Thursday, August 21, 2014

august 2014 books

still more book stuff:
Mapp+Lucia (E F Benson): I’d not read any of EF Benson’s Mapp+Lucia series of novels before now – about the polite, terribly-English society of the 1930s and a clash of two titans (Elizabeth Mapp and Emmeline “Lucia” Lucas), who plot and scheme against each other in an effort to be the centre of their social circle. It’s beautifully observed and delightfully funny (and much better than Jeeves+Wooster, in my view). It seems that the only people who work for a living at that time were servants and shopkeepers... the haves and the have-nots (life doesn’t change!). By coincidence, our recent Sussex holiday gave us an opportunity to visit Lamb House in Rye (used by Benson as the model for the “Mallards” house).
Unfurling (Ian Adams): This is a book of poems by my great mate Ian. Ever since I first knew him, Ian’s always had a way with words – the ability to express profound things in a simple, knowing way. Over recent years, he’s increasingly used the vehicle of poetry to help illustrate or support his other writing (and his photographs) and so it’s lovely that he’s now produced this first book of poetry. This is a beautiful book. The fundamental thread is about our awareness of the world, the people around us and ourselves. Many of the poems have a spiritual connection (but are very accessible whatever your background) - about rediscovery, about seeing (and looking), about simple living, about hope, about understanding and awareness, about memory, about places and objects and, crucially, about love. The book is packed with beautiful nuggets that stop you in your tracks… and make you smile or just think afresh. It’s a simple and yet profound book by a writer of great wisdom and creativity. I loved it and know it will be one of those books that I revisit on a very frequent basis.  
Breakfast At Tiffany’s (Truman Capote): It seems very strange that I’ve never read this book before (or, indeed, seen the film), so it now feels good to have done so at last (the book, that is). As you probably know, the book is set in New York of the 1940s where the main character, Holly Golightly, lives a complex life which mixes innocence with gold-digging and integrity with brashness. She’s beautiful, teasing, intelligent, generous and witty… she entertains men at all hours (mainly Mafia gangsters and playboy millionaires) and attracts the affections of almost everyone. Beautifully written and with an excellent, believable dialogue. As a complete aside (the book was first published in 1958), I thought it was interesting to note that one of the other female characters went by the name of “Margaret Thatcher Fitzhue Wildwood” (did Capote know Maggie Thatcher’s parents I wonder? Almost certainly not… but I found it amusing nevertheless). My edition also contained the following three intriguing stories: “House of Flowers”, “A Diamond Guitar” and “A Christmas Memory”.
Now You Know (Michael Frayn): Published in 1992, more than 20 years before anyone had heard about Edward Snowden, this book delves into the fictitious world of a pressure group dedicated to the cause of open government. I like Frayn’s writing and, initially, I thought it was going to be a fascinating satirical novel about governmental secrecy. Disappointingly, in my view, it became an almost sentimental story about a group of sad, but amusing, characters who are all trying to keep aspects of their own lives secret. Very readable, nevertheless – EXCEPT for Frayn’s decision to tell the story through a series of first-person narratives (featuring all the main characters, but without any indication who was speaking)… but I frequently needed to read on half a page to discover who had actually taken over the dialogue. Very irritating!
At The Pillars Of Hercules (Clive James): As I think I’ve posted before, I just love James’s writing… he’s irritatingly clever, brilliantly funny (or insightful/critical/elegant… delete as necessary) and, it seems, can write/talk about virtually any subject with engaging candour. This is a collection of critical essays, written in 1973-77, which range from the legacy of Auden and Larkin to the likes of Chandler, Solzhenitsyn, Stoppard and Lord Longford – all showing incredible depth of knowledge and exhaustive detail. I freely admit that I hadn’t even heard of many of the writers he was discussing (eg. Robert Lowell, Donald Davie, Kenneth Slessor and Nigel Balchin?). People who perhaps have only ever seen Clive James on television (where he seems to specialise in wonderful one-liners of which Chandler’s Marlowe would be proud) won’t appreciate his huge intellect. Yes, he is opinionated and egotistical, but he also has a gift for literary criticism and a way with words that I’ve always found incredibly impressive - even if he often writes stuff that is FAR too clever for me (there were times in this book that I frequently counted two or three words per page that I hadn’t a clue what they meant… and couldn’t be bothered to find out!). Another absorbing, brilliant book… if you like Clive James, that is!    

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