Thursday, 28 September 2017

17 Library Books.



So, from the top:

Estuary by Rachel Lichtenstein, which so far – I’m up to chapter six - has disappointed me. A book that could have been lyrical or fascinating but which unfortunately feels like it was written with about three reference books and a minute by minute diary of the trip open in front of the writer. So much detail, where glancing references to the Barking Creek barrier, the QE2 bridge, would do. Not great wodges of detail you could skip, but constant small bits like morsels of dry bread, and yet without giving the reader any idea of what the things in front of her actually look like.

Luckily I have already seen the things – the BCB like a giant doorway to nowhere, standing on the North bank and seen from the South, The Tate and Lyle factory looking like it’s made of children’s’ blocks with skinny pipe-cleaner chimneys sticking up and the big blue friendly circle on the side. I can picture them. I assume all this detail must be even more meaningless to anyone who can’t. 

In similar vein, the author tells us how she moves around the boat she’s on – goes up to the cabin to talk to someone for an hour, back again to talk to someone else. She tells us the Arts Council funded the trip and who is on board, but I’m getting no sense of personal relationships, how well she knew the woman she huddled down with when it got stormy and they thought they heard ghosts. I think there’s an artist on board but I’m not sure because again it’s only mentioned in passing. Are they painting? Are they the kind of artist who does paint? I don’t know. Is our writer curious about what they’re painting or why they aren’t or how difficult it might be to paint moving scenery on a moving boat?

Possibly. Who knows. If she is she never mentions it. 


Thirteen Guests - J Jefferson Farjeon. 
Another British Library Classic Crime. I really enjoyed this one, and I felt the characters were more fleshed and differentiated than in the other 2 Farjeons I've read. It's got a lot of the classic elements - country house setting, thoroughly obnoxious corpse, and some clever misdirection. Slight shame about the Chinese cook substituting all his 'rs' with 'ls' - it's not done to poke fun, but as when country folk or cockneys are written 'ow they towk, like' I always wonder if the author really thinks their own social class speaks as clearly and succinctly as they write it on the page. 

Agatha Christie - Poirot Investigates. These are the earlier short stories, very much in the Sherlock Holmes tradition - Poirot has rooms in London, Hastings is Watson - you know the drill. 

The Thirteen Problems. Miss Marple's early cases. In these she's almost entirely an armchair detective. I read all these years and years ago, but I'm very much enjoying reading them again.

Miss Marple's Final Cases. Again, I've read all these before. Small, perfect puzzles for Miss Marple to unravel. 

Memoirs of a Novelist. Virginia Woolf. These are short stories that build up into something bigger - small snippets from places in time, each with a woman who writes, each relating to it slightly differently. 

The Rebecca Notebook - Daphne duMaurier. Can I confess I didn't love Rebecca? I didn't warm to Max, I didn't care about Mrs Danvers (who should have been given a months salary and told to hop it, frankly). I didn't understand how two people who are presumably sharing a bed and had chosen to get married could misunderstand each other so completely. However I did enjoy reading duMaurier explaining how she thought of the story and worked it up and set it in a house she'd seen and loved the look of. Later essays in this same book tell us about the house, Menabilly, which she managed to rent and do up, and then how she left again but found somewhere else to love. 

Death on the Riviera - John Bude. Sorry, but I'm going to cut and paste what I wrote on the Guardian TLS: A cadre of French and British police are investigating smuggling and forgery on the French Riviera, but from the reader’s perspective you can see the whole picture, and murder is in the air as well.. Will they make their arrests in time to prevent it? A good, solid, workmanlike book.

David Lodge - The British Museum is Falling Down. I wrote about this just a few posts back, so I won't repeat myself.

Barbara Vine - King Solomon's Carpet. Vine is the pseudonym of Ruth Rendell, and I've read two she wrote under that name so far and found them both interesting and original. I haven't read this one yet. 

The Complete Critical Guide to John Milton - Richard Bradford. Should you be writing an assignment on Paradise Lost and want to be brought up to date on the litcrit of Milton from his day to when this book was published in 2001, this is where to go. You may feel, after having read it, that you've been hit by a small but very powerful bus full of 'does it really matter' and discover that you now have a list of about 40 other books to read on the same subject, but that is hardly Bradford's fault. That is what he sets out to do, and he manages to do it without being dull. 

Sounds and Sweet Airs - Anna Beer. I've had this one for ages without reading it, even though it really appeals to me. It's about the female composers - the 'forgotten women of classical music'. I think it's the size of it that's stopping me. it's not an easy size to carry and certainly not an easy size to juggle with on the tube while also trying to take notes for things to look up on Spotify later. 

And to the right..

The brown hardback is C S Lewis' Preface to John Milton. It's actually a series of lectures Lewis delivered and then wrote up into book form. It kind of goes all round Milton in a way that's fascinating, but not focussed. I would like to read it again at some point when I'm not sifting it for relevant bits for an essay.

Next to that is The Great Divorce by C S Lewis. I got this from Hammersmith Library just today. It’s C S Lewis’ answer to Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, the other book my next assignment is on. I got it because I thought it might have some relevance. It doesn’t really, although there is something in there about the concept of a hero being all about ego, and ego a bit ridiculous when you talk about heaven in Lewis’ terms. Despite not being what I needed I'm glad I read it. It’s an interesting small book, with something Chestertonian in it, and something about the petty little things people can’t let go of, even to save themselves.

Charlotte Bronte - Selected Letters. I've been dipping into these from time to time. I've just got to one where Charlotte is thinking back and seeing the coughs and seemingly minor illnesses of her sisters and herself afresh in light of the recent deaths. It's amazing, and tragic, to think that such strength of imagination and personality was housed in such flimsy bodies. 

The Frozen Shroud - Martin Edwards. I know Edwards better as the writer of books about the Golden Age of Crime and the man who does the introductions to the British Library Classics (see Bude and Farjeon above). I thought I should get to know him as a crime writer himself. I don't read a lot of modern crime - often it's more gruesome and darker than 'classic' crime - but I'll see how it goes.

The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices - Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens. I've read this before but I don't remember it in much detail. I think very little happens, but it was a joy to read anyway. It's a Hesperus press book, and beautifully made, so if I still really like it, I may have to bite the bullet and buy it.

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