Friday, November 04, 2011

october-november books

Latest books:
Theft: A Love Story (Peter Carey): The story is told by two Australian brothers in alternating chapters – Michael, an artist whose career appears to have peaked and Hugh, his “damaged” brother (for whom Michael acts as guardian/caretaker). It starts with Michael fresh out of jail for robbing his ex-wife of his own paintings and proceeds – with the help of a mysterious woman - into an art world tainted with concerns about validation and authenticity…. and potential fortunes. It’s a very funny (and somewhat grumpy and crude!) book and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The Harold Nicholson Diaries 1907-1963(edited by Nigel Nicholson): I REALLY enjoyed this book. It draws on diary entries and letters (essentially between Nicholson and his poet/author/gardener wife, Vita Sackville-West)(they had a very happy, but very unconventional marriage). He rightly has a reputation for being one of the great political diarists. He was a diplomat, Conservative MP - he flirted with Labour after WW2 - an extensive author and also worked in the Foreign Office (he attended the Paris Peace Conference in 1919). I found the political background to both World Wars historically illuminating. He never achieved high office, but his diaries are simply littered with accounts of his meetings with “the great and the good” of the time. Despite his privileged background (he describes himself as “upper class”) and his smugness and snobbery (at times), I found Nicholson’s book to be a beautifully written, insightful and completely fascinating portrayal of British politics in the first half of the 2oth century.
Thinking Out Loud (John L Bell): This is a book of his “Thought for the Day” recordings for Radio4’s Today Programme (which we’re discussing at our weekly Ithaca sessions). The only trouble with a batch of these bound up in a single volume is that they become somewhat predictable in style. However, I’m a big fan of John Bell and did find his observations both thought-provoking and challenging.
The Betrayal (Helen Dunmore): This is our Book Group’s latest study book. It tells the story of a Russian family in the early 1950s – a time when the country was dominated by Stalin, the secret police and when everyone mistrusted almost everyone. It’s an intelligent, thoughtful novel – I read it very quickly, almost as if it was “thriller”. It reminded me of the time I read Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” and had felt somewhat guilty of life’s simplest pleasures (family, friendship, warmth, food, sleep, comfort, home, fresh air, freedom and the like). It’s a very impressive book and brilliantly captures a sense of hopelessness and fear and yet, at the same time, acknowledges the massive strength of the human spirit.
Much Obliged, Jeeves (PG Wodeshouse): It’s been an awful long time since I last read any PG Wodehouse, but I did enjoy this. There’s something rather reassuring about Jeeves+Wooster books – the humour; ridiculous snobbery; language; bizarre characters and the excruciating predictability. Effortless, light reading.

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