Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….Some, no doubt, would simply dismiss it as a by-product of barbarism. Given Russia’s long, heartless winters, its familiarity with famine, its rough sense of justice, and so on, and so on, it was perfectly natural for its gentry to adopt an act of definitive violence as the means of resolving disputes, But in the Count’s considered opinion, the reason that duelling prevailed among Russian gentlemen stemmed from nothing more than their passion for the glorious and grandiose.
….True, duels were fought by convention at dawn in isolated locations to ensure the privacy of the gentlemen involved. But were they fought behind ash heaps or in scrapyards? Of course not! They were fought in a clearing among the birch trees with a dusting of snow. Or on the banks of a winding rivulet. Or at the edge of a family estate where the breezes shake the blossoms from the trees… That is, they were fought in settings that one might have expected to see in the second act of an opera.

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….‘What an exquisite bracelet! May I look at it?’
….It was these simple but ecstatic words, spoken with Madame Lawrence’s charming foreign accent, which had begun the tragedy. The three women had stopped to admire the always admirable view from the little quay, and they were leaning over the rails when Kitty unclasped the bracelet for the inspection of the widow. The next instant there was a plop, an affrighted exclamation from Madame Lawrence in her native tongue, and the bracelet was engulfed before the very eyes of all three.
….The three looked at each other non-plussed. Then they looked around, but not a single person was in sight. Then, for some reason which, doubtless, psychology can explain, they stared hard at the water, though the water there was just as black and foul as it is everywhere else in the canal system of Bruges.
….‘Surely you’ve not dropped it!’ Eve Fincastle exclaimed in a voice of horror. Yet she knew positively that Madame Lawrence had.

From A Bracelet at Bruges by Arnold Bennett

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….Have I been too kind to empire? Perhaps. But there are plenty of works lambasting empires, ferociously portraying their dark and often brutal side. I have tried to show them in a different light. I have tried to suggest that they have been ways of dealing with some of the most difficult and challenging problems of modern states, how to manage difference and diversity. That that may not have been their initial goal, that empires arose for a variety of reasons, is not the point. The fact is that in acquiring and governing empires, the ruling peoples found themselves faced with a series of tasks that they had to solve on pain of the quick dissolution of their states. What I find striking is less the mistakes and occasional brutalities of empire than a remarkable record of success, one that nation-states would be lucky to match.

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….Being Southerners, it was a source of shame to some members of the family that we had no recorded ancestors on either side of the Battle of Hastings. All we had was Simon Finch, a fur-trapping apothecary from Cornwall whose piety was exceeded only by his stinginess. In England, Simon was irritated by the persecution of those who called themselves Methodists at the hands of their more liberal brethren, and as Simon called himself a Methodist, he worked his way across the Atlantic to Philadelphia, thence to Jamaica, thence to Mobile, and up to Saint Stephens. Mindful of John Wesley’s strictures on the use of many words in buying and selling, Simon made a pile practising medicine, but in this pursuit he was unhappy lest he be tempted into doing what he knew was not for the glory of God, as the putting on of gold and costly apparel. So Simon, having forgotten his teacher’s dictum on the possession of human chattels, bought three slaves and with their aid established a homestead on the banks of the Alabama River some forty miles above Saint Stephens. He returned to Saint Stephens only once, to find a wife, and with her established a line than ran high to daughters. Simon lived to an impressive age and died rich.

* * * * * * * * *

From the archives…

….“Glasgow was home-made ginger biscuits and Jennifer Lawson dead in the park. It was the sententious niceness of the Commander and the threatened abrasiveness of Laidlaw. It was Milligan, insensitive as a mobile slab of cement, and Mrs Lawson, witless with hurt. It was the right hand knocking you down and the left hand picking you up, while the mouth alternated apology and threat.”

(Click for full review)

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So…are you tempted?

30 thoughts on “Bookish selfie…

  1. Here we have a lovely selection, FF! Yet more Russian delights, this one seems a bit lighter than some of your recent tomes and I like this passage very much. The bit from Continental Crimes could almost be Poirot on holiday and the Empire one looks very interesting. The Laidlaw one sounds a bit grim but this excerpt is beautifully written. I shall look forward to the reviews with great interest! 😀

  2. A Bracelet at Bruges reminds me of a time in the 1980’s when I dropped my Glomesh purse into a public toilet bowl… the water was black and foul and I gasped in horror.
    Think I’ll have to read Laidlaw to take my mind off that memory.

    • I’ve only just started the empire one so haven’t formed an opinion yet, but the others are all great this week – thankfully, since I seem to be abandoning books right, left and centre at the moment. Oh, no! I hope it turned out better for you than the bracelet woman… 😉

  3. Continental Crimes certainly looks tempting, FictionFan! I may have to look that one up. And of course, To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic. So, I think, is Laidlaw – at least a classic of crime fiction. That’s one of those rare books I think every crime fiction fan ought to read, to be honest.

    • I’ve only read a few of the stories in Continental Crimes so far, but it’s well up to the usual high standard! Couldn’t agree more about Laidlaw – and especially anyone who likes either Tartan Noir or Scandi crime, I think, since it seems to have been so influential on those…

  4. That one about the bracelet reminds me of when I was a kid and dropped a necklace in the toilet while changing clothes after gym class. I’d be interested to hear how these ladies solved the problem (unlikely they, too, would reach right in and retrieve it, ha!). You can’t go wrong with To Kill a Mockingbird, either.

    • Oh, no! This extract seems to have brought back horror memories for loads of people! Haha! I can’t tell you ‘cos that’s the mystery – but it’s ingenious! Still enjoying the audio of TKAM – I haven’t had to revert to the print copy yet…

  5. Laidlaw, Continental Crimes (I know this story, it’s one of a series), To Kill a Mockingbird. I’ll wait for your review of Empires, and I’m Russianed out1

    • Is it? (One of a series, I mean.) I must look out for more then, because I loved his writing. I remember reading several of his fiction novels when I was young and loving them too but I haven’t read any of his stuff in decades. Haha – you can’t be Russianed out! There’s still five months to go… 😉

    • I rediscovered the fact that I love Arnold Bennett’s writing – I read and loved several of his fictions books as a teen/twenties but had all but forgotten him. This story has made me want to seek out more…

    • Well, I don’t like to ‘spoil’ my reviews, but I thought it was very good – hope you enjoy it! His writing style is fabulous – I love to see a great wordsmith at work… 😀

    • Both good choices! I had a couple of minor issues with A Gentleman in Moscow, but only because I’ve been so steeped in Russian history recently. Overall I really liked it – he’s a lovely writer. And these crime antholgies are always great fun… 😀

    • She’s very good – every word is clear and she gets the tone just right, and of course her accent is wonderful. But it’s a bit slow, something I often find with narrations. I’m listening to it at a faster speed now which is better, but definitely sounds speeded up, if you can imagine what I mean… I still think there’s a strong possibility I’ll revert to the written word at some point…

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