More book stuff:Umbrella (Will Self): I suspect that this is a truly brilliant book. I started reading it just before going on holiday and then decided to “put it on hold” in favour of more suitable holiday reading material. The story focuses on Audrey, a munitions worker in 1918, who is incarcerated in a mental hospital after falling victim to encephalitis lethargic, a brain disease that leaves some of its victims speechless and motionless. In 1971 she is treated by psychiatrist Dr Busner, who wakes her from her stupor with a new drug.
The book covers three time frames (1918, 1971 and 2010) and four viewpoints (the psychiatrist, his patient and her two brothers). The book is NOT easily accessible – well, certainly not for me. It’s 397 pages long and probably contains no more than 10 paragraphs in the entire book and NO chapters! It’s a rambling, poetic, stream-of-consciousness narrative. It probably took me at least half of the book to get into. Self frequently switches focus and time between (and during) sentences. By the end, I sensed that I’d read something quite remarkable- from an author of huge imagination, intelligence and skill.
A Time To Mend: Reflections in Uncertain Times (Peter Millar): I’ve read a number of books produced by Peter Millar over the years (he’s a former Warden of the Iona Community) and he’s always struck me as a very wise, gentle and fascinating man. This wide-ranging and poignant book of reflections is rather beautiful - as well as challenging – and one that I’ll no doubt refer to over the coming years.
Pushing The Boat Out (edited Kathy Galloway): A collection of poems, from 16 authors, having its origins in the Iona Community magazine “Coracle”. Kay Carmichael describes it thus: “Poetry can speak to the intellect, the heart or the spirit. This is a rare anthology in that it speaks to all three”. I’d go along with that and will certainly keep dipping into over future months/years.
HHhH (Laurent Binet): This is our latest Book Group book and, although I’m generally not a great lover of historical fiction, this is just brilliant. The novel tells the true story of two Czech parachutists’ WW2 mission to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Nazi secret services. Heydrich’sa boss was Heinrich Himmler and the book’s strange title is taken from what everyone in the SS said of their association: “Himmlers Hirn heist Heydrich” (“Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich”). Again, rather like Will Self’s “Umbrella”, there’s a fair amount of stream-of-consciousness stuff – with Binet often speculating on what might have happened and then, perhaps, later rubbishing his original thoughts… or coming up with new speculation - with lots of its workings shown in the margins (as it were). It’s amusing, poignant, highly original, imaginative and completely captivating. Probably one of the best books I’ve read this year (to date!)!
So Many Ways to Begin (Jon McGregor): This a gentle, at times almost mundane, story of ordinary lives – but told in McGregor’s intricately-observed writing style. It tells of the relationship of a couple, David and Eleanor, from youth to age and of their own upbringings. Although perhaps not as impressive as “If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things” (it would be difficult to match this!) or “Even The Dogs”, I thought this was another beautiful McGregor book.