the best:
Marauding wolves in a black fog, at a time when their rabid hunger
Has sent them blindly prowling, and the cubs they have left are waiting
At home, their gullets parched, so through the enemy barrage
We went as to certain death, we steadily made for the heart of
The city, and were engulfed in the black night’s ambient shade.
Amused by how they keep getting shipwrecked and yet always seem to have plenty of sheep or bullocks handy to sacrifice, and shiny things to give away as wrestling prizes. The whole thing is quite homoerotic, and apart from Camilla and the sister of Turnus women are generally pathetic – Dido some kind of proto-Bridget Jones.
Golden bough somewhat underwhelming – very cursory treatment of something that I’d assumed was super-important part of mythology. Perhaps it was the equivalent of a car explosion or bridge jump in action movies: the audience will be disappointed if it doesn’t feature, but to dwell on it for too long would be boring.
And surely every good boy deserves a Mum like Venus.
Having watched loved ones succumb to Larsson all-nighters, my turn came on holiday last week. I saw less of Barcelona than planned, thanks to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Interesting to learn that the Swedish title was ‘Män som hatar kvinnor’, directing attention away from Salander’s mystique and sexuality and towards the bigger frame in which sexuality is manufactured and manipulated.
Couldn’t understand why I was so compelled to keep reading, because the style was quite blank-seeming and just seemed to catalogue things. But I guess the characters being catalogued, Blomkvist and Salander, are the secret. The whole question at the end, of whether what went on in the cellar should be told or buried, is a really uneasy one.
And, hurrah for flat-chested heroines. Wonder how far they will really honour that in the film…
After sending the MS off again at the beginning of November I found it really hard to let go, and unable to face cold turkey indulged a hankering for early c20 mass market fiction. A collection of John Buchan tales, The Moon Endureth, was to hand, bought because it included the fourth-dimensional mystery story ‘Space’ which Mary Butts references in The Death of Felicity Taverner (1932). The Buchan stories are unabashedly racist and sexist, but I find their protagonists and style appealing for how they inhabit turns of perspective. And the language at times is so old-fashioned, throwing up words that seem marvellously odd from here. His grip of the mystery and folk genres makes for brilliantly crafted stories and there’s a feeling of indulgence in inhabiting the bared mindset of colonising patriarchal power.
Enthusing about Buchan with my dad (also a fan) prompted him to give me The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers, often said to be the ‘first’ spy novel (I wonder how many books are claimed for that title). This is a shocking piece of anti-German propaganda which I could not put down. I’ve long been averse to nautical adventures of the non-armchair variety, but the descriptions of tide and wind and how they command life on the Dulcibella gave me a glimpse of what Pa must get out of his sailing trips. The character dynamic between Carruthers and Davies, and how the foppish civil servant is won over to espionage and oilskins, is what really drives the narrative and makes it unputdownable.
Another present – and very generous too, being the first British edition of 1947. I must have read this one before, having spent my secondary school years holed up with Wodehouse in the school library avoiding P.E. lessons. But the story was unfamiliar, and it made me laugh so much! I’ve always found the Jeeves and Wooster tales almost painfully perfect. It’s the tiny turns of phrase that get to me, the almost incidental turns of register that bring Bertie’s outlook to life. Perfect comfort reading for a glum spell a couple of weeks back when I felt useless in every capacity, and it seemed that the term was never going to end.
This was a birthday present several years ago which I have only got round to reading a few weeks ago. And the person who chose it really picked out something that would tickle me: with its quirks in space and time, compulsive referencing of detective fiction, word games with famous philosophies and teasing storytelling, Shamrock Tea was a gorgeous diversion from the autumn grind. Particularly loved the cheekiness of its stories within stories, and the way it slid between layers of fictionality.
This book made me howl when I got to the end. Infectious and odd being inside the head of a protagonist who deflects empathy at key moments. Second person being used like nobody every said you couldn’t.
The port drinking scenes were great, especially the one relating a thumb taken to hospital by taxi in a crisp packet. They reminded me of truly invincible drinkers I have known on the Cambridge hostel circuit. Also loved the exchange about music and the rave scene with the London publishers.
Realise this must have been another influence on Ali Smith, the deadpan approach to inner life.
This book grew and grew on me, and by the final pages I was hanging on every word.
Bowen crafts astonishingly simple sentences that carry a whole weight of character and place with them. She is able to depict a character from the inside and outside at once, with a directness that is breath-catching. And there’s something very curiously androgynous about her style that I find addictive.
Miles better than Virginia Woolf, and more reliably compelling than Butts – thanks to Tory for giving me this copy, my first foray into Bowen-world.
Really excellent production of Priestley’s most Dunne-like play at the NT this week. Audience very much impressed by the 20 years’ advancement in age of the cast between Acts 1 and 2. The 1937 clothes were horrid, and they’d all (except Earnest Beevers) been trained into different bodies, especially the women. Maximised the script’s potential for humour, and it really felt as though the cast were inhabiting their characters.
For me the philosophical material worked well to heighten the drama, but I wonder how much that was because I’ve been immersed in all things Dunne again for the past few weeks. (I even had what felt like precognitive flashes last weekend, which are irresistible once you get into the way of thinking along these lines. Now looking out for coffee grounds on the floor amid high heels, and a child’s tricycle. Not enough to go on, in A.S. Russell’s view…)
Technical features were used brilliantly to accentuate Priestley’s design. After the exposition at the end of Act 2, there were mutiple Kays before multiple mirrors, all going through the same physical gestures slightly staggered. The equivalent, or better, of Dunne’s painter before the easel – an instantly memorable image incorporated into the play’s action. Time to digest the philosophy and emotion before the lights came up and ice-cream, loo queues etc took over everyone’s minds. At the end of the play, 1919 Alan and 1937 Kay moved in and out of full size projections of their 1937 selves, with stop motion, while snatched lines from the play were streamed through speakers.
I was curious to know whether it all worked for those not obsessed with human inhabitations of time theory. The Israeli woman next to me seemed to be enjoying it. A life can be gone, just like that, she said. But it’s the little things, they make a difference. The older couple on my left were less impressed. They can’t change the lines, one said to the other – they’re stuck with those.
Programme was worth £3 for A.C. Grayling’s essay, which invokes the analogy of a novel for serial time (curious that Dunne or his literary fans never seized on this, though Huxley comes close with Philip Quarles’ Quaker Oats scheme in Point Counterpoint). Also great pics in Martin Pugh’s contribution ‘Britain Between the Wars’.
Headed home feeling the luxurious indulgence of living in London, where you can suddenly realise a text you’re studying is being performed, and dash out on a whim for a standby ticket five rows back. There’s a talk on tomorrow with Jeff Forshaw and Anthony Peake, on Priestley’s use of An Experiment with Time, so there might have to be another glass of rose by the river. Serial summer on the south bank…