Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

.I gave orders that the bodies should remain in the open under the sun a day or two until the sweetness gave way to stench. And I liked the flies that came, their little bodies perplexed and brave, buzzing after their feast, upset by the continuing hunger they felt in themselves, a hunger I had come to know too and had come to appreciate.
.We are all hungry now. Food merely whets our appetite, it sharpens our teeth; meat makes us ravenous for more meat, as death is ravenous for more death. Murder makes us ravenous, fills the soul with satisfaction that is fierce and then luscious enough to create a taste for further satisfaction.
.A knife piercing the soft flesh under the ear, with intimacy and precision, and then moving across the throat as soundlessly as the sun moves across the sky, but with greater speed and zeal, and then his dark blood flowing with the same inevitable hush as dark night falls on familiar things.

* * * * * * * * *

….I watched people pass by, liked the way their voices filled the air, made everything feel whole, and I felt my lips turn a smile as birds jumped over and under tree branches. For a moment I thought of capturing them, placing them in my pigeon aviary in the barn. How lucky they’d be with me to look after them. I thought of Father, my stomach growled hunger and I went to the pail of water by the well, let my hands sink into the cool sip sip. I brought my hands to mouth and began drinking, lapping with my tongue. It was soft, delicate. Everything slowed down. I saw a dead pigeon lying grey and still in the yard and my stomach murmured. I looked into the sun. I thought of Father, tried to remember the last words I said to him. I took a pear from the arbour, walked back inside.

* * * * * * * * *

….Why has the murder of the Romanovs assumed such significance in the history of the revolution? It could be said that they were only a few individuals, whereas revolutions are about the millions. This is the argument of Marxist historians, who have tended to treat this episode as a minor side-show to the main event. E. H. Carr, for example, gave it no more than a single sentence in his three-volume history of the revolution. But this is to miss the deeper significance of the murder. It was a declaration of the Terror. It was a statement that from now on individuals would count for nothing in the civil war. Trotsky had once said: “We must put an end once and for all to the papist-Quaker babble about the sanctity of human life.” And that is what the Cheka [secret police] did.

* * * * * * * * *

.‘If I might make a suggestion, sir?’
.‘Press on, Jeeves.’
.‘Would it not be possible for you to go to Totleigh Towers, but to decline to carry out Miss Byng’s wishes?’
.I weighed this. It was, I could see, a thought.
.‘Issue a nolle prosequi, you mean? Tell her to go and boil her head?’
.‘Precisely, sir.’
.I eyed him reverently.
.‘Jeeves,’ I said, ‘as always, you have found the way. I’ll wire Miss Bassett and ask if I can come, and I’ll wire Aunt Dahlia that I can’t give her lunch as I’m leaving town, and I’ll tell Stiffy that whatever she has in mind she gets no service and co-operation from me. Yes, Jeeves, you’ve hit it! I’ll go to Totleigh, though the flesh creeps at the prospect. Pop Bassett will be there, Spode will be there, Stiffy will be there, the dog Bartholomew will be there. It makes one wonder why so much fuss has been made about those half-a-league half-a-league half-a-league-onward bimbos who rode into the Valley of Death. They weren’t going to find Pop Bassett at the other end. Ah well, let us hope for the best.’
.‘The only course to pursue, sir.’
.‘Stiff upper lip, Jeeves, what?’
.‘Indubitably, sir. That, if I may say so, is the spirit.’

* * * * * * * * *

From the Archives…

.I found each wave, instead of being the big, smooth glassy mountain it seems from shore, was full of peaks and smooth plains and valleys. Very often a school of dolphins appeared among these slopes and summits, giving the impression – thanks to the curved lines of their mouths – that they kept us company, and leaped in and out of the waves, for no reasons except their own pleasure and our entertainment. Sometimes we watched a piece of driftwood, or a tonsured head that turned out to be a coconut, tumble over and over in the swell: no great thing in itself, but in the heat of midday, with a soft wind blowing, and the deck sweetly rolling, enough to induce a kind of trance.

(Click for full review.)

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

44 thoughts on “Bookish selfie…

  1. Oh, my goodness, that quote from Trotsky via Orlando Figes just ices the blood, doesn’t it? The argument follows along the lines of that Dylan Thomas poem ‘A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London’: ‘After the first death, there is no other.’

    • Doesn’t it? It was a choice between that one and one from Lenin this week, on why he felt Russia should make peace with Germany – “Germany is only pregnant with revolution and we have already given birth to a healthy child. In Russia, we must make sure of throttling the bourgeoisie, and for that we need both hands free.” Some of the descriptions of the Terror are so horrific I’m finding this part of the book quite hard to read. Anyone who thinks revolutions are romantic or heroic should really read this.

          • I’d go as far as to say: name me one revolution where the people were truly the victors in the long run. One form of power/autocracy typically gets replaced with another – French Revolution, Oliver Cromwell, Eastern Europe post 1989.

            • Can’t do it! I suppose you could say the French worked out in the long run, but other countries got to the same point at roughly the same time with less blood and upheaval. I know it’s a cliché, but whenever I read about revolutions the old ‘power corrupts’ thing seems to be the major feature.

            • The French in the very long run, after all the horrible Robespierre/Danton fight, and then reverting to Napoleon and imperialism etc. etc. So maybe it was just time running its course, rather than the revolution that done it!

            • Yep, I suspect you’re right. You’d think having gone through all that we’d all be a bit more careful about what kind of idiots we elect…

  2. That first excerpt is disturbingly beautiful. As it is nearly lunchtime, I know how those little flies feel, with their continuing hunger. The next one also dabbles with hunger – I think that dead pigeon might get eaten! My beloved Ruskies are in fine, blood-thirsty form, I see – quite terrifying, the Trotsky approach to human life. At least we have the delightful Jeeves & Wooster to lighten the mood! Now, where are my sandwiches… 😀

    • Toibin has a way of doing that – his writing is so quiet and then you suddenly realise he’s punched you in the gut. The second quote on the the other hand shows just how awful creative writing classes can teach people to be… 😉 I’m at the Terror now in the revolution, and truthfully finding it quite difficult to read – somebody used the word atrocity the other day to describe something totally trivial, and I wanted to shove this book in their face and tell them to read what atrocity really means. So thank goodness for Jeeves!

      • Very, very clever writing from Toibin – I might have to give this one a try, I have been most impressed by the snippets you have shared 🙂 The second one not so much!
        Isn’t it irritating when people use just powerful words for such trivial things? Like ‘awesome’. So few things actually fill one with awe. Unless everyone these days is just easily impressed and, in the case of your example, easily offended. Actually that’s probably true 🙂
        Hurrah for Jeeves indeed!!

  3. The Figes really looks powerful, FIctionFan. I’ll be very keen to know what you think of that one. And the Schmidt looks intriguing, too! I love it that you have a Wodehouse there, too. You’ve got a nice lot of books there, and I like the variety.

    • It is, Margot – in fact, now that I’ve reached the period of the Terror I’m finding it a truly harrowing read – he pulls no punches, and rightly so. The Schmidt… hmm! I seem to be swimming against the tide with that one. 😉 Thank goodness for Wodehouse to provide some much needed light relief!

    • Haha – purely coincidental! I just seem to be reading an awful lot about various brutal murders at the moment. Thank goodness for Jeeves to brighten things up!

    • Welcome to the blog! 😀 “The People’s Tragedy” is great – one of the best histories I’ve ever read, though I’m finding bits of it quite harrowing. But I’ll be recommending it highly. Thanks for popping in and commenting.

  4. House of Names is not tempting me at all from that excerpt – too much decay and blood. I have read See What I Have Done, which I did like despite the atrocities (odd that really as gruesomeness turns me off). The Russian Revolution is tempting me a bit, but I have too many books to get round too already. The Jeeves book sounds fun – you need it after all that serious stuff.

    I see you’re also reading The Last Kingdom. I also have a copy and was wondering about reading it soon. Did you see the recent TV version? – I started watching but gave up after the first episode.

    • I’m torn about House of Names – finished it last night and will need to let it simmer a bit before I decide what I felt about it, I think. Ha! I hated See What I Have Done – in fact, I only got to about page ten. The writing style really didn’t work for me – at all! The Russian Revolution is great but it’s a huge read that’s taking up vast amounts of my reading time – worth it though. And Jeeves delights me as always!

      I’ve only read the first few pages of The Last Kingdom but I think I’m going to enjoy it – he seems like an excellent writer. I’ve never read any of his stuff before, and no, I didn’t see the TV thing either. I do enjoy the occasional well-written sword and sandals saga though, so I’m hoping he might become a new favourite!

  5. Goodness… I’ve lost my appetite. Thankfully Jeeves restored it! Those are some dark reads there, FF. It reminds me why I stopped watching The Walking Dead before bed!

    • Haha – I know, I seem to be reading lots of particularly brutal stuff at the moment. Not planned, I assure you! The one that I’m finding most harrowing is the Russian history, though – real life is more horrible than fiction every time…

      • You’re right about that! Real life IS more horrible than fiction. I believe if someone tried to write a book about today’s events, they’d get booed for being unrealistic and too dramatic.

  6. The Toibin’s on my list, and of course Jeeves is always a pleasure, but I’ll give the rest a miss.

    • Well, I won’t be twisting your arm on the Lizzie Borden book for sure – dreadful writing. I finished the Toibin last night and haven’t quite decided what I though of it yet – I’ll need to mull a bit…

  7. You didn’t get me this week, ha ha! Thank goodness. I’m up to my eyeballs in books right now. And I just signed on for an Anne of Green Gables series readalong for the rest of the year! I must have lost my mind!

    • I’m falling so far behind with my reading that the same books seem to be appearing week after week! Ha – I’ll get you soon though! 😉 The Anne readalong sounds like lots of fun – enjoy!

  8. Gee, am I the only one to find Silver tempting?? Of course, after reading your review, I’m not as tempted, but the tidbit you included here displays lovely writing. Jeeves might be the only other one that I’d even consider … those others seem to demand a strong stomach!

    • I loved the writing in Silver, and in the follow-up book (name temporarily escapes me). His plotting isn’t as good but I can still vividly remember some of the descriptions of nature. He’s one of our major poets over here, and it shows, I think. Yes, I seem to have been reading an awful lot of brutal stuff lately – thank goodness for Jeeves!

  9. Well I have read See What I Have Done, I already have two Toibin’s on the TBR so I’m not about to buy another and although I love Jeeves I’m able to resist – the writing I loved most was from Andrew Motion…

    • I loved Andrew Motion’s writing too – especially his nature descriptions which painted vivid pictures in my mind, a thing that doesn’t often happen. This Toibin didn’t work quite as well for me as his other stuff, so I’ll let you off. And as for See What I Have Done… well, wait for my review! 😉

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