Thursday, May 21, 2015

april-may 2015 books

More book stuff:
The Same Door (John Updike): This book of Updike short stories, first published in 1959, beautifully captures a sense of that era. They’re a strange combination of tales and the only common denominator seems to be the ordinariness of their situations (and, for perhaps for half of them, smoking features as a dominate factor!). Enjoyable and entertaining – although of rather mixed quality in my humble view.
Not Forgetting The Whale (John Ironmonger): This is a haunting, but rather beautiful and uplifting, novel. It speculates some fifty years hence and contrasts the frenetic, greedy world of City traders with the tranquility of a Cornish fishing village as the global economy collapses, inter-connected supply chains fail and disease kills millions across the world. The story is intriguing – even if some of the characters seem to be cartoonishly predictable! Essentially, it speculates on how we might behave when the end is nigh and about the innate goodness of people and our connections with the wider world.
Ladies’ Mile (Victoria Hughes): I would never have read this brief, modest book if it wasn’t for two things: a) Jodie Marks’ wonderful “Edwardian Cloakroom” exhibition in March (in which she made reference to this book) and b) Moira getting the book out of the library following a conversation with Jodie (and me then borrowing it!). Published in 1977 (edited by David Foot), Victoria Hughes, in her own words, recounts her experiences as a cloakroom attendant from 1929 until the early 1960s. Much of this time, she looked after the ladies’ loos on Bristol’s spacious Durdham Downs and discovered the ways of the twilight world in Ladies’ Mile (through her job, she became the confidante of many women, including scores of small-time “tarts”). It’s a rather lovely book – and provides a fascinating social history on a small part of Bristol life, especially during the Depression of the 1930s. 
The Wilt Alternative (Tom Sharpe): I see from my scribbled note on the flysheet that I first read this 34 years ago (blimey!). I think I’ve actually read all of Sharpe’s books. I’m afraid I resorted to it as an antidote to my general election gloom! It’s the continuing saga of Henry Wilt, a lecturer at a Technical College, “innate coward and hen-pecked husband”. It’s crude, farcical and outrageous, but VERY funny. I may have to “escape” into more Sharpe books over the coming months!
Etta+Otto+Russell+James (Emma Hooper): Etta’s greatest unfilled wish is to see the sea. So, at the age of eighty-two, she sets out very early one morning from her Saskatchewan home and begins walking the 2,000 miles to the water. It’s a book about aging (I seem to have read a number of these over the past year or so!), about memory, about what might have been… and about what has been. Otto is her husband, Russell is a close family friend... and James – well, I’ll leave you to discover who he is. At first, it felt a little like reading “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” (which I loved) and, although I was relishing the prospect of reading the book, it actually took me a little time to get into it. However, once I’d got accustomed to its lyrical prose and gentle rhythm, I loved it. Very inventive and quite moving.   

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