Friday, June 14, 2013

may-june 2013 books

More book stuff:
A Visit of the Royal Physician (Per Olov Enquist): This is our latest book group book. It’s an historic novel based on Danish political turbulence and the enlightenment of the 1760s (power, sex and love feature strongly!). I appreciate that the book has been highly-acclaimed, but I’m afraid I frequently found it quite tedious and repetitive – I’ve just read a review which says: “Enquist writes in short, jerky sentences which often seem to repeat themselves. Although disconcerting at first, the technique works brilliantly”. Not for me it didn’t! I love history but, in truth, I’m not a great lover of historical fiction. No more than two stars from me… sorry!
Even the Dogs (Jon McGregor): This is just brilliant - DESPITE the unflinching desolation of the subject. It’s about homelessness, addiction, degradation and selfishness. It’s about people being caught up in a cycle of hopelessness and yet, it’s written with extraordinary tenderness and empathy and it’s also non-judgemental. It’s a powerful, unrelenting and grim book which offers some explanations of the plight (and people’s survival skills) but, at the same time, doesn’t offer excuses… and, perhaps most important of all, it’s simply beautifully written.
Levels of Life (Julian Barnes): I’m a great fan of Julian Barnes’s writing. This short book, written some four years after the death of his wife, Pat Kavanagh (they’d been married 30 years), is a mixture of history, fiction and memoir and is arranged in three sections: “The Sin of Height”, “On the Level” and “The Loss of Depth”. The opening paragraph establishes a theme: “You put together two things that have not been put together before. And the world is changed…”. Somewhat strangely (you might think), it begins on the subject of ballooning and photography (two wonders of the 19thy century), then deals with a fictionalised account of the relationship between one of the pioneering balloonists and Sarah Bernhadt, before concluding with Barnes's powerful account of/reflections on his wife’s death. I have no doubt that this is one of those books that I’ll re-read several times over future years. Beautiful.
Spies (Michael Frayn): This is a rather beautiful book. It’s a mystery/war story and a reflection on childhood from the perspective of old age. It’s set in England during WW2 and the title refers to two boys’ imagination of German agents within their quiet suburb. The actions of the boys brought back my own childhood memories of “secret clubs” and invented/unreal situations.
Sea Room (Adam Nicholson): This was my holiday book while we were in Scotland – and it just felt SO appropriate for our time there. Nicholson’s father bought the Shiants (three small,  isolated, craggy islands some 5 dangerous sea miles off Lewis, Scotland) for £1,400 over 70 years ago. Nicholson was given the islands by his father when he was 21 and will pass them on to his son Tom is 21. It’s an extraordinary and passionate book (“a love letter no one else could hope to write so well” according to a review in the Sunday Telegraph) and I loved it.

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