More book stuff:Arabian Sands (Wilfred Thesiger): I first read this over 20 years ago and it remains one of my favourite books of “all time” (I simply love reading about deserts – that is, before many of them were taken over by the petroleum industry!). The book was first published in 1959 and describes Thesiger’s journeys made in and around the Empty Quarter of Arabia from 1945 to 1950. It’s a brilliant, vivid account of his remarkable life among the Arabs – travelling huge distances across vast and waterless desert land, riding camels or accompanying them on foot… without reliance on cars/airplanes and with no wireless contact with the outside world. As Thesiger himself acknowledged, the book is a “memorial to a vanished past… and a tribute to a once magnificent people”. A stunning book.
Unseen Things Above (Catherine Fox): I find it a little baffling to acknowledge that I’ve become a fan of fictional tales about the Anglican Church (entirely thanks to Moira)! Actually, more accurately, I’ve become a huge fan of author Catherine Fox. This is the second book of hers that I’ve read and, like the previous one, I really enjoyed it. Fox is a very gifted, clever writer with a wonderful turn of phrase (utterly hilarious at times) and an ability to convey poignant insights about the Church and some of its people. I still struggle with trying to come to terms with the Anglican Church and all its idiosyncrasies… but Fox has become a great help in my quest.
Swan (Mary Oliver): This book of Oliver’s poetry was published in 2010 and I was drawn to her writing by our great friend Gail Adams who frequently makes reference to Oliver in the course of her own work. Although I’m very new to Oliver’s work, I’ve been hugely impressed by her ability to say profound things simply. I also love her poignant observations of the natural world and her empathy for solitude - she makes me think and reflect. I’ll certainly be seeking out more of her poetry over the coming months/years.
Mrs Dalloway (Virginia Woolf): Published in 1925, this novel interweaves two seemingly unconnected storylines that take place during a single day in June 1923. One involves Clarissa Dalloway, the fifty-something wife of an MP, who is reflecting on her past (as she prepares to host an evening party) - including her decision to marry her husband rather than a more fiery suitor – who has returned to London after 5 years in India. The other relates to Septimus Smith, a shell-shocked war veteran, struggling with the after-effects of the war, hearing voices and feeling that life has little meaning. The introduction to my edition of the book indicates Woolf’s intention to use the novel “to criticise the social system and to show it at work, at its most intense”. In a somewhat limited way, I think she succeeds - it’s a beautifully-observed account – although within a very limited sphere (working class lives hardly feature at all). I enjoyed the book – except that it was written in one single block and contained no chapters (which I found a little irritating at times). This probably says far more about my own reading preferences!
The Irresistible Inheritance Of Wilberforce (Paul Torday): I read Torday’s first novel “Salmon Fishing In The Yemen” in 2007 and had thoroughly enjoyed it. This is very different (the first one was a comedy, but this is more of a tragedy). The book’s central character, Wilberforce, is a wine nerd. In his 30s, he sells up his successful computer software company in order to concentrate on his main passion in life (wine). He “inherits” a huge cellar of wine – consisting of 100,000 bottles(!) - from a friend (actually, he buys it from his dying friend). The story is told “back-to-front” – starting in 2006 and ending in 2002 – and begins with Wilberforce as a befuddled drunk who’s lost grip with reality. At the start of the book, he’s consuming five or six bottles of classic wine every day (my two daily glasses seem quite modest in comparison!) and, by the end, Wilberforce is a hopeful young man, embarking on a new and thrilling phase of his life. It’s a somewhat gloomy book about a lonely alcoholic man’s search for identity… but very readable.