TBR authors beginning with B


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TBR authors beginning with B

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 27, 2020, 6:19 pm

Many of us have books on our shelves which we have lain dormant for far too long. Those books that we have never got round to reading for one reason or another. My TBR is far too numerous to list and so I have started reading through alphabetically. I have got to the letter B

Simone de Beauvoir - Force of Circumstances read and reviewed)

Iain M Banks - Matter (read and reviewed)

Dorothy Baker - Cassandra at the wedding (read and Reviewed)

Samuel Becket - The Becket Trilogy (read and reviewed)

Anthony Burgess - The Malayan Trilogy (read and reviewed)

William Boyd - A Good man in Africa (read and reviewed)

Julian Barnes - Flauberts Parrot (read and Reviewed)

Michael Baker - Vox (read and reviewed)

Iain Banks - The Bridge (read and reviewed)

Saul Bellow - The Victim (read and reviewed)

A S Byatt - Angels and Insects (read and reviewed)

Iain Banks - Against a dark background (read and reviewed)

Alain De Botton - The art of Travel

Anthony Burgess - The Doctor is sick

Frederick Barthelme - Moon De-luxe

William Boyd - The Blue Afternoon

Simone de Beauvoir - The Mandarins

T C Boyle - Water Music

John Baxter - A pound of Paper

John Buchan - The Island of sheep

Balzac - Old Goriot

John Berendt - Midnight in the garden of good and evil

Julian Barnes - A history of the world in 10 and a half chapters

Anthony Burgess - The Devils Mode

Malcolm Bradbury - Who do you think you are

Iain Banks - Dead Air

Saul Bellow - Herzog

Arnold Bennet - Clayhanger

Marjorie Bowen - The Bishop of hell and other stories

A S Byatt - The Childrens Book

William Boyd - Armadillo

Julian Barnes - Arthur and George

Saul Bellow - Humbolt's gift

Anthony Burgess -1985

Balzac - Lost Illusions

Iain Banks - The steep approach to Goobade

William Boyd - Ordinary Thunderstorms

Anthony Burgess - The Kingdom of the wicked

marraskuu 4, 2019, 12:17 am

Well, I got thru four of those...

marraskuu 4, 2019, 7:45 am

How to count?

The Malayan trilogy: 1 or 3?
If 3, then 3.
Beckett trilogy: ?
?=decades of dipping in and out= 1
Water Music=1
Herzog...half, disgusted


marraskuu 4, 2019, 8:15 am

Send Bas Bs campaign:

Brel (complete lyrics)

marraskuu 4, 2019, 11:38 am

Love this idea. Maybe it will prompt me to finish Vargas Llosa.

When scanning the shelves in second hand bookstores, I always used to start at A, so hardly ever made it past B before reaching my limit. Luckily A S Byatt, William Boyd and T C Boyle are all favourites.

I'm at 13 or 15 on your list, depending on The Malayan Trilogy, which I'm inclined to count as one.

More Bs

Russell Banks
Mikhail Bulgakov

You know someone will ask you about the Brontes!

marraskuu 4, 2019, 4:52 pm

>5 SassyLassy: In case someone does ask me about the Brontes I will say that I have read them all.

I have started with Simone de Beauvoir's Force of CircumstancesThe longest book in her autobiographical series. 670 pages of fairly small print in the penguin edition, but enjoying it so far.

marraskuu 6, 2019, 2:20 pm


>5 SassyLassy: I saw your post and I knew what bas would say about the Brontes. As for Vargas Llosa: if you put him in the Vs you'll have plenty of time...and then there is this: which Vargas Llosa?

marraskuu 10, 2019, 6:18 pm

One down 37 to go.
A review of Force of Circumstance:

marraskuu 10, 2019, 6:52 pm

>8 baswood: Thanks for an excellent review, bas.

I was always disappointed in Camus inability to think beyond his rather precarious loyalties to the French 'Algerians'.

marraskuu 11, 2019, 11:44 am

>8 baswood:

Great review of a fascinating chronicle.

She isn't easy to love but endlessly admirable.

marraskuu 11, 2019, 12:36 pm

Bas, can you give me anything on Camus from her book?

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 11, 2019, 5:54 pm

>11 RickHarsch: This is Simone's thoughts/reactions when she heard of Camus death from someone who telephoned her with the news of his fatal car crash:

"I put down the receiver, my throat tight my lips trembling, "I'm not going to start crying, I said to myself, he didn't mean anything to me anymore' I stood there, leaning against the window, watching night come down over Saint-Germain-des-Près, incapable of calming myself or of giving way to real grief. Sartre was upset as well and we spent the whole evening with Bost talking about Camus. Before getting to bed I swallowed some belladénal pills; I hadn't taken any since Sartre's recovery, I ought to have gone to sleep, I remained completely wide awake. I got up threw on the first clothes I found and set out walking through the night. It wasn't the fifty-three year old man who had just died I was mourning; not that just man without justice, so arrogant and touchy behind his stern mask, who had been struck out of my heart when he gave his approval to the crimes of France; it was the companion of our hopeful years, whose open face laughed and smiled so easily, the young ambitious writer, wild to enjoy life, its pleasures, its triumphs, and comradeship, friendship, love and happiness. Death had brought him back to life, for him , time no longer existed, yesterday had no more truth now than the day before: Camus as I had loved him emerged from the night about me, in the same instant recovered and painfully lost."

There are many references to Camus in this part of the biography. My take on their relationship is that during the German occupation Camus was editor of the anti Nazi newspaper Combat. He was the public voice of the resistance movement. Sartre and Simone spent some of the occupation outside France and their involvement in the resistance was never clear, although they were involved. When Camus and Sartre and de Beauvoir became successful authors their political stance seemed to go in different directions.They were no longer as close and had different entourages, while Camus moved from the left more towards the centre Sartre and de Beauvoir were moving the other way. They did not like his work after L'étranger and the reviews in their newspaper were decidedly cool. I think they may have been a little jealous of Camus success with La Pest (The plague) however they did not like his L'Homme revolté published in 1951 they saw how far apart they had become and stopped seeing each other socially. There were a couple of attempts at a rapprochement but they ended the same way - enjoying each others company at first, but as the drink loosened them up the evenings ended in arguments. Sartre and de Beauvoir were appalled by the stance That Camus took in the Algerian war and there was no coming together after that. Camus was himself a pied noir and I don't think that Sartre was ever able to understand how that affected Camus' viewpoint.

Having read a biography of Camus and de Beauvoir's autobiography I can understand the rift

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 11, 2019, 6:40 pm

THanks, bas

I like her paragraph.

marraskuu 22, 2019, 4:46 pm

2 down 36 to go
Finished Matter by Iain M Banks review https://www.librarything.com/work/4194080/reviews/175728892

marraskuu 22, 2019, 8:24 pm


joulukuu 4, 2019, 4:29 pm

3 down and so 35 to go:

Dorothy Baker - Cassandra At the Wedding
The story of two identical twins Cassandra and Judith brought up in a wealthy professional family who face separation when the younger twin (Judith: a matter of minutes) plans to get married. The time scale of the novel is a momentous three days in the lives of the two girls as they try and work through the difficulties of not being together or as Cassandra says no longer being as one. The title of the book has led to a soundbite on the front cover describing it as "A dark comedy about marriage' which is wrong on both counts; it is not a comedy and it's not about marriage.

The novel was published in 1962 and was the last of the four novels Dorothy Baker wrote. I recently read her first novel Young Man with a Horn and was so impressed by Baker's handling of dialogue that I wanted to read this novel which is said to be her best. Dorothy Baker's husband claimed that the novel was based on their own two daughters and certainly the dialogue between the two crackles with an intensity that feels like it could have actually taken place. Like her first novel there is hardly a word out of place.

The first part of the novel is from the POV of Cassandra. She is travelling from Berkley California to her parents ranch some 5 hours away. She wants to see her sister who has returned home to prepare for her wedding. We learn that the sisters had set up house together in Berkley but nine months ago Judith had left and had now met a man she wants to marry. Cassandra had only been alone for three weeks before seeking help from psychiatry. Now on her journey home the anxiety that she feels is expressed by her first telephone call to her parents home where it is revealed she is travelling one day earlier than planned to see her sister before the wedding. She finally gets to speak to Judith and her knees "buckle with recognition" when she hears her sisters voice. For the majority of the novel we hear Cassandra's side of the story, her view of the close relationship with her sister and their relationship with their father and Granny who still lives at home. A smaller chunk of the novel is from Judith's point of view before we are back with Cassie.

Baker is able to pinpoint in some detail the sisters' state of mind through their actions and conversations. Because much of the novel is from Cassie's POV she is seen as a sort of victim, the one who will lose most from Judith's marriage. The family unit is a little reclusive living out on the ranch and their father is a professor who has sought solace in brandy after the early death of his wife. The two sisters like him are very intelligent, but this does not help them solve their emotional issues, nobody behaves badly, but extricating themselves from the emotional trauma of their separation proves to be impossible without hurting the more vulnerable Cassie.

The micro world of this novel is not going to shed any light on the human condition, but it does focus extremely well on a vary small incident within it. From the first few pages the quality of the writing hooked me into Cassie and the families' issues, but as the story unfolded I thought the novel lost a little of its intensity. However a very good read and so 4 stars.

joulukuu 4, 2019, 11:39 pm

and a thumb

joulukuu 15, 2019, 6:58 pm

"To revisit these books," Mr. Rushdie writes, "is to have to answer, promptly and up front, the question of difficulty, for there is no getting around it, these are difficult books."

He was talking about the next book on my list to read - The Beckett Trilogy Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable. So how difficult can they be? described in some quarters as Joycean.

joulukuu 15, 2019, 8:43 pm

They are not difficult. They're hilarious and actually quite simple. Early in the first the protagonist describes the difficulty of communicating with his mother, which circumstance has led to be accomplished by rapping on her head. On yes, two no, three something, four money. Problem is her memory so when he gets to four she thinks its two. Also dark humor--'I can't blame her, she did all she could not to have me...' 'I was out of sorts. They're a deep ditch, my sorts, and I'm not often out of them...'

And they are far from Joycean. I would go so far as to call them Beckettian.

So the question about Cassandra's Wedding: was it knowing and wise at least?

joulukuu 16, 2019, 5:04 am

Cassandra's wedding was knowing and wise.
Thanks for the heads up on the Beckett - I shall be carefree in my approach its gotta be easier than Spenser.

joulukuu 27, 2019, 7:45 am

The Beckett Trilogy: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable - Samuel Beckett

It was a long time ago. How long ago I can't really say. Perhaps I was bamboozled it would appear from the evidence, but what evidence from the book lying on my desk, the book that I am not going to read. Charity begins at home, but in this case it was a shop selling charity, who was selling this charity and was I in the mood for buying? I was gazing upwards and I couldn't quite see, somebody was in the way, my neck was hurting a fortiori. Movement was impossible, crammed in nowhere to go, if only I could reach up, it is tantalisingly close, rows and rows wherever I looked, but I could not see too much because my head had become stuck, stuck looking upwards, but I could see those dirty dusty jackets and if I could move my arm above my head then surely I would get some relief, I could enclose my fingers around a spine and a sharp tug might do the trick. There I did it, but horror of horrors a sound like cardboard fluttering on wood, I jerked forward trapping a paper object against my chest, still could not move my head, how long did I stay in this position, perhaps not very long, because a shove from the right unlocked my potential, just enough, just enough, the smell of damp overcoats cold winter dampness, chilling I got my right hand under the object, the thought of trying to bend down to pick something off the floor made me press tighter, tighter, but this prevented me moving my hand any further, a short cough, not my cough I don't think, but difficult to place, but now I was getting hot under my collar, pressure from behind, more movement a grunted apology an arm appearing above my head, but not my arm, my arm was trapped, but I could now move my head, fresh air, fresh cold air, a space had been made to my left. I was holding my breath, I could hold my breath underwater for 52 seconds, not moving, concentrating, trying not to panic, but thinking what it would feel like to drown, bubbles, choking, thrashing of arms, light disappearing. I escaped I was holding a book, I looked inside: Lindsey 1980 it said, was that a girl or a boy a woman or a man, evidence that somebody had possessed this object, which had certainly taken on the look of something unpleasant, or was that just the dust jacket with its mouldy mottled brown yellow design, it somehow looked forbidding, not welcoming. I dare you to open me with intent, intent to what, intent to get through the first paragraph. The first paragraph finished at page 84, but the count started at page 11. I could not hold my breath for that long, but I felt I might need to. I needed a distraction, something to stop my eyes slipping down the page, slipping into a temporary unconsciousness: a temporary death, from which waking up would be a guilt ridden experience. I know this. Molloy, Moran, Malone, Mahood would all slip by in an unnamable abyss. What did Lindsey think, that pretty college girl in glasses, I am quite sure that Lindsey is what I have said she was or is, but perhaps no longer; college girls grow up, but probably not growing up thinking of Molloy, Moran Malone or Mahood. She might have never forgiven the author for changing Sapos name to Macmann, but closer reading would have revealed that Sapo was just a shortening of his Mothers name; Mrs Saposcat. He became Macmann because he needed the lineage of Molloy, Moran, Malone. Mahood. Lindsey probably thought that a novel written in the genre of the Absurd and with the technique of a stream of consciousness becomes absurd stream of consciousness. How much of the absurd stream of consciousness could she take, she might not have had a choice because she had written her name on the flyleaf, part of a college curriculum. How long before her eyes glazed over how long before her mind wandered to the girl next door. The phone rings, she must get up to answer: it is 1980. Sapo is no more, forgotten never to be revisited, but the book has not read itself. Lindsey gets back into position and she ploughs on through the Unnamable: the head in the glass jar, the voices, the craving for silence, will it never end? It did end, but forty pages from the finishing line; Malone and Moran although going round in circles appeared to be getting somewhere, nowhere good, but somewhere. Malone got to be dead which was his ambition from the start, but the Unnamable, oh the unnamable just got stuck and her neck started to ache. I can't go on. I go on.
3.5 stars.

joulukuu 27, 2019, 9:03 am

I remember Lindsey...

joulukuu 27, 2019, 12:19 pm

That there are 15 stars, pal. 3 books, 5 stars each. I give your review 1 star. The other four are circulating through my pockets until you return my bicycle.

joulukuu 27, 2019, 1:58 pm

Nice to see Rick repatriated here.

joulukuu 27, 2019, 3:45 pm

Thanks. I'm a new man.

tammikuu 6, 2020, 8:13 pm

A Good Man in Africa - William Boyd.
That Good Man in Africa is Morgan Leafy; sexist, racist, usually drunk and very British who gets to play the hero in the end, but it's all OK because it's satire. The black Africans are either corrupt or stupid or both, while the white British consulate staff are just as stupid, but know when they need to assert their authority. This book comes from a long line of British satire writers on the lives of their hard pushed countrymen who are trying to make sense or make their way in the Dark Continent. Boyd who was educated at Gordonstoun and Oxford follows in the footsteps of successful authors such as Evelyn Waugh, and Kingsley Amis, but Boyd writing his first novel in the 1980's has no excuse in treading this well worn path.

Satire as I understand it is the use of humour, irony, exaggeration or ridicule to expose and criticise peoples stupidity or vices. It seems to me that Boyd works very hard to convince his readers that for the most part a small African country that was under imperial rule is just like he says it is. Our hero Morgan Leafy is quite content as long as he has a steady supply of beer and sex and he doesn't have to work too hard or think too hard to keep the supply coming. He is open to corruption, he throws his ever increasing weight around and thinks only of himself. I felt that Boyd wants his readers to have a soft spot for this racist, misogynist. Poor Morgan Leafy with all the weight of the world's troubles on his shoulders largely caused by his own actions is just looking to survive. This is not a bildungsroman or a novel about redemption, the satire does not bite it is just played for the readers amusement, with plenty of sexual titillation.

I suppose you should know what you are getting when British journals like The Times call it "Wickedly funny" or the Spectator 'Splendid rollicking stuff' and the novel won the 1981 Whitbread Literary Award and later the 1982 Somerset Maugham Award. The writing is certainly of a good standard and Boyd furnishes plenty of detail while keeping the story moving along. It is easy to label this novel as just good fun, but good harmless fun I don't think it is, I might have enjoyed this forty years ago, but not now; I almost felt like I needed to take a shower to wash away the underlying sleaze that rises up from this book. 2.5 stars.

tammikuu 7, 2020, 2:51 pm


tammikuu 7, 2020, 8:26 pm

Hmm... never read that one. I did however like his Restless and Any Human Heart, neither of which could be described as a satire. A small part of AHH takes place in Africa but I don't recall it being colonial-smug...

tammikuu 18, 2020, 5:10 pm

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 18, 2020, 5:22 pm

Anthony Burgess - The Malayan trilogy
Consists of Burgess first three novels: Time for a Tiger 1956, The Enemy in the Blanket 1958 and Beds in the East 1959. I read them as one longer novel and found that it held my interest all the way through. One of the characters the Englishman Victor Crabbe is present in all three novels; a resident teacher in the first, a headmaster in the second and then an Education officer in the third, however the novels do stand alone, I just happened to have them in one single volume on my bookshelf.

In the first novel the British seem to be in control of the Malayan Peninsula and and the book focuses on two British officials trying to come to terms with life in the colony. Burgess introduces his readers to the vibrant nationalities who are struggling to make their mark, there are the Sikhs, The Tamils, the indigenous Malays and the Chinese. Burgess writes on all these differing cultures from a British perspective but it is a perspective from first hand knowledge as he spent some time in the colonial service in Malaya as a teacher and education officer. The novels are satirical in as much as they "probably" exaggerate racial characteristics and incidents, however the satire does not become nasty or denigrating, so much different from William Boyd's first novel A Good Man in Africa that I read recently and which I found insidiously racist. The difference is that Burgess satire is based on strong characterisation of many of the people in his book, whereas Boyd only really bothers with the English characters.

Each of the books has a main theme or plot thread which is also present in the others, but which does not feature so strongly. The first novel is concerned with alcoholism. Nabby Adams is a police lieutenant in charge of transport and spends all his waking hours trying to get another drink. He is in debt to all the bar owners and so he resorts to petty thieving and some extortion to feed his habit. This has consequences for the muslim Malays who work for and with him and puts his friends and colleagues lives in danger. Victor Crabbe is a resident teacher and his problems relate to his Tamil pupils who may be inciting a revolt, there are guerilla's in the jungle.
The theme of the second book is betrayal, Victor has found a job as headmaster in another town, a town further into the Malayan heartland. There are fewer British administrators and those that are there are thinking of leaving. the theme of betrayal is also twinned with marriage. The struggling British lawyer Rupert Hardman, can only survive by marrying a muslim divorcee who has money, Victor Crabbe is fighting a losing battle to keep his wife from returning to England and he is under attack at his school because the Tamil staff are plotting against him. By the time we get to the third book Victor is about the only British representative still standing, he is another town as an Education officer preparing to hand over the reins to his Malay subordinate. His wife has left him, but Victor is still trying to do his job and he has discovered a Chinese musical prodigy. The main theme of this last novel is the disintegration of British rule and the jockeying for positions of power between the other racial groups.

Burgess describes the difficulties of living in a tropical climate in a way that made me appreciate the rising emotions of some of his characters. Some are on a short fuse especially in the final novel when any attempt at seeing a bigger picture has been reduced to isolated squabbles between the racial groups. The setting of the novels provides the continuity with the movement towards shaking off colonial rule which progresses through each book, but this movement is at a local level and Burgess is good at bringing out the effects on his characters. It is a book where characters are larger than life and they seem to break out of their stereotypes.

Burgess was familiar with how some of the financially challenged British lived in Malaya and he was familiar with local customs, this feeling for the country permeates the book and the atmosphere is set so that when returning to read the final novel I felt at home with the daily living conditions of Burgesses people. I enjoyed the final novel very much, but there is much good reading to be had in them all. There is some word play particularly at start of the first novel and Burgess is able to indulge his passion for classical music in the last book. Amusing certainly, funny in places, but not laugh out loud and so for the enjoyment value 4 stars.

tammikuu 18, 2020, 6:15 pm

It's odd how few--well, I only know this trilogy--novels came out of Malaysian visting Brits.

tammikuu 31, 2020, 12:01 pm

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 31, 2020, 12:02 pm

Julian Barnes - Flaubert's Parrot

Parrot Talk

Admissions first: I have not read anything by Gustave Flaubert and I have not enjoyed anything I have read previously by Julian Barnes (The sense of an Ending and The history of the world in 10 and a half chapters) and so I was not looking forward to taking down Flaubert's Parrot from my TBR shelf. Flaubert's Parrot published in 1984 is an early book in Julian Barnes' career as a writer and it was shortlisted for the Booker prize (Booker prize listings also cut no ice with me). It is a meta-biography of Gustave Flaubert together with many ruminations on the art of writing and the role of the critic.

Poor Gustave Flaubert one might think buried under the musings of one Geoffrey Braithwaite the supposed writer of this biography who confesses himself to be an amateur, an enthusiast even, but this is not the case because Barnes has pulled off something quite remarkable in his book. He has provided a thoughtful, one might say at times whimsical portrait of Flaubert. It is a friendly portrait with enough interest to engage the casual reader and even more importantly to encourage him/her to read something by Flaubert. A quote at the beginning of the book from one of Flaubert's many letters sets the tone:

" When you write the biography of a friend, you must do it as if you were taking revenge for him"
Flaubert, letter to Ernest Feydeau, 1872.

Barnes/Geoffrey Braithwaite sets the scene by describing the various statues of Flaubert in existence in Normandy France, which leads him on to introduce his subject by wondering what he might have thought of the statues, thereby providing an early insight into Flaubert's character. A dated chronology in the following chapter, completes the outline. Then we meet the parrot, the one that Flaubert borrowed from the museum of Rouen and which sat on his desk while he wrote (Un coeur simple) now allegedly at the Hotel-Dieu. Geoffrey Braithwaite then continues his tour of Normandy retracing the steps of Flaubert. Chapter six starts with the sentence: "Let me tell you why I hate critics" and this may not be the good Doctor Geoffrey Braithwaite speaking, although he does go on to tell some stories of his own life. We therefore have Julian Barnes writing about Geoffrey Braithwaite (a fictional character) who is supposedly writing/telling stories about the life and work of Gustave Flaubert.

Barnes then plays with the biographical format still further, by introducing a view of Flaubert from his long term lover Louise Colet. This is followed with a story of Braithwaite's wife and her early demise, but still with references to Flaubert. However in my view Barnes takes the meta-fiction a bit too far by having a chapter with big bold headings that purport to be Braithwaite's Dictionary of Accepted idea and then a chapter of Examination Questions on the life and Work of Flaubert, before finally getting round to say, that of the three stuffed parrots he has seen he has no idea which one was loaned to Flaubert. This really does not matter and this is part of Barnes' point as he questions the value of writing a biography, asking the question, how much do we need to know, isn't the work a writer leaves behind enough for future readers, Braithwaite thinks that Flaubert would have thought that to be the case. The final chapters of the novel feel like padding to me and Barnes starts to repeat himself. I almost felt like saying stop! stop! thats enough.

Barnes has written an entertaining petit biography of Flaubert which he has used to pose questions on the value of some biographies and some criticism. The entertainment sometimes gets a little too light for my taste, but I was never offended by the humour. He can certainly write well and loves France and so for those reasons this is a 4 star read.

tammikuu 31, 2020, 2:42 pm

Bravo. Flaubert's parrot is a book a liked very much.
I have read all the Flaubies with of course Sallambô as my préférée

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 5, 2020, 7:42 am

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 5, 2020, 7:43 am

The Bridge, Iain Banks
Two novels for the price of one in this early book by Iain Banks published in 1986. It preceded the first of his science fiction novels which was published the following year. After the Bridge, Banks' literary career diverged into writing science fiction novels and mainstream fiction novels, but today The Bridge reads like a combination of the two. If you enjoy reading about the Scottish socialist, rock music loving heroes struggling to come to terms with the vicissitudes of life in some of Banks' mainstream fiction and also enjoy his flights of fantasy in his alter ego as Iain M Banks the science fiction writer then this might be just the novel for you.

The novel starts with a short chapter entitled Coma where we are told of a near fatal car crash from a first person point of view. The next chapter plunges the reader into the mysterious world of the bridge where the unnamed hero who is suffering from amnesia is in consultation with a psychoanalyst (Dr Joyce) who is intent on exploring his dreams. The first time reader may be intrigued by the significance of this as the world that our hero (referred to as John Orr) inhabits is a sort of bridge to nowhere. John Orr becomes increasingly suspicious of the treatment he is receiving and seems to want to explore further the curious world that he inhabits. It is a world that has a resemblance to the Forth bridge in Scotland but takes the form of a city on a bridge. It is a Kafka-esque world where actions are taken for seemingly bureaucratic reasons which are accepted without question by the inhabitants. Orr challenges the treatment he is receiving and finds his privileges in the city summarily removed and decides to escape.

Much later in the novel we are told the story of Alex growing up in Scotland, falling in love with Andrea and becoming a successful businessman. This is typical of Bank's mainstream writing at this period of his career. Andrea and Alex grow together, but with Andrea wanting to keep her independence, there is more in her life than Alex and she moves to Paris for a four year period in pursuit of her own career and ambitions. Bank's skilfully builds in links between Alex and John Orrs story and indulges in a third story of a Barbarian who seems to be a participant in a video game. This story is told with a thick Glaswegian accent which takes a little deciphering. The three strands of the story progress towards a final denouement leaving the reader to wonder how they are connected in good mystery writing fashion.

The world building of the city on the bridge which is the dominant story in the first two thirds of the novel is handled with panache and Banks creates the atmosphere and feel of a credible alternative world, which has sufficient reference points to make it seem credible. A world of engineers and metalwork and of course trains that should appeal to railway enthusiasts. This contrasts nicely with Alex and Andreas story which has all the realism of growing up in the authors known environment of 1980's Scotland. I found the video game story with its exploration of classical myths the least convincing element to the book, and certainly the most difficult to read, but it works on a certain level even if the novel would not have been any the lesser without it. In my opinion John Orrs escape from the Bridge was the least convincing element to the book.

An element of Bank's mainstream novel writing that appeals to me is his use of contemporary cultural references; particularly to music. His characters emphasise their moods and feelings by their choice of music and if the reader has a similar amount of knowledge of popular music; of artists and their songs as does Banks then you can be even more tune with his writing. I am not aware of a writer that uses these seemingly casual references as well as Banks did, it works for me as I can hear the music in the background as I am reading the words on the page.

I have not read all of Banks; novels, but I have read many of his science fiction books and some of his mainstream fiction. I particularly enjoy his left wing, music loving heroes, out of step with Thatcher's 1980's Britain and I enjoy the hedonistic atmosphere of his science fiction culture novels. This is not quite a combination of the two, but it does have elements of both. It bursts with ideas and references that may be a bit over ambitious at times, but on the whole it works and is an absorbing read. I rate it as 4 stars.

huhtikuu 21, 2020, 8:48 am

huhtikuu 21, 2020, 8:48 am

Nicholson Baker - Vox
Well this was a little different to what I usually read. A novel that relates a telephone conversation between a couple of strangers; a man and a women who are interested in mutual masturbation. It starts with that well worn question "What are you wearing? and ends with the possibility of exchanging telephone numbers. One of them has answered an add in a personal column of a sex magazine and they both enjoy the way their telephone conversation is going. They tell stories to each other, ask personal questions and when they feel comfortable with each other, get down to the business of masturbating. The novel was published in 1992 before the advent of video messaging and so Baker's intimate descriptions have to serve a purpose.

Whatever turns you on! and this telephone call certainly turned on Jim and Abby and it could have a similar effect on the reader who is privileged to eavesdrop on their conversation. Baker writes well and the stories that are told are quirky and titillating rather than nasty and dirty. The two characters are careful not to spoil the bond that they have created and act sensitively to each others feelings. Its the sort of book that might lead you afterwards to take a warm bath rather than a cold shower. The joys of masturbation are thoroughly explored and if you find this subject best left in the hands of the beholder then the book might not be for you. I lapped it up and blame it on the confinement. 3.5 stars.

huhtikuu 30, 2020, 5:35 pm

Saul Bellow - The Victim

"Its bad to be less than human and it's bad to be more than human"

Says Shlossberg the oldest of a group of Jewish men who have been talking about the merits of current actresses (1947), but it could equally be applied to Asa Leventhal the hero of this story. Asa has come across this group of friends and acquaintances in a cafeteria and has gotten involved in the conversation while looking for an opportunity to "do something" for his unwelcome house guest Kirby Albee.

The novel is based in New York City it's hot and muggy and Asa Leventhal is alone in his apartment while his wife is visiting her parents in the South to help with a family problem. He works as a copy editor for a trade magazine: a job that he doesn't particularly like but is glad to have. The oppressive weather lies heavy on his big frame and his nerves come under pressure from two events with which throw him into turmoil. His bothers wife telephones, panicking about her sick child (his brother is away looking for work) and he is accosted by Kirby Albee in the street who bears him some sort of grudge. Asa is struggling a little without his wife and is now plunged into issues with which he is ill-equipped to solve, being a touchy individual who can rub people up the wrong way.

The centre of the story is his relationship with Kirby Albee an acquaintance from his past who blames Asa for an incident that led to the loss of his job and subsequently the loss of his wife. Albee has sunk low in the world, but is clever and manipulative and is now drinking heavily. His persistence causes Asa to question his role in the incident and when he seeks advice from a couple of his friends they also add doubt to Asa's own views that he was not to blame. One thing is clear Asa dislikes Albee and fears he is being used, but cannot shrug off a feeling that he may have behaved badly. Few people go through their lives certain that they have always acted for the best, most of us have worries that our actions have caused distress or worse to others and the Victim plays on those fears, what happens if an incident from the past rears up to threaten the future, what happens if we are held to account. The answer mostly is that things are not black or white, but the fear and anxiety caused by a recurring incident can destroy our well being and Asa in this novel is particularly vulnerable.

Asa knows that Albee is anti-Semitic from a previous argument, but now suspects that others that know him may also be suspicious of him, because he is a Jew. He cannot understand why they are not more sympathetic to his plight, similarly he believes he is not being helped by his Jewish circle of friends, there is talk of black lists and his paranoia threatens to tip him over the edge particularly when he is brow beaten into letting Albee stay in his apartment. Bellow is particularly good at creating a hot-house atmosphere that swirls claustrophobically around Asa and his descriptions of an overheated New York City bear down on his unfortunate central character.

The relationship between Asa and Albee crackles with tension and often leads to verbal and physical violence. Asa's sense of family duty, where he does not always understand the undercurrents that make up relationships can make him seem unsympathetic at times, but he is a man who does his best while trying to keep several balls in the air at the same time. Bellow's dialogue is tough and gritty. without resorting to wisecracks or the language of the street. A chapter where the Jewish circle of friends discuss the merits of various showgirls with the knowledge of impresarios is a tour de force and when a joke is made as they are planning to leave the cafeteria, it is Leventhal who thinks it is aimed at him. Bellow ends the chapter with an arresting image of the friends going up to pay:

'The musical crash of the check machine filled their ears as they waited their turn at the cashier's dazzling cage'

Business in New York City just after the second world war, called for men to work hard and sweat to keep their jobs and there were casualties. Knowing how to bend with the boss was how many people kept their head above water, Leventhal struggles with this concept his natural pride and idea of how he should be doing things gets in his way and setbacks lead to a certain amount of paranoia. Bellow captures this strikingly. This is an absorbing read, encapsulating a time and a place to great effect. 4 stars.

huhtikuu 30, 2020, 10:43 pm

Thanks Bas, great review. Makes me want to pick up Bellow again.

kesäkuu 1, 2020, 6:32 pm

A S Byatt - Angels and Insects
This was an unread book that has been lurking on my bookshelves for about 25 years. It would have been bought in a charity shop (the pencilled in price on one of the front-piece pages gives the game away) after I had read and enjoyed Byatt's previous book: the much admired Possession published in 1990. This book published two years later is in fact two novellas both classified in the genre historiographic metafiction or in more simple words; in the same style as Possession. The reader is therefore plunged back into a Victorian Britain where Byatt introduces characters who mix with or are inspired by historical figures most commonly from the literary world. I was a little skeptical as to whether I would enjoy the reading experience of books written in such a similar fashion, but I needn't have worried both Morpho Eugenia and The Conjugial Angel work their magic despite their "Hollywood Endings."

Morpho Eugenia is the most straightforward of the two novellas in that the completely fictionalised characters operate amongst a background of historical figures. William Adamson has returned from a ten year exploratory trip to the Amazon basin and survived a shipwreck where most of his worldly goods have been destroyed. He had managed to save a couple of extremely rare mounted butterflies and had been welcomed into the rich family of the Alabasters, where Harald as the head of the family invites him to stay to teach his children about the natural world and help him with a book he is in the process of writing. William Adamson falls in love with Eugenia: Alabasters eldest daughter, but dare not approach her because of his lowly social rank and lack of money. Adamson begins a study of the local ant population in an attempt to fine tune his skill as a naturalist, he is encouraged by Matty Crompton who sees the publication of a book as a way out of their financial dependency on the Alabasters. The story takes shape as a romance with many allusions to the workings of the ant colonies that exist in parallel to the numerous staff employed in looking after the Alabaster family. Byatt skilfully draws the reader into the life of the Alabaster household and gives a lecture on the social life of ants at the same time.

While I was entertained by Morpho Eugenia I found the second novella; The Conjugial Angel much more interesting. Here Byatt successfully introduces her characters into the lives of the poet Alfred Tennyson and his family, while also seamlessly providing a mini critique of the poetry. We are in the world of the Victorians enthusiasm for seances as a means of contacting the dead. A medium Sophy Sheekhy and her friend Lilias Papagay arrive at the house of Captain Jess for an arranged seance. Captain Jess's wife Emily is the sister of Alfred Tennyson and she was engaged previously to Arthur Hallam who was also a very close friend of the poet. Arthur died young at 22 and Alfred mourned his death for a number of years and wrote one of his most successful poems "In Memoriam" to the young man who had made such an impression on him. Mrs Emily Jess is hoping that the seance will enable her to communicate with Arthur beyond the grave and Lilias Papagay is also wishing to find out the truth of her husband reported missing at sea some ten years previously. Many prominent Victorians were serious in imagining that they could receive messages from the dead with the aid of a medium and Byatt describes the seance with due reverence to her subject. The seance also allows her to read between the lines of Tennyson famous poem and imagine the relationship between the poet his sister and the handsome young Arthur:

"Alfred had taken Arthur and bound him to himself, blood to blood and bone to bone, leaving no room for her. It was true that late in the poem, reference was made to her love and her loss, but that too was painful, most painful. Alfred had allowed his fantasy to imagine Arthur's future, Arthur's children, Alfreds nephews and nieces , mixing their blood."

Of course there has been speculation about the nature of Alfred and Arthurs relationship: was it a love affair, was it requited? If the example of Byatt's prose sounds a bit like something D H Lawrence might have written then it gets even more so when she speculates about a homosexual relationship.

So from reading theses two novels I have learned more that I need to about ants and have become interested in the thoughts and feelings that inspired one of Tennyson's famous poems. Byatt just about stops short of giving a lecture on either subject and I can forgive her this because of her brilliant evocations of life in Victorian Britain. She tells good stories, romantic stories that fit well with the lives of the characters both historical and imaginary and if she does sound a bit like D H Lawrence in places; well there is nothing wrong with that. When I take down a long unread book from my shelves to read then at the end the decision is: either to put it back on the shelves or put it in the charity book box. This one went back on the shelves and so 4 stars.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 1, 2020, 11:44 pm

Nice Bas ! I read Byatt Possession years ago but I remembered I liked it too.
thumbed !

kesäkuu 2, 2020, 8:22 am

I'm all thumbs.

kesäkuu 2, 2020, 11:34 am

>41 baswood:

I've read 8 of Byatt's books and liked everyone of them...

kesäkuu 27, 2020, 6:16 pm

Iain M Banks - Against a Dark Background
This was the first Of Banks' science fiction novels that I have not enjoyed. Published in 1993 it was the first of his science fiction novels not to feature the Culture: an advanced utopian machine based empire that had become guardians of the universe. I think I probably missed the Culture which until Against a Dark Background had given Banks' novels added depth. The trouble with this book in my opinion is a lack of any depth. It is an adventure story that moves on from one incredible escapade to another. An old team of adventurers get back together in a quest to find a weapon of mass destruction, amidst a war between various religious rival sects. Death and destruction is the order of the day along with some nasty villains who specialise in torture. The heroic team are only slightly less villainous than the bad guys and the body count starts to stack up.

Banks fills out the background of his leading character: the Lady Sharrow and her family with a series of flashbacks, but in my opinion they did not add anything much to the novel. A dysfunctional family that were so dysfunctional that the destruction of their siblings seemed to be the prime mover for most of their actions. The action sequences are noisy and brutal with too much happening too quickly, the reader hardly has time to get his breath back before the novel lurches on to another confrontation. There is plenty of evidence here that Banks could write a more satisfying book: he creates some imaginative fictional worlds, full of atmosphere in which his characters must adapt to and overcome challenges and problems, for example the end of the world feel of the Sea House or Miykenns with its vegetation consisting of one single large plant, but these just seem exotic backdrops to a treasure hunting storyline that could have taken place anywhere. I found the plotting cliched and predictable. Some fine descriptive writing tends to be spoilt with some flabby dialogue by characters that could be interchangeable.

Readers of science fiction will feel that they have read plenty of stories just like this one, although the writing is of a better quality than much in this genre. This has the feel of a reworked unpublished manuscript which is exactly what it is. Three stars from me and a definite blip in my enjoyment of Banks' science fiction.

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 10, 2020, 10:56 am

Alain De Botton - The Art of Travel
"mais il faut cultiver notre jardin" is the last thing Candide says in Voltaires novel published in 1759, after travelling extensively and seeing some of the man made horrors in the world. Alain de Botton seems to come to a similar conclusion at the end of his The Art of Travel, although he might extend his garden to include his immediate locality. Why bother to travel when there is so much to see close to home if you can be bothered to look more carefully. Published in 2002 this book might become more relevant to a post covid-19 world where travel is likely to be either more difficult, more dangerous or both. Miles Davis is reported to have said something like 'why do I need to go and visit famous sights when I can see pictures of them in books.' Why indeed and after reading de Botton, and perhaps being careful of your carbon footprint you might think that Miles Davis had a point. I am sure that de Botton wished to educate his readers on how to travel better, how to enhance their experiences, but his own examples of his travels are hardly inspirational: a wet three days in the lake district (England), a package holiday to Barbados and a guilty escapade in Madrid following a working seminar.

Alain de Botton is a Swiss born British philosopher who writes books and articles aimed at a more general readership. His first book 'Essay on Love" was a best seller and his "The Consolations of Philosophy" published in 2000 also sold well. He has then turned his attention to travel; travel for pleasure and to help with his ideas he has enlisted the aid of artists (authors and painters) from the past to act as our guides. Wordsworth accompanies us in our travels in the Lake District, Vincent Van Gogh is present in Provence (France) and Edward Hopper in the transit stations along the way. The book starts with the thoughts of the Duc des Esseintes the misanthropic hero of J K Huysman's "A Rebours" who came to the conclusion that: the anticipation of travel is so much better than the real thing. The Duc made careful preparations to travel from his Villa on the outskirts of Paris to London, but when he arrived at the Parisian train terminus he had a cup of coffee and decided it was not worth the effort and returned home. There are further examples of regretful travellers: for example Charles Baudelaire:

We saw stars
And waves; we saw sand to
And, despite many crises and unforeseen disasters
We were often bored, just as we are here.

It would be misleading to give the impression that the book is totally negative about travelling, but de Botton does always find something that stops him being euphoric about the experience.

In addition to de Botton's thoughts on travelling the prime motive for the book is as a self-help guide, to encourage people to think a little more about what they are doing and why they are doing it. I personally found many of his observations to be in tune with my thoughts or at least how I would like to be thinking if I took the time to write them down. His ideas can seem a little trite but they are mercifully free from wisecracks and bon mots. Towards the end of the book John Ruskin is our guide in a search for beauty and how we can benefit by looking more carefully at what is around us, perhaps taking the time to sketch our viewpoints as a way of making us see more of what is there. We are almost back to spending our time cultivating our garden and not intrusively involving ourselves in the lives of other people.

I started of reading impatiently; in as much as de Botton seemed to spend much of his energy in stating the blindingly obvious, but I warmed to him and his thoughts as he paired his travels with authors and painters from the past to give a resonance to his own writing. My penguin edition of the book contains many and only black and white photos, which do nothing to enhance the text as they are of such poor quality. Perhaps this is a coffee table book struggling to get out. It might work better in a larger format with better art work.

The book probably won't stop you booking your next holiday and it is not intended to do so, but it might make you think a little more about your expectations and how you can gain more enjoyment from the experience. 3.5 stars.

heinäkuu 10, 2020, 5:18 pm

I like the De Botton‘s books and especially this Art of travel.
Good review Bas, enjoyed it.

heinäkuu 11, 2020, 6:59 pm

I can still see and hear my sociopath agent overprouncing Alain de Botton...I am trying not to heave--I owe it to Bas to persevere, but...gotto run

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 12, 2020, 5:22 am


The word you've entered isn't in the dictionary. Click on a spelling suggestion below or try again using the search bar above.


Get messerschmitt pictures as an illustration of overprouncing

heinäkuu 12, 2020, 6:17 pm

>48 RickHarsch: I think prouncing over sounds better, but that still isn't in any dictionary, but heh that's never stopped Rick.

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 21, 2020, 11:26 am

Anthony Burgess looking a bit like Boris Johnson suffering from Covid-19

Anthony Burgess - The Doctor is sick

A dog called nigger and the opportunist but criminal Jewish Stone brothers are all rolled into this comedy satire along with the cockney proletariat, the medical profession, professors of linguistics, a loss of libido, promiscuous women and sexual perversions. Farcical and satirical by turns it does poke much fun at "Johnny Foreigner" and could have been an inspiration for the idea of dog whistle politics (not that there is any politicians in this novel). Anthony Burgess had just arrived back in England from Burma in order to seek medical help for a suspected brain tumour. His hospital experiences and his fresh look at London (he was a Mancunian) gave him all the inspiration he needed to dash off this novel in six weeks. The authors name and a price of 50p in a charity bookshop was all that was needed for it to appear on my bookshelves, where it has rested in quiet contemplation for about 30 years.

In the novel a doctor of linguistics: a doctor Spindrift is in hospital after collapsing during a lecture, he undergoes a number of tests and is told that there might be something in his brain and he needs an operation, his wife is told the full facts but has been sworn to secrecy. Spindrift suspects his wife is conducting one of her love affairs, they have an open marriage and so he creeps out of hospital for an evening to find his wife. She persuades him to return and he undergoes preparation for his operation, while under a preliminary anaesthetic he dreams he has escaped from hospital again and is again on the track of his wife. He has no money, it is cold and his head has been shaven for an operation, he embarks on a series of adventures when he meets the Stone Brothers who run an illegal speakeasy. They earmark him as a contestant in a bald headed man competition and he runs foul of Bob Courage who is a sado-masochist. Spindrift spends a madcap three days chasing round London after his wife, getting kidnapped by Bob, trying to avoid the Stone brothers and their dog called nigger.

Burgess has great fun with the language of his characters many who boast heavy accents or different modes of speech; his parodies of characters from a 1950's depressed London come alive for me. I found myself laughing a little guiltily at their antics, after all we should not be amused by a dog named nigger or of foreigners with heavily accented English. Having finally read it, I dare not put it back on my book shelf and so into the charity box it goes 3 stars. Sorry Borrie

elokuu 12, 2020, 5:39 pm

Moon Deluxe Stories - Frederick Barthelme
Diffident men play the mating game in suburban America. 17 short stories by Frederick Barthelme published in 1983. Barthelme was editor of the Mississippi review for 35 years and his stories are well written with detail and atmosphere that conjure up life in residential suburbs. People meet, interact amidst a landscape of plasticity, so concerned with consumerism that they hardly see anything else. Soulless, emotionally void the male characters deal with chance meetings against a backdrop of boredom and loneliness. No dramas, but a fascinating look at the lives of a series of men seen through their own eyes as many of the stories are written in the first or second person.

Shopgirls the second story in the collection gives a flavour of the stories that are to follow; written in the second person a good looking man becomes obsessed by one of the female sales people in a department store. After some chiding by some other sales ladies in the store you are invited back to Andreas flat and you eat together and tell each other a little about your past life, however you notice a slight imperfection in Andreas make-up and suddenly she looks wrong to you, you do not want to hurt her feelings and so you stay until midnight. This is how the story ends:

"When she decides to go to bed you make no move to follow her into the bedroom, and she makes no special invitation. You sleep on the sofa, fully dressed without even a sheet to cover you. You imagine yourself leaving the apartment on a sunny day in the middle of the week. Three beautiful women in tiny white bikinis lift their sunglasses as you pass them in the courtyard. They smile at you. You drive to the mall in a new car and spend two hours in Housewares on the second floor. You do not remember ever having been on the second floor before. Kitchen equipment is exquisite, you believe. You buy a wood handled spatula from a lovely girl with clean short hair."

Sex and consumerism, but when the going gets tough the men and the women go shopping. All the stories are written from the male perspective, but in the majority of them the women are in control if control is the right word, it is more like a careless insouciance an insouciance about their own sexuality. The men are attracted, but in most cases ultimately repelled. The stories are too short to go into motives of these people many of whom one thinks would be hard pressed to communicate reasons for their actions and some of the stories appear as mere curios, but there is usually an atmosphere of uncertainty of irresolution that is intriguing. I enjoyed reading these stories with their flavour of suburban life in the 1980's 3.5 stars and it goes back on the bookshelf.

elokuu 14, 2020, 2:24 am

I am turning into a Bas-tian. Impatiently awaiting Bas next review...what will it be this time? Some 500 year old tragedy? some soft porn sf ? A missed masterpiece ? An iconic cult ?

Bas, eclectic reader "par excellence", I'll raise my Meursault to your good health : )

syyskuu 17, 2020, 7:30 am

William Boyd - The Blue Afternoon
There are plenty of things that I did not like about Boyd's The Blue Afternoon, but the excellent telling of a story is not one of them. The limpid style and the sometimes unexpected note of hitting the human condition right between the eyes adds to an intriguing tale. Published in 1993 this is Boyd's sixth novel to hit the bookstores and he had by this time already established himself as a best selling novelist.

The novel is divided in three unequal parts. The middle section is by far the longest and tells the story of Doctor Carriscant, it is set in Manila in 1902 and although Carriscant is telling the story of his life in the Philippines it is told in the third person. Carriscant was a surgeon in a large hospital and his new ideas of scrupulous cleanliness and his operating skills and teamwork had resulted in a huge success rate in comparison with the old style surgeon Dr Cruz who was still wallowing in filth. There is a guerrilla war against American forces taking place in the countryside, but this has little impact on life in Manilla. Doctor Carriscant falls in love with Delphine who is married to an American Officer, they conduct a difficult affair amidst the spying servants and the close knit community. Carriscant has other problems a series of gruesome murders of American serviceman leads Paton Bobby as the investigating officer to Carriscant's door first to help with the medical details, but then as a suspect. Carriscant's anaesthetist Pantaleon after learning of Carriscant's affair blackmails him into co-piloting an attempt on the heavier than air (motorised) flight distance record.

The first section is told in the first person by Kay Fischer making a living as an architect in Los Angeles in 1936. Carriscant contacts her claiming that she is his daughter. Kay has no reason to believe him and her mother who is still alive stays by her story that a certain Englishman Hugh Paget was her father, but he died two months after she was born. Kay however gets drawn into Carriscant's claim and agrees to help him in a search for Paton Bobby who has retired to LA. They find Bobby and this is when Carriscant tells her his story. This first section is told as a pastiche of a Raymond Chandler mystery thriller with Kay acting out the role of a hard headed business woman. The final part is of course the search for Delphine who Carriscant believes is still alive and living in Lisbon and we are back with Kays first person story, but the pastiche is missing. This leads to one of the problems I found with the novel it does not quite hang together. Boyd has created a mystery and a style of telling the story only to abandon it when Cariiscant's story is told. There are also plenty of gaps in Carriscants tale that are never resolved, maybe because he is an unreliable narrator or because Boyd does not want to provide the reader with all the answers, but some of the answers would have been good.

The story of the love affair and the clandestine relationship is the best and most intriguing part of the book. The murder story is gruesome as is the descriptions of the operations and Dr Cruz is shown as a monster, Boyd likes to rub his readers noses in the filth and the dirt, and this can spill over into his telling of acts of physical love, where he strives to convey an erotism that made this reader feel a bit like a voyeur.

As a spinner of tales Boyd is right on the money, but at the end of the day I did not believe any of it, despite some flashing insights in human psychology that the author suddenly seems to pluck out of the ether and that do ring true. This novel is good entertainment with Boyd's skill at setting his characters in a time and place and providing enough of a sketch to fill in some of the background. A beach read, but one that may leave the reader a little frustrated. 3.5 stars.

This was the next unread book on my shelves, which I must have bought in a charity shop. The books price had been reduced from £3.50 to 50p and inside was a newspaper clipping giving a good review of the book. I presume this was an enterprising bookseller but it could have been a reader who wanted to remind him/herself of the book.

syyskuu 17, 2020, 11:04 pm


Muokkaaja: lokakuu 14, 2020, 7:33 pm

The Mandarins - Simone de Beauvoir

Nothing to do with China but everything to do with France.

An intellectual is an educated person whose interests are studying and other activities that involve careful thinking and mental effort. Simone de Beauvoir was proud to be an intellectual and for much of her adult life she operated amongst the intellectual elites in France, often being the only woman in the group. The most challenging periods for her cadre of left wing thinkers was after the liberation of Paris in 1944, when some of them who had been leading figures in the French Resistance, had to come to terms with a new French Republic ultimately lead by General De Gaulle a right of centre politician. She covered this period in the third part of her autobiography La Force des Choses published in 1963, however earlier she had written Les Mandarins published in 1954 a novel based on those events immediately after the war, which became an international best seller.

In her novel Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, De Beauvoir herself, the American Nelson Algren and Arthur Koestler are portrayed as thinly disguised characters acting out some of the imaginary events based on incidents from De Beauvoir's own life. It was an exciting and stimulating time for those characters who were desperate to play a part in politics and literature after the end of the second world war, it was also a time when those people found a new freedom to think and act after the German Occupation, although still bearing the scars of the war years. Simone De Beauvoir catches this brilliantly as a person who lived through those times: it reeks of authenticity. There are two main threads to the novel: the first is the battle to keep a war time left wing newspaper in circulation after the end of the war with Henri Perron and Robert Dubreuillh (based on the characters of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre) struggling to keep their paper out of the hands of the Communist Party; the second thread is Anne Debreuillh's (De Beauvoir) affair with the American author Lewis Brogan (Nelson Algren). The storylines of these two threads are told in alternate chapters with the battle for the newspaper told in the third person and the American affair told in the first person, with the stories overlapping.

The private lives of the characters are explored in some detail. Henri Perron's partner Paula leads a life that she devotes to Henri, willing to accommodate his affairs with younger women, but ultimately heading for a nervous breakdown. Anne Debreuillh's daughter Nadine a strong independent young woman who has an affair with Henri, but strictly on her terms. Henri also has an affair with Josette a beautiful young starlet whose mother may have collaborated with the Germans, this will come back to haunt Henri and although he is portrayed as a man of integrity much admired by younger acolytes he is compromised by events as are all of the characters in this novel. Anne's affair with the American author is a love story, but one that cannot bridge the gap between the new/young Americans and the old Europeans. De Beauvoir writes with painful honesty here and as in all the love affairs that she details; the battle of the sexes are picked clean through her brilliant character portraits. As well as the love stories, disturbing events lurk in the background; there is a gang seeking out and murdering war time collaborators that gets too close to Henri and Nadine. There is a spiteful war of words between left wing writers and thinkers that aims at character assassination and then there is the struggle to hold at bay those frenchmen and woman who were sympathetic to the German invaders and who are encouraged by the political drift of the French government towards the right.

The busy intellectual lives of Henri and Robert Dubreuill are depicted by an author who had an immense admiration for hard work. The two men are forever dashing to meetings, heading of crisis, re-inventing themselves, dreaming of a life less busy, but forever denying themselves the opportunity of resting when the chance arrives, they are both scared of not being able to make a difference. It was a world where men were in control and women were very much on the sidelines as one of the characters is heard to say:

Women? Either they are idiots or they’re unbearable.

However this is said by one of the rich young men before he tangles with the ferocious Nadine. De Beauvoir's female characters are strong in their own way, but they had little opportunity to work at the same level as the men in 1950's France. Above all this novel feels like a realistic representation of the life and times of artistic or politically motivated people.

Because it is a novel about the so-called intelligentsia De Beauvoir has plenty of opportunity to rehearse political and philosophical thoughts of people on the left wing of society. She does this through some lively conversation as her characters ruminate on their own ideas and try to influence others. She gets this so right (even in the English translation that I read) that it is no stretch of the imagination to surmise that she is recording snippets of actual conversations that she was party to at the time. Certainly Anne's conversations with Lewis Brogan feel like she is putting the record straight, even if in real life De Beauvoir did not have those actual conversations with Nelson Algren, obviously she has no trouble in getting inside the heads of her characters.

This is the second time I have read this novel; I probably read it first time round for the salacious episodes concerning the private lives of her characters, but at over 700 pages there has to be more to a novel than gossip and sex and even on my first reading I was mightily impressed with the story and the reading experience. This time around I am convinced it is one of the best novels I have read. I found myself fully immersed in the lives of Simone's characters as they attempted to come to terms with post war France. These are real people albeit at a certain elite level of society, but they are people who cared about their country, about the human condition, but like nearly everybody they could be corrupted, manipulated or just let their emotions lead them by the tail. Real people, real lives and so much to think about makes this a 5 star read.

lokakuu 29, 2020, 2:14 pm

T C Boyle - Water Music
Reading this is like a plunge into a sickly bath of filth and depravity. After a few chapters I wanted to go out for a walk in the fresh air; avoiding my local pig farm, thankful that I am living in the 21st century. London at the turn of 18th century seems little different from Central Africa when these events took place. There are two principle story lines: Mungo Park's explorations in Central Africa and Ned Rise's struggles to escape the poverty of a teeming London, there is no doubt that the two story threads will come together at some point. The story of Mungo Park is based on historical events; Mungo Park was a Scottish explorer seized with the idea of mapping the course of the River Niger while Ned Rise is a character invented by the author, both suffer horrible vicissitudes trying to survive their environments.

The whole book is one long overblown, overripe extravaganza. Was it really like this in the period: 1794 -1806? Was Mungo Park such an idiot?. Of course it is a caricature, but caricatures are based on something and how much of that something is exaggerated by T C Boyle is probably the whole point of the book: it does however make for a lively entertainment. The novel at over 400 pages seems overlong, however in my opinion it is saved by a very exciting account of Mungo Park's final chase down the River Niger, juxtaposed with his wife Ailie's calm acceptance of a life without her husband. After all the wallowing in the filth of Africa and of London, Boyle manages to infuse a little realism in the final section of the novel.

Ned Rise like Mungo Park seems indestructible

"Neither dysentery nor ague has touched him, so inured is he to filth and deprivation, so hardened against the assault of microbes by a lifetime of wallowing in the shit, scum and slime of Londons's foulest and most putrid holes"

Boyle has by this point in the novel been at pains to describe in lurid detail all of that shit, scum and slime of London as well as the barbaric shit, scum and slime of central Africa and the best that can be said of his two main characters is that they survive all that is thrown at them. When we meet Mungo in Africa he is like a rag doll figure, he is continually battered and bruised, but staggers on to the next disaster, with an air of a man who is born to lead, but with hardly a thought in his head. Ned thinks he is a self-centred fool, but follows him nevertheless. At one point in the story Mungo has a moments reflection; wondering why he finds himself about to embark on a hazardous journey just before the start of the rainy season, but quickly dismisses it: after all why should he dwell on niggling little unpleasantnesses, when he is about to make a historic journey. A caricature then rather than a characterisation, Boyle does not waste much time getting inside the heads of his characters assuming that they are as greedy, lustful and self-centred as any other human beings.

The overpowering impression that the book leaves is of the muck, filth and stench that appears to be everywhere at the turn of the eighteenth century. The drunkenness, the perversion is told with so much gleeful detail that if the reader was accused of burying his nose in a book he might retort that he has had his nose rubbed into this book. I am all for an author adding realism to his writing and appreciate that Central Africa and the poorer districts of London were not noted for their cleanliness, but one can have too much of it.

T C Boyle has used Mungo Park's own written account of his first journey "Travel in the Interior of Africa" published in 1799 as a basis for his story and so the interested reader can follow on a map the actual journey he made and the references to the people he met. Mungo Park was imprisoned by a Moorish chief at Ludamar for four months and in his account he says that Fatima the corpulent wife of his captor came to look upon him favourably. Boyle fictionalises this to tell of a woman that is force fed to become more attractive to men reaching such a size that she needs two servants to help her move around. She takes Park as her lover who delights in exploring the large landscapes of her body and by her favours he is able to fashion his escape.

This was Boyle's first novel published in 1981and he has gone on to enjoy an extremely successful career. Water Music with its extravagant historical fiction was a forerunner to more successful books. I enjoyed his reworking of history, bringing it to life with plenty of over the top, lustful and imaginative stories even though it felt a bit too much of a good thing. It had been on my book shelf for over twenty years and I was not sorry I took it down to read. Good but not really healthy entertainment 3.5 stars.

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 22, 2020, 5:14 am

John Baxter - A Pound of Paper
Subtitled confessions of a book addict and my hard backed copy comes complete with its dust cover; it was bought in a second hand book shop in Melton Mowbray (England). There were a couple of others for sale, I don't remember the cost because a friend bought it for me. These details might be important to you if you were a collector of books, although you might be in a world of your own collecting books by John Baxter, who is described as writer, journalist and film maker. A pound of Paper is an autobiography with a continuing thread of Baxter's life as a collector and dealer in books, many other aspects of his life are sketched in to give some sort of continuation to the story.

For people who read books and who visit bookshops especially second hand shops; the world of the book collectors will hold some fascination. Baxter is not overly concerned with the why's of collecting, but his story bounces along with an enthusiasm for his two subjects: which are John Baxter and book collecting. His book starts of with his collection of books by Graham Greene which serves as an introduction into first editions, unpublished works, signed copies, dedications, marginalia, manuscripts and all the paraphernalia that can grip a person addicted to collecting. Baxter's hunting down of 'Greenes' (books by Graham Greene) leads him into the slightly murky world of book dealing or book running. The visits to book fairs, and shops, the searches at house clearance sales, tip offs of collections coming up for auction, and the chasing around the countryside looking for a rare item reinforces the old adage that the chase is the most exciting part of the hunt.

Following the introductory chapters on collecting and dealing Baxter tells of his early life in Australia and his love of science fiction, which is the route that many young (men mostly) follow into the world of books. The search for something different or for favourite authors in a country where publications were more scarce than Europe or the USA fuelled the excitement of the chase and seems to have been a character defining moment for Baxter. He dabbled in science fiction and then fell into the career of journalism that opened up more work-life connections for him, but the lure of greener pastures got him on a boat for England where he had more scope to enjoy his hobby and sometimes livelihood. Baxter writes about his sojourns in America, then back to England and finally settling in Paris, but books are never far from his thoughts. He does not tell us much about his enjoyment of reading, but concentrates on the the acquisition of books. He tells us that opening a rare book can decrease its value and so perhaps he does not read so many.

My impression of John Baxter is that he is very good at self promotion and is probably rarely short of a word to say. The book of course is littered with name dropping and there are plenty of little stories about famous people in the book world. If he comes across like a poor man's Clive James, we can probably blame that on his Australian upbringing. He is certainly a man who is good at making connections and is probably good company. He has written a number of biographies of film directors and is now enjoying a career as a chronicler of an English speaker living in Paris. A Pound of Paper gives the reader a glimpse into the world of a collector and book dealer and a life well lived, it touches lightly on most things and can be read at a gallop. I enjoyed it and so three stars.

joulukuu 7, 2020, 12:03 pm

John Buchan - The Island of Sheep
John Buchan's The Thirty Nine Steps was published in 1915 and introduced his hero Richard Hannay. The Island of Sheep published in 1936 relates Richard Hannay's (now General Hannay) sixth and final adventure. He survives yet again, but John Buchan had only one more novel to write being busy with his job as Governor General to Canada; he died in service in 1940. Buchan seems not to have lost his skill in story telling even if his hero has a bit too much of the British 'stiff upper lip" and there are a few too many co-incidences, but this is fantasy adventure writing that is designed to entertain albeit based on solid ground.

Rapscallions, scoundrels, scallywags, skellums are words frequently used to describe the criminal classes, and although no doubt the world in the 1930's was no less innocent than now, the writing of novelists like Buchan certainly was. Richard Hannay and his chums belong to a social class that is bordering on being aristocratic, there are no money worries and servants and other employees take the strain out of daily living. One dabbles in politics perhaps, or writes or one holds down a job in one of the professions: the legal profession is always useful for those gentlemen that get involved in adventuring. Of course everyone knows how to shoot and most people own a gun and getting time off work is not a problem. The police force is only in existence to clear up the mess. Incidents from past exploits are liable to come back to haunt you, which is the case in this story.

Despite it all feeling like another world, one that is perhaps lost forever (even if it ever existed), there is still much to enjoy. Buchan stories usually have a surprise heroic action at the denouement and this one is no exception and the well put together plotting keeps the pages turning. Buchan's descriptions of the natural world are keen as is his love of the countryside. He also paints lively pictures of his characters once he gets past calling them rapscallions or scoundrels. There is no overt sexism or racism, but there are some allusions to the class system more prevalent in the 1930's even than today; where we might disparagingly refer to the 'white van man' Buchan refers to a tradesman's van "driven by one of those hatless youths". However for me born some twenty years after the events in the story and marvelling at a car chase up the Great North Road (before the motorway system) it holds much charm.

This was an unread book from my bookshelves and the old penguin edition (1956) just about kept together long enough for me to finish. An enjoyable read on a rainy Monday and so 3.5 stars.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 21, 2020, 5:09 pm

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - John Berendt
Truth is stranger than fiction or in this case near truth is as strange as near fiction. The story of Jim Williams several trials (1981-89) for the murder of Danny Hansford in Savannah Georgia (USA) has been manipulated by Berendt into a nonfiction novel, but the real star of this novel is the city of Savannah. The novel apparently remains the longest standing New York Times bestseller (216 weeks on the list) and two years after its publication in 1994 Savannah enjoyed a 46% increase in tourism. The city is certainly made to sound attractive, but is not a place that I would have wanted to visit in case I had met any of the characters that appear in the novel: an unlovely bunch of braggarts, social climbers and miscreants in anyones language.

The novel is written in the first person by Berendt as an active observer taking notes and meeting with the characters as the events unfold and in some ways proves to be a social document of the life of the city as seen in the upper echelons. Part one of the book describes the city and some of the characters that Berendt meets while carrying out his research. He starts with a meeting of the wealthy socialite Jim Williams at his house and the young man Danny Hansford who will be shot by Williams later (much later) in the book. The author then takes in the high spots of Savannah telling us a little about himself and his meeting with other characters; many who will not feature at all in the murder case or trial, but will still be part of Berendt's social group. Part two of the book roughly halfway through gets the story moving of the murder and trial. Part one therefore serves to be a long introduction and a whose who of the city and a whose who of those involved in the drama.

It takes some time therefore for the story of the murder and the trial to get started and that would have been fine if the first part of the book had not been written in a style that feels like reportage. Although Berendt inserts himself into the book he is a mere cypher and gives only a superficial view of the characters he meets. He is just a teller of stories and some of these are second hand. It is really only the transgender person of colour; Chablis who is so extrovert that she cannot help talking about herself that reveal any inner thoughts and she has no part to play in the murder and trail. Of course characters talk about other characters, but they are unreliable witnesses.

Forget the story of the trials that plod on through the second half of the book, because Berendt does not add much to the known facts and instead concentrate on the indictment of the social elite of Savannah. Old money. new money, racist, sexist its all here if you can see the wood for the trees. I am not sure Berendt can, but then he has a story to report. The book did not do much for me and so three stars.

tammikuu 10, 2021, 5:00 am

Anthony Burgess - The Devil's Mode
When I was collecting together the unread books from my shelves, I realised I had five by Burgess; which I probably bought in a charity shop as a sort of job lot. The Devil's Mode was the third of the five and the most disappointing. It is a collection of nine short stories, with one of them (Hun) being of novella length and probably the most pointless one of the collection.

They start of well with "A Meeting in Valladolid" where Burgess imagines the 40 year old Shakespeare being a member of a trade and culture delegation sent over to Spain to heal relations between the two countries after the succession to the English throne of James I. Of course it is Shakespeare who suffers most from sea sickness and he spends an uncomfortable time in Spain organising shortened productions of his plays as entertainments; choosing Titus Andronicus in the first instance thinking that the Spanish will enjoy the buckets of blood used in the spectacle. He meets Miguel de Cervantes, who is as irascible as his character Don Quixote. From the nuggets of history that are known about Shakespeare, Burgess has made an amusing historical fiction short story (I am not sure that we know that the bard suffered sea sickness or that he went to Spain and met Cervantes). This is a template for several other stories. "The Most Beautiful" imagines a student lecture in Wittenberg at the time of Martin Luther. 'The Cavalier of the Rose' imagines Maria Theresa of Austria in bed with her young lover which develops into a Boccaccio like farce. In "1889 and the Devil's Mode" he imagines certain European poets and musicians visiting England and Ireland: Debussy goes to a brothel in Dublin with Stephan Mallarme and then they meet Browning and Christina Rossetti. These first four historical fiction stories are cleverly worked, but by the time that we get to 'The Devils Mode' it is only Burgesses cleverness that is on show. One could say Story? what Story?

There follows two stories that are set in Malaysia and tell spicy tales of European's sexual relations with native women. These feel like chapters that didn't quite make the cut for Burgesse's previous novels collected as the Malayan trilogy with their casual sexism and racism. Both forgettable if you have read any of his previous books. A curious modern story about a man spending his inheritance on air travel is next and is more original in conception, but this is all too quickly followed by Hun. The Hun is Atilla and Burgess imagines the barbarian hordes conquest of much that was Roman Europe. As an exercise in trying to understand Atilla it makes no sense with Burgess tackling that problem with 20th century hindsight. Christopher Marlowe was much more successful in the late 16th century with his depiction of another Asiatic conqueror Tamburlaine (Tamurlane) in his play Tamburlaine the great. With Burgess we get 15th century warriors speaking like 20th century politicians and descriptions of the barbarities enacted against the towns and cities in their way. This reader had trouble staying awake (but maybe the wine didn't help). The final story is a Sherlock Holmes adventure and this is more successful and fitting perhaps because Holmes is even more clever than Burgess.

These stories were collected and published in 1989 and perhaps with their 'intellectual' dazzle they seemed more original, but reading them today I found that many of them had lost their sparkle and a novella (Hun) has never seemed so long. 3 stars.

tammikuu 10, 2021, 6:15 am

Txs Bas, interesting post !

tammikuu 22, 2021, 5:24 pm

Malcolm Bradbury - Who do you think you are?, Malcolm Bradbury
Malcolm Bradbury was an English academic and author and published this collection of short stories in 1976. This collection of seven short stories and nine parodies are largely satirical, based around life in academia. Bradbury held posts in both England and America and these stories criss cross the Atlantic ocean. The satire is sharp and witty; if a little one paced due to its subject matter not straying far from the campus. His first story "A Goodbye to Evadne Winterbottom" starts as follows:

Perhaps I should begin by saying all that follows I write if a little frankly as a professional man

This could be said about all the stories if he had added "prone to dalliances with the opposite sex" This first story concerns a welfare psychiatrist (if there is such a thing) and his patient Evadne Winterbottom whose issues make the psychiatrist examine his own life and who he wants to be. "A Very Hospitable Person" is set in America where an English couple newly working at the college are invited to a meal by an American work colleague, whose wife makes overt sexual comments which embarrasses the English couple. "Who Do You think You Are" is an intellectual quiz programme devised for the BBC where the expert participants must carry out an in depth personality review of a character selected at random, using their own specialist knowledge and ends with the experts psychoanalysing each other. This is one of the best stories with Bradbury using his insight in how the BBC worked at the time. "The Adult Education Class" is also very good telling a story of a poetry class, whose professor has to cope with one of his former college pupils, involved in a take over bid. "Nobody Here in England" is actually set in an American college who have invited an "expert" on George Bernard Shaw, who wants to make a benefaction of love letters that she claims to have received from him. The college must decide if she is genuine. "A Breakdown" is a story of a mature student falling in love with her college professor. The final story "Composition" is about a visiting English professor in America becoming involved with students, who will do anything to get better grades.

Following the stories there are nine short parodies that could have been written by writers such as Muriel Spark, Lawrence Durrell, John Braine, Alan Sillitoe etc; authors from the 1960's. A sort introductory paragraph informs the reader who Bradbury is parodying, but much of the humour would be lost if you were not familiar with the authors in question.

I found the stories witty and entertaining, there were no read duds and as satirical slices of life from the teaching side of the campus of five decades ago, they work well. This one might go back on the bookshelf 3 stars.

helmikuu 1, 2021, 2:41 pm

Iain Banks - Dead Air - 2002
An entertaining novel if you like this sort of thing. I enjoyed the first half of the novel on day one of my reading, but became less enthusiastic on the second day, when the story line became less probable as it wound up and then down to the expected climax. This is not one of Banks science fiction novels but on the whole I still think his target audience was young heterosexual males. I am no longer quite so young. By 2002 Banks had over 18 novels published, about half of which were science fiction, his other novels had fallen into a bit of a rut with his protagonists being thirty something males making their way in a thriving Britain, whilst skating on the edges of the criminal underworld. Fast cars, fast women drugs and alcohol combine to give these novels their edge.

Ken Knott is a radio shock jock probably based on someone like Howard Stern, but Ken Knott is based in London (Scottish ancestry of course as this is Iain Banks) and he is fiercely left wing in his views and rants, which is probably a bit of a novelty. He typically invites controversy and lives on a narrow margin of stepping over an invisible line that could lead to him being fired. Of course he is lead by his prick in relations with women, boasting that relationships never last longer than a year, all well and good until he has an affair with a gangsters wife. Well you can probably guess the rest and you would not be far wrong

In this novel Banks chooses to interrupt the flow of the novel with his protagonist entering into anti establishment rants with anyone who will listen and sometimes with characters who do not want to listen. This gives the novel a lively platform for debate, especially in the first half and also sets the scene for the story to develop in the second part. The reader is in no doubt of Ken Knott's views and knows that it is going to lead him into trouble, but at the end of the day Knott is just as brash as the people with whom he opposes and it is easy to view him as his own worst enemy. I enjoyed Banks depiction of the life of an abrasive disc-jockey even if it skimmed the surface a little, but there are too many other characters that are recognisable stereo-types, however one recognises that this is a fast paced thriller that is written better than most and contains at least one excellent wise-crack:

I’m like the Egyptian fresh-water carp: I’m in denial

An entertaining three stars

helmikuu 1, 2021, 11:20 pm

nice quote in the end.

helmikuu 15, 2021, 12:11 pm

Herzog - Saul Bellow
The next book along my shelf was one I had read some time ago. It had kept its place because on a first reading I felt I had not fully come to grips with it. I had found it intellectually challenging, because of the way it is written. It takes the form of a narrative story, interrupted by the thoughts of the protagonist (Herzog), expressed in self penned letters, which questioned the state of the world and his place in it. I remember finding the letters an interruption of the narrative flow that required a different mind-set to fully appreciate them. The letters, or in some cases parts, or fragments of letters are integral to the text, but are made distinctive by being type set in italics. I found the reading experience exactly the same this time around, and was tempted to gloss over parts of the longer letters.

Moses Elkanah Herzog is a forty something jewish male who is undergoing a mid life crisis. He is an academic, currently not employed, living alone in a large remote house in the countryside. He seems to be at war with the world at large and in particular with his ex-second wife Madeleine who has turned him out of their conjugal home and is living with his best friend. He is spending his time thinking of his past and how he has arrived in his current situation. Part of this process, which maybe a healing process, is writing letters to people from his past and also to fellow academics and politicians: the letters remain unsent. Moses would appear to have many things in his favour: although not a rich man, his two brothers are both rich and supportive, he has made his mark in the world of academic publications, he owns the house in the countryside that he has renovated himself; he is fit and in good health and is attractive to the opposite sex. The narrative finds him travelling to see two of his female admirers and also to have time with his young daughter Junie who lives with Madeleine and Gersbach her lover.

Herzog wallows in self pity, perhaps brought on by paranoia, but also by writers block. The most important person in the world; Herzog's world is Herzog himself and he is judgemental on all of the people around him especially the women. He claims that Madeleine finds him over-bearing, infantile, demanding, sardonic and a psychosomatic bully and by his own story there is plenty of evidence of all of this. He repeatedly refers to Madeleine as that bitch and while her actions have given him cause for grievance one wonders how much of this he has brought on himself. In mitigation he fills in the background of the struggles of his poor ancestors and his relationships with friends and other women as well as the state of the world that he finds oppressive. He asses himself at the start of the novel and finds his characteristics: narcissistic, masochistic, anachronistic and his clinical picture is depressive, but there are worse cripples around:

"Satisfied with his own severity, positively enjoying the hardness and factual rigour of his judgement, he lay on his sofa, his arms rising behind him, his legs extended without aim."

Herzog's relationships with women form the central core of the novel. There is much about his marriage to Madeleine for whom he has not a good word, apart from the fact that she is drop dead gorgeous. There is Sono the Japanese lady who he was seeing when he met Madeleine. There is Wanda with whom he had an affair and now there is Ramona. The egotistical Herzog sees relationships with women as a battle of the sexes and carnal relations are apparently the major reasons to get involved. He thinks:

"The man wants to deceive, and then to disengage himself: the woman's strategy is to disarm and detain him."

While one might be hard pressed to accuse Herzog of misogyny, one would certainly say he shows a lack of respect for the women in his life, only asking himself what they can do for him. The fact that they seem to do a lot for him is duly recorded, but they are never allowed to get too close.

Herzog in an attempt to get custody of his daughter Junie visits the Magistrates courts where he sits in the public gallery and witnesses a couple of trials, a small time crook immersed in poverty and then a nineteen year old mother accused of battering her daughter to death because she made too much noise. Leaving the court he visits his family residence and takes a gun from his fathers office with a vague idea of getting even with Madeleine and Gersbach, but following a traffic offence he finds himself in a Chicago police precinct and after his second brush with lives outside of his own, he takes himself back to his house in the Countryside. He settles down again and sets about making the house liveable, he stops writing his letters, he is visited by a concerned brother and Ramona, but underlying a Hollywood ending is that Herzog is still Herzog.

Back to the letters: an integral part of this novel and woven into the narrative with great skill. They are thought provoking, many of them are witty, certainly cheeky and occasionally angry, but they remain a problem for this reader. While they provide a background to Herzog's thoughts by providing context for the early 1960's and the fears of many people such as: increasing violence, annihilation as a result of the atomic age and governments threatening the freedom of the individual, they tend not to have a direct relevance to the story: they tend to intrude. I found the best solution for me was to go back and re-read the longer letters, when I had finished the narrative. They are in themselves something of a tour de force, but they can be a fault line.

Herzog is an original novel, but it is also a novel of its time. It would seem to have an autobiographical feel to it: Herzog is Bellow and while I can sympathise with academic jewish angst and vouch for many of the attitudes of males from the battles between the sexes at the time: I am not jewish, I am not an academic and not all the women in my life have been so stunningly attractive as described in Bellows book, I am therefore still keeping my distance from a novel that does not completely work for me and so 4 stars.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 16, 2021, 1:11 pm

5 star review Bas, Honnest and to the point. Bravo !

maaliskuu 19, 2021, 7:32 pm

Arnold Bennett - Clayhanger
Published in 1910 Clayhanger belongs to the previous century in in its themes and subject matter. One could trace its development from the novels of Jane Austen through the Bronte sisters and Thomas Hardy. Published just three years before D. H Lawrence's Sons and Lovers it seems to have little connection to the modernist themes found in Lawrence's work. The influence of Sigmund Freud was not felt by Bennett: his characters do not have sex they get married and have children. Bennett's Clayhanger is set in the Victorian era and has Victorian values: the story starts with Edwin Clayhanger's last day at school in 1872 and finishes some twenty five tears later, as he approaches forty, but the modernist literary period is not even on the horizon. Perhaps this is why Arnold Bennett has been largely overlooked and is missing from many timelines showing the development of British Literature. However Bennett at his best is a very fine writer indeed and his novels get right down amongst the vagaries of the human condition, certainly as it applied to the late Victorians with their traditions, conventions and phobias.

Many of Bennetts novels are set in what has become known as the five towns, the five towns where pottery was king. Bursley the hometown of Edwin Clayhanger is modern day Burslem. It was a hard working industrial town and against the odds Darius Clayhanger; Edwins father had hauled himself up by his bootstraps, to become one of the leading printers in Bursley and a proud owner of a steam printing machine. He ensured his son Edwin had a decent education, but when he left school he expected him to work in the printing shop and learn the business. The novel is told through Edwin's point of view as he struggles against his autocratic father and with his own diffidence. Darius keeps Edwin poor, hardly allowing him any money and Edwin although resentful comes to accept his position. He is a man who lives very much in his own head with few if any contemporary friends, things happen to him rather than him making things happen, but there are rare occasions when he takes command and surprises his family. He realises that he will one day own the business and trains himself in the aspects of the work in which he feels comfortable, and being comfortable rules Edwins existence and it is only when he shakes himself out of the rut that he feels truly alive. The novel follows Edwin's progress; he becomes master of the printing shop when his father succumbs to Alzheimer's disease and inherits it on his death, He falls in love with the mysterious Hilda Lessways, but is jilted, meanwhile the eldest daughter: Janet Orgreave, of his neighbour; a wealthy solicitor waits for Edwin to make a move.

Edwin's character is a very fine creation; he strives to better himself through his reading and his association with the better educated Orgreave family. He has a good heart and is contemptuous of men in his own society, that do not try and better themselves. He is naive and clumsy around women, but is not unattractive, he becomes comfortable with his position as one of the leading business men in Bursley and takes an interest in politics; voting socialist in the National elections more to spite his conservative colleagues as much as his own views on a more equitable society. Arnold Bennett shows his readers the industrial town of Bursley, through Edwin's eyes: the eyes of the son of a self made man, who will never know poverty, but will see it all around him and will be sympathetic when his own life style is not threatened.

Bennetts descriptions of printing works and the tawdry central square of the town is drawn down, as though from a still life. He peoples his tableau with convincing characters and some brilliant scenarios. At the age of 16 Edwin is taken to the large central Hotel and public house by big James his fathers master printer. He hears big James sing as part of a four man choir and sees a female clog dancer, an image that stays with him all his life. He looks after his father unselfishly in his final illness and does not shy away from his duties, witnessing the horror of his death. Edwin's brief romance with Hilda is pent with possibilities and his relationship with Janet is full of warmth and diffidence. The celebrations in the town of a century of chapel going is vividly portrayed as is the sorry state of the striking pottery workers. Bennett captures the atmosphere of a dirty industrial town either celebrating or carrying out the daily grind. Edwin's exertions to create his own little world in his families house, and the characters around him that pull him out of his easy lifestyle are a feature of the novel.

Edwin is surrounded by strong female characters, who are not able to break free from their traditional roles, although Hilda might be the exception. There is nothing in Bennett's writing that hints at social change, but his observations enable the reader to feel the difficulties under which the women must labour to carve out a worthwhile life in the patriarchal society. The grime, the labour, the struggle to keep ones position are all part and parcel of this novel but its central character lends it a warm heart, which never approaches being over sentimental or kitsch. At the end of the novel Edwin is nearly forty, unmarried, comfortable, but still wondering how he can improve himself and perhaps seize upon that one chance that would make him feel more happy and more alive (there are two sequels). This is an excellent novel and one that I thoroughly enjoyed - a five star read.

huhtikuu 25, 2021, 8:50 am

The Bishop of Hell & Other Stories - Marjorie Bowen
Marjorie Bowen was the pen name of Margaret Gabrielle Vere Long (1885-1952) a British author who wrote historical romances, supernatural horror stories, popular history and biography. This collection of short stories gathered together in 2006 finds her writing in the supernatural horror story genre and is subtitled 'Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural"

There are twelve short stories and eleven of them are set in the past: 18th or 17th century and so we are in a world of horse and carriages, sparsely populated landscape and big old houses. Certainly gothic in feel and at the heart of many of the stories are bitter sweet romances and a woman wronged. They are well written and strong on mystery, most feature an unexplained ghostly presence and the female characters tend to be strong and forceful. There is nothing stratingly original in the tales, but the atmosphere and carefully paced telling of the stories works well enough, along with an evocation of the past that gives them a slight other worldly feel. A nice bedtime collection that while not freezing the blood, might stimulate some spooky dreams.

Majorie Bowen was a prolific writer and while she remains firmly in the pulp tradition these examples of her work show a care and a craft that makes them a worthwhile read. The quality throughout is good and so 3.5 stars.

toukokuu 15, 2021, 11:40 am

The Children's Book - A S Byatt
A tremendously ambitious novel that charts the lives of five interconnected families and friends from 1895: the late Victorian period to George V and the end of the first world war. The families are made up of many artistic, creative characters who in the main have enough money to indulge their talents or provide support for other artists: certainly families that would find it natural to send their children to a public school and university. They are by and large progressive in their politics with members indulging themselves in Fabian circles and the suffragette movement. Their left of centre social views and sexual mores pushes against the boundaries of late Victorian Society. The central character at the start of the book is Olive Wellwood and her four children (more are to follow) married to a successful Banker. She makes her own living writing children's books based on her own children characters and story telling

It is ambitious because we follow the character development of more than thirty people as well as a contextual history of the life and times through which they lived. I do not think that I have read a novel (just over 600 pages) that manages this so well. The overall theme is that of a bildungsroman of all these children and charts their loss of innocence. The central idea of children living their lives in a sort of story book innocence is developed together with an evolution of a more sinister political situation, that will lead to the horrors of the first world war. Olive's influence over her family becomes less evident as the children grow and her stories cease to be relevant as the world situation impinges on the families. This theme is brilliantly developed by Byatt. The bildungsroman is most evident through the female characters. Largely, they grow and develop while their male counterparts either cannot cope or become stunted or disarranged. The adult male characters are largely predatory and they continue to be so, despite their belief in their own worth and progress: the male children fare a little better

Nothing but praise then for a book that achieves much that it sets out to do and yet I could not really warm to the reading experience. Personally I had some issues: It is too long, the contextual details become so dense that the reader can lose sight of the story. The attempt to manage the development of so many characters, all at the same time becomes exhausting. The family members are necessarily relegated to bit parts, they are walk on players at the many gatherings; they are moved about on a sort of chessboard by the omnipresent author: for example at a New Forest holiday camp; no less than eighteen characters arrive in small groups, all in the space of one breathless paragraph. The reader has met all of these people before, because the author has given them individual stories and we have some knowledge of their characters and their family connections, but they tend to clutter up the storyline, it is as though Byatt cannot bring herself to leave anybody out. (three quarters of the way through the novel when a typically large group of characters were gathering round the firing up of a kiln I would have been happy to see it exploding carrying away many of them with it). I felt also that the novel curiously; either has no centre or if it does, that centre is continually shifting: too much is attempted, it is too busy, perhaps it needed several volumes for Byatt to do justice to her vision.

I admire Byatt's achievement and certainly parts of the novel really did grab me and then I wondered why I had not enjoyed other parts so much. I have come to the conclusion that I liked the individual episodes where Byatt focused on one character or a small group of characters and developed her story line in more detail. There are many examples of these: Tom Wellwood's experience at a public school, Dorothy Wellwood's search for her father in Germany and Imogen's romance with Prosper Cain. It was the bringing of all these stories together that I found forced. I found the mini history lesson of the suffragette movement and the lead up to the start of the first world war evocative. Much to admire, but for me not so much to enjoy and so 3.5 stars.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 30, 2021, 4:58 am

Armadillo - William Boyd
"Mud doesn't stick to people like us" says the chief executive of a successful insurance firm. He has all the right connections of course and probably the underlying theme in Boyd's novel is the class system when "Britain was on the make" in the late 1990's under the new Labour Government. Boyd's novel uses substantial doses of irony to make his points, but his irony is whimsical never straying into satire and so at the end of the novel one is left with the feeling that "it all worked out well enough in the end". A biting satire of the class system it is not.

Lorimer Black is an insurance loss adjuster and the novel opens with a routine visit to the owner of a factory who has made an insurance claim. Black is a little put out to find the owner has hung himself from a beam in his office. The police are called and Black feels himself under suspicion. From this moment on Black is playing catch-up as the mystery deepens: why had his boss sent him to this meeting when he had done all the preliminary work himself and why was his next job; a £27million claim way above his normal price bracket? Black's world begins to fall apart as he seems to be being manoeuvred into being some sort of fall guy. Along the way he has to deal with physical assaults from enraged customers and from the husband of a mysterious woman with whom he has fallen in love. His upper class colleague at work is sacked perhaps because of his part in the 27million deal and clings to Lorimer like a leech when he is thrown out by his wife. Lorimer has stretched himself financially and bought an ancient Greek helm for more money than he has in his bank account, just at the time when he has fallen out with his boss at work and is due to be sacked. Oh! and for good measure one of his clients is a famous rock star who is being sued for cancelling a string of concerts. London in the late nineties, when there is money to be made and those in the know are manoeuvring to grab what they can.

Lorimer Black is an honest hard working likeable guy, relative to most of the people around him and this is the hook that Boyd uses to draw his readers into the story. Lorimer Black is a sympathetic character, he is good to his family, he helps his friends when he can, but is hard enough to play the game in order to make himself rich. The mystery surrounding him and his own upbringing becomes more clear as the novel progresses and Boyd does a good job of explaining the work of a loss adjuster and the value of the insurance business in the modern world. It is the nefarious goings on around Lorimer that keep the pages turning and the light touch of the author who introduces a series of characters who are larger than life: the femme fatal, the overbearing boss, the upper class twit, the crazy rock star. If all this wasn't enough, Lorimer suffers from sleep deprivation and is undergoing some sort of dream therapy treatment. There is a lot going on, and it would take a far larger book than this one to resolve all the loose ends and Boyd is not interested in doing this. Boyd is playing it all for laughs and it is amusing enough. Nothing too deep, but Boyd does not insult his readers intelligence and has written a fast paced novel that revels in its South London locations. A good entertainment even if it feels a little old fashioned and so 3.5 stars.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 31, 2021, 2:08 am

"Boyd's novel uses substantial doses of irony to make his points, but his irony is whimsical never straying into satire and so at the end of the novel one is left with the feeling that "it all worked out well enough in the end". A biting satire of the class system it is not".

: )

Boyd would not be amused if he read this

Nice piece Bas

heinäkuu 3, 2021, 5:38 am

Julian Barnes - Arthur and George.
I find Julian Barnes a clever thoughtful writer who can adapt to various writing styles. Of the four books I have read by him my favourite has been Flaubert's Parrot where Barnes' love for things French and his well researched background on the life of Gustave Flaubert shone through. Arthur and George is in a similar vein to his Flaubert book in that it takes as its basis an historical event involving a famous author: in this case Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and fleshes out the story by imagining the thoughts and actions of the characters involved. The author adds his own perspective to the events and so the reader is treated to his informed views of his subjects and these must ring true for an enjoyment of the book. It all worked pretty well for me.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle famously took up the case of George Edalji, who had written to him claiming he was the victim of a gross miscarriage of justice. George had been convicted of maiming animals in and around the village of Wyrley in Staffordshire. He had been sentenced to 7 years penal servitude, but had been released after serving three years. George was a working solicitor and the son of the local vicar, he was of Indian descent and being a shy man kept himself to himself. He seemed to have a watertight alibi for the charge in question and much of the evidence against him was circumstantial. This is the only known case where Sir Arthur used his skills as a writer of detective fiction to research and re-investigate an actual criminal offence.

Julian Barnes introduces his two main subjects by providing a biography of each in alternate short passages. The reader has to wait for well over half the book for the first meeting between the two. Barnes by this time has fixed the contrasting characters firmly in his readers mind. The rich, successful, gentleman adventurer that is Conan Doyle and the slightly repressed unambitious solicitor scraping a living in the Midlands that is George. Two men who have little in common socially, but come together, because one of them writes to the other and finds a recipient whose interest and humanity is piqued by an injustice. The reader is well aware of the events in George's life by this time, especially the circumstances that have led to his conviction. Barnes takes the readers through George's trial almost point by point. If the aim of this passage is to stir up in the reader a sense of injustice, then the amount of detail used tended to numb the effect for me. The writing is prosaic and this would be my main criticism of the novel, Barnes is so intent on explaining why things happened he does not always spark emotion in the reader. It is if he is writing a Victorian Detective novel.

Arthur and George held my interest, but only just. I felt that the novel was overlong and there was too much detail. Perhaps because he had chosen such an unemotional character in George this was necessary and because Conan Doyle strove to uphold gentlemanly values at all times this made both his characters; too one dimensional. I found myself yearning for something to shake these people out of the ruts that had been chosen for them, however as this novel is based on historical facts this was not going to happen. I found myself wondering if these events warranted such a biographical approach and so 3.5 stars.

heinäkuu 3, 2021, 1:22 pm

Interesting review Bas.
I liked Flaubert Parot's very much too.
And I did not need much help to adhere to Barnes vision of Paradise in the history of the world in 10 and a half chapters.
I might have a look at this Conan story

heinäkuu 4, 2021, 6:16 pm

It's great having all these "b" reviews together. I should say authors beginning with B, so as not to sound like a comment on their work! Enjoying seeing all the William Boyds together.

>7 RickHarsch: I seem to have wandered off for 18 months or so.
I never used to get past B in bookstores, so randomly picked another letter at which to start scanning the shelves, and V it was. I suspect the next one up would be something like Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, after the gore of The Feast of the Goat.

elokuu 12, 2021, 5:50 pm

Saul Bellow - Humboldt's Gift
Bellow may well have enjoyed writing this novel, which at the slightest opportunity veers off from its story line to comment on the state of the world (in this case the city of Chicago), but in my opinion it is not so enjoyable to read. It is sprawling, repetitive and the philosophy at times is hokum. There are passages of brilliant description, there are wry commentaries on the state of the world and there are some interesting characters, but the storyline is as much hokum as the philosophy, which does nor sit well in a novel that aims for mid twentieth century realism. The novel won the 1975 Pulitzer prize for fiction and so it must have wowed the critics back then, however I think it flatters to deceive.

The main protagonist is Charlie Citrine. He is an author, dramatist and essayist who is approaching 60 years old. He has had a big stage hit and earned a lot of money, but more important to Charlie is the debt he thinks he owes to Von Humboldt Fleischer. Humboldt had emerged back in the 1930's as a brilliant young poet and had made a name for himself in the academic world. He later nurtured the young Charlie Citrine, when his own star was fading. Humboldt died in poverty after spending the later part of his life in mental institutions. Currently Citrine is being sued by his ex wife Denise, and has fallen in love with Renata who is considerably younger than him and is spending money that he can no longer afford. He has also been trying to launch a new literary magazine which has taken another large chunk of money, with a partner who everybody but Charlie thinks is unreliable; he loses money in a poker game to a local hoodlum and gets given the run around, and it is at this crisis point in his life, he learns that Humboldt has left him a legacy.

Citrine is an honest man who always sees the best in people, but is fair game to those more ruthless than himself. He thinks deeply about his work and his own worth. He would much prefer to find time to think about the world, than get involved in money making schemes, but his weakness is women or more fundamentally his ability to fall in love, without much thought for the consequences. He is a celebrity in the literary world who is in danger of being ruined by his ex wife and her lawyers, his girlfriend, his business partner and a hoodlum, but is determined to remain true to himself and his ideas.

Citrine is a believer in anthroposophy which is a philosophy developed by Rudolph Steiner, that postulates the existence of an objective, intellectual, comprehensible spiritual world and so at the age of 60 many of his thoughts turn to what will become of him, when he dies. There are some longish passages in the book that edge around this theory. The rugged world of the capitalist west is out to do Citrine down, but women cannot resist his charm, there are the lawyers that are lined up against him and the intellectuals that fail to see his merits. Saul Bellow was himself an advocate of anthroposophy and one gets the distinct feeling that Bellow would like to be or perhaps even is Charlie Citrine and so we get great gouts of Citrine/Bellows view of the world. This confuses the story of Humboldt's Gift to such an extent, that by the time the story gets moving and after all the literary and philosophical references have been wrung out of it, this readers eyes had glazed over to such an extent that I really didn't care anymore.

There is a decent and amusing story in there somewhere I am sure, but Bellows heavy handed literary and philosophical references left me cold. After re-reading one of those passages I concluded that a good proportion of it was not worth the time spent on it. Too much paranoia for me and so a three star read.

elokuu 15, 2021, 11:32 am

Your reviews get better and better Bas.
They are honest and a pleasure to read.

lokakuu 5, 2021, 6:33 am

Anthony Burgess - 1985
Digging down through the list of unread books on my shelves; the next one to surface was 1985 which was published in 1978. It has the feel of something being cobbled together, probably stemming from a critique of George Orwell's 1984 which takes up the first hundred pages. Burgess then goes on to create his own dystopia, where he tells the story of Bev Jones' fight against the the unionised chaos of Britain in 1985. The publication is rounded off with an essay on "Workers language" and an epilogue.

First things first: I found the critique of Orwell's 1984 interesting enough. Burgess asks himself some simple questions and then answers them with plenty of wit and style. Orwell's 1984 was published in 1949 and while his vision of the world 35 years after he wrote his novel was not at all accurate, Burgess finds plenty of things that have pointed the way to how things still might turn out, remembering that he was writing in 1978 still six years before 1984. Perhaps he should have waited until 1984 to write his critique. Reading his extended essay now in 2021 seems pointless.

Burgess' own attempts to rewrite 1984 as 1985 are presumptive and disrespectful. It really is a piece of garbage, lacking in imagination and with an underlying whiff of racism, misogyny and elitism. The so-called winter of discontent of 1978 in Britain is the background. It is taken as the starting point for the trade union movement seizing power through strike action. When 1985 comes around the unionised closed-shop in Britain (renamed Tucland) controls the means of production; leading to chaos and an increasingly authoritarian regime. At the time of publication Burgess' book may have felt like right wing propaganda and reading it today feels like a bootless exercise. I soon lost patience with his essay predicting a Workers English and the Epilogue takes the form of an interview, where Burgess spouts more rubbishy thoughts about the immediate future. A book that may well have pandered to some elitist friends, but for me it is not worthy of being put in the second hand book collection box, and so out with the rubbish it goes 2 stars.

marraskuu 9, 2021, 11:08 am

Honoré de Balzac - Le Père Goriot
This is an amazing novel as Balzac uses Paris as a backdrop to paint a picture of a society; stratified, corrupt, amoral and money-obsessed: if this sounds like the Tory Government in England today then nothing has changed since 1819; the epoch of Le Père Goriot. Balzac's novel was published in serial form in 1834 and was criticised at the time for its negative view of Paris and the Parisians. No doubt Balzac could have said that his novel was set in an earlier time when the monarchy had been re-established after the fall of Napoleon, but it has come to be recognised as a valid portrait of the human condition.

The story concerns the inhabitants of a Parisian Boarding House: Maison Vaquer, and three boarders in particular. Eugene Rastignac: a medical student who shrugs off his studies when he realises that he can get ahead in society more easily, through a good marriage or as a lover of a wealthy socialite. Le Père Goriot an elderly retired business man who has fallen on hard times through his adoration of his two daughters; Delphine and Anastasia; he has obtained good marriages for them, but they see him as a continual source of revenue and he has been reduced to poverty. The third man is Vautrin a worldly wise man who tempts Rastignac into criminal activity, Vautrin is a mysterious character and there are suspicions around his activities. Rastignac has family connections that allow him an introduction to Parisian High Society, he meets Delphine who is unhappily married and is looking to escape from her husband. Meanwhile Vautrin is tempting Rastignac to make a play for Victorine, another boarder at Maison Vaquer; Victorine would receive a huge inheritence if her elder brother should die.

A feature of much nineteenth century literature is the careful and realistic descriptions of the setting for the story. Balzac spends twenty three pages at the very start of the novel detailing life in the Maison Vaquer. It is a fascinating experience to follow the authors eye around this mean, but bourgeoise residence. The story unfolds slowly as Rastignac escapes for brief moments following his route through society and learning what he must do to improve his position. Throughout the novel there are alternatively dense and lively passages to enjoy: the arrest of the master criminal "Trompe-le-Mort; the temptation of Rastignac into the schemes of Vautrin and finally the death of Père Goriot. There are few good characters in the novel with many of them having their eyes set on the main chance. The two daughters of Père Goriot seem particularly cruel, but this is hardly surprising considering that they are the property of the men they have married. An excellent read and a five star novel

marraskuu 18, 2021, 2:21 pm

And a Five star review ! Weli done Bas ! You send me back to Balzac. I visited his escape house this summer in the Loire.

joulukuu 21, 2021, 5:36 pm

Iain Banks - The Steep Approach to Garbadale
I blasted through this novel in a couple of days. It kept me reading and it kept me entertained. This is an Iain Banks novel without the M between his christian and surnames and so the reader is assured it is not one of his science fiction books. It is a family saga and the family Wopuld have made a fortune on a board game 'Empire'. It has been successfully re launched as a computer game and the family corporation are about to hold an extraordinary annual general meeting as a result of a takeover bid from an American company. Alban McGill a third generation member of the family has tried to extricate himself from the business, but is persuaded to attend the A G M by one of his cousins still working for the firm. Alban as a fifteen year old had disgraced himself by being caught 'in flagrante delicto' with his first cousin Sophie at a previous family get together. He had through his own endeavours been accepted back into the family fold, but for the last five years had been working as a lumberjack in the Scottish lowlands. He is still carrying a torch for Sophie and has never forgiven the family for forcibly separating them as teenagers.

Banks starts his story in a Glasgow tenement where Alban is living in typical squalor in a household of poor misfits. His cousin Fielding digs him out of the chaotic flat in order to get him to support his attempts to repulse the takeover bid from the American company. As the two men prepare for the big meeting Albans story is told in a series of flashbacks during a trip up to the family estate in the north of Scotland. Alban is still puzzled by some of the family history, not the least by his own birthright and through meetings with current family members he tries to piece together his story.

Alban's story takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of California, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Indonesian Tsunami and Scotland with plenty of sex, drugs and rock and roll. (It is an Iain Banks novel). Readers familiar with some of Banks earlier novel's: Crow Road or Espedair street will know how good a story teller Banks can be. There are plenty of witty asides and some thought provoking moments. There is also Bank's socialist agenda which comes in handy in this novel where he can let rip against the George W Bush loving republicans who are the senior representatives of the American takeover company. Banks even manages to parade his credentials as a climate change activist and this was back in 2007.

The downside to all this marvellous entertainment is that the character although not quite caricatures can come across as stock characters. The matriarchal head of the Wopuld family, the extended family members of the Glasgow tenement, almost all the American representatives and to some extent Alban McGill himself. The star-crossed lovers theme is a very old one and in this novel it holds the key to the story, and it is not difficult to guess the denouement way before the end. I enjoy Banks when he is writing in this vein and especially when he has a story to tell, even if some of the scenarios are set up purely for entertainment: 3.5 stars.

tammikuu 4, 2022, 5:11 pm

Ordinary Thunderstorms - William Boyd
The most famous acropachydermic was the poet W H Auden. Acropachyderma is a clubbing of the fingers, deformation of the long bones, and thickening of the skin of the scalp, face and extremeties. W H Auden died in 1973, but in the late 1960's he seemed to be almost a permanent fixture on late night intellectual programmes on the BBC. I often wondered about his incredibly wrinkled facial features: the wrinkles looked incredibly deep; I imagined they might have been caused by cigarette smoke, he always seemed to have a lighted cigarette on the go, or perhaps he had spent an ordinate amount of time on fishing boats, but no William Boyd tells us in Ordinary Thunderstorms it was acropachyderma, which was by far the most interesting thing in his 2009 novel Ordinary Thunderstorms.

Adam Kindred returns to England from America after a messy divorce. After a job interview he casually meets a man in a restaurant and they chat. The man leaves without his plastic folder and Adam decides to return it to him as he lives nearby. Adam arrives at his house to find the door open and the man lying in bed with a knife in his chest. Adam rushes over to help and the man tells him to pull out the knife. Meanwhile an intruder hiding on the balcony slips out through the front door. The man dies and Adam is left with the knife in his hands and covered in blood, he panics and rushes out of the apartment. From this moment on Adam's life is in turmoil, the dead man was a scientist, working for a pharmaceutical company, which is about to reveal a new wonder drug. Adam does not report the murder to the police, but has left enough evidence in the apartment to make him a murder suspect. A hit man is also trying to track him down. Adam takes to the streets living amongst the down and outs and then plays cat and mouse with the police and the hit man while trying to prove his innocence. Adam lurches from one adventure to another while a series of improbable coincidences keeps the story moving along.

Boyd is a good story teller and writes well enough, he can do humour and adventure and can lead his characters into tense situations. Of course its all baloney, and if two of the three female characters are whores (the other is a police woman) and expendable and the rich white male characters are cheating each other over in the big Pharma company and the man with acropachyderma gets murdered; well its all to be expected in such a novel. It mostly works itself out in the end, but although it is entertaining I did not put the book down with any feeling of satisfaction at the conclusion. Not quite storytelling by numbers, but close enough. This was one of the unread books on my shelves, it is now in the charity book box. 3 stars.

maaliskuu 20, 2022, 5:41 am

Anthony Burgess - The Kingdom of the Wicked, Burgess

When I reviewed Anthony Burgess's A Dead Man in Deptford which was an historical novel about the Elizabethan playwright Christofer Marlowe I said:

“The virtue of a historical novel is its vice - the flat footed affirmation of possibility as fact.” There are few facts known about the late sixteenth century playwright and poet Christopher Marlowe and so Burgess has great fun making up a story that fits with the facts that we do know. It is a rumbustious, roisterous, sacrilegious look at the life of a writer making his living around the playhouses of Elizabethan England and one asks oneself “was it ever thus” - well it just may have been.

The Kingdom of the Wicked published some eight years earlier (1985), shows a similar approach to historical novel writing. Burgess has fun with the early Christian movement, from the death of Jesus to the volcanic eruption in Pompeii in AD 79. He has three main strands to his story the rise of the Christian Movement led by the disciples and Saint Paul, the chaos at the heart of the Roman Empire as he follows the career of the Roman emperors and the Jewish nations own internal dissent following the teachings of christianity. Burgess is faithful to the historical outline, but like all good fiction writers he fleshes out the characters adding inventions and characters of his own to ensure nothing gets in the way of good story telling. Unsurprisingly he revels in the murder, mayhem and sexual perversions of the Roman world, which contrasts with the dedication and bravery of the early christian leaders; he provides intriguing characterisations of Saint Paul and Saint Peter.

Burgess starts his story with Sadoc, who is writing this early history. He is suffering from a chronic disease and nearing the end of his life wishes to finish this story before his death. He starts his tale controversially

"Concerning the resurrection of Jesus, everybody must believe what he can. For my part, I will not accept miracles if the rational lies to hand, and have no proof that Jesus died on the cross."

Sadoc's theory is that by all accounts Jesus was a man of immense stature, with enough breath in his lungs and body to survive the crucifixion. He was undoubtedly unconscious when taken down from the cross and his legs were not broken and after three days in the tomb he had recovered enough to roll away the stone. Sadoc then goes on to tell his story of the documented re-appearances of Jesus after the "resurrection". Nearly 400 pages later we come to the end of the story with the deaths of the last of the diciples and Saint Paul. Meanwhile we have taken in the corrupt roman emperors particularly Nero and the infighting of the Jews and their last stand at Masada. It is an enjoyable entertaining account based around the historical facts and paints a lively picture of the struggles of the early christian church. It is of course irreverent and may be offensive to some people, but for me it was both interesting, informative and for the most part entertaining. Sadoc's story is told as though he was writing it today (today being the 1980's) and so there is no attempt to place himself inside the mindset of the people living 2000 years ago.

This was my last unread Anthony Burgess novel and I have come to the conclusion that his irreverent style is suited to some subjects better than others. He had a story to tell with this book and launched himself wholeheartedly in his project to bring this to life for the modern reader. I rate this as 4 stars.

maaliskuu 20, 2022, 4:00 pm

Nice one Bas. I like Burgess. I have the kingdom in my library, but haven't read it yet. I might pick it up in the next weeks.

huhtikuu 26, 2022, 2:02 pm

A Perfect Arrangement - Suzanne Berne
A middle class family in New England, hire a nanny to look after their two children while they get on with their busy lives. We learn early on that Randi has falsified her references and that Howard and Mirella are desperate to find someone. Reading on and learning that Randi likes to be in control and there have been problems with her own family (Randi is hiding from them) the reader may well think that he knows where this novel is going: going into the realms of "The Hand That Rocked the Cradle" or other murderous nanny stories that haunt many families, who take the live-in nanny as a solution to child care problems. It is more power to the elbow of Suzanne Berne that she does not take her readers down this route, but what she does reveal about family life, is in some respects just as shocking.

Howard is an architect working from home in his purpose built extension, Mirella is a lawyer working in a busy practice that she has set up with her good friend Ruth. They have two children; a daughter Pearl who goes to play-school and her younger brother Jacob who is not yet speaking and would appear to have learning difficulties. Randi despite lacking experience throws herself into being the perfect nanny and of course the children soon appreciate the attention that she gives them. Jacob particularly thrives under her care. It is almost inevitable that Mirella will become a little jealous. Suzanne Berne focuses on the life of the family, their day to day existence, Randi striving to excel with new ideas and initiatives, while the lives of Howard and Mirella, becoming a little remote from the children; leaving them space to get into their own difficulties.

Another theme of the book is the residents pride in their New England town. Proud of their history, living a few miles north of where the pilgrim fathers landed. Pageants, fetes, are important events in their yearly calendar, seemingly a celebration of family life. However one gets the feeling that these middle class families are a little insular, too wrapped up in their own success perhaps. When things go wrong in a family, then that family tends to implode while neighbours look on in curiosity.

Randi the young nanny is the central character of this book and Berne paints her realistically as she does with the rest of the family. Nobody is nasty, nobody is evil, it is just the pressures of family and business life that takes their toll within the family unit. I enjoyed my birds eye view of the Cook-Goldmans who lacked for nothing, but a little imagination 3.5 stars.

toukokuu 25, 2022, 7:47 am

E. F. Benson - Paying Guests, E F Benson
First published in 1929 and I read the 1984 reprint published by Hogarth press. It has an introduction by Stephen Pile which adequately sums up the themes within the book, although in my view he could have spent more thought on the central love story of the novel which is lesbian. He talks about "an understandable blushing development". This does fit with the light hearted entertainment provided by the book, but in my view it deserves more analysis as it goes far beyond the idea of "women companions" and represents the only love story in the whole novel.

It is easy to like and be entertained by E F Benson. He provides a series of characters who he caricatures so expertly, that we can still recognise the real Englishness of the people underneath. Paying guests is the story of a season in a boarding house (the Wentworth): it is convenient for people who are taking health cures in the small town of Bolton Spa, but also it has a regular clientele who are almost semi resident. These are people of a certain gentile class who have no real money problems, and fill their days as they wish with the only restrictions being the lunch time and dinner time gongs for meals. The boarders form their own particular social group and are dominated by the blustering Colonel Chase, who spends his days cycling and walking and boasting about his record breaking adventures (he is a slave to his pedometer). Mrs Oxney and Mrs Bertram are two widowed sisters who take pride in running the Wentworth and this season are hosting Mr Kemp and his daughter/nurse Florence, Miss Howard who paints, plays the piano and sings and Mrs Holders who challenges the Colonel during the evening bridge sessions. A Mrs Bliss joins them all and she is passionate about following the guidance of a new craze which she calls Mind: the idea is that all health problems are not real, they are all in the mind.

The novel is built around small incidents that disturb the daily lives of the residents: the loss of Colonel Chase's pedometer, Miss Howards art exhibition, The charity concert in town and Mrs Bliss' zeal in convincing others to follow her example. However beneath the surface there are other issues, the Colonel is thinking about a female companion, Florence Kemp falls in love with Miss Howard and wants to get away from her fathers control. The humour is built around the web of deceit spun by all the characters in pursuit of their own ends. Nobody is spared and E F Benson has tremendous fun exposing all their little peccadillos. The humour is gentle and the plots are well woven into the fabric of the boarding house. As readers we are asked to be amused at this small segment of society and by and large we are. If we can see Benson's characters representing people we have come across, then the novel leans towards being satirical. The love affair between Florence and Miss Howard adds a further dimension, but I wonder should I really be amused by these selfish, reactionary, class conscious bigots. 3.5 stars.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 3, 2022, 6:46 pm

John Buchan - Greenmantle
Greenmantle was published in 1916 midway through the first world war. It is a fast paced adventure story that is filled with heroic exploits during the war. It is the second of the five novels featuring Richard Hannay: the first and most famous The 39 Steps had taken place just before the start of the war. In this novel war is a glorious business: a great show in which any real man should be proud to be involved. The climax of the novel features the capture of the town of Erzurum by the Russians from the Turks, which had taken place in February 1915.

Richard Hannay volunteers to go on a dangerous mission behind enemy lines. His task is to find details of a rumoured rising of Islamic forces that are being nurtured by the Germans. A religious leader will rise and lead the faithful to a victory over the West. Hannay has a scrap of paper on which three short phrases from a British spy uttered on his death bed have been recorded. He sets off with two close allies, each one making separate fact finding journeys through Germany to rendezvous in Istanbul.

This world of adventures is for manly heroes battling against overwhelming odds. Unfortunately one of their adversaries proves to be a woman, who creates havoc in the minds of the men. Hannay admits:

Women had never come much my way, and I knew about as much of their ways as I knew about the Chinese language. All my life I had lived with men only, and rather a rough crowd at that.

The novel is both sexist and racist and celebrates the glory of fighting men, published at a time when Britain and its allies were locked in a war against the Germans. If this does not disturb you too much and you are prepared to take it for what it was at the time of its publication, then the novel does have some attraction. Buchan has the ability to hold the readers attention with his descriptions of scenarios; whether it is a fight to the death in a locked room, a fugitive struggling to avoid capture in a foreign city or an artillery bombardment on the field of battle. His description of Istanbul during the war years and the final battle outside Erzurum are memorable and he keeps the story moving along, although there is always the necessity for the principal characters to win through with some fortunate coincidences or chance meetings. As unrealistic as this novel is, there is time for the characters to reflect on their situation, even if this reflection is tempered by the desire to uphold the fairness and sportsmanship of the upper classes.

If this novel climbs above its comic book status, then it does so only briefly. I was able to enjoy the more atmospheric situations and so 3 stars.