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! 😀

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. 😀

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. 😀

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!

Six Degrees of Separation – From McEwan 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…

I’ve gone off Ian McEwan in recent years, but I loved some of his earlier stuff, including Atonement. My memory of it now is heavily coloured by the film, but one day I’d like to re-read the book which I seem to remember being considerably more ambiguous. The blurb says…

On a hot summer day in 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant and Cecilia’s childhood friend. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives—together with her precocious literary gifts—brings about a crime that will change all their lives.

Keira Knightley starred in the film of Atonement and I believe she’ll also be starring in the movie of my next pick…

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell. It’s Prohibition Era in America and the police in Brooklyn have been tasked with closing down the speakeasies that have sprung up around the district. To help with the extra workload a new typist is hired, the charming and beautiful Odalie. At first, Rose, the narrator, is a little jealous of the attention Odalie receives from all quarters, but when Odalie decides to befriend her, Rose quickly falls under her spell. Even as she realises that Odalie might have some dark secrets, Rose can’t resist the new and exciting lifestyle to which Odalie has introduced her. This excellent début shot Suzanne Rindell straight onto my must-read list and she continues to improve with each book.

Keira Knightley. I think she’ll make a great Odalie…or maybe Rose!

Another début that I loved recently 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…

The trail snaked through the vegetation, skirting tufts of ammofila – ‘sand lover’, or, more prosaically, marram grass – and shrubs. Now and then, the track ushered us into small clearings where we struggled to make out its continuation. L’albero magico – our magic tree, as we later called it – materialised before us. It was a squat oak – not of the kind familiar in Britain, but a distant cousin rooted in arid earth – whose branches arched downwards, forming a dark-green canopy over a bed of fine sand. It called to mind an apparition out of one of those fairy tales in which nature shields hero and heroine from the villains in pursuit, throwing obstacles – from brambles to boulders – in their way, while offering sanctuary and sustenance to the fugitives.

Puglia is one of the spots on the Main Journey of my Around the World Challenge. San Francisco is another and it’s where my next pick is set…

The Dain Curse by Dashiell Hammett. When Edgar Leggett’s home is broken into and some not particularly valuable diamonds go missing, his insurance company send along their operative to investigate – enter the Continental Op, the only name we are given for the first-person narrator. The CO soon decides that there’s been some kind of inside job, and that there’s more to the case than a simple burglary. Oddly, despite the fact that the plot is nonsensical, episodic, and barely hangs together, I still found the book entertaining.

“Are you – who make your living snooping – sneering at my curiosity about people and my attempts to satisfy it?”
“We’re different,” I said. “I do mine with the object of putting people in jail, and I get paid for it, though not as much as I should.”
“That’s not different,” he said. “I do mine with the object of putting people in books, and I get paid for it, though not as much as I should.”
“Yeah, but what good does that do?”
“God knows. What good does putting them in jail do?”
“Relieves congestion,” I said. “Put enough people in jail, and cities wouldn’t have traffic problems.”

There’s a wonderful piece of horror writing in the middle of the book, and Hammett references the author of my next pick, which made me think Hammett was acknowledging his influence…

The Great God Pan and Other Horror Stories by Arthur Machen. This is a collection of those stories of Arthur Machen that fit into what would now be thought of as ‘weird’ tales. Machen’s stories are set mainly in two locations, both of which he evokes brilliantly. His native Monmouthshire, in Wales, is depicted as a place with connections to its deep past, where ancient beliefs and rituals are hidden just under the surface of civilised life. His London is a place of dark alleys and hidden evils, with a kind of degenerate race living side by side with the respectable people, and often stretching out a corrupting hand towards them.

The Great God Pan
By mgkellermeyer via DeviantArt.com.

Machen was an influence on many later writers of horror and weird fiction, including the author of my next choice…

The Classic Horror Stories by HP Lovecraft. I have a kind of love/hate relationship with Lovecraft but there’s no doubting his influence on weird and horror fiction writing. This collection was my introduction to him a few years ago and since then he’s become a bit of a fixture in my semi-regular Tuesday Terror! feature. The editor of this collection credits HPL with being one of the main writers who moved horror away from the human-centric gothic tale, with its vampires, crucifixes and garlic, to a universe where man is an insignificant and helpless part of a greater whole. Not to mention his creation of the famous fish-frog aliens of Innsmouth…

“The people of Innsmouth are not very friendly to outsiders,” by David Gassaway, 2011.

The aforesaid editor, Roger Luckhurst, also edited my last selection…

The Time Machine by HG Wells. In Victorian England, our narrator has invented a time machine and has been on a trip to the far distant future. There, he has seen the result of millennia of evolution, with mankind breaking into two distinct sub-species – the peaceful, childlike, vegetarian Eloi and the cruel and evil Morlocks. The Eloi live above ground in the sunshine, spending their days in idle playfulness, but when night falls they huddle together for safety. The Morlocks live underground and can’t bear daylight, but at night they emerge from their tunnels… A fabulous book with so much to say about Victorians concerns with science and society, but first and foremost it’s a great adventure story.

And I have by me, for my comfort, two strange white flowers – shriveled now, and brown and flat and brittle – to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of men.

* * * * *

So McEwan to Wells, via Keira Knightley, débuts, Around the World, horror writing, influences and editors!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Six Degrees of Separation – From Kingsolver 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 The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I haven’t read it but it’s been sitting on my TBR since 2015, so maybe I’ll get to it soon! The blurb tells me…

The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it — from garden seeds to Scripture — is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

Another book set in the Congo, though this time in what was once the French Congo, is…

Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd. As Hope Clearwater sits on the beach outside her home in the Republic of the Congo, she looks back over the circumstances of her life that have brought her here: her marriage to mathematician John Clearwater, and her later work at Grosso Arvore, a chimpanzee research project run by the world-famous primate expert, Eugene Mallabar. I loved this book, with its themes of the pursuit of scientific fame, evolution, war and, on a more personal level, the breakdown of a marriage.

I stopped and filled my lungs, smelling Africa – smelling dust, woodsmoke, a perfume from a flower, something musty, something decaying.

I also loved it for its observations of the lives of the chimps, which seems like an excellent cue to reprise one of my favourite gifs…

I can’t ever think of chimps now without being reminded of another wonderful book…

The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel – this is a beautifully written novel in three parts, each of which relates to a small town in the mountains of the title. Again it has a theme of evolution running through it, this time the old debate of faith versus science, and the chimps appear as both real and symbolic throughout. But that aside, the sheer quality of the writing along with the more overt themes of grief and love make it a wonderful read. It gets my highest recommendation – one that has left some indelible images in my mind.

If a job was left unfinished at the end of a day – the coop not repaired, a row of vegetables not weeded – we knew that one of us had sat down and wept. That’s the nature of grief: it’s a creature with many arms but few legs, and it staggers about, searching for support. Frayed chicken wire and a profusion of weeds became expressions of our loss. I can’t look at chicken wire now without thinking of my lost son. There’s something about the warp and weft of it, so thin yet strong, so porous yet solid, that reminds me of how we loved him. Later, because of our neglect, chickens died at the jaws of a fox that slipped into the coop, and the crop of vegetables was not so bountiful – but so it goes: a son dies and the earth becomes barren.

Another book where the stories in it all link back to a mountain is…

Fujisan by Randy Taguchi. This rather strange but very moving collection of four stories is centred round the iconic Mount Fuji. There is a spiritual feel to the book; these characters are seeking something that will enable them to explain themselves to themselves and their searches take them in strange and surprising directions. ‘Blue Summit’ tells of an ex-cult member now working in a convenience store and learning how to live outside the cult. ‘Sea of Trees’ is a disturbing tale of three boys confronting death while spending a night in the woods of Mount Fuji. ‘Jamilla’ is a compulsive hoarder and this is the tale of the social worker detailed to clear her house. And lastly, in ‘Child of Night’ a walk up the mountain becomes a journey of self-discovery for a nurse who is struggling with the ethics of her job. Stories that have stayed in my mind in the five or six years since I read them.

The story ‘Sea of Trees’ in this collection tells a strange and disturbing story of young people in a wood, and so does…

In the Woods by Tana French. In 1984, three children went into the woods in Knocknaree. Only one returned, with blood – not his own – in his shoes, so traumatised he is never able to remember what happened. The other two children have never been found. That traumatised child is now a detective on the Murder Squad, Rob Ryan. And when another child is found murdered in Knocknaree, he and his partner Cassie are given the case. I enjoyed this début in French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, with a few reservations as to overwriting and over-padding, and really must read more of her books someday

A book set in Dublin that I enjoyed with no reservations at all is…

The Visitor by Maeve Brennan. This novella is an early, previously unpublished work of Maeve Brennan’s, discovered in a University archive after her death. It is a wonderful study of loneliness, self-absorption and selfishness, of thwarted love, both romantic and familial, and of a longing for that nebulous thing we call ‘home’, and is beautifully written.

She walked out along the shallow path. At the gate she turned to look up at Miss Kilbride’s window. It was blind and closed, like a person sleeping. Like Miss Kilbride, lying on her back in difficult slumber. And later, waking to dream of a doubtful deathly union with her long-lost hero, with whom she had once struggled in valiant, well-dressed immodesty on a small settee, for love’s sake.

Regulars will know I always try to find an author pic for my reviews, and the picture of Maeve Brennan is one of my favourites. I want to be on the other side of that table, listening…

Maeve Brennan

Another of my favourite author pics is this one…

So my final book will be…

Docherty by William McIlvanney. On a December night in 1903, Tam Docherty lifts his new-born son and declares that this one will never go down the pits – this child Conn, his youngest, 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.” A beautiful book, written mostly in standard English, but with some excellent Scottish dialect…

“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.”

* * * * *

So Kingsolver to McIlvanney, via the Congo, chimps, mountains, woods, Dublin and author photographs!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Six Degrees of Separation – From Golden 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 Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

In Memoirs of a Geisha, we enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl’s virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion. It is a unique and triumphant work of fiction—at once romantic, erotic, suspenseful—and completely unforgettable.

The life of a Japanese Geisha shares similarities with that of the Chinese courtesan, which made me think of…

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan. Violet Minturn is the half-Chinese daughter of an American woman, owner of a high-class courtesan house in Shanghai in the early 20th century. As a young teenager, she is separated from her mother and sold into a courtesan house, and the story follows her trials and tribulations through her life into middle-age. I found it a patchy read overall, but the descriptions of the courtesan traditions have stayed with me.

“The only problem with old men is that they die, sometimes suddenly. You may have one as your patron who gives you a handsome stipend. It’s a sad day when you learn his sons are burning incense for him at the family temple. You can be sure that his wife won’t be toddling over with your stipend in hand.”

Shanghai is also the venue for a yet to be published book, City of Devils by Paul French, which I’m eagerly anticipating because of how much I enjoyed his earlier book…

Midnight in Peking by Paul French – a fascinating story of a true-life crime committed in the last days of old Peking as the threat of invasion, war and revolution spread fear amongst the Chinese and foreign inhabitants of the city. Was Pamela Werner an innocent schoolgirl or an independent and rebellious young woman bent on sampling some of the excitements Peking could offer? Was she murdered by a maniac or by someone closer to home? French’s solution, when it comes, is as convincing as it is horrifying.

Schoolgirl… or sophisticate?

When I do a search, Peking gets only one other mention in my blog reviews, in the wonderfully prescient…

The Machine Stops by EM Forster. Written way back in 1909, Forster imagines a world where man has created a Machine to fulfil all his wants, and has now handed over control of life to the Machine. People sit in their individual rooms, never physically meeting other humans. All their needs are catered for at the touch of a button, and they communicate constantly with their thousands of friends through the Machine in short bursts, increasingly irritated by the interruptions of people contacting them, but still responding to those interruptions. Sounds amazingly familiar, doesn’t it? As does this quote from it…

Few travelled in these days, for, thanks to the advance of science, the earth was exactly alike all over. Rapid intercourse, from which the previous civilisation had hoped so much, had ended by defeating itself. What was the good of going to Peking when it was just like Shrewsbury? Why return to Shrewsbury when it would all be like Peking? Men seldom moved their bodies; all unrest was concentrated in the soul.

One reason for going to Shrewsbury might be to visit Brother Cadfael, a favourite of mine in both the books and the TV adaptation. I haven’t reviewed any of the books on the blog, but I have one on my TBR…

Brother Cadfael’s Penance by Ellis Peters. The Goodreads blurb tells me:

While Cadfael has bent Abbey rules, he has never broken his monastic vows–until now. Word has come to Shrewsbury of a treacherous act that has left 30 of Maud’s knights imprisoned. All have been ransomed except Cadfael’s secret son, Olivier. Conceived in Cadfael’s soldiering youth and unaware of his father’s identity, Olivier will die if he is not freed.

Cadfael’s soldiering youth took him to the Crusades in the Holy Lands, which includes the territories we now call Israel and Palestine. Which made me think of…

Losing Israel by Jasmine Donahaye. In this beautifully written and thoughtful book, the author, a British-born Jew, muses on her troubled relationship with the place she thinks of as ‘home’ – Israel. At the age of forty, Donahaye started a journey that led her to learn the other history of Israel – the one that talks about ethnic cleansing of the Arabs, that explains the refugee camps, that suggests that the Palestinian Arabs saw this land as home as much as the Jews, either of Palestine or from the diaspora, ever did, and had as much right to it. This book is the story of that journey, as she takes the reader through her gradual awakening to the full complexities of the history of this troubled region and her agonised process of reassessment of the country she still loves and feels inextricably drawn towards.

(Two sides to every story)

One of the things Donahaye talks about is the renaming of Arab villages after they had been cleared of their occupants, to give them Hebrew names and to, in some cases, suggest links back to the Biblical era. This reminds me of…

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. When John Ames learns he doesn’t have much longer to live, he takes up his pen to write to his young son, to tell him some of the things he would have liked to tell him in person as he grew up. As Ames writes, it is 1956, so his personal recollections take him back to the end of the previous century, but his knowledge of his family history allows him to go back a few decades further, to the Civil War and the struggle for the abolition of slavery. A beautifully written book, full of emotional truth.

Well, I can imagine him beyond the world, looking back at me with an amazement of realisation – “This is why we have lived this life!” There are a thousand, thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.

* * * * *

So Golden to Robinson, via courtesans, Shanghai, Peking, Shrewsbury, the Holy Lands and Biblical place names!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Six Degrees of Separation – From Wolf 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 The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

The bestselling classic that redefined our view of the relationship between beauty and female identity. In today’s world, women have more power, legal recognition, and professional success than ever before. Alongside the evident progress of the women’s movement, however, writer and journalist Naomi Wolf is troubled by a different kind of social control, which, she argues, may prove just as restrictive as the traditional image of homemaker and wife. It’s the beauty myth, an obsession with physical perfection that traps the modern woman in an endless spiral of hope, self-consciousness, and self-hatred as she tries to fulfil society’s impossible definition of “the flawless beauty.”

Hmm – since I think this sounds like utter tosh that’s selling the mythical ‘myth’ about which it’s pretending to protest, I think it’s safe to say the book’s not my kind of thing. Which reminds me of another book that’s not my kind of thing, but which I loved anyway…

In the Valley of the Sun by Andy Davidson. Normally I avoid vampire books but this one turned out to be so much more than that. Part examination of the hard-scrabble life of rural Texans and part-metaphor for the lasting shockwaves of the traumas visited on America, and its young men in particular, by the Vietnam war, it’s right up there with the best of American fiction writing. And will almost certainly make it onto my best of the year list.

He watched her go, thinking of the children they had been when they were married. He eighteen, she seventeen. She a half-breed, he a white Texan boy, theirs a romance, Reader had always thought, befitting the romance of the land itself, the wide open spaces and faraway horizons, where the hearts of the young were as big and green as the vast sweep of the eastern grasslands, and the land and the courses of the lives lived on it moved and rolled in ways no man could ever predict, as though the breath of giants were easing over them, shaping them, turning them.

Some reviewers have compared it in terms of subject matter to Cormac McCarthy, which makes me think of…

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. As dystopian novels go, they don’t get much bleaker than this. All plant-life and most animal-life has been destroyed, and the implication is that the earth itself has been so badly damaged that nothing can grow in it. We follow two characters, known only as the man and the boy, as they journey through the devastated land. I was unsure how I felt about this at the time, but it is undoubtedly thought-provoking and full of imagery that has stayed with me – images both of horror and the ugliness of mankind, and of goodness, truth and a stark kind of beauty.

The most recent dystopian novel I’ve read is…

Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We. Written in 1920, this book gives a prescient look at the potential outcome of the Marxist-style regime that was then coming into existence in Revolutionary Russia. A totalitarian “utopia” where almost all individuality is stripped away and people become nothing more than cogs in a massive machine, and just as dispensable. It’s easy to see its influence on some of the great dystopian novels of the early and mid-twentieth century, like Orwell’s 1984.

I haven’t reviewed 1984 on the blog, but I have reviewed…

Animal Farm by George Orwell. This allegorical fable of the Russian Revolution didn’t work as well for me now as it had done when I first read it in school. But it’s still a great book for younger readers who might not be quite ready for the likes of 1984, and the story of poor Boxer the horse is still just as moving…

Talking of boxers reminded me of…

The End of the Web by George Sims, the hero of which is an ex-boxer. (Yeah, I know that link is pretty strrrrrretched, but work with me, people… 😉 ) From 1976, this starts off as a fairly conventional thriller – ordinary man caught up in extraordinary events – but suddenly veers off in a different direction half-way through, giving it a feeling of originality. Well written and giving a great sense of the London of the time, I thoroughly enjoyed it

The author was apparently connected to the code-breaking facility at Bletchley Park during WW2, which made me think of…

Robert Harris’ Enigma. A first rate spy thriller, written with all the qualities of literary fiction, this story is set amid the codebreakers of Bletchley Park during WW2. A great depiction of the almost intolerable pressure placed on the shoulders of these mainly young men at a time when the course of the whole war depended on their success.

* * * * *

So Wolf to Harris, via not my kind of thing, Cormac McCarthy, dystopian novels, George Orwell, boxers and Bletchley Park!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Six Degrees of Separation – From Ellis 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 Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

Set in Los Angeles in the early 1980’s, this coolly mesmerizing novel is a raw, powerful portrait of a lost generation who have experienced sex, drugs, and disaffection at too early an age, in a world shaped by casual nihilism, passivity, and too much money– a place devoid of feeling or hope.

…which sounds remarkably like the only one of his books I have read…

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. The blackest black comedy I have ever read, the author lays bare the shallow and self-obsessed world of ’80s yuppie culture and does so superbly. The violence is indeed graphic and gets progressively more extreme as the book goes on. However, given the theme of excess in all things that runs through the book, I felt it stayed in context. In fact, it eventually became so outrageous that, for me, it passed from being shocking to being, in a strange way, part of the humour of the book.

The office Halloween party was at the Royalton last week and I went as a mass murderer, complete with a sign painted on my back that read MASS MURDERER (which was decidedly lighter than the sandwich board I had constructed earlier that day that read DRILLER KILLER), and beneath those two words I had written in blood Yep, that’s me and the suit was also covered with blood, some of it fake, most of it real. In one fist I clenched a hank of Victoria Bell’s hair, and pinned next to my boutonniere (a small white rose) was a finger bone I’d boiled the flesh off of. As elaborate as my costume was, Craig McDermott still managed to win first place in the competition.

Less humour and less graphic gore, but just as much violence and horror for my next link to…

Psycho by Robert Bloch. When Mary Crane, driving through a downpour with the $40,000 she has just stolen, takes a wrong turning and finds herself lost, she makes a big mistake by deciding to spend the night at the Bates Motel. Norman Bates is pretty creepy, but not nearly as creepy as his mother… 😱The film is scarier, but the book has more psychological depth making it more substantial than a mere shocker. But all the famous scenes are still there…

The film of the book was of course directed by Hitchcock, which reminded me of…

The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes – another terrifying tale that Hitch turned into an equally great film even if he changed the story pretty dramatically. When Mr and Mrs Bunting take in a new lodger, he seems a kindly, quiet gentleman, if a little eccentric. Meantime, London is agog over a series of horrific murders, all of drunken women. Gradually the Buntings begin to wonder if their lodger could possibly be the murderer, but with no proof, what should they do? What if they go to the police, and it turns out he’s innocent? He’ll leave, of course, and they desperately need the money he pays for rent. But what if he’s guilty and they do nothing – does that make them guilty too? It really is brilliantly done – great characterisation and totally credible psychologically. And in the film, Ivor Novello might be scary, but he’s also yummy…

Lucky June Tripp as Daisy Bunting. He can’t be a murderer! Can he??

The Lodger is set in turn of the century London, and Marie Belloc Lowndes makes great use of the notorious London fogs, which leads me to my next book…

London Fog by Christine L Corton. Corton sets out to tell the two stories of the fog – the actual one of what caused it and how it was eventually defeated, and the artistic one, of how it was used atmospherically and metaphorically in the literature and art of the period. While I found the tale of trying to get Parliament to act to clean up the air somewhat tedious, I loved all the stuff about how writers and artists had used the fog. Of course, Dickens was one of the greatest writers to use it…

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ’prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds…

… And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln’s Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.

Bleak House, Charles Dickens

And Monet one of the greatest artists…

Waterloo Bridge Sunlight Effect No. 4 by Claude Monet

One of the fascinating factlets in the book is that the term “pea-souper” to describe the thick London fog was coined by none other than the author of my old adversary…

Moby-Dick 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. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Proving conclusively that more is required to make a good book than an intriguing blurb. The book may have been tedious, but the film is great…

…and provides two links to my final book. Firstly, one of the ships the Pequod meets with on its journey is called the Rosebud, and secondly, Orson Welles appears in a cameo role as the preacher. All of which made me think of…

Citizen Kane by Harlan Lebo. Lebo takes the reader through the entire process of the making of Kane in painstaking and pretty geeky detail. But geeky in a good way – written so that even I, who wouldn’t recognise a movie camera if I tripped over it, was able to easily understand. No detail is too small, no aspect too obscure to be included here, from budgeting, casting, direction, production, even what days particular scenes were filmed on. Sounds dreadful, huh? And yet, I found it increasingly fascinating…

Lebo explains how the newspapers were produced and translated into various languages, with ‘real’ stories even though they mostly can’t be read except in stills…

 * * * * *

So Ellis to Lebo, via Bret Easton Ellis, psychos, Hitchcock, fog, pea-soupers and Orson Welles!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

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…

This month’s starting book is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. What a pity! This means I’ll have to start with my obligatory Darcy pic instead of ending with it! Oh well, I suppose I’ll just have to search for another hunk to fill the end spot… a tough job, but one I’m willing to undertake to bring you pleasure…

She began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was an union that must have been to the advantage of both: by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved; and from his judgement, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance.

Pride and Prejudice is, of course, the story of a man falling in love with a fine pair of eyes and a woman falling in love with a big house full of servants – undoubtedly, the basis for a wonderful relationship. Thinking of relationships reminds me of…

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. This is a woeful tale of what can happen to a young girl when she goes off travelling but forgets to pack her paracetamol. It also provides a warning to us all never to declare undying love to a rich man whose mother controls the purse-strings, else we may end up the wife of a country curate…

Talking of country curates reminds me of…

Emma by Jane Austen – a terrifying tale of a middle-aged man who grooms a young girl to grow up as his ideal woman. Poor Emma is offered an escape route, when Mr Elton the curate offers to marry her, but alas! It is too late – her indoctrination is complete! A fine moral lesson to us all from the pen of Ms Austen…

Mr Elton…

We are given another, and perhaps even more important, moral lesson in…

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen – An innocent young girl is trapped in an old abbey, with only spooky shadows, a potential murderer, a patronising young man who can dance unnaturally well, and a pile of pulp fiction to occupy her mind. Naturally, she picks the pulp fiction, starting a process that will rot her mind and eventually take her beyond hysteria to the brink of near insanity. The moral clearly is – don’t read books!

“…and when you have finished Udolpho, we will read The Italian together; and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you.”
“Have you, indeed! How glad I am!—What are they all?”
“I will read you their names directly; here they are, in my pocket-book. Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Those will last us some time.”
“Yes, pretty well; but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid?”
“Yes, quite sure; for a particular friend of mine, a Miss Andrews, a sweet girl, one of the sweetest creatures in the world, has read every one of them…”

And, most certainly, don’t read this one…!

Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope – In a desire to save us all from the perils of reading fiction, Ms Trollope has written a book so majestically awful it is certain to put the unsuspecting reader off for life! A book that introduced me to two words that prove that the human race is already well on the way to total mental decline – amazeballs and shagbandit – it left me feeling that even emojis can sometimes be less offensive than the written word.

😉 😛 👿

He gave an almost imperceptible smirk. ‘The obigations of the heir…’
‘Oh my God,’ Marianne exclaimed. ‘Are you the heir to Allenham?’
He nodded.
‘So fortunate,’ Belle said dazedly.
Marianne’s eyes were shining.
‘So romantic,’ she said.

After this experience, I had to be persuaded to try reading another book, which brings me to…

Persuasion by Jane Austen – a tragic story of a young woman who dumps her lover and then is surprised that he takes her seriously and goes to war with the French (an extreme reaction, but quite romantic in its way. A bit unfair on the French though, perhaps.) The moral of this story is surely that we should grab the first offer we get, girls, for fear we might otherwise end up having to marry a curate…

“I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman’s fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men.”

“Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”

A lesson taken to heart by the downtrodden heroine of our last book…

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen – a story wherein a young girl is wrenched from her mother and forced to live with two ugly sisters – ugly on the inside that is. Poor little Fanny is destined to spend her days as a skivvy without so much as a pair of glass slippers to call her own. Until her fairy godmother (rather oddly named Edmund) waves her magic wand and suddenly Fanny gets to go to the ball after all…

There will be little rubs and disappointments everywhere, and we are all apt to expect too much; but then, if one scheme of happiness fails, human nature turns to another; if the first calculation is wrong, we make a second better: we find comfort somewhere.

* * * * *

And they all lived happily ever after!

 * * * * *

So Austen to Austen, via relationship advice, curates, moral lessons, don’t read books!, persuasion and grabbing a husband!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Oh! And here’s your extra hunk…

Six Degrees of Separation – From Martin 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 Shopgirl by Steve Martin, a book I’ve not only not read, but have never heard of before! The blurb tells me…

Lonely, depressed, Vermont transplant Mirabelle Buttersfield, who sells expensive evening gloves nobody ever buys at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills and spends her evenings watching television with her two cats. She attempts to forge a relationship with middle-aged, womanizing, Seattle millionaire Ray Porter while being pursued by socially inept and unambitious slacker Jeremy.

Hmm… not for me, I think, though it sounds quite amusing. But any mention of evening gloves inevitably makes me think of the wonderful…

American Pastoral. Roth’s brilliant novel tells the story of Seymour “Swede” Levov and the collapse of the 1950s American Dream. Swede owns a factory where skilled craftspeople lovingly create luxury gloves for the fashionable, but his daughter is of a different generation – the Vietnam generation that blew the old certainties apart as surely as Swede’s daughter blew up the local Post Office…

“Those assumptions you live with. You’re still in your old man’s dream-world, Seymour, still up there with Lou Levov in glove heaven. A household tyrannized by gloves, bludgeoned by gloves, the only thing in life – ladies’ gloves! Does he still tell the great one about the woman who sells the gloves washing her hands in a sink between each color? Oh where oh where is that outmoded America, that decorous America where a woman had twenty-five pairs of gloves? Your kid blows your norms to kingdom come, Seymour, and you still think you know what life is!”

As part of my GAN Quest, American Pastoral was the first book to which I awarded the title of The Great American Novel. Only one other novel shares that honour so far…

Toni Morrison’s wonderful Beloved. This story of one woman’s escape from slavery to liberty and the sacrifices she makes along the way is full of anger and sorrow, and some of the most savagely beautiful writing I have read.

They sang of bosses and masters and misses; of mules and dogs and the shamelessness of life. They sang lovingly of graveyards and sisters long gone. Of pork in the woods; meal in the pan; fish on the line; cane, rain and rocking chairs.

And they beat. The women for having known them and no more, no more; the children for having been them but never again. They killed a boss so often and so completely they had to bring him back to life to pulp him one more time. Tasting hot mealcake among pine trees, they beat it away. Singing love songs to Mr Death, they smashed his head. More than the rest, they killed the flirt who folks called Life for leading them on. Making them think the next sunrise would be worth it; that another stroke of time would do it at last.

Oprah Winfrey as Sethe revealing the “tree” on her back

Much though we sometimes like to pretend, slavery isn’t a thing of the past though its forms may be a little different today. Which made me think of…

The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham. The plot of this one is hard-hitting, involving illegal immigration, sex trafficking and forced commercial surrogacy. The trail takes police detective Alisha Barba to the sleaziest parts of Amsterdam, where she’s soon in trouble not just with the bad guys but with her superior officers back home. But she’s become too involved to pull back – too many lives are dependent on her, some of them very vulnerable. Robotham doesn’t hold back in the picture he gives of the exploitation of women trafficked as sex slaves from some of the war-torn places of the world and he has clearly done his research as thoroughly as always.

The book stars with Alisha attending a school reunion. Which made me think of another book that begins that way…

John Gaspard’s The Bullet Catch, the second in his excellent Eli Marks series. This is a series of murder mysteries with the hugely likeable stage magician Eli taking on the role of detective. A little too gritty to be cosy, these are nonetheless on the lighter side of crime fiction, filled with warmth and humour. Each book is named after a magic trick and Gaspard is brilliant at making the tricks come to life on the page while respecting the magicians’ code not to reveal how they’re done…

Another series set in the world of stage magic began with…

The Zig-Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths, book 1 in her great Stephens and Mephisto series. Edgar Stephens and Max Mephisto worked together during WW2 in a top-secret army unit dubbed the Magic Men, with the aim of misleading the enemy. Now, shortly after the war, Max has gone back to his old role of stage magician while Edgar has become a policeman in Brighton. When the various body parts of a beautiful young woman turn up in three boxes, it makes Edgar think of an old magic trick so he turns to his friend Max for help in solving the crime…

(The Zig-Zag Girl trick…)

Griffiths brings the post-war Brighton setting brilliantly to life. My last book is also set there…

Erin Kelly’s The Ties That Bind marries together two periods in the life of this ever-changing town – the ’50s and ’60s, when it was home to some seriously violent gangsters (the location, of course, for Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock), and today, when it has a brighter reputation as the UK’s gay capital and as the place where weary Londoners go to relax, soak up a little sea air, and party. Kelly shows that the town still hides a murky underbelly beneath the surface glitter though, in this well-written thriller with elements of redemption and revenge.

Brighton’s iconic West Pier

 * * * * *

So Martin to Kelly, via gloves, Great American Novels, slavery, school reunions, stage magicians and Brighton!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Six Degrees of Separation – From Tsiolkas 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 The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

At a suburban barbecue, a man slaps a child who is not his own.
This event has a shocking ricochet effect on a group of people, mostly friends, who are directly or indirectly influenced by the slap.

I know a lot of people liked this one but I have to admit I think it sounds dreadful and it’s one of those fairly rare books that has an almost equal number of 1-stars and 5-stars on Goodreads, so I won’t ever be reading it. Of course, that started me looking for other books I’ve read that have as many 1s as 5s on Goodreads, which led me to…

Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma – a hideous abomination based on the Austen classic. Unsurprisingly I gave it 1 star, but only because Goodreads doesn’t have a Yeuch! rating. From my review…

Should I mention the nude Harriet scene and the lesbian overtones? Nope, can’t bring myself to. But Mr Elton does provide an opportunity for McCall Smith to make what is clearly his favourite joke, that he drives a BMW Something-Something. I say favourite joke, because he repeats it an amazing nine times. Mind you, he repeats the joke about the English language students asking the way to the railway station an astonishing 22 times…

This was part of the Austen Project. I struggled through three of them before deciding that book burning is indeed sometimes justified. Here’s another, also 1-star…

Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope – the book that introduced me to the word “amazeballs” and the idea of Willoughby being a “shagbandit”…

‘One hundred parties in the last year!’ Mrs Jennings said. ‘Incredible. That’s one party every three nights that wouldn’t have happened without him!’
‘Too silly,’ Lucy said, looking straight at Elinor. ‘Brainless. My poor Ed must be cringing.’
‘Amaze,’ Nancy said from the sofa. ‘Amazeballs.’
Elinor took a step back.
‘Well, I suppose it’s good to be good at something.’

Ugh! Well, after that detour into the horrific depths of faux literature, how about a little real Austen? The one I re-read most recently was…

Persuasion by Jane Austen. Ah, what bliss to return to the fine storytelling, beautiful language and gentle wit of the wonderful Jane!

Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn – that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness – that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.

Of course, I can’t possibly think of Ms Austen without also thinking of Mr Darcy, with whom I’ve always wanted to dance the cotillion.

Which reminds me of…

Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion. I love Heyer’s Regency romances – they’re my idea of literary chicken soup, to be guzzled whenever the world seems grey. This one is my favourite by miles – I must have read it twenty times at least and suddenly have an urgent desire to read it again. The Hon Freddy Standen is like a cross between two of my favourite men – Darcy and Bertie Wooster…

‘You think I’ve got brains?’ he said, awed. ‘Not confusing me with Charlie?’
‘Charlie?’ uttered Miss Charing contemptuously. ‘I daresay he has book-learning, but you have—you have address, Freddy!’
‘Well, by Jove!’ said Mr Standen, dazzled by this new vision of himself.

Talking of Bertie Wooster reminds me of

…the wonderful Right Ho, Jeeves, in which Tuppy Glossop must decide between his little Angela or Anatole’s steak pie. Here Tuppy recounts a conversation between the aforesaid Angela and her mother, Bertie’s Aunt Dahlia…

“You’ve no idea,” she said, “how Mr Glossop loves food. He just lives for it. He always eats six or seven meals a day and then starts in again after bedtime. I think it’s rather wonderful.” Your aunt seemed interested, and said it reminded her of a boa constrictor. Angela said, didn’t she mean a python? And then they argued as to which of the two it was…And the pie lying there on the table, and me unable to touch it. You begin to understand why I said I had been through hell.

I frequently call my little cat Tuppy, although her formal name is Tuppence. She and her brother, Tommy, are called after Agatha Christie’s less well-known detective duo, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. (Therefore those in the know will be aware that Tuppence’s super-formal name, the one I use when she’s been really naughty, is Prudence…)

So that reminded me of…

Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie. This is the collection of short stories which follows after The Secret Adversary, the full length novel in which Tommy and Tuppence are first introduced. They appear again in three later novels and, unlike Christie’s other ‘tecs, Tommy and Tuppence age in real time, so that they go from being youngsters on their first appearance to being fairly elderly in their last outing. It’s their devotion to each other and the wit of their dialogue that make the books such a pleasure to read. Here, Tuppence is complaining that she’s discovering that a comfortable life can be somewhat boring…

“Shall I neglect you a little?” suggested Tommy. “Take other women about to night clubs. That sort of thing.”
“Useless,” said Tuppence. “You would only meet me there with other men. And I should know perfectly well that you didn’t care for the other women, whereas you would never be quite sure that I didn’t care for the other men. Women are so much more thorough.”
“It’s only in modesty that men score top marks,” murmured her husband.

James Warwick and the delightful Francesca Annis as Tommy and Tuppence in the ITV adaptation

 * * * * *

So Tsiolkas to Christie, via 1-star reviews, the Austen Project,
Jane Austen, Darcy, Bertie Wooster and my cat’s nickname!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Six Degrees of Separation – From Donoghue 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 Room by Emma Donoghue. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

Jack lives with his Ma in Room. Room has a single locked door and a skylight, and it measures ten feet by ten feet. Jack loves watching TV but he knows that nothing he sees on the screen is truly real – only him, Ma and the things in Room. Until the day Ma admits there is a world outside.

This one has never appealed to me, despite the zillions of glowing reviews. The idea of spending a book inside the head of a five year old is my idea of hell, I fear. But the being held captive by a maniac theme reminds me of…


Koethi Zan’s The Never List, a dark and disturbing psychological thriller. When Sarah and her best friend Jennifer were growing up, they made a list of all the things they should never do if they wanted to stay safe in a world that they had already discovered could turn dangerous in an instant. But one night they forgot the most basic never of all – never get in the car

“There were four of us down there for the first thirty-two months and eleven days of our captivity. And then, very suddenly and without warning, there were three. Even though the fourth person hadn’t made any noise at all in several months, the room got very quiet when she was gone.”

This was a début that immediately put the author on my must-read list. Which happened again when I read another début…

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rendell. It’s Prohibition Era in America and the police in Brooklyn have been tasked with closing down the speakeasies that have sprung up around the district. To help with the extra workload a new typist is hired, the charming and beautiful Odalie. At first, Rose, the narrator, is a little jealous of the attention Odalie receives from all quarters, but when Odalie decides to befriend her, Rose quickly falls under her spell. Even as she realises that Odalie might have some dark secrets, Rose can’t resist the new and exciting lifestyle to which Odalie has introduced her. But Rose herself may have secrets too – or else why would she be narrating the story from an institution…?

Keira Knightley has bought the films rights to The Other Typist apparently – I think she’d make a great Odalie…or maybe Rose!

Rendell brings the Prohibiton era to life and admits in her prologue that she took inspiration from her favourite book – a favourite of mine too…

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald. Set in the summer of 1922, the book portrays the brittleness of a society still quivering from the aftershocks of WW1 and looking fearfully towards an uncertain future. The hedonism and dazzling decadence of the “Roaring Twenties” is exposed as a thin veneer over a society riven by class division, old wealth and new, and showing the first signs of a breakdown in the old social order. And then, of course, there’s the stunning, evocative writing…

But I didn’t call to him for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone – he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward – and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness.

 

I thought Mia Farrow made the perfect Daisy, a picture of vulnerability but with an unbreakable core. She played a similar character, Jackie, in another film adaptation, though of a very different kind of book…

Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. I haven’t reviewed this one on the blog which tells me it’s well overdue for a re-read, since it’s one of Christie’s finest. The rich and beautiful Linnet Ridgeway is on honeymoon with her new husband Simon, cruising the Nile. But their idyll is about to be destroyed when Simon’s jealous ex-lover Jackie shows up. Jackie is the obvious suspect when Linnet is murdered, but she couldn’t have done it. It’s up to fellow holidaymaker Hercule Poirot to find out who did…

One of the major themes of Death on the Nile is betrayal, which made me think of…

Exposure by Helen Dunmore. When fading Communist spy Giles Holloway falls drunkenly down his stairs and breaks his leg, he must somehow get the Top Secret file he has “borrowed” back to the Admiralty before anyone notices it’s missing. So he turns to his old friend and colleague Simon Callington for help. The brilliance of this story about spies and traitors rests largely on its excellent charcaterisations and authentic setting. But what really makes this book stand out from the crowd is the inclusion of Simon’s wife and family. It’s also a highly intelligent twist on The Railway Children, where we see the story from the adults’ side.

While Giles is the name of a person in Exposure, it’s part of the name of a place in another great novel – Kingston St Giles, the setting for…


Sebastian Faulks’ Jeeves and the Wedding Bells. Modern follow-on novels notoriously usually make me spit and curse. But Faulks has got the overall tone completely right and the dialogue, especially between Bertie and Jeeves, is wonderful! Scarcely a false note, throughout. The plot is suitably convoluted, we meet some old friends and the special sunshine of Wodehouse’s world is back to warm us all again.

‘And what was his attitude towards Georgiana?’
Jeeves considered. One could almost hear the cogwheels of that great brain whirring as he selected the mot juste. It was a pity that, when it came, it was one with which I was unfamiliar.
‘I should say his attitude was complaisant, sir.’
‘Complacent, do you mean?’
‘I fancy either adjective might apply, sir.’
‘Hmm.’ While unsure of the difference, I was fairly certain neither was quite up to snuff.

My fave Jeeves and Wooster

 * * * * *

So Donoghue to Faulks, via captivity, débuts, the Prohibition era, Mia Farrow, betrayal and Giles!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Six Degrees of Separation – From Hornby 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…

fever-pitch

This month’s starting book is Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

Nick Hornby has been a football fan since the moment he was conceived. Call it predestiny. Or call it preschool. Fever Pitch is his tribute to a lifelong obsession. Part autobiography, part comedy, part incisive analysis of insanity, Hornby’s award-winning memoir captures the fever pitch of fandom — its agony and ecstasy, its community, its defining role in thousands of young mens’ coming-of-age stories.

Ugh! Football!! No, thanks! Though at least proper football is played with the feet, unlike American Football. Which reminds me of…

the perfect pass

SC Gwynne’s The Perfect Pass. SC Gwynne was the winner of my FF Book of the Year Award in 2014 and the “prize” is that I will read the author’s next book. Imagine my delight when his next book turned out to be about American Football! This is the story of how a college coach, Hal Mumme, developed the “unstoppable” Air Raid offense, changing the very nature of the game.

Though the passing technology was more than half a century old, there was still something morally thrilling about watching the quarterback toss the ball to the tailback, while the guard or tackle pulled and the fullback crashed down on the defensive end and the whole team seemed to move en masse in that swinging, lovely rightward arc of pure power followed by the popping sounds of all those helmets and pads and the scream of the crowd as the whole thing disintegrated into a mass of bodies on the turf.

Amazingly, this book was a surprise hit with me, proving that a great writer can make any subject fascinating! Plus it was the cause of me finding one of my favourite pics to ever appear on the blog…

Testing football helmets...
Testing football helmets…

Gwynne’s award-winning previous book was Rebel Yell, a biography of Stonewall Jackson, one of the great US Civil War generals. This reminded me of…

king solomons mines

King Solomon’s Mines by Henry Rider Haggard, which culminates in the great civil war amongst the Kukuanas. A book I consider to be the best adventure story I’ve ever read, this tells the tale of Allan Quatermain and his companions setting out on a journey across Africa to find the fabled diamond mines of King Solomon…

“It is far. But there is no journey upon this earth that a man may not make if he sets his heart to it. There is nothing, Umbopa, that he cannot do, there are no mountains he may not climb, there are no deserts he cannot cross; save a mountain and a desert of which you are spared the knowledge, if love leads him and he holds his life in his hand counting it as nothing, ready to keep it or to lose it as Providence may order.”

adventurers

Another book that involves climbing mountains is…

thin air

Michelle Paver’s Thin Air. This chilly ghost story takes place in 1935 during an expedition to climb Kangchenjunga in the Himalayas, the third highest mountain in the world and as yet unconquered. Although it starts and ends rather slowly, the bit in the middle where the horror actually happens is excellent. This is not gore-fest horror – it’s all done with things half-glimpsed and subject to interpretation. A good one for a dark evening.

kangchenjunga south-eest face

I couldn’t visit the Himalayas without thinking of…

black narcissus

Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden. This is the story of a group of nuns who make their way to a palace high in the Himalayas to set up a convent and school there. But they are not prepared for the isolation they will feel in this place of majestic grandeur, constantly windswept, and with a population who have their own spiritual beliefs and no desire to change. Soon the nuns will find themselves challenged, not only physically, but emotionally, even spiritually, struggling to maintain their faith amidst the emptiness that surrounds them.

This GIF from the movie gives me vertigo each time I look at it…

black narcissus bell

Nuns and convents made me think of…

eleven days

Stav Sherez’s Eleven Days. When a fire engulfs a convent in London, the ten nuns who make up the Order are all killed. But there is another body too, and it’s up to Detectives Jack Carrigan and Geneva Miller to find out who she was and why she was there. This is a complex, somewhat sprawling thriller that looks not just at the underbelly of crime in London but also at politics within the Roman Catholic church, and across the world to the impact of big business on the peasants of Peru.

Stav Sherez
Stav Sherez

An “Eleven” is the traditional name for a cricket team, which made me think of…

selection-day-2

Selection Day by Aravind Adiga. Back to sport to end on, but a decent sport this time! (Though not as good as tennis obviously.)

Gratuitous Rafa GIF
Gratuitous Rafa GIF

This is a story of sibling rivalry, tied in with a wider picture of corruption in society shown through the corruption in cricket. I love Adiga’s depiction of Mumbai. He shows the poverty, corruption and class divisions quite clearly but he also shows the other side – the vibrancy, the struggle for social mobility, the advances of recent years. His characters, even when they’re being put through the emotional wringer, manage to have some fun along the way, and the whole atmosphere he portrays lacks the irredeemable hopelessness of so much Indian literature.

“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 Hornby to Adiga, via football, civil war, mountain passes, the Himalayas, nuns and elevens!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Six Degrees of Separation – From Groff 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…

fates-and-furies

This month’s starting book is Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I haven’t read this one, but the blurb tells me…

Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.

Doesn’t appeal, in truth, but the word “fate” in the title made me think of…

f daniel kehlmann

F: A Novel by Daniel Kehlmann. A book I loved for its wit and intelligence, while frankly having no idea what it’s about! F is for family, or failure, or faith, or fraud, or fear, or fate. Or possibly it isn’t. Knowingly pretentious, wickedly funny, marginally surreal at points and superbly written – a joy to read!

…and Arthur described his idea to write a book that would be a message to a single human being, in which therefore all the artistry would serve as mere camouflage, so that nobody aside from this one person could decode it, and this very fact paradoxically would make the book a high literary achievement. Asked what the message would be, he said that would depend on the recipient. When asked who the recipient would be, he said that would depend on the message.

The book that Arthur writes is called My Name is No One, which reminded me of…

Ooh!

Patrick Flanery’s I Am No One. This book looks at our new surveillance culture through the growing paranoia of the narrator, who believes he is being watched both online and in real life. As always with Flanery, the writing is excellent and, in the first person telling of this one, he sustains the narrator’s almost stream of consciousness voice beautifully, without ever losing the reader. The uncertainty of the plot is brilliantly done and creates an atmosphere of growing tension as the story slowly unfolds.

Patrick Flanery
Patrick Flanery

Although the book is set mainly in New York, it refers to the narrator having lived for several years in Oxford, England, which made me think of…

saints of the shadow bible

Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin, since as every reader of this series knows, Rebus’s favourite drinking den is The Oxford Bar. One of the things that I love most about this series is that Rankin always has his finger on the political pulse of Scotland, and this book is set to the background of the run-up to the recent Scottish Independence Referendum.

Ian Rankin in Rebus favourite pub, the Oxford Bar. Photograph by Murdo Macleod
Ian Rankin in Rebus favourite pub, the Oxford Bar.
Photograph by Murdo Macleod

But the plot also relates to the re-opening of a case from long ago – a case that Rebus worked on when he was just starting his career, which made me think of…

asking for the moon

Reginald Hill’s short story The Last National Service Man, in his collection titled Asking for the Moon. Written after the Dalziel and Pascoe series had been established for many years, Hill takes us back to their first meeting when young Pascoe was still wet behind the ears. Although the story could easily be read and enjoyed by a new reader, it’s full of little in-jokes and references for longtime fans, to whom Hill dedicated the collection with his usual wit…

Dedication 3

Throughout the series, Hill often included references to the works of Jane Austen in place and character names, and even occasionally in plot details, which made me think of…

northanger abbey

Northanger Abbey, the most deliciously light of all Austen’s books, filled with humour as Austen pokes gentle fun at her own class and gender. Catherine Morland is our naïve 17-year-old heroine, leaving her country parsonage home for the first time to visit the bright lights of Bath in the company of her generous neighbours, the Allens. Starry-eyed and romantic, she will soon be caught up in a horror story to match the Gothic sensation novels she loves – a product of her wild imagination… or is it??

Northanger illustration 1

She was heartily ashamed of her ignorance. A misplaced shame. Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can…

…I will only add, in justice to men, that though to the larger and more trifling part of the sex, imbecility in females is a great enhancement of their personal charms, there is a portion of them too reasonable and too well informed themselves to desire anything more in woman than ignorance.

As part of the hideous Austen Project, the surprisingly enjoyable modern take on Northanger Abbey was written by Val McDermid, which led me to think of…

out of bounds

Out of Bounds, the fourth book in McDermid’s DCI Karen Pirie series. Karen is dealing with two cold cases, one regarding a horrific rape and murder, and the other of what looked at the time like a terror attack by the IRA. But as Karen investigates, she begins to think the motive may have been more personal. Set in her native Scotland, this series shows McDermid back at her best, and McDermid’s best is pretty much unbeatable!

Val McDermid
Val McDermid

 * * * * *

So Groff to McDermid, via fate, book titles, Oxford, early careers, Austen references, and modern re-tellings!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Six Degrees of Separation – From Larrson 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…

the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo

This month’s starting book is Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In truth, I wasn’t a fan of this trilogy, finding it all rather long-drawn out and tedious, and I never could get up any affection for the weird Lisbeth Salander. I abandoned book 2 and never got around to the third one.

The dragon in the title made me think of…

Click for review

Sharon Bolton’s novella Here Be Dragons. It’s part of her brilliant Lacey Flint series, but this time told from the perspective of the lovely Mark Joesbury, one of my (many) fictional heroes. It’s such a great little thriller, I had to create an entirely new rating system for it – it was the first to score 5 on the Yippee Ki Yay scale, thus making it a Bruce Willis!

Yippee Ki Yay rating:    😮😮😮😮😮

It's a Bruce Willis!
It’s a Bruce Willis!

The action all takes place on the Thames, which made me think of…

fearie tales

Neil Gaiman’s short story Down to a Sunless Sea, which I came across in an excellent anthology of horror stories based on fairy tales, Fearie Tales. Gaiman’s story is a take on The Singing Bone, though in many ways much darker. A woman wanders the Rotherhithe docks ‘as she has done for years, for decades.’ She tells the story of her young son who ran away to sea and signed on with a stormcrow ship – one cursed by ill luck…

The Thames is a filthy beast: it winds through London like a snake, or a sea serpent. All the rivers flow into it, the Fleet and the Tyburn and the Neckinger, carrying all the filth and scum and waste, the bodies of cats and dogs and the bones of sheep and pigs down into the brown water of the Thames, which carries them east into the estuary and from there into the North Sea and oblivion.

I find it impossible to think of Neil Gaiman without thinking of another story of his…

the truth is a cave

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains. This dark tale is superbly illustrated by Eddie Campbell and the pictures and words complement each other perfectly to create something truly stunning. It is the tale of a journey, a quest into the Black Mountains to find a cave – to find the truth. Our narrator is a small man, a dwarf, but he’s strong and he’s driven. As we meet him, he is about to hire a guide, Calum MacInnes, to take him to a cave on the Misty Isle which is reputed to be filled with gold…

I am old now, or at least, I am no longer young, and everything I see reminds me of something else I’ve seen, such that I see nothing for the first time. A bonny girl, her hair fiery-red, reminds me only of another hundred such lasses, and their mothers, and what they were as they grew, and what they looked like when they died. It is the curse of age, that all things are reflections of other things.

I say that, but my time on the Misty Isle, that is also called, by the wise, the Winged Isle, reminds me of nothing but itself.

DSCN0545

The Misty Isle is based on the Isle of Skye, which is part of the Inner Hebrides, an island group off the coast of Scotland. Which made me think of a book set in the Outer Hebrides…

The Blackhouse

Peter May’s The Blackhouse. This is the first of his trilogy set on Lewis, and was the book that shot him onto the bestseller lists when it was selected as a Richard and Judy pick.  DS Fin MacLeod is sent back to Lewis to investigate a murder that resembles one that took place earlier in his Edinburgh patch. It gradually emerges that the shadow of the past may be involved in the current investigation.

Peter May on Lewis
Peter May on Lewis

Before he wrote the Lewis books, Peter May wrote a series based in China, which made me think of…

imperial woman

Imperial Woman by Pearl S Buck. This is a fictionalised biography of Tzu Hsi, who ruled as regent and Empress of China from 1861-1908, effectively the end of the empire, which collapsed just 3 years after her death. Tzu Hsi is portrayed here as a beautiful, ambitious tyrant, scheming to become and then remain Empress. The language is rather too stylised for my taste but Tzu Hsi’s story is a fascinating one and certainly worth the telling.

In the fourth moon month the wisteria blooms. It was the duty of the Court Chief Gardener to report to the Empress the exact day upon which the vines would blossom and he had so reported. The Empress did then decree that upon this day she would not appear in the Audience Hall, nor would she hear any affairs of state.

Portrait of Tzu Hsi by Hubert Voss (1906)
Portrait of Tzu Hsi by Hubert Voss (1906)

And thinking of female rulers reminded me of…

the rival queens

The Rival Queens, Nancy Goldstone’s romping history of Catherine de’ Medici, Queen of France, and her daughter Marguerite de Valois, Queen of Navarre. It was a great time for Queens. Over in England, Elizabeth was working up to the beheading of her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots. But the shenanigans of Catherine and Marguerite frankly make the British Royals look tame. A little biased in Marguerite’s favour, I felt, but hugely enjoyable, complete with a fair amount of ribald humour. At points it reads like a great thriller, complete with cliffhanger endings to chapters, and then at others it becomes like an episode of Dallas, with Catherine in the role of JR and Marguerite as sweet little Pamela.

the-rival-queens-portraits
Catherine and Marguerite

 * * * * *

So Larrson to Goldstone via dragons, the Thames, Neil Gaiman, the Hebrides, China, empresses and queens!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Six Degrees of Separation – From Yates 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…

revolutionary-road

This month’s starting book is Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road. This is a book that blew me away when I read it as part of the Great American Novel Quest a couple of years ago. It’s a book about failure – of individual hopes and dreams, of a marriage, of the American Dream.

Long after the time had come for what the director called “really getting this thing off the ground; really making it happen,” it remained a static, shapeless, inhumanly heavy weight; time and again they read the promise of failure in each other’s eyes, in the apologetic nods and smiles of their parting and the spastic haste with which they broke for their cars and drove home to whatever older, less explicit promises of failure might wait for them there.

The film can’t quite match the depth of the book, but it’s excellent nevertheless.

kate winslet in RR

It stars Kate Winslet, which made me think of…

enigma 2

Robert Harris’ Enigma. A first rate spy thriller, written with all the qualities of literary fiction, this story is set amid the codebreakers of Bletchley Park during WW2. A great depiction of the almost intolerable pressure placed on the shoulders of these mainly young men at a time when the course of the whole war depended on their success.

enigma 1

The WW2 setting reminded me of…

vertigo

Vertigo by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. The book from which the famous Hitchcock film was made but, unlike the film, the book is set in wartime France, with the first section taking place in Paris just as the war is beginning and the second part four years later in Marseilles as it is heading towards its end. This gives a feeling of disruption and displacement which is entirely missing from the film, set as it is in peacetime America. For once, despite my abiding love for Mr Hitchcock, on this occasion the victory goes to the book!

vertigo-alfred-hitchcock-865414_1024_768

And thinking of Hitchcock reminded me of…

the birds

The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier. The title story is of course the one on which Hitchcock based his film of the same name, but my favourite story in this great little collection tells the tale of a recent (unnamed) widower, bereaved but not bereft. Frankly, he had found his wife Midge irritating for years. So he happily admits to himself, though not to the world, that her death from pneumonia was more of a relief than a loss. And suddenly he’s enjoying life again – until one day he looks out of his window and spots that one of his apple trees bears an uncanny resemblance to the hunched, drudging image of his late wife…

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.

That story is called The Apple Tree, which made me think of…

the color master

The Color Master by Aimee Bender. The first story in this excellent collection of modern folk tales is called Appleless, and has undertones of the story of Eve and the fall from grace. The quality of the stories varies but the quality of the writing is so high that it easily carries the weaker ones in the collection.

“…I did what the Color Master had asked, and went for blue, then black, and I was incredibly slow, but for one moment I felt something as I hovered over the bins of blue. Just a tug of guidance from the white of the dress that led my hand to the middle blue. It felt, for a second, like harmonizing in a choir, the moment when the voice sinks into the chord structure and the sound grows, becomes more layered and full than before. So that was the right choice.”

donkeyskinOne of the stories I particularly liked is The Devourings, which tells the story of a woman who married a troll. And that made me think of…

the shapeshifters

Stefan Spjut’s strange but rather wonderful The Shapeshifters. In many ways, this is a traditional crime novel set in modern Sweden – but in this version of Sweden trolls still exist in some of the more isolated places. There’s a folk-tale feel about the whole thing as if the fables of the old days have somehow strayed back into the real world. As with so much Nordic fiction, the weather and landscape plays a huge role in creating an atmosphere of isolation – all those trees, and the snow, and the freezing cold.

Scandinavian Fairy Tale illustration by Theodore Kittlesen 1857-1914
Scandinavian Fairy Tale illustration by Theodore Kittlesen 1857-1914

 

Thinking of crime novels set in Sweden reminded me of…

the voices beyond

The Voices Beyond by Johan Theorin. The bulk of the book is set in the present day, but there’s another strand that takes the reader back to time of the Great Terror in the Stalinist USSR, and it is this strand that lifts the book so far above average. This time of horrors is brilliantly depicted – no punches are pulled, and there are some scenes that are grim and dark indeed. Theorin doesn’t wallow, though, and at all times he puts a great deal of humanity into the story which, while it doesn’t mitigate the horrors, softens the edges a little, making it very moving at times.

Stalin poster

* * * * *

So Yates to Theorin via Kate Winslet, WW2, Alfred Hitchcock,  apple trees, trolls, and Swedish crime.

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀