Six Degrees of Separation – From O’Farrell to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before. This month’s starting book is…

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

Hamnet is a luminous portrait of a marriage, at its heart the loss of a beloved child. Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet.

All the glowing reviews of this have tempted me to read it, but I believe it’s present tense (ugh!) and for some unaccountable and pretentious reason O’Farrell has chosen to refer to Anne Hathaway as Agnes, which would irritate me profoundly every time she was mentioned. In my first choice of books, she’s Anne…

The Secret Life of William Shakespeare by Jude Morgan. Shakespeare may get the title billing, and I loved his story as imagined by Morgan, but for me the standout feature of the book was the character of Anne – her love for Will, her fear of losing him, her strength to let him follow his driven path despite the cost to herself. She has to provide the strength that can make their relationship survive his absence, that gives him the freedom to be something she never fully understands. Will says:

‘You made Will Shakespeare, Anne. And without you there wouldn’t be a life, but the unformed shape of one, never to be.’ 

And such is Jude Morgan’s skill that this reader believed this completely.

Morgan introduces us to Shakespeare’s theatre friends and rivals, including Kit Marlowe, who stars in my next choice…

Crimson Rose by MJ Trow. It’s the opening night of Marlowe’s new play Tamburlaine Part 2 at the Rose Theatre and everyone is expecting it to be spectacular, especially the bit where they shoot the Governor. But as the guns go off, screams are heard from the audience and a woman falls dead, shot through the neck. This is a clever and funny mystery where Shakespeare is shown as a kind of hick just up from the country, while Marlowe is a 16th century James Bond. Great fun, especially the interactions among the theatre company.

More theatrical fun in my third book…

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. I adore the wonderful section when Nicholas falls in with the travelling company of actors under the headship of actor-manager and all-round ham, Vincent Crummles. Who could ever forget the Infant Phenomenon…?

.‘May I ask how old she is?’ inquired Nicholas.
….‘You may, sir,’ replied Mr Crummles, looking steadily in his questioner’s face, as some men do when they have doubts about being implicitly believed in what they are going to say. ‘She is ten years of age, sir.’
….‘Not more!’
….‘Not a day.’
….‘Dear me!’ said Nicholas, ‘it’s extraordinary.’
….It was; for the infant phenomenon, though of short stature, had a comparatively aged countenance, and had moreover been precisely the same age–not perhaps to the full extent of the memory of the oldest inhabitant, but certainly for five good years. But she had been kept up late every night, and put upon an unlimited allowance of gin-and-water from infancy, to prevent her growing tall, and perhaps this system of training had produced in the infant phenomenon these additional phenomena.

Moving away from fiction but staying with Dickens and the stage takes me to…

Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World by Simon Callow. A superbly readable and affectionate account of the great man’s life, viewing it from the perspective of how Dickens’ love for the world of the theatre influenced his life and work. Interspersed generously with Dickens’ own words, taken from his correspondence with friends, we get a real feel for his massive personality, his sense of fun, his unstoppable energy and, yes, his occasional pomposity too.

Simon Callow as Dickens

Simon Callow has often performed as Dickens, and he also appeared in the film Shakespeare In Love, set during the period when Shakespeare was writing Romeo and Juliet. My next choice is set in that same period, though that’s where the resemblance ends!

Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell. A new playhouse is opening in London and the owners are determined to make it a huge success. Actors are easy to get hold of but new plays are the magic that bring in the playgoers. Over at the Theatre, Richard Shakespeare is struggling to survive on the measly wages he receives. He’s getting too old to play women’s roles and his older brother Will won’t promise him roles playing men. He seems like the perfect target for the new playhouse – offer him regular well-paid work and perhaps he’d be willing to steal the two new scripts Will is working on – A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet. This is a light-hearted historical mystery, which may not be one for purists but gives a great depiction of how theatre operated in Shakespeare’s day.

Shakespeare wrote some pretty good plays, but I feel his main claim to fame is as the creator of the fretful porpentine, our very own star of Tuesday Terror! The porpy, who rather neatly comes from Hamlet, also turns up in my last book…

Joy in the Morning by PG Wodehouse. With sundered hearts all over the place, drunken uncles dressed in Sindbad costumes and pestilential Boy Scouts to deal with, it’s surprising that Bertie and Jeeves have time for a little literary discussion…

….Do you recall telling me once about someone who told somebody he could tell him something which would make him think a bit? Knitted socks and porcupines entered into it, I remember.”
….“I think you may be referring to the ghost of the father of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, sir. Addressing his son, he said ‘I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, thy knotted and combined locks to part and each particular hair to stand on end like quills upon the fretful porpentine.’”
….“That’s right. Locks, of course, not socks. Odd that he should have said porpentine when he meant porcupine. Slip of the tongue, no doubt, as often happens with ghosts.”

* * * * *

So from O’Farrell to Wodehouse via Shakespeare, Kit Marlowe, theatricals, Dickens, Simon Callow, and the fretful porpentine.

Hope you enjoyed the journey! 😀

Man Alive, number 5…

…or The Reading Bingo Challenge!

Another year draws to a close, so it must be time for… The Bingo Reading Challenge! I don’t deliberately look for books to read to meet this challenge, but at the end of the year it’s always fun to see how many boxes I can fill. Some of the categories are easy-peasy… others not so much. For some reason I didn’t do it last year, but I’d achieved a full house in each of the four years before that, so the pressure is on…

More than 500 pages

Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens. This one is always an easy starter for me because of my habit of reading a Dickens novel over Christmas and the New Year. Barnaby Rudge is the story of a group of people caught up in the Gordon Riots of the 1780s. Not a favourite but still very good.

A forgotten classic

Something to Answer For by PH Newby. Is it a classic? Well, it’s over 50 years old – just – and still in print, so it qualifies by my broad definition. Its main claim to fame is as the winner of the first ever Booker Prize. The story is set at the time of the Suez Crisis of 1956, and I think it’s trying to say something satirical about the effect on the British psyche of the loss of the Empire. I think. Sadly it’s kinda incomprehensible and not very good…

The second book in a series

Castle Skull by John Dickson Carr. The second Bencolin and Marle book, and like the first, a great mix of mystery and horror. Rich financier Jérôme D’Aunay begs Inspector Henri Bencolin to investigate the death of his friend, Myron Alison. Alison died in Castle Skull, last seen running ablaze about the battlements. As the name suggests, the castle is the ultimate in Gothic, and so is much of the story.

With a number in the title

The Man with Six Senses by Muriel Jaeger. Michael Bristowe is a young man with a strange talent – he can sense physical objects even when they are out of sight. But is it a gift or a curse? In this vintage SF novel from 1920, Jaeger seems to be questioning if humanity can continue to evolve at all in a world where difference is shunned.

A book that became a movie

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. As a small band of guerrillas await the order to blow up a bridge, an American volunteer falls in love with a Spanish girl. A brilliant start to my sadly neglected Spanish Civil War challenge.

Published this year

The Year Without Summer by Guinevere Glasfurd. Six intertwined stories show the effects around the world of the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. Some of the stories are fully fictional, while others are based on real people, such as Mary Shelley’s fateful trip when she would be inspired to write her masterpiece, Frankenstein.

Written by someone under 30

Braised Pork by An Yu. Following the death of her husband, as Jia Jia follows the steps of his final journey to Tibet, she finds herself drifting into a place where the lines between reality and dreams become blurred. An Yu was just 26 when this beautifully written book came out – makes you sick, doesn’t it? 😉

A mystery

Checkmate to Murder by ECR Lorac. Spoiled for choice in this category, so I’m going with a five-star book from one of my new favourite authors.  A foggy night in wartime London is the setting for this murder mystery which has aspects of an “impossible” crime.

A book with non-human characters

Dracula by Bram Stoker. Not only is Dracula the vampire himself non-human, but frankly the heroine, Mina, is so sickeningly perfect I began to wonder if she were an alien! I listened to the audiobook narrated by Greg Wise and Saskia Reeves, and their excellent performance carried me effortlessly through the boring bits slower sections.

A science fiction or fantasy book

The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray. When a rogue white dwarf star passes through the solar system, its gravitational pull affects the Earth’s rotation on its axis. Gradually over a period of years it slows, with days and nights lengthening; and then it stops completely, leaving half the earth’s surface in endless burning day and the other half in endless frozen night. Overlong, but well written and with excellent characterisation – a strong début.

A one-word title

Dissolution by CJ Sansom. One of Cromwell’s commissioners has been murdered at a monastery on the Sussex coast, and Cromwell dispatches lawyer Matthew Shardlake to investigate. The first book in this excellent series set in Tudor England, and a very enjoyable re-read.

Free square

The Mystery of Cloomber by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Since Dickens and Christie are getting mentions, I couldn’t leave out Conan Doyle – he’d have been so hurt! A mystery with a generous dollop of horror, a touch of Empire and some suitably inscrutable, scarily mystical Orientals – what more could you ask?

A funny book

Joy in the Morning by PG Wodehouse. Jeeves and Bertie, Florence Craye and Stilton Cheesewright, Nobby Hopwood and Boko Fittleworth, Uncle Percy and pestilential young Edwin, all gathered together at Aunt Agatha’s home in Steeple Bumpleigh. Need I say more?

My fave Jeeves and Wooster

A book of short stories

A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth by Daniel Mason. I loved this collection of short stories linked by subject matter and style rather than through the characters, creating a wonderful homage to the science fiction of the late 19th/early 20th century. That’s not to say the stories feel old-fashioned or dated, though. Mason looks at the subjects he chooses with a modern eye, thus ensuring they also resonate with a modern reader.

Set on a different continent

Nostromo by Joseph Conrad. In the harbour town of Sulaco, on the coast of the South American country of Costaguana, the silver mine of San Tomé becomes a bone of contention when yet another political coup is on the cards. Costaguana is fictional, but geographically it is based on Colombia. A wonderful book that looks at the destructive and insidious economic colonisation by capitalist countries of those nations whose resources they exploit and whose cultures they destroy.

Heard about online

A Month in the Country by JL Carr. I had never come across this novella in pre-blogging days, but over the last few years several blog buddies have reviewed it, usually in glowing terms. A young man spends a summer restoring a wall painting in an old church. Badly damaged by his wartime experiences, not physically but mentally, he will find a kind of healing as the long summer passes.

Non-fiction

The Brothers York by Thomas Penn. A very readable history of the three sons of Richard, Duke of York, two of whom became Kings of England – Edward IV and Richard III – during the period known as the Wars of the Roses. Plenty of treachery, betrayal and general skulduggery from these monarchs and their supporters – in fact, not unlike the vastly superior “democratic” leaders we have today…

A best-selling book

The Guest List by Lucy Foley. Published just six months ago, nominated for the CWA Gold Dagger and winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Mystery and Thriller, and with 171,660 ratings so far on Goodreads, I think it’s safe to call this book a best-seller! Set on a rugged island off the coast of Ireland during a flashy celebrity wedding, sadly I wasn’t as enthralled by it as many others have been – when will the trend for these formulaic “that day” novels end? Not while they sell in the hundreds of thousands, I suppose…

Based on a true story

The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson. Largely autobiographical and set in Scotland in the 1920s, this tells the story of Janie, a little girl growing up among the women of the Lane, a place where the poor struggle to eke out an existence. Janie doesn’t feel neglected by her prostitute mother, but the Cruelty Man disagrees. A beautiful book, full of empathy for those on the margins, that challenges the reader to be slow to judge.

From the bottom of the TBR pile

The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollingsworth. This had been lingering on my TBR since July 2012, and was the inaugural winner of the People’s Choice Poll, where I reveal some of the lingerers and you pick which one I should read. But it really wasn’t your fault that I abandoned it for being disjointed, unrealistic and frankly boring. I’m sure you’ll get better at this with practice… 😉

First book by a favourite author

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie. A long overdue re-read of Christie’s first book, and the first appearance of Poirot and the lovely Hastings. A poisoning, a country house, a selection of suspects and a dramatic dénouement – the intricacies of the plotting show the promise of her later skill and the book has the touches of humour that always make her such a pleasure to read.

A book a friend loves

The Go-Between by LP Hartley. This is a bit of a cheat because I didn’t read it because a friend loved it – instead, some friends read it with me, and happily  we all loved it! Leo Colston, as a middle-aged man, looks back to the year of 1900 when he was a child on the edge of puberty, spending a long golden summer with the family of a school-friend. A wonderful book, which I’m glad to say affected me just as much on this re-reading as when I first read it decades ago.

A book that scared me

The Weird Tales of William Hope Hodsgon. I don’t scare easily with books, but a couple of the stories in this collection had the porpy and me quivering, especially The Derelict, which tells of three idiots sailors who come across a derelict ship in the middle of the ocean and decide to board her… DON’T DO IT!!!

A book that is more than 10 years old

Lady Susan by Jane Austen. Again spoiled for choice but although not published till 1871 this was probably written around 1794, which makes it the oldest book I read this year. Lady Susan is a deliciously wicked creation who plots and schemes, and manipulates all the men around her who can’t resist her feminine wiles. Lots of humour in this comedy of manners, full of Austen’s trademark observational wit. A joy!

A book with a blue cover

The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope. There don’t seem to be as many blue covers around this year, but I like this one. A classic swashbuckling adventure that introduced the world to the fictional country of Ruritania, this spawned so many imitations they became a sub-genre all on their own, of “Ruritarian romances”. Great fun!

* * * * * * *

Bingo! Full House!
What do I win??

Mind the Gap!

The Classics Club Meme July 2020

Since this month’s question for the Classics Club Meme, was proposed by me, I feel I should really answer it! Here it is:

Which classic author have you read more than one, but not all, of their books and which of their other books would you want to read in the future?

The author I had in mind when I suggested the question was Thomas Hardy. I love his writing and yet I’ve read only a couple of his books. This is because when I think Hardy, I think Tess of the D’Urbervilles and a re-read is sure to follow! I’ve read it at least three or four times over the years while so many of his other books have never had their chance to make me love them.

As a school pupil, I read Far from the Madding Crowd but, although I enjoyed it, as so often I feel I was far too young to really appreciate it in any but the most superficial way. It’s a tricky question, introducing school-children to the classics. On the one hand, for lucky early-developers it can engender a life-enhancing life-long love. But on the other hand I’m sure it puts just as many later-developing children off reading heavyweight fiction for life. Maybe that’s a question for another day – what classics are suitable “starters” for kids in their early- to mid-teens?

I’m currently slowly listening to The Mayor of Casterbridge on audiobook and loving it. This is one I thought I had read before but now realise I hadn’t – this happens often when a book has been adapted for TV several times, or has simply become such a standard that everyone kinda knows the basic plot. Jude the Obscure is another one I haven’t read but feel almost as if I had.

Now that I am in the last year of my first Classics Club challenge, I’ve begun in idle moments to mull over what my next list might look like if I decide to do it again. Rather than going for lots of new-to-me authors as I did this time round, and restricting myself to only one book from each of them, this time I’m considering picking some authors I’ve enjoyed in the past and filling in some of the gaps in my reading of their work. Sir Walter Scott, Graham Greene, HP Lovecraft, the Brontës as a group, my beloved Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Conrad, Neil Munro, H Rider Haggard, Robert Louis Stevenson – all authors I’d like to read more of. Mrs Gaskell too, although she’s in a slightly different category in that I haven’t read any of her novels – just a few short stories.

So then comes the matter of choosing the books. With Hardy, because I’ve read so little of him there’s a wide choice and my list will be startlingly unoriginal, since it seems to make sense to start with the best-known, and therefore probably best, ones. Here’s my Hardy wishlist – restricted to five…

Far From the Madding Crowd

Definitely time for a re-read of this one, I feel! Once every fifty years or so seems about right. 😉

The Blurb says: Independent and spirited Bathsheba Everdene has come to Weatherbury to take up her position as a farmer on the largest estate in the area. Her bold presence draws three very different suitors: the gentleman-farmer Boldwood, soldier-seducer Sergeant Troy and the devoted shepherd Gabriel Oak. Each, in contrasting ways, unsettles her decisions and complicates her life, and tragedy ensues, threatening the stability of the whole community. 

Under the Greenwood Tree

The Blurb says: Under the Greenwood Tree is the story of the romantic entanglement between church musician, Dick Dewey, and the attractive new school mistress, Fancy Day. A pleasant romantic tale set in the Victorian era, Under the Greenwood Tree is one of Thomas Hardy’s most gentle and pastoral novels.

The Return of the Native

The Blurb says: Tempestuous Eustacia Vye passes her days dreaming of passionate love and the escape it may bring from the small community of Egdon Heath. Hearing that Clym Yeobright is to return from Paris, she sets her heart on marrying him, believing that through him she can leave rural life and find fulfilment elsewhere. But she is to be disappointed, for Clym has dreams of his own, and they have little in common with Eustacia’s.  

The Woodlanders

The Blurb says: In this classically simple tale of the disastrous impact of outside life on a secluded community in Dorset, Hardy narrates the rivalry for the hand of Grace Melbury between a simple and loyal woodlander and an exotic and sophisticated outsider. Betrayal, adultery, disillusion, and moral compromise are all worked out in a setting evoked as both beautiful and treacherous.

Jude the Obscure

The Blurb says: Jude Fawley’s hopes of a university education are lost when he is trapped into marrying the earthy Arabella, who later abandons him. Moving to the town of Christminster where he finds work as a stonemason, Jude meets and falls in love with his cousin Sue Bridehead, a sensitive, freethinking “New Woman.” Refusing to marry merely for the sake of religious convention, Jude and Sue decide instead to live together, but they are shunned by society and poverty soon threatens to ruin them.

(These stills from the various adaptations tell their own Hardy story, don’t they? The meeting, the spark of romance, the love, the passion…. the woman left in misery holding the baby… 😂)

Shocking that I haven’t read these ones! I’m duly ashamed and shall stand in the corner with a dunce’s cap on till I do. But in the meantime, are there any others you feel deserve one of these coveted spaces more, and if so, which of these would you bump off the list to make room for it? And in answer to the original question, who would be your chosen author and which books of his or hers would you put on your list?

HAVE A GREAT TUESDAY! 😀

Six in Six 2020

A half-year retrospective…


This fun meme is run by Jo of The Book Jotter. The idea is to look back over the first six months of the reading year, select six categories from the selection Jo provides or create your own categories, and then find six books you’ve read between January and June to fit each category. It’s my third time of joining in, and my hardest year yet, due to the huge reduction in my reading over the last few months. But, inspired by Jessica at The Bookworm Chronicles and stealing/adapting one or two of her categories, I’ve squeezed out Six in Six and avoided duplication. All the ones I’ve read are books I’d recommend… except one. But I won’t be so mean as to name and shame it, so it can bask temporarily in the glow of inclusion…

Six British Library Crime Classics

Still loving this series and hoping they go on doing it for ever, despite the damage to my TBR…

Fell Murder

The Body in the Dumb River

Death in Fancy Dress

Castle Skull

Death in White Pyjamas

Crossed Skis

Six Books written by Scottish Authors

Just made it! I don’t seem to have read as much Scottish fiction this year, neither classic nor contemporary. But I mostly enjoyed the ones I did read…

The New Road

The House with the Green Shutters

The Mystery of Cloomber

The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau

All That’s Dead

Flemington

Six Anthologies

I acquired loads of anthologies of vintage stories last year – crime, horror and science fiction. Although I dipped in and out of them all last autumn and winter for my Tuesday short story posts, I finished and reviewed them all this year, so they count!

Late Victorian Gothic Tales

The Weird Tales of William Hope Hodgson

Menace of the Monster

The Invisible Eye

Beyond Time

Settling Scores

Six New Releases

I’d normally split this between crime and fiction but I haven’t read enough of either to find six I recommend! Must do better. However, combining all the new releases I’ve read of whatever genre allows me to come with a nice selection…

Now You See Them

Braised Pork

The Last Day

The Lady of the Ravens

The Cutting Place

The Year Without Summer

Six Great Classics

Thank goodness for classics – this is the one category where I’m actually spoiled for choice!

The Go-Between

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Heart of Darkness

The Prisoner of Zenda

Palace Walk

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Six Added to the Wishlist

Ok, this is cheating a bit since I haven’t read these. But as the bard said, some rules are more honoured in the breach than the observance… 😉

Red Joan

The Splendid and the Vile

This Tender Land

The Hours Before Dawn

Joseph Knight

The Woman in the Wardrobe

* * * * * * * *

So that’s my six sixes, and they tell me it’s been a strange old year, in reading as in life! Jo gives us till the end of July to do our sixes, so if you haven’t already joined in you still have time – it’s a wonderful way to waste spend some time!

Here’s to the next six months! 😀

Six Degrees of Separation – From Hustvedt to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before. This month’s starting book is…

What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

This is the story of two men who first become friends in 1970s New York, of the women in their lives, of their sons, born the same year, and of how relations between the two families become strained, first by tragedy, then by a monstrous duplicity which comes slowly and corrosively to the surface.

Sounds rather good! Nothing like a bit of monstrous duplicity to get a plot going!

My first pick is to another book set in New York…

Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell. It’s 1958, and in the hipster scene of Greenwich Village we meet the three characters who take turns to narrate their own stories. Eden, a young woman determined to make it in the male-dominated world of publishing. Rich boy Cliff who thinks he can write and is pretty sure he just needs a break to make it big. And Miles, a black man just about to graduate from Columbia, and working part-time as a messenger-boy for one of the publishing houses. When their lives intersect, a chain of events is started that will change the courses of their lives. Great writing from one of my favourite young authors.

Looking back on it now, I see that New York in the ’50s made for a unique scene. If you lived in Manhattan during that time you experienced the uniqueness in the colors and flavors of the city that were more defined and more distinct from one another than they were in other cities or other times. If you ask me, I think it was the war that had made things this way. All the energy of the war effort was now poured into the manufacture of neon signs, shiny chrome bumpers, bright plastic things, and that meant all of a sudden there was a violent shade of Formica to match every desire. All of it was for sale and people had lots of dough to spend and to top it off the atom bomb was constantly hovering in the back of all our minds, its bright white flash and the shadow of its mushroom cloud casting a kind of imaginary yet urgent light over everything that surrounded us.

An entirely different kind of meal in my next choice…

The Dinner by Herman Koch. Paul and Claire meet for dinner with Paul’s brother Serge and his wife Babette quite often but, on this occasion, things are more tense than usual because the two families need to talk about an incident involving their children. When it becomes obvious they’re not going to agree on how to handle the situation, the tension begins to grow and the conventions of polite behaviour begin to fall apart. The question the book asks is – how far would you go to protect your children? Disturbing, morally twisted and darkly funny.

Now that we’re at dinner, it’s time to pick the meal…

Braised Pork by An Yu. One morning, Jia Jia finds her husband dead in the bathtub in an odd position that leaves it unclear as to whether his death was accidental or suicide. Beside him is a piece of paper on which he has drawn a strange picture of a fish with a man’s head. As she tries to come to terms with the sudden change to her life and her expected future, Jia Jia finds herself thinking more and more about this fish-man, and decides to retrace her husband’s last trip to Tibet to try to find out its significance. Gradually she finds herself drifting into a place where the lines between reality and dreams become blurred. An excellent debut!

Even vegetarians would admit that the pigs in my next selection deserve to become pork…

Animal Farm by George Orwell. Inspired by a dream, the animals of Manor Farm rebel against their human master and throw him off the land. They agree to work the farm for their own mutual benefit, sharing the work and the produce fairly, each according to his ability and need. Being the most intelligent animals, the pigs take over the planning, both of how to maximise the farm’s yield and of how to protect themselves from outside hostility. But, as we all know, power corrupts…

This allegorical fable didn’t work quite as well for mature FF as it did long ago for young FF. But on both readings it was the story of Boxer the horse who caused the most sniffling. There’s another Boxer in my next choice…

The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens. We meet little Mrs. Peerybingle, Dot as she is known affectionately to her husband John, as she waits for said husband to return home from his work as a carrier. Dot is a young thing, very young indeed, and John is well into middle-age, but despite this disparity they seem an idyllically happy couple, especially now they have their own little Baby to make their lives complete. The little house is blessed by having a resident Cricket which lives on the hearth and chirps merrily when all is well. But this contented little household is about to be shaken to its core. A stranger arrives who seems to disturb Dot’s usually cheerful state of mind…

Boxer is Mr Peerybingle’s lovely dog, who adds much fun to the proceedings…

He had business elsewhere; going down all the turnings, looking into all the wells, bolting in and out of all the cottages, dashing into the midst of all the Dame Schools, fluttering all the pigeons, magnifying the tails of all the cats, and trotting into the public-houses like a regular customer. Wherever he went, somebody or other might have been heard to cry, “Halloa! here’s Boxer!”

My last pick involves a different kind of cricket…

Selection Day by Aravind Adiga. Two brothers are being groomed by their father to become the greatest cricketers in India. Radha, the elder, with his film-star looks and love of the game, is the better of the two, and it’s accepted that he will be the star. But as they grow up, Radha’s skill diminishes, just a little, but enough for him to be eclipsed by the younger Manju, whose attitude to the game is more ambivalent. This is a story of sibling rivalry, tied in with a wider picture of corruption in society shown through the corruption in cricket. Adiga’s writing is always pure pleasure to read, insightful and serious but always uplifted by delicious touches of humour…

“People thought I had a future as a writer, Manju. I wanted to write a great novel about Mumbai,” the principal said, playing with her glasses. “But then…then I began, and I could not write it. The only thing I could write about, in fact, was that I couldn’t write about the city.

“The sun, which I can’t describe like Homer, rises over Mumbai, which I can’t describe like Salman Rushdie, creating new moral dilemmas for all of us, which I won’t be able to describe like Amitav Ghosh.”

* * * * *

So from Hustvedt to Adiga via New York, mealtimes, meals, pigs, Boxers, and cricket.

Hope you enjoyed the journey! 😀

A feline favourite…

The Classics Club Meme

The Classics Club is reviving the idea of the Classics Club Meme, and going back to basics with the first question…

What is your favourite classic? And why?

The thing is, I’ve talked about my favourite classic, Bleak House, about a million times on the blog already and I’m frightened you might all throw rotten tomatoes at me if I do it again!

So first I thought I’d change the question – maybe to “What’s your favourite 20th century classic?” Or “What’s your favourite classic in translation?” But I quickly realised I’d feel pretty foolish if whatever I pick ends up being the question in a future meme.

Then I had a rare moment of inspiration! I’ll ask Tuppence to do the post! (Tommy isn’t much of a reader.) And she very graciously consented to oblige, so here she is…

(Scary, isn’t she?)

Hello, humans! I’m going to make this brief because I’m missing out on valuable napping time here, so sit up straight and pay attention. There is obviously only one book that could qualify for the designation of Classic and therefore it must be my favourite, as my servant could have easily worked out for herself if she wasn’t so – no offence – thick. Frankly if it wasn’t for the fact that she knows where the cat treats are hidden, we wouldn’t keep her around – she’s not much good for anything else. Except cleaning the litter trays. But I digress! Excuse me one moment while I groom my tail. Ah, that’s better!

As I was saying, the only Classic is…

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)

Well, I’m off to catch up on my beauty sleep now, not that I need it. What? Good grief, now my servant is insisting that I explain why! I’d have thought that would be obvious to one of the meanest intelligence, but she is and apparently it isn’t. Oh well, I suppose we occasionally have to make an effort to boost staff morale around here. But I’m awfully tired and frankly a bit bored, so instead of explaining, why don’t I just let you read the passage that lifts this book so high above all others?

Ah, here it is…

I do not blame Montmorency for his tendency to row with cats; but he wished he had not given way to it that morning.

We were, as I have said, returning from a dip, and half-way up the High Street a cat darted out from one of the houses in front of us, and began to trot across the road. Montmorency gave a cry of joy – the cry of a stern warrior who sees his enemy given over to his hands – the sort of cry Cromwell might have uttered when the Scots came down the hill – and flew after his prey.

His victim was a large black Tom. I never saw a larger cat, nor a more disreputable-looking cat. It had lost half its tail, one of its ears, and a fairly appreciable proportion of its nose. It was a long, sinewy- looking animal. It had a calm, contented air about it.

Montmorency went for that poor cat at the rate of twenty miles an hour; but the cat did not hurry up – did not seem to have grasped the idea that its life was in danger. It trotted quietly on until its would-be assassin was within a yard of it, and then it turned round and sat down in the middle of the road, and looked at Montmorency with a gentle, inquiring expression, that said:

“Yes! You want me?”

Montmorency does not lack pluck; but there was something about the look of that cat that might have chilled the heart of the boldest dog. He stopped abruptly, and looked back at Tom.

Neither spoke; but the conversation that one could imagine was clearly as follows:-

THE CAT: “Can I do anything for you?”

MONTMORENCY: “No – no, thanks.”

THE CAT: “Don’t you mind speaking, if you really want anything, you know.”

MONTMORENCY (BACKING DOWN THE HIGH STREET): “Oh, no – not at all – certainly – don’t you trouble. I – I am afraid I’ve made a mistake. I thought I knew you. Sorry I disturbed you.”

THE CAT: “Not at all – quite a pleasure. Sure you don’t want anything, now?”

MONTMORENCY (STILL BACKING): “Not at all, thanks – not at all – very kind of you. Good morning.”

THE CAT: “Good-morning.”

Then the cat rose, and continued his trot; and Montmorency, fitting what he calls his tail carefully into its groove, came back to us, and took up an unimportant position in the rear.

To this day, if you say the word “Cats!” to Montmorency, he will visibly shrink and look up piteously at you, as if to say:

“Please don’t.”

Ah, yes! Sheer poetry! The plot, the characterisation, the triumph of good over evil – it has everything! Plus there’s no pleasure greater than laughing at a dog.

Now, if you’ll excuse me – well, frankly, even if you won’t – I’m done here. Please don’t disturb me for a good eighteen hours.

* * * * *

Thank you, Tuppence. I’m overwhelmed by your kindness and condescension! I’m so lucky to have you as my boss! Have a lovely nap and let me know if there’s anything I can do for you…

Go on, tickle my tummy! I dare you…

* * * * *

What do you think of Tuppence’s choice? Is there another classic that you feel deserves her consideration?

HAVE A GREAT TUESDAY! 😀

Six Degrees of Separation – From Rooney to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before. This month’s starting book is…

Normal People by Sally Rooney. I haven’t read it, but the very long blurb on Goodreads (which I therefore won’t quote) tells me this is about two young people who spiral into some form of mutually-destructive relationship. Think I’ll give it a miss!

It’s apparently largely set in Trinity College, Dublin. Darryl Jones, who has edited several horror and science fiction books for Oxford World’s Classics, is the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Trinity College, and has been one of my chief guides to these genres. He edited my first choice…

The Island of Dr Moreau by HG Wells. The story of Prendick. a man shipwrecked on a small island inhabited by the titular Dr Moreau. It’s about mad science, vivisection and evolution, and it contains some truly terrifying imagery. Read purely as an adventure, this is a dark and terrifying story indeed, from the first pages when Prendick and his fellow survivors are afloat on an open sea with no food and running out of fresh water, to the scenes on the island when Dr Moreau’s experiments go horrifically wrong. But it’s what the book says about Wells’ society that lifts it to the status of a true classic.

Another island provides my next stop…

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Undoubtedly one of the best adventure stories ever written, full of characters who’ve become such a part of our national psyche they almost feel historical rather than fictional – Long John Silver, Blind Pew, Ben Gunn, Jim Hawkins (arr, Jim, lad!), et al. I adored this full-cast performance from Audible – they all act their socks off! Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight! Marooned, I tell ‘ee! Marooooned!

The hero of my next choice was also marooned…

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs. When Lord Greystoke and his wife are marooned by mutineers on the coast of Africa, they die, and their baby son is adopted by a tribe of apes. However, when he discovers the hut his parents built and all their belongings, he realises he is different from the other apes. And then more white people are marooned in the same place by another bunch of mutineers, and he sees the lovely Jane… While many aspects of the story are a bit ridiculous if you stop to analyse them too deeply, it’s so full of thrills, excitement, high love and general drama that it swept me along on a tsunami-sized wave of fun.

Johnny Weissmuller played the role many times…

The apes in Tarzan aren’t really apes – they’re a kind of proto-human. So are the first characters we meet in my next selection…

2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C Clarke. A tribe of man-apes is visited by aliens who use a strange artefact to stimulate their minds, thus setting them on a course to become fully human and develop the intelligence that will eventually allow them to dominate their world. Millennia later, mankind has reached the moon, only to find hidden another similar artefact, one that this time will send them on a journey to the furthest reaches of the solar system and perhaps beyond. Arising from Clarke’s partnership with Stanley Kubrick, both film and book enhance each other superbly so that, together, they become something uniquely wonderful. Blew my mind, man – psychedelic!

When doing my occasional Film of the Book comparisons, the book nearly always wins, and the film occasionally does. 2001 is one of only two pairings where I declared it a draw. The other is my next choice…

4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie. When Elspeth McGillicuddy glances out of the window of her train carriage, she can see straight into another train that is running parallel to her own. As a blind flies up on the carriage opposite her, she is horrified to see a woman being strangled by a tall, dark man. However, no body is found on the train, and there the matter would probably have rested, but for the fact that Mrs McGillicuddy was on her way to St Mary Mead to visit her old friend, Jane Marple… The book is one of Christie’s best and the film based on it, Murder, She Said, starring the wonderful Margaret Rutherford, may take wild liberties with the plot and the character of Miss Marple, but is nevertheless a joyous treat in its own right.

My last pick begins during another train journey (and coincidentally is another that’s been made into a great film)…

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith. Guy Haines is on a train to Texas, hoping that his estranged wife Miriam will finally give him the divorce he needs so that he can marry his new love, Anne. Another passenger, Charles Bruno, begins to chat to him. Bruno has a difficult relationship with his rich father who controls the purse strings. He suggests to Guy that they swap murders – that Bruno will murder the inconvenient Miriam if in return Guy will murder Bruno’s father. An early example of a psychological thriller, and still a true classic of the genre.

* * * * *

So from Rooney to Highsmith via Trinity College Dublin, islands, maroonings, man-apes, Films of the Books, and trains.

Hope you enjoyed the journey! 😀

Six Degrees of Separation – From Funder to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before. This month’s starting book is…

Stasiland by Anna Funder. I haven’t read this non-fiction book, but here’s what Goodreads tells me…

In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell; shortly afterwards the two Germanies reunited, and East Germany ceased to exist. In a country where the headquarters of the secret police can become a museum literally overnight, and one in 50 East Germans were informing on their countrymen and women, there are a thousand stories just waiting to get out. Anna Funder tells extraordinary tales from the underbelly of the former East Germany…

Sounds rather good and has a zillion glowing reviews. Hmm, one for the wishlist, I think!

East Germany of course was communist before the fall of the Wall, and that leads me to my first book…

I Married a Communist by Philip Roth. The story of Ira Ringold, a Jewish-American radio star who, at the height of his stardom marries Eve Frame, once a Hollywood starlet and now also a radio star. The marriage is disastrous and, when Ira finally leaves her, Eve publishes a memoir in which she claims he is a communist taking orders from the Kremlin and betraying America. In the McCarthy era, this accusation alone is enough to destroy Ira’s career. The second book of Roth’s wonderful American Trilogy.

America’s not too keen on communism, but the country in my next book would claim to have made communism work…

Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong. The first in the long-running Inspector Chen series, this tells of the murder of a young woman who was a model worker under the Communist regime. The author’s depiction of Shanghai and the lives of the people there in the 1990s is fascinating and detailed, describing food, clothing, customs and the rapidly changing face of Chinese life at a point where capitalism was beginning to be encouraged after years of strict communism, but where the state still had a stranglehold on every aspect of life.

China can’t claim to be the first communist state, though – that honour belongs to the country in my next book…

The Commissariat of Enlightenment by Ken Kalfus. A book that takes us from one death-bed – Tolstoy’s – to another – Lenin’s, and along the way tells us of the early development of the propaganda methods used by Lenin and Stalin. Told with all of Kalfus’ sparkling storytelling skills, this has a great mix of light and shade – the underlying darkness leavened by occasional humour and some mild but deliciously macabre horror around the death-bed and embalming scenes.

Communism may have failed fairly spectacularly in Russia but that doesn’t stop revolutionaries attempting to impose it in other countries from time to time, like the country in my next book…

Springtime in a Broken Mirror by Mario Benedetti. Santiago is a political prisoner in Montevideo, Uruguay, in the 1970s, following the failed revolution there. His family and friends are scattered, exiled from the country they call home. This is a beautifully written book and profoundly moving. Although it’s based around the revolutions of South America, it is not about politics as such; rather, it is about the impact that political upheaval has on the individuals caught up in it. It’s about home and exile, loneliness, longing, belonging. It’s about loyalty and love, and hope, and sometimes despair.

The communists may not have been able to hang on to power in Uruguay, but unfortunately they have a stranglehold in the country in my next book…

The Accusation by Bandi. This is a collection of seven short stories written between 1989 and 1995 under the regimes of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il in North Korea, and smuggled out of the country to be published in the West. The stories are strongly polemical, as would be expected under the circumstances, and highly critical of the dehumanisation under the regime, where every aspect of people’s lives and even thoughts are dictated and controlled through fear, and truth is manipulated in true Orwellian fashion.

One day, hopefully, the 38th Parallel will no longer form a divide between North and South, and Korea will be united again as one free democratic state. Which brings me back to Berlin…

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le Carré. The classic that changed the tone of spy thrillers – a bleak, cold portrayal of the work of spies far removed from the glamour of James Bond and his like, as world weary British spymaster Leamas takes on his East German counterparts. Le Carré shows a moral equivalence between the agents on both sides of the wall rather than the good Brits/evil enemies portrayal that was more standard in fiction before his time. Both sides are shown as using methods that are murky at best and the question that underpins it is the old one of whether the ends justify the means.

* * * * *

So from Funder to le Carré via communism, communism, communism, communism, communism and communism!

Hope you enjoyed the journey! 😀

Six Degrees of Separation – From Treloar to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before. This month’s starting book is…

Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar. Haven’t read this one but here’s what the blurb tells us…

For years Kitty Hawke has lived alone on Wolfe Island, witness to the island’s erosion and clinging to the ghosts of her past. Her work as a sculptor and her wolfdog Girl are enough. News of mainland turmoil is as distant as myth until refugees from that world arrive: her granddaughter Cat, and Luis and Alejandra, a brother and sister escaping persecution. When threats from the mainland draw closer, they are forced to flee for their lives. They travel north through winter, a journey during which Kitty must decide what she will do to protect the people she loves.

It has glowing reviews, but I don’t think it’s one for me. Ignoring the pesky ‘e’, I’m jumping to another title with a wild creature in it…

The Lion Wakes by Robert Low. Set in the turbulent period of Scottish history of Wallace and Bruce, this book gives an unvarnished and unromanticised picture of the still almost barbarian life in Scotland then. No great patriots here, fighting for independence. The picture instead is of a group of scheming aristocrats, plotting how best to gain more land and wealth for themselves, and willing to destroy both the land and the common people to achieve their ends. I thoroughly enjoyed this claymore-and-kilt adventure, especially since it has a lot of excellent Scottish dialect.

And following a theme, on to another with a wild creature in the title…

Eagle & Crane by Suzanne Rindell. When Earl Shaw wins two small planes in a poker game, he decides to put his skills as a showman to good use by taking the planes barnstorming round Depression-era California, tempting customers to go up for a scenic flight. Earl offers two young men, Louis Thorn and Harry Yamada, jobs as aerial stuntmen and so the act of Eagle & Crane is born – Eagle to represent the good ol’ US of A, and Crane to represent the villainous and untrustworthy Japs of Harry’s heritage. But the war is about to begin, and suddenly white America will begin to see its Japanese-heritage citizens as more than a comic-book threat. A great book from one of my newest favourite authors.

Next in this month’s menagerie…

The Elephant’s Journey by José Saramago. King Dom João III of Portugal wishes to give a present to the Hapsburg Archduke Maximilian, and decides that the elephant Solomon would be the ideal gift. It’s the mid-sixteenth century, so the only method of transport for Solomon is his own four feet. This is the story of his journey, along with his keeper Subhro and a troop of Portuguese soldiers, as they make their way through Spain and Italy, finally crossing the Alps to reach their destination, Vienna. Not much depth to this one, but it’s quite entertaining…

Not sure which of these counts as the wildest – man or beast…

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Lord Greystoke and his young wife Lady Alice are on their way to take up a new colonial appointment in Africa when the crew of the ship they are on mutiny. The mutineers drop their passengers off on a wild coast, far from civilised habitation, but close to the jungle. For a while they survive, long enough for Lady Alice to bear the son she was already carrying. But when disaster strikes, leaving the baby all alone in the world, he is adopted by a tribe of apes and grows up learning their ways, unaware of his own heritage. Great fun – full of thrills, excitement, high love and general drama!

One of my many grievances with the next one is that it takes 93% of the book before we finally catch sight of the eponymous creature of the wild ocean…

Moby-Dick; or, The White Whale by Herman Melville. Our narrator (call him Ishmael) signs up for a voyage aboard the whaling ship Pequod, only to find that the Captain, Ahab, is pursuing a personal vendetta against the whale which caused him to lose his leg – Moby-Dick. Off we go, searching for that pesky whale through every ocean, sea and puddle in the world, talking cod Shakespearian and fantasising about the sensual aspects of whale blubber! Gosh, I enjoyed dreading this book, then hating it and writing a scathing review – not to mention the fun I had pastiching it! I miss that old monster of the deep…

And back to the jungle for my last wild beast…

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo. In 1930s Malaya, young Ren was the houseboy of Dr McPherson until the doctor’s death. Before he died, the doctor gave Ren two instructions – firstly, that he should go into the employment of another doctor, William Abbott, and secondly, that he should find Dr McPherson’s severed finger and bury it alongside him in his grave. Ren has 49 days to complete this second task; if he fails, Dr McPherson’s soul will remain wandering the earth for ever. I enjoyed every word of this – the characterisation, the descriptions of the society, the perspective on colonialism, the elements of humour and romance, the folklore, the eerieness and the darkness.

* * * * *

So Treloar to Choo, via wolves, lions, eagles, elephants, apes, whales and tigers!

Hope you enjoyed the safari. 😀

Six Degrees of Separation – From Reid to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before. This month’s starting book is…

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Haven’t read this one but here’s what the blurb tells us…

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock ‘n’ roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Doesn’t appeal to me, I’m afraid, despite the many glowing reviews I’ve read of it. However, it made me think of…

Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton. Hamish Wolfe is a prisoner, convicted of the murders of three young women. Maggie Rose is a defence barrister and author of several books regarding possible miscarriages of justice, some of which have resulted in the convicted men being released. Hamish and his little group of supporters on the outside are keen to get Maggie to take on his case. A deliciously twisted thriller from the pen of one of the best of the current crop of writers.

The anti-hero of this one is in prison, as is the hero of the next one…

Death in Captivity by Michael Gilbert. It’s 1943, and the British officers held in a prisoner-of-war camp in north Italy take their duty to escape seriously, so the camp is riddled with tunnels. The biggest and most hopeful of these is under Hut C, elaborately hidden under a trapdoor that takes several men to open. So when a body turns up in the tunnel the question is not only how did he die but also how did he get into the tunnel? One of the best of the British Library Crime Classics, this has a good mystery plot but the real interest is the unique setting.

Another book set in Italy is…

That Summer in Puglia by Valeria Vescina. When a PI tracks Tommaso down in London to give him the news that he has been left a large legacy, Tommaso tells him he doesn’t want it and pleads that his whereabouts should not be revealed. To make the PI understand why his anonymity is so important to him, Tommaso agrees to tell him the story of why he left Italy – the story of his last summer in Puglia. That was the summer, long ago when Tommaso was young, that he met and fell in love with Anna. An excellent début with a great sense of place.

Ostuni, Puglia

The next is another début from an author worth watching…

Goblin by Ever Dundas. Goblin is an old lady now, working as a Reader in an Edinburgh library. But when the newspapers report that a strange pile of objects have been unearthed – bones, bits of a doll, a shrew head and a camera – she is thrust back into memories of her early life as a street urchin in wartime London. The camera still works and when the police develop the pictures they determine they could only have been taken by a child. A strange book, dark in places and with some truly disturbing aspects, but because of the beautifully drawn central character it has a warmth and humanity that helps the reader to get through the tougher parts.

Goblin won the Saltire Society Literary Award for First Book of the Year (2017). The next one was shortlisted for the Saltire History Book of the Year in 2015 (and should have won!)

John Knox by Jane Dawson. In Scotland, John Knox is thought of as a misogynistic, hellfire-and-damnation preaching, old killjoy, who is responsible for the fairly joyless version of Protestantism that has blighted our country for hundreds of years. Well, that’s how I think of him anyway! Father of the Scottish Reformation, he is notorious for being the author of ‘The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women’. In this great biography, Jane Dawson sets out, not so much to overturn this impression of Knox, but to show that there was more to him than this.

Knox haranguing Mary Queen of Scots by Robert Inerarity Herdman

John Knox liked to think of himself (modestly) as “God’s Watchman”. Which made me think of…

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. The time is just after the Supreme Court decision that led to desegregation of schools in the South, when the NAACP were fighting for equality for blacks and the whites were resisting. Jean Louise is shocked to discover that her father, Atticus, and lover, Hank, are part of that white resistance. This is the book Harper Lee wanted to write, until her editor persuaded her to go off in the different direction which led to To Kill a Mockingbird. A pity – I’d have liked to see this one given the polish and care it deserved.

Harper Lee

* * * * *

So Reid to Lee, via Daisy, prison, Italy, débuts, the Saltire Prize and watchmen!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

The Literary Fiction Book Tag – Christmas Edition

Dickens at Christmas…

A few months ago I did this tag concentrating mainly on Scottish fiction as my examples. Since now ‘tis the season to be jolly, and nothing could be jollier than Dickens at Christmastime, I thought I’d resurrect it and see how wonderfully the Great Man shines in all aspects of the art of literary fiction. Join me for a bit of…

1. How do you define literary fiction?

Last time I said “I’m looking for great writing – and by that I don’t mean creative writing, I mean writing that uses a vocabulary that stimulates the brain without baffling, that reads effortlessly and that creates wonderful images of places or people, or both, with beautiful descriptive prose. I want emotional truth – the characters might be realistic or exaggerated and even caricatured but they must fundamentally act in ways people would act. If it’s historical fiction, it must be true to the time in which it’s set. If it’s genre fiction, it must transcend the genre but must never forget its roots in its desire to be literary. If it’s contemporary fiction, it must say something intelligent and preferably profound about society, culture and/or the human condition.” Dickens meets all these criteria, and I suspect is the man who has been most influential in forming my opinion of what literary fiction should be.

2. Name a literary fiction novel with a brilliant character study.

Little Dorrit – of course Dickens is famous for his dazzling array of unique characters, but the character I’m choosing is less well known than some of the others: Flora Finching. She was the hero Arthur’s first love, but their parents prevented them from marrying. Now Flora is a widow and is no longer quite the beautiful young girl of whom Arthur once dreamed. But she flirts with him dreadfully, calling up all the silly, romantic things they said and did as young lovers and behaving as if she’s still a young girl, and she’s very, very funny. It could so easily have been a cruel portrayal, especially since she was inspired by Dickens re-meeting his own youthful first love in middle life to discover she had become old, fat and dull, and determined to flirt with him as if they were still lovers. But Flora’s character is actually done with a real degree of warmth – more warmth than Dickens showed to the original, I fear.

“Oh good gracious me I hope you never kept yourself a bachelor so long on my account!” tittered Flora; “but of course you never did why should you, pray don’t answer, I don’t know where I’m running to, oh do tell me something about the Chinese ladies whether their eyes are really so long and narrow always putting me in mind of mother-of-pearl fish at cards and do they really wear tails down their back and plaited too or is it only the men, and when they pull their hair so very tight off their foreheads don’t they hurt themselves, and why do they stick little bells all over their bridges and temples and hats and things or don’t they really do it?” Flora gave him another of her old glances.

Frivolous Flora and her elderly aunt-in-law

3. Name a literary fiction novel that has experimental or unique writing.

Bleak House – Dickens here shifts between a first person narrator, the young heroine Esther Summerson, and a third-person omniscient narrator, and also between present and past tenses. This may not seem like such a major thing now, when so many authors try to use present tense and shift between narrators, but it was innovative and experimental at the time and gives the book an essentially modern feel. Plus, Dickens being Dickens, he’s great at it, using present tense effectively and appropriately, which sadly is rarely the case with lesser beings…

Through the stir and motion of the commoner streets; through the roar and jar of many vehicles, many feet, many voices; with the blazing shop-lights lighting him on, the west wind blowing him on, and the crowd pressing him on, he is pitilessly urged upon his way, and nothing meets him murmuring, “Don’t go home!” Arrived at last in his dull room to light his candles, and look round and up, and see the Roman pointing from the ceiling, there is no new significance in the Roman’s hand tonight or in the flutter of the attendant groups to give him the late warning, “Don’t come here!”

Mr Tulkinghorn’s Roman

4. Name a literary fiction novel with an interesting structure.

Martin Chuzzlewit – In the middle of this one, Dickens suddenly transports Martin and his faithful servant Mark Tapley to America, and has them have a complete story there before returning them to the main story back in England. Dickens’ method of writing for serialisation meant that he often reacted to how early instalments were received by his public, and this book is a major example of that. While he clearly had the main arc of the story mapped out, apparently the decision to send young Martin off to America was made mid-way through in order to revive flagging sales. While I’m not convinced it was a great decision, it provides a good deal of opportunity for some of Dickens’ fine satire as well as some wonderful descriptive writing. Dickens’ picture of the newly independent United States is either deeply insightful and brutally funny (if you’re British) or rude and deeply offensive (if you’re American). Fortunately I’m British…

It was hastily resolved that a piece of plate should be presented to a certain constitutional Judge, who had laid down from the Bench the noble principle, that it was lawful for any white mob to murder any black man: and that another piece of plate, of similar value, should be presented to a certain Patriot, who had declared from his high place in the Legislature, that he and his friends would hang, without trial, any Abolitionist who might pay them a visit. For the surplus, it was agreed that it should be devoted to aiding the enforcement of those free and equal laws, which render it incalculably more criminal and dangerous to teach a negro to read and write, than to roast him alive in a public city.

The inaptly named Eden, young Martin’s American home.
By Phiz.

5. Name a literary fiction novel that explores social themes.

A Tale of Two Cities – every novel Dickens wrote explores social themes, but he never conveys his anger more effectively than in this book about the Terror following the French Revolution. We talk endlessly now of the dangers of the rise of populism in response to the inequality in our societies and then we smugly wrap ourselves back up in our warm and comfortable cloak of social privilege, and dismiss as ignorant anyone who disagrees with our world view. Dickens was warning his contemporaries of this way back then, showing how the Revolution arose out of the failure of the rich and powerful elite to respond to the growing discontent of the disadvantaged and ignored in society, and showing further and with immense power how once violence is unleashed in a society it feeds on itself, growing until it becomes a monster – the mob…

“Patriots and friends, we are ready! The Bastille!”
With a roar that sounded as if all the breath in France had been shaped into the detested word, the living sea rose, wave on wave, depth on depth, and overflowed the city to that point. Alarm-bells ringing, drums beating, the sea raging and thundering on its new beach, the attack began.
***
“To me, women!” cried madame his wife. “What! We can kill as well as the men when the place is taken!” And to her, with a shrill thirsty cry, trooping women variously armed, but all armed alike in hunger and revenge.

Storming of the Bastille
Jean-Pierre Houel

6. Name a literary fiction novel that explores the human condition.

Great Expectations – I was trying to stick to books I’ve reviewed on the blog, but really I think that perhaps his best exploration of that nebulous thing we call the “human condition” appears in my least favourite of his novels. Miss Havisham blighted by disappointment and betrayal; simple Joe Gargery’s generosity and fidelity; Estella’s nature deliberately warped from childhood so she can act as an instrument of Miss Havisham’s revenge: all of these are brilliant examples of how circumstance and nature collide to make us what we are. But Pip himself stands out – following him from an early age into manhood allows us to see how his character is formed by experience, shaped by the material expectations he’s told he has and by the social and emotional expectations of his family and friends. Ultimately, with two possible endings, there’s ambiguity around whether Pip’s original nature is stunted for ever, or is simply dormant, ready to put forth fresh shoots if the sun shines on him.

“But you said to me,” returned Estella, very earnestly, “‘God bless you, God forgive you!’ And if you could say that to me then, you will not hesitate to say that to me now—now, when suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but—I hope—into a better shape. Be as considerate and good to me as you were, and tell me we are friends.”
“We are friends,” said I, rising and bending over her, as she rose from the bench.

Pip and Estella

7. Name a brilliant literary-hybrid genre novel.

A Christmas Carol – Dickens brilliantly uses the format of a ghost story to explore the true meaning of Christmas as a time for family and joy, of course, but also for reflection on greed, generosity and the inequality that existed in extremes in his society and sadly still pervades our own. A chilling tale, warning his readers not to look away, not to become so concerned with their own narrow concerns that they cease to notice the plight of those less fortunate, not to impoverish their souls in pursuit of material wealth. The wonderfully redemptive ending is pure Dickens as he shows how material and spiritual generosity enrich the giver as much as the recipient. Dickens suggests we can begin to enjoy our rewards here on earth, and lessen the harsh judgement that may otherwise await us in the hereafter.

“It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world—oh, woe is me!—and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!”

The Ghost of Jacob Marley

8. What genre do you wish was mixed with literary fiction more?

The joy of Dickens, and a lesson I wish many contemporary writers would learn, is that he saw no reason to limit himself to a single style or single subject, even within a single book. Each contains elements of social themes, human condition, romance, crime and horror – each is a microcosm of all that it is to be and to experience in this ugly, complicated, glorious world, and each shows the intelligence, insight and profound empathy that make him the greatest writer the world has ever known.

…and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!

* * * * *

HAVE THE DICKENS OF A CHRISTMAS, EVERYBODY!

Friday Frippery! Initial Thoughts…

Confessions of a book hoarder…

Having far too much time on my hands, I decided to see if I could find a book on my TBR for every letter of my blog name: my TBR being books I already own but haven’t yet read. I’m sure I’ve seen this as a tag around the blogosphere but don’t know where it originated, so apologies for not name-checking whoever created it. It’s a fun way of reminding myself of some of the many great-sounding books lingering unread on my Kindle or bookshelves…

Let’s go then!

F   Fell Murder by ECR Lorac
I    I Married a Communist by Philip Roth
C   Cloudstreet by Tim Winton
T   Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann
I    In Diamond Square by Merce Rodoreda
O  On the Road by Jack Kerouac
N  Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
F   Ford County by John Grisham
A   At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarçon
N   No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
S   Sula by Toni Morrison

B   Braised Pork by An Yu
O   The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
O   The Old Buzzard Had It Coming by Donis Casey
K   Knock, Murderer, Knock! by Harriet Rutland

R   Rupture by Ragnar Jonasson
E   Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin
V   The Vegetarian by Han Kang
I    In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin
E   Execution by SJ Parris
We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
S   The Siege by Helen Dunmore

The ease with which I could do this proves that I own way too many unread books! Of course the real challenge would be if I said I’d read them all in 2020… hmm…

Which ones take your fancy?
Can you do it? I tag you…

Six Degrees of Separation – From Austen to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before. For once, this month’s starting book is one I’ve actually read!

Sanditon by Jane Austen. Sanditon is a fictional little village on the south coast of England, and local landowner Mr Thomas Parker dreams of turning it into a health resort like its bigger neighbours, Brighton and Eastbourne. The current fad among the fashionable is for sea-air and sea-bathing, both promised to cure any number of ills. Mr Parker and his wife invite the young daughter of a friend to visit, Charlotte Heywood, and it’s through her sensible eyes that the reader sees the inhabitants of Sanditon, with all their foibles, kindnesses and hypocrisies.

Sea bathing at Brighton

So many options for a chain! Should I take the probable romantic lead, Sidney Parker, and head off to the tragic romance of Sidney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities? Or head to Brighton and Elly Griffiths’ great Stephens and Mephisto series? No, I think I’ll see how health care has developed in Eastbourne in a great true crime book…

The Curious Habits of Doctor Adams by Jane Robins. In 1957, Dr John Adams, a general practitioner from Eastbourne, was tried for the murder of an elderly patient, ostensibly because he hoped to inherit her Rolls Royce. The investigation leading up to the trial was a press sensation, with rumours abounding that Adams had murdered as many as 300 patients. This book tells the story of the investigation and trial, and Jane Robins asks the reader to judge whether the eventual verdict was right or wrong – was Adams a mass-murderer in the mould of Harold Shipman or was he a maligned man?

Dr John Adams

My verdict: Guilty as sin!

Adams’ doctoring happened while the NHS was still in the process of settling in, but the medical man in my next book was pre-NHS, and before medicine became so strictly regulated…

The Murder of a Quack by George Bellairs. Nathaniel Wall, an elderly, well-regarded bonesetter, is found murdered in his surgery, and the local police promptly call in Inspector Littlejohn of the Yard. Today we’d think of Wall as an osteopath primarily, though he also dips into other fields of medicine including the more “alternative” one of homeopathy. The local qualified doctor is a drunken incompetent, who strongly resents that so many locals prefer to visit the “quack” Walls rather than him. It’s an interesting comparison of the skilled but unqualified practitioner and the feckless professional, with all the sympathy going to the former. Plus it’s a good mystery!

The only link I can come up with here is to another doctor – this seems to be becoming my theme for the month! This time we’re off to Holland to meet reluctant General Practitioner Marc Schlosser in…

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch. Marc has a reputation for being willing to help out with the occasional prescription for drugs that might not be strictly medically necessary. His patients think he’s wonderful and caring (or so he tells us) mainly because he allows twenty minutes for an appointment and appears to want to listen to what they want to say. But the reader has the dubious privilege of seeing inside Marc’s head, and we soon learn that he’s rather different to the image he projects.

Occasionally I’ll ask someone to undress behind the screen, but most of the time I don’t. Human bodies are horrible enough as it is, even with their clothes on. I don’t want to see them, those parts where the sun never shines. Not the folds of fat in which it is always too warm and the bacteria have free rein, not the fungal growths and infections between the toes…

Another doctor I wouldn’t give any awards for caring to is the philandering hero of my next book…

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. Separated from his family by war, Yuri Andreevich Zhivago is torn between his duty to his wife and family and his adoration of the lovely nurse Lara. Unfortunately, he seems to suffer from severe commitment issues alongside a healthy dose of narcissism but, fortunately, he’s such a wonderful, intelligent, incomparably talented poet and sensitive human being (we know this because he tells us himself) that all the people he abandons throughout his life still adore him, because they recognise his innate superiority to all other mortals.

He’s such a charmer…

However, he could not very well say to them: ‘Dear friends, oh, how hopelessly ordinary you and the circle you represent, and the brilliance and art of your favourite names and authorities, all are. The only live and bright thing in you is that you lived at the same time as me and knew me.’

Ooh, I say! Oops, I mean… Omar Sharif as the Doctor. Wonder if he does housecalls?

There must be some good doctors out there surely? Ah yes, of course!

The Good Doctor by Damon Galgut. Having retreated to a remote country hospital following the messy break-up of his marriage, Doctor Frank Eloff is in a reasonably contented rut. The hospital is in a homeland in South Africa that ceased to exist when apartheid ended, so that now the town is sparsely occupied and the hospital has very few patients and only a tiny staff. But one day a new doctor shows up – young Laurence Waters. Idealistic and somewhat naive, Laurence wants to do good, and his presence becomes a catalyst for change. This is a story of disillusionment – of a man and of a country.

Unfortunately we spend more time with the depressed and apathetic Frank than the idealistic Laurence, but surely my last doctor will redeem the reputation of the profession, in…

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. Hercule Poirot has retired to the village of King’s Abbott to grow vegetable marrows. Roger Ackroyd is a wealthy man and a leading light in the community, but he’s not always generous to his many dependants. So when he is found dead in his study there are plenty of suspects. Dr James Sheppard is first on the scene of the crime and once Poirot becomes involved in the investigation the doctor finds himself acting as his unofficial assistant.

Dr Sheppard and his delightfully nosy sister Caroline add much to the fun of the book, and Dr Sheppard has a spotless reputation as a caring physician in his small community. Phew! Glad I found one good doctor at last…

* * * * *

So Austen to Christie, via the health resort of Eastbourne, doctors, doctors, doctors, doctors and doctors!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

The Blogger Recognition Award

…aka How It All Began…

I’m thrilled to have been nominated for The Blogger Recognition Award by carllbatnag at The Pine-Scented Chronicles – thank you!

The Award Rules

1. Thank the blogger/s who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
2. Write a post to show your award.
3. Give a brief story of how your blog started.
4. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
5. Select 15 other bloggers you want to give this award to.
6. Comment (or pingback) on each blog and let them know you have nominated them and provide the link to the post you created.

3. Give a brief story of how your blog started…

Once upon a time, there was a lovely young woman of noble birth, Lady FF, who fell in love with the King’s favourite son, and he loved her right back because did I mention she was gorgeous? She looked a bit like this…

…and her Prince looked a bit like this, when he was playing tennis, which he did a lot when he wasn’t telling Lady FF about how her eyes were like bright stars lighting up the vast void of his personal heaven…

The King looked a bit like this…

(…and, whisper it not, there were moments when Lady FF wondered if the more mature man might not be more her style. But the King was already married whereas the Prince wasn’t, so that helped with the decision.) The King’s wife looked a bit like this…

Now, Lady FF was never one to judge by appearances, which was a pity because any fool could have seen that the Queen had some kind of major personality disorder. The Queen was deeply jealous of Lady FF because of the love the Prince bore for her, plus because Lady FF was considerably better looking than she and frankly had better dress sense.

One day, the Prince went off to the forest to hunt. (Fear not! He didn’t actually kill anything – he simply hunted for pretty creatures, snapped them and posted the pics to his Instagram account. Pictures like this…)

When evening fell and he had not returned, Lady FF was worried so she set off bravely – did I mention she was terribly brave? – following the tracks of his horse’s hooves deep into the darkest depths of the deepest dell. (She’d been experimenting with alliteration recently.) There she came upon an ancient cottage. She knocked on the door and was astonished when who should open it but the Queen herself!

“Where is my Prince?” Lady FF demanded. She could be peremptory when required.

“Buried deep in cavern halls
Without his racquet or his balls.”

(Balls like this!)

(Seriously, people, your minds…!)

“But why?” Lady FF whined. She could be whiny too, but in an irresistibly attractive way.

“To keep him from your clutching hands.
You ne’er shall be Princess of these lands.”

“Ne’er?”

“Ne’er!”

Lady FF dropped to her knees, clasped her hands and looked beseechingly at the cruel Queen.

“Is there nothing I can do or say to make you change your mind, oh fair and gentle Queen?” (Flattery ne’er goes amiss in these circumstances.)

The Queen cackled gleefully.

“Listen close and I shall tell
The only way to break my spell.
The Royal Castle has a room
In which is piled your awful doom.
Three thousand books all bound in blue
You must read them all, it’s true.
And when you finish every one
You may then wed my loving son.
But proof I need of all you do
So every book you must review!”

And so Lady FF began a book blog, and dreamt each night of the time to come when she and her Prince would live happily ever after…

* * * * *

4. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers…

a) Have fun! That’s what it’s all about. Do as much or as little as you like and don’t compare your blog to other people’s – they’re they and you’re you. And when it all starts to feel like work, take a break, bake a cake, sail on a lake, or run off with a sheik – the blog (and your followers) will still be there when you and your enthusiasm return.

b) If you want people to come to your blog and chat, go to their blogs and chat. Quid pro quo, as that great philosopher and linguist Donald J. Trump would say.

Bonus advice…

c) Never mention Donald J. Trump.

* * * * *

(Gratuitous Darcy pic…)

5. Select 15 other bloggers you want to give this award to.

OK, I don’t usually do this, but there don’t seem to have been so many awards and tags going around lately, so I’m going to spread the love this time. Here’s my fifteen – all bloggers who richly deserve an award for the fun they add to the blogosphere. I shall be deeply offended if you don’t accept the award and link your post back to me. In fact, I’m already plotting my revenge…

Cathy @ Between the Lines
Karissa @ Karissa Reads Books
MarinaSofia @ Finding Time to Write
Jennifer @ Tar Heel Reader
Margaret @ Books Please
Kelly @ Kelly’s Thoughts and Ramblings
Rose @ Rose Reads Novels
Katrina @ Pining for the West
Anne @ I’ve Read This
Jane @ Just Reading a Book
L. Marie @ El Space
Debbie @ Musings by an ND Domer’s Mom
Madame Bibi @ Madame Bibi Lophile Recommends
Eva @ Novel Delights
Stargazer

Have a great Wednesday! 😀

Six Degrees of Separation – From Taddeo to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before. It’s ages since I’ve done one of these, but somehow this month’s first book set me off on an unstoppable chain…

I haven’t read this, and won’t! Here’s what Goodreads says about it…

Desire as we’ve never seen it before: a riveting true story about the sex lives of three real American women, based on nearly a decade of reporting.

It thrills us and torments us. It controls our thoughts and destroys our lives. It’s all we live for. Yet we almost never speak of it. And as a buried force in our lives, desire remains largely unexplored—until now. Over the past eight years, journalist Lisa Taddeo has driven across the country six times to embed herself with ordinary women from different regions and backgrounds. The result, Three Women, is the deepest nonfiction portrait of desire ever written.

Dear me! Now if this was a book about chocolate I could understand it, but sex? I can only imagine the author and/or blurb writer are in the midst of puberty because, trust me, girlies, the all-consumingness of the desire for sex happily ratchets down to sane proportions once maturity kicks in. The desire for doughnuts, however, is a different thing altogether…

This made me think of books with too much sex, which leaves me spoiled for choice really. I think I’ll go for…

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. This is a highly regarded book about WW1 and has many good points. However, it has some of the worst written sex scenes it has been my misfortune to read. In my review, I said…

…the two lovers rarely talk other than to decide where next they can have sex. And unfortunately, Faulks just doesn’t have what it takes to make sex sound like fun. As he gives us detail after detail of each positional change, each bodily fluid and its eventual destination, each grunt, groan and sigh, I developed a picture of poor Elizabeth, the love interest, as one of those bendy toys that used to be so popular. As so often in male sex fantasies, her willingness, nay, desperation, to have sex with Stephen knows no bounds, so we’ve barely finished the cigarette after the last session before we’re off again.

This reminded me of how often I’ve noticed that male authors of a certain age, just before they hit their second childhood, seem to go through a second adolescence. Which brings me to…

Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving. I abandoned this one too early to review on the blog but I left a brief, bitter comment on Goodreads…

Abandoned. I was already finding the book repetitive and a bit silly, but was willing to persevere till I hit the extended graphic oral sex scene at the 18% mark, which other reviews lead me to believe is the first of many. Not good enough otherwise to tempt me to read hundreds more pages of an elderly man’s sex fantasies. Note to self: Remember to stop getting books written by men over the age of 60 – it must be hormonal…

Of course, it’s not possible to think of middle-aged men and their sex obsessions without thinking of the poor male protagonist of…

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Here we have a middle-aged man who springs a sudden surprise on his wife. Again I think my feelings about him came through loud and clear in my review…

High Court judge Fiona Maye’s comfortable life is rocked when her husband of many years announces that he would like her permission to have an affair. The poor man has his reasons – apparently he and Fiona haven’t had sex for seven weeks and one day so you can understand his desperation. (Am I sounding unsympathetic? Oh, I haven’t even begun…)

And while we’re on the subject of male authors and their fantasies, it would be unfair to neglect Brodie Moncur, the protagonist in…

Love Is Blind by William Boyd

Another one that brought out my inner snarkiness. Here’s an extract from my little blurb for the exciting story of this book…

…he falls in love with Lika Blum, the girlfriend of an Irish pianist. Then he stays in love with her for the rest of the book, has sex with her quite a lot, and fantasises about having sex with her most of the rest of the time. He has sex with her in Paris, the South of France, Scotland and St Petersburg. And maybe other places – I forget.

Of course, the Europeans shouldn’t be left out. Books written by middle-aged men show that we all have things in common, whatever our nationality. Which brings me to…

The Midas Murders by Pieter Aspe

The last book I will ever read from this author, as this quote from my review will explain…

It’s in the attitude to women that the book really shows itself up to be an unpleasant piece of work. Van In (along with every other man in the book and therefore presumably the author) never looks at a woman without commenting on her breasts, her rear, her legs or her availability in the most derogatory terms. Hannelore has descended from being a colleague to being an object for sexual fantasising – the biggest fantasy being that an intelligent, beautiful and successful woman would find anything remotely attractive in the drunken, sexist and shabby Van In.

And suddenly that comment whisks my memory off to the Faroe Islands, where yet another middle-aged male author fantasises about beautiful, intelligent women falling for the most unlikely of men…

The Last Refuge by Craig Robertson

Here’s what I said about this charmer…

Given that Callum is a violent drunk with a shady past, living in a shack, suspected of murder, penniless and with no obvious future prospects, why are we supposed to believe that an intelligent, successful professional woman would be interested in him? If an author wants me to believe that, then he must be shown to be charming, fascinating, a great conversationalist, someone who saves kittens from being run over by trucks – something to make him seem attractive – but Callum is none of these things. We’re not talking about 17-year-olds here, where ‘bad boy’ syndrome might apply – we’re talking about mature, nearly middle-aged adults. But with Callum we are supposed to believe that not one, but two, women find him attractive – standards on the Faroe Islands must be pretty low.

Well, it appears that I might be wrong about obsessive desire! It does seem to rear its head (if you think that’s a pun, it’s your mind, not mine… 😉 ) with great regularity. Why does no one ever write books about doughnut fantasies??

* * * * *

So Taddeo to Robertson via sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, and sex!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Dancing with Darcy is far more fun – even better than doughnuts!

The Literary Fiction Book Tag

Spot the connection…

I enjoyed reading Karissa’s interesting take on this tag that’s doing the rounds, so when she said “consider yourself tagged”, I considered! My answers to questions 2-7 share a common link. No prizes for guessing it, but if you do you have my permission to wear a smug expression for the rest of the day…

1. How do you define literary fiction?

I struggle with this all the time when deciding on what tags to use on reviews. I think I’d define it as indefinable! Generally, though, we all know it when we read it, I suspect. But I’m looking for great writing – and by that I don’t mean creative writing, I mean writing that uses a vocabulary that stimulates the brain without baffling (No to Nabokov!), that reads effortlessly (Fie to Faulkner!) and that creates wonderful images of places or people, or both, with beautiful descriptive prose (Kiss me, Hardy!). I want emotional truth – the characters might be realistic (as in McIlvanney) or exaggerated and even caricatured (as in Dickens) but they must fundamentally act in ways people would act. If it’s historical fiction, it must be true to the time in which it’s set. If it’s genre fiction, it must transcend the genre but must never forget its roots in its desire to be literary. If it’s contemporary fiction, it must say something intelligent and preferably profound about society, culture and/or the “human condition”. Please don’t ask me to define the human condition…

Publishers rejoice! Books survive into the 24th century!

2. Name a literary fiction novel with a brilliant character study.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. From the review:

Although the story may be slight, the characterisation of Miss Brodie is anything but – she is wonderfully realised as an unconventional woman battling against the rigid restrictions of prim and proper Edinburgh society, yearning for art and beauty in her life, longing for love, desperately needing the adulation both of men and of her girls. Her beauty and exotic behaviour bring her admiration from more than one man and lead her into the realms of scandal, endangering her necessary respectability and her career. But perhaps Miss Brodie’s real misfortune is that in the end she isn’t quite unconventional enough.

The wonderful Maggie Smith in her prime…

3. Name a literary fiction novel that has experimental or unique writing.

Docherty by William McIlvanney. Written partly in standard English, but partly in a beautifully sustained and authentic Scots dialect, this tells the story of Tam Docherty, a miner in the west of Scotland in the early 20th century who vows that his youngest son, Con, will work with his brains, rise out of the poverty of his heritage. The book covers the next twenty years or so, telling the story of Conn and his family, and most of all of Tam himself, a man who may be “only five foot fower. But when yer hert goes fae yer heid tae yer taes, that’s a lot o’ hert.”

“Son, it’s easy tae be guid oan a fu’ belly. It’s when a man’s goat two bites an’ wan o’ them he’ll share, ye ken whit he’s made o’. Listen. In ony country in the world, who are the only folk that ken whit it’s like tae leeve in that country? The folk at the boattom. The rest can a’ kid themselves oan. They can afford to hiv fancy ideas. We canny, son. We loass the wan idea o’ who we are, we’re deid. We’re wan anither. Tae survive, we’ll respect wan anither. When the time comes, we’ll a’ move forward thegither, or nut at all.”

High Street, Kilmarnock – the town on which fictional Graithnock is based in William McIlvanney’s Docherty
“High Street, both as a terrain and a population was special. Everyone whom circumstances had herded into its hundred-or-so-yards had failed in the same way. It was a penal colony for those who had committed poverty, a vice which was usually hereditary.”

4. Name a literary fiction novel with an interesting structure.

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet. One day in 1869, young Roderick Macrae walked along the tiny street of his village and brutally murdered three of his neighbours. He is now in custody awaiting trial, and his defence lawyer is trying to get at the root causes that led him to commit these horrific crimes. From the review:

The novel is presented as if it were a true crime book with witness statements, medical examiner reports and so on. The first half is taken up with Roderick’s own account of events leading up to the crime, an account he is writing while in jail, at the urging of Mr Sinclair, his defence attorney. There’s then a shorter section told from the viewpoint of J. Bruce Thomson, an authority in the new discipline of criminal anthropology. He has been brought in by Mr Sinclair to determine whether Roderick could be considered insane under the legal definition of that word then in force. J. Bruce Thomson was a real person, as the notes at the end of the book tell us, and Burnet has apparently used his actual writings on the subject to inform this section of the book. Finally, there’s an account of the trial, presented as a kind of compilation of various newspaper reports.

5. Name a literary fiction novel that explores social themes.

Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. This first volume of Gibbon’s trilogy, A Scots Quair, focuses on the life of Chris Guthrie, daughter of a tenant farmer in the fictional estate of Kinraddie in the north-east of Scotland, before and during the First World War. From the review:

The book is essentially a lament for the passing of a way of life. Gibbon shows how the war hurried the process along, but he also indicates how change was happening anyway, with increasing mechanisation of farms, the landowners gradually driving the tenant farmers off as they found more profitable uses for the land, the English-ing of education leading to the loss of the old language and with it, old traditions. Although the cruelties and hardships of the old ways are shown to the full, he also portrays the sense of community, of neighbour supporting neighbour when the need arises. And he gives a great feeling of the relative isolation of these communities, far distant from the seat of power and with little interest in anything beyond their own lives. But here too he suggests things are changing, with some of the characters flirting with the new socialist politics of the fledgling Labour Party.

Agyness Deyn as Chris Guthrie in the dreadful film of the book.

6. Name a literary fiction novel that explores the human condition.

The Gowk Storm by Nancy Brysson Morrison. This is the tale of three sisters, daughters of the minister in a parish in the Highlands of Scotland. From the review:

…the characterisation of these young girls is beautifully done. None of them is perfect – each has her flaws and idiosyncrasies. The two eldest, Julia and Emmy, are a little like Elinor and Marianne from Sense and Sensibility – Julia’s strong feelings masked by her outward calm, and with the intellect and strength of character to overcome the slings and arrows of her fortune; Emmy driven by emotion, unwilling, perhaps unable, to accept society’s restrictions. Lisbet is clear-sighted about her sisters, and about herself. Although she is young during the events of the book, it is written as if by her older self looking back, giving her narration a feeling of more maturity and insight than her younger self may have had at the time. 

And a quote:

The carriage moved forward. We turned the bend in the road where we used to stand to see if any one were coming. I heard the immeasurable murmur of the loch, like a far-away wave that never breaks upon the shore, and the cry of a curlew. All the world’s sorrow, all the world’s pain, and none of its regret, lay throbbing in that cry.

7. Name a brilliant literary-hybrid genre novel.

The Long Drop by Denise Mina, based on the true story of Peter Manuel, one of the last men to be hanged in Scotland, in the late 1950s. Part true crime, part crime fiction and wholly literary – a wonderful book. From the review:

The book has been longlisted for this year’s McIlvanney Prize [it won] and, though I’ve only read a few of the other contenders, I can’t imagine how any book could be a more suitable winner. Scottish to its bones, it nevertheless speaks to our universal humanity. Crime fiction where the quality of the writing and insight into a particular time and place would allow it to sit just as easily on the literary fiction shelf. Not only do I think this is one of the books of the year but I suspect and hope it will become a classic that continues to be read for many decades to come, like Capote’s In Cold Blood or McIlvanney’s own Laidlaw. I hope I’ve persuaded you to read it…

8. What genre do you wish was mixed with literary fiction more?

I love literary genre fiction so would be happy to see more of it in all the genres I enjoy, especially crime, science fiction and horror. Come on, authors – get multitasking!

* * * * *

Your turn – I tag you!

And if you don’t blog, then I tag you to reveal all in the comments below…

No, no, no! Not that kind of “all”! I mean, reveal your opinions!

Six in Six 2019

A half-year retrospective…


This fun meme is run by Jo of The Book Jotter. The idea is to look back over the first six months of the reading year, select six categories from the selection Jo provides or create your own categories, and then find six books you’ve read between January and June to fit each category. It’s my second time of joining in, and I loved looking for patterns in my reading, though I found it harder this year – I seem to have been reading lots and lots of various types of crime and not a lot of much else! But I’ve squeezed out Six in Six categories and avoided duplication, and all my choices are books I’d recommend… except one. But I won’t be so mean as to name and shame it, so it can bask temporarily in the glow of inclusion…

Six Vintage Crime

I remain happily steeped in vintage crime this year, thanks largely to the wonderful British Library Crime Classics and my ongoing Murder, Mystery and Mayhem challenge…

The Colour of Murder

The Blotting Book

The Arsenal Stadium Mystery

Death of an Airman

Smallbone Deceased

The Secret Adversary

Six Historical Fiction

There’s other historical fiction dotted around the six categories – I seem to be attracted more to historical than contemporary fiction at the moment, though I haven’t consciously been selecting books on that basis. This is the category that contains the book I didn’t love – but perhaps you would be blind to its faults…

My Cousin Rachel

Love is Blind

Dunstan

Wakenhyrst

The Elephant’s Journey

Three Bullets

Six Crime New Releases

I haven’t read much new crime this year but happily the ones I’ve chosen have turned out well, and I don’t think those two facts are unconnected. Cutting down on impulse picks on NetGalley and doing a bit of research means that the books that are squeezing onto my overstuffed TBR are tending to be of higher quality… or at least more to my taste…

The Katharina Code

The Plotters

The Man With No Face

Cruel Acts

Critical Incidents

Deadland

Six for the Classics Club

I’m still desperately trying to catch up with my Classics Club list, and am thoroughly enjoying it – there’s a reason books become classics! My love affair with Oxford World’s Classics continues, who are feeding my addiction and whose introductions make for better informed reviews – in theory, at least!

Tarzan of the Apes

The Riddle of the Sands

Little Dorrit

The Fair Maid of Perth

Bath Tangle

The Expedition of Humphry Clinker

Six True Crime

After a few years of reading heavyweight history I needed a bit of a break and something lighter to fill the factual slot in my reading schedule. What better than a bit of true crime?

In Cold Blood

The Adversary

American Heiress

Killers of the Flower Moon

The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective

Furious Hours

Six Great Fiction

As with contemporary crime, I’ve been far more selective about fiction this year, so I haven’t read much but the quality has been excellent. All of these are great reads.

The Night Tiger

The Dakota Winters

Night Theatre

The Kiln

Go Set a Watchman

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World

* * * * * * * *

So that’s my six sixes, and they tell me I’ve had a fabulous reading year so far! As usual, I’m late to the party but Jo gives us till the end of July, so if you haven’t already joined in you still have time – it’s a wonderful way to waste spend some time!

Here’s to the next six months! 😀

Knock at the door, number 4…

…or The Reading Bingo Challenge!

Another year draws to a close, so it must be time for… The Reading Bingo Challenge! I don’t deliberately look for books to read to meet this challenge, but at the end of the year it’s always fun to see how many boxes I can fill. Some of the categories are easy-peasy… others not so much. I’ve achieved a full house in each of the last three years, so the pressure is on…

More than 500 pages

The Man Who Loved Dogs by Leonardo Padura. I’ve read a few chunky novels this year, so at random I’ve gone for this one, which I read as part of my Russian Revolution challenge. It tells the story of the assassination of Trotsky, allowing us to see his life as an exile and his assassin’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War and subsequent recruitment by Stalin’s regime.

Leon Trotsky (second right) and his wife Natalya Sedova (far left) are welcomed to Tampico Harbour, Mexico by Frida Kahlo and the US Trotskyist leader Max Shachtman, January 1937.
Getty Images/Gamma-Keystone

A forgotten classic

Marriage by Susan Ferrier. Following a discussion with my brother on Scottish classics, he sent me this one, of which I hadn’t heard. It tells of two sisters, separated as babies, one to be brought up in the strict religion of the Scottish Highlands, the other to live amongst the fashionably loose-moralled people of London.

A book that became a movie

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan. The story of Richard Hannay being chased around Scotland by some nasty German spies just before the First World War. I enjoyed this, but I enjoyed Hitchcock’s classic film version considerably more!

The 39 Steps – but he only kissed her to escape from the baddies…

Published this year

The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware. I loved this story of Hal Greenaway, who receives a letter telling her she has been left something by her grandmother. The only problem is Hal knows her real grandmother died years ago! But she decides to go anyway to the house in Cornwall to find out what she’s inherited. Deliciously Gothic in a modern setting.

With a number in the title

The Four Just Men by Edgar Wallace. This classic story from 1905 has a surprisingly contemporary storyline – of people objecting to political agitators using the safety of foreign countries to stir up revolutions back in their own nation. It’s a vigilante story – not my favourite kind – but I found it entertaining and unexpectedly thought-provoking.

Written by someone under 30

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin. I always end up having to google authors for this one, and was amazed to find that Crispin wrote this book when he was only 25. The story is of a man who discovers a body in a toyshop but when he returns there with the police, the toyshop has gone! A mad romp of a book and great fun.

A book with non-human characters

Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd. Hope Clearwater works for a research project in the Republic of the Congo, observing chimpanzees. The chimps play a real role in the book and are as well developed as the human characters. Plus this may be my last opportunity to use one of my favourite GIFs…

A funny book

Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar by Olga Wojtas. Shona McMonagle, ex-student of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, becomes a time-traveller in this very funny romp set in pre-revolutionary Russia. Very well written, lots of delightful Scottish references and some less than reverential nods to that other book about pupils of the Marcia Blaine, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

A science fiction or fantasy book

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. I’ve read some brilliant classic science fiction this year, and this was up there with the best. A post-apocalyptic vision of life after strange green lights appear in the sky, striking blind everyone who saw them. And to make matters worse, the triffids have got loose – walking, man-eating plants! A great, thought-provoking story.

The 1962 movie…

A mystery

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths. I’m liking this trend towards modern Gothic very much, and this is another goodie! Clare Cassidy is writing a biography of the writer of a terrifying ghost story, The Stranger. And when one of her colleagues is brutally murdered, it becomes clear that somehow the story holds the clue to the case…

A one-word title

Brother by David Chariandy. The story of two brothers whose mother has immigrated from Trinidad to Canada. She has to work hard to make a living, so the boys are often left alone. Drifting into the ‘wrong’ crowd, they will become caught up in events that lead to tragedy. A story of the immigrant dream gone wrong, beautifully written and told.

Free square

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit by PG Wodehouse. Whenever my world is grey, Bertie Wooster brings the sunshine back. But, since they’re all re-reads for me, they never get in the running for my awards despite giving me so much pleasure. In this one, Bertie, Jeeves, Aunt Dahlia and Wodehouse are all on top form as they navigate Bertie away from the horrors of marriage once again – spiffing!

My fave Jeeves and Wooster

A book of short stories

The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre. Between classic crime and horror anthologies, I’m spoilt for choice this year. This one includes Scottish and Irish writers which makes it a little different from the usual, and the title story arose out of the same evening get-together that led to the writing of Frankenstein.

The Vampyre – Illustration by Anne Yvonne Gilbert

Set on a different continent

Springtime in a Broken Mirror by Mario Benedetti. My Around the World challenge has taken me to a few continents this year with some great reads along the way. This one is set mainly in Argentina, although it’s about Uruguayan political dissidents exiled there. A wonderful book, about home and exile, loneliness, longing, belonging – about loyalty and love, and hope, and sometimes despair.

Non-fiction

Sleeping with the Lights On by Darryl Jones. A deceptively short history of horror in books in film, this is packed full of concentrated juicy goodness, written in an engaging and accessible style. It covers everything from mad science to creepypasta, and has added approximately five million titles to my must read/watch lists – horrifying!

Creepypasta – The Slenderman

First book by a favourite author

Fatherland by Robert Harris. I came late to Harris so am enjoying fitting some of his backlist in between his new releases as part of my Five Times Five challenge. This is the story of a murder in Berlin, set in a world where Nazi Germany won World War Two – a world in which Hitler still rules and the people of Germany are in the grip of a totalitarian regime.

Heard about online

That Summer in Puglia by Valeria Vescina. Most of the new releases I read, I first hear about online in some way, but this is one I was inspired to read directly by other bloggers’ reviews. It’s the story of a love affair, that we know from the beginning ends in tragedy. Beautifully written, and wonderfully evocative of the culture of Puglia in the 1980s.

A best-selling book

Tombland by CJ Sansom. Sansom’s books go directly to the bestseller lists long before they are released, and rightly so. This is another great addition to the Tudor-set Matthew Shardlake series, where Matthew is swept up in the Kett Rebellion while investigating a murder in Norfolk at the request of the young Princess Elizabeth.

Robert Kett at the Oak of Reformation
by Samuel Wale (c.1746)

Based on a true story

The Commissariat of Enlightenment by Ken Kalfus. Kalfus is one of my favourite authors and I’m going to keep going on about him till you all give in and read him! This one tells of the death of Tolstoy and the development of propaganda in Revolutionary Russia. Darkness leavened with humour, and all Kalfus’ sparkling originality in the story-telling.

From the bottom of the TBR pile

Raven Black by Ann Cleeves. Finally, after years of talking about it, I broke my duck with Ann Cleeves’ books. This, the first in her series of crime novels set on Shetland, had been sitting on my TBR since 16/12/2013, so it seemed like it might be time to actually read it! Now all I have to do is read all her other ones…

A book a friend loves

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith. Not just one friend, but nearly everyone I know who reads has recommended this one to me at some point! Two men meet on a train and one suggests that they swap murders – Bruno will murder Guy’s wife if Guy murders Bruno’s father. I enjoyed this influential psychological thriller, (but truthfully I enjoyed Hitchcock’s film of the book considerably more again…)

A book that scared me

Haunted Houses by Charlotte Riddell. These two short novels from a “forgotten” Victorian only scared me a little bit, but they entertained me hugely! The Uninhabited House is the stronger of the two, especially in terms of the ghostly aspects. But Fairy Water is full of charm with a delightful first-person narrator who grows ever more likeable as the book progresses. Horror for scaredy-cats!

A book that is more than 10 years old

The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux. In a year of classics and vintage crime, I’m spoiled for choice for this category! This early locked room murder mystery wins the spot because a) the murder weapon is a mutton-bone b) the murder victim isn’t dead(!) and c) Hercule Poirot describes it as “a masterpiece”. Good enough for me!

Rouletabille, the detective.
By Josep Simont i Guillén – Published in the French newspaper L’Illustration where the story was first serialised

The second book in a series

Bump in the Night by Colin Watson. I’ve had a lot of fun revisiting Colin Watson’s Flaxborough Chronicles this year, as they’ve been reissued for Kindle – a series I first enjoyed when it was still being published, and it’s now become “vintage”. So what does that make me?? (Rhetorical question – don’t you dare answer it!) Light-hearted crime with a touch of sly humour.

A book with a blue cover

Murder by Matchlight by ECR Lorac. Lorac is probably my favourite of all the authors the British Library Crime Classics have introduced me too – I’ve loved all three of the books they’ve reissued so far. This one takes place in WW2 London during the bombings and gives a real picture of ordinary Londoners just trying to get on with their lives.

* * * * * * *

Bingo! Full House!
What do I win??

 

Friday Frippery! The Naughty or Nice Tag

The People’s Vote…

I saw this tag over on Rosepoint Publishing and her answers proved what we all already knew – that she’s very nice indeed! I’m a bit worried about what Santa will think of my behaviour, though, so I’m hoping you’ll be able to tell me if I’ve been nice enough or if I need to make some quick amends…

So here are the questions – have you…

1. Received an ARC and not reviewed it?

Oh yes! For some reason I got put on a publisher’s list for what can only be described as women’s fiction and suddenly started receiving zillions of them. I struggled through one or two, but not my thing! Eventually they stopped sending them – phew! And then there are all the NetGalley ARCs I’ve abandoned for being badly written or badly formatted – I do send feedback (usually polite 😇, but not always 😡) but don’t review.

2. Got less than 60% feedback rating on NetGalley? 

I don’t remember ever being under 90%! I’m currently on 93%. 😇

3. Rated a book on Goodreads and promised a full review was to come on your blog (and never did)?

No, I never put a rating on Goodreads until I’m posting the review. 😇 The exception is abandoned books where I have no intention of ever reviewing, but which I think require a 1-star rating. 😡

4. Folded down the page of a book?

Not intentionally, but I have done it accidentally while attempting to read, eat cake and fend off paper-chewing cats simultaneously. Annoyingly I managed to crease the cover of my current read… grrr! 😡

5. Accidentally spilled on a book?

Well… OK, I’ve never admitted to this before, but… well, OK, it was I who dropped the bread and marmalade face down on my sister’s treasured copy of The Hobbit. I’ve lived with the guilt for around half a century… 😞

6. DNF a book this year?

Oh, good heavens, yes!! Thousands!! But is that naughty?? Believe me, if I had finished and reviewed them, I wouldn’t have been nice… 🤬

7. Bought a book purely because it was pretty with no intention of reading it?

That’s not naughty, it’s crazy! No! 😇

8. Read whilst you were meant to be doing something else (like homework)?

Well, that all depends on one’s perspective. I prefer to think of things like housework as impinging on my reading time rather than the other way round. 😜

9. Skim read a book?

Guilty as charged. But only when they deserve it, and I reckon it makes me nice, because I could have fed them through the shredder instead, and didn’t… 😡

10. Completely missed your Goodreads goal?

I’m going to fail dismally this year. 😪 And I don’t care because I’m a rebel!! 😎 (Though I might sneakily read a few novellas to take me over the line… ) 😇

11. Borrowed a book and not returned it to the library?

Not this year, 😇 but only because I don’t use the library. And the reason I don’t is because I’m so hopeless at returning books and can’t face the guilt. 🤬

12. Broken a book buying ban?

What’s a book buying ban? 🎅

13. Started a review, left it for ages then forgot what the book was about?

Tragically, this happens all the time, though I find reading reviews on Goodreads is usually enough to remind me. But I left my review of Heart of Darkness for so long that I’m going to have to read it again… 🤬

14. Written in a book you were reading?

What?? Do you think I’m some kind of savage?? 😡  Of course not! I live in a society with ready access to notebooks… *shudders*

15. Finished a book and not added it to your Goodreads?

I add them before I read them, as I put them on TBR Thursday posts. 😇 I have however removed them on finishing, if they were so bad I couldn’t even bring myself to give one star… 😡

16. Borrowed a book and not returned it to a friend?

In the distant past, I have been both villain and victim of this heinous crime. 😇😡 Nowadays I don’t borrow books…

17. Dodged someone asking if they can borrow a book?

No, though due to my own tendency to accidentally steal books, I’d much rather give a book than lend it… 🎅

18. Broken the spine of someone else’s book?

No, but thanks for the suggestion! I’ll bear it in mind for the next time someone annoys me… 😡😡

19. Taken the jacket off a book to protect it and ended up making it more damaged?

I’m baffled – I thought jackets were there to protect the book. From accidental chocolate fingerprints, for example, or to give the cats something to chew. Have I been doing it wrong?? 😲

20. Sat on a book accidentally?

Frequently! But they don’t squeal so it obviously doesn’t hurt them. There are some books I feel actually deserve to be sat on, though… 😡😡😡

So…what’s the verdict?
Which list do you think Santa will put me on?

.
* * * * *

Your reward for voting…

The Gothic Book Tag

Health Alert: Stock up on medicinal chocolate…

Well, during my two-week break (did you miss me? You better have…), I’ve been reading up a storm, most of it horror or Gothic or otherwise packed with spookifulliness. So you will need to take safety precautions before visiting my blog over the next couple of weeks – it would be awful if your eyes started from their spheres and your hair stood on end like quills upon the Fretful Porpentine.

It’s a fretful porpentine!

(Poor porpy – he keeps looking at his hibernation box longingly, but I’ve told him he’s got a long way to go yet…)

My advice is – take precautionary chocolate at least three times daily for the next month. This can be in the form of truffles, hot chocolate or fudge cake – the choice is yours. But keep some 80% plain chocolate aside for emergency top-ups as required.

To start the ball rolling (is it a ball? Or is it in fact the head of the headless ghost??), I thought I’d join in with the Classic Club’s

The Gothic Book Tag

1. Which classic book story has scared you the most?

Truthfully I rarely find books can maintain scariness for more than odd moments – I think short stories are much more effective. So I’m going with The Monkey’s Paw by WW Jacobs – a story that sends chills down my spine every time I think of it. If you want to be terrified this Hallowe’en, here’s a link

2. Scariest moment in a book?

That would be the moment in The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, when Eleanor realises the hand she has been clutching for comfort doesn’t belong to whom she thought it did…

“God God,” Eleanor said, flinging herself out of bed and across the room to stand shuddering in a corner, “God God – whose hand was I holding?”

3. Classic villain that you love to hate?

Sauron. There are so many great villains in The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, in fact – Denethor and Saruman are up there amongst my most hated too, but Sauron wins because he’s not really in the book in person – he simply broods over it like a malignant dark cloud of supernatural terror…

4. Creepiest setting in a book story?

The island in The Willows by Algernon Blackwood – from the moment those willows clapped their little hands I developed a total horror of the place…

Then we lay panting and laughing after our exertions on the hot yellow sand, sheltered from the wind, and in the full blaze of a scorching sun, a cloudless blue sky above, and an immense army of dancing, shouting willow bushes, closing in from all sides, shining with spray and clapping their thousand little hands as though to applaud the success of our efforts.

5. Best scary cover ever?

6. Book you’re too scared to read?

Nope! Can’t think of one! There are loads I won’t read because the subject matter sounds too gory or graphic, but that’s not a matter of fear, simply of good taste… 😉😎

7. Spookiest creature in a book story?

Thrawn Janet – if you can cope with the Scots language in Robert Louis Stevenson’s great story, then this tale of a woman who has become the victim in the fight between good and evil and may now be the Devil’s pawn is wonderfully chilling. The image of her tramp-trampin’ and croonin’ lives with me…

Syne she turned round, an’ shawed her face; Mr Soulis had the same cauld grue as twice that day afore, an’ it was borne in upon him what folk said, that Janet was deid lang syne, an’ this was a bogle in her clay-cauld flesh. He drew back a pickle and he scanned her narrowly. She was tramp-trampin’ in the cla’es, croonin’ to hersel’; and eh! Gude guide us, but it was a fearsome face.

8. Classic book story that haunts you to this day?

The Apple Tree by Daphne du Maurier – the imagery of the tree as a possible reincarnation of the unpleasant main character’s dead wife is nightmarish…

Up and down went the heavy axe, splitting and tearing at the tree. Off came the peeling bark, the great white strips of underwood, raw and stringy. Hack at it, blast at it, gouge at the tough tissue, throw the axe away, claw at the rubbery flesh with the bare hands. Not far enough yet, go on, go on.

9. Favourite cliffhanger or unexpected twist?

Meg’s heroic exploit in Tam o’Shanter – Robert Burns plays it mainly for laughs in his classic ghostly poem, but there’s some wonderful horror imagery in there too, and I love that the brave horse Meg/Maggie wins the day, though making a great sacrifice as she does…

For Nannie, far before the rest,
Hard upon noble Maggie prest,
And flew at Tam wi’ furious ettle;
But little wist she Maggie’s mettle!
Ae spring brought off her master hale,
But left behind her ain grey tail:
The carlin claught her by the rump,
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.

10. Classic book story you really, really disliked?

Berenice by Edgar Allan Poe. I suspect Poe must have been having toothache on the day he wrote this horrible little story…

The eyes were lifeless, and lustreless, and seemingly pupilless, and I shrank involuntarily from their glassy stare to he contemplation of the thin and shrunken lips. They parted; and in a smile of peculiar meaning, the teeth of the changed Berenice disclosed themselves slowly to my view. Would to God that I had never beheld them, or that, having done so, I had died!

11. Character death that disturbed/upset you the most?

I’m not going to name the character because that would be a major spoiler, but I will say the death at the end of Agatha Christie’s The Last Séance in her The Hound of Death collection has lingered in the scaredycat portion of my mind for the best part of half a century now, and shows no signs of going away…

The curtains of the alcove seemed to have been pulled back a little, the medium’s figure was just visible through the opening, her head fallen forward on her breast. Suddenly Madame Exe drew in her breath sharply. A ribbon-like stream of mist was issuing from the medium’s mouth. It condensed and began gradually to assume a shape, the shape of a little child.

12. List your top 5 Gothic/scary/horror classic reads.

A Christmas Carol
We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus
The Island of Dr Moreau
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

13. Share your scariest/creepiest quote, poem or meme.

….“Oh, Man, look here! Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost.
….They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.
….Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.
….“Spirit, are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.
….“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”

From A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃