More book stuff:
Oxford Fall (Veronica Stallwood): After reading a fair
amount of non-fiction recently, I decided that a crime novel would make a
“pleasant” change (especially as it was based around Oxford)! Well, it proved
to be a massive disappointment. I found the “plot” painfully contrived and
hugely unconvincing. The main character (Kate Ivory) is an author who takes a
temporary, summer school job in an Oxford college. When one of her students
(knowing that she’s writer) suggests that “I suppose you only write well when
you are truly inspired”, our Kate replies: “If you want to earn a living as a
writer, you have to produce a book when it’s needed. Inspiration rarely comes
into it”. Well, for me, this summed up everything about the book (Kate seemed
to be speaking on Stallwood’s behalf)… inspiration certainly didn’t come into
Lenin’s Kisses (Yan Lianke): This is our book group’s next book.
This long book (500 pages) was a finalist for the Man Booker International
Prize in 2013. It’s an extraordinary novel. It tells the fictional story of a
small, remote village populated almost entirely by disabled people (197 blind,
deaf and disfigured citizens) who enjoy a peaceful, mutually supportive life
out of the sight and mind of the government… until their crops are wiped out by
an unseasonal snowstorm. It’s at this point that a county official dreams up a
scheme (a travelling freak-show!) intended to raise money for the village’s
citizens and for the district (and for the county official, of course). But I
don’t want to spoil the story, so I think I’ll leave at that… It’s a satirical,
political fable which “movingly chronicles the price that Communist China’s
rush to get rich has exacted from its vulnerable rural majority” (as the
Spectator put it). Although it took me some time to really “get into it”, it’s
a brilliant, thought-provoking, hugely-inventive and ambitious novel (well
translated by Carlos Rojas)… which echoes many of the greedy characteristics of
our own western capitalist society of today.
Notes From A Big Country (Bill Bryson):
Published in 1998
(some 2-3 years after Bill Bryson had returned to New England after spending
nearly 20 years living in England, UK), this is a collection of articles from
his weekly column in the Telegraph. I do like Bryson. He seems a really nice
bloke… and he writes very amusingly and his stuff is ridiculously easy to read.
It reads a bit like Alistair Cooke’s “Letter from America”… My only concern is
that it all seems to be SO easy… I read his “take” on computers, bureaucracy,
politicians, the environment, shopping and the like and think: “I could have
done that!” He also has his moments of being a bit of a grumpy, moaner – just
like me! We could be brothers?
One day In The Life Of Ivan
Denisovich (Alexander Solzhenitsyn): I
first read this book some 40 years ago (the only other Solzhenitsyn book I’d
read was “Cancer Ward” in 1978). It’s set in a Soviet Labour Camp of the 1950s
and describes a typical day of Ivan Denisovich, a typical prisoner (he was
accused of becoming a spy after being captured by the Germans as a prisoner of
war during World War II. He is innocent, but is sentenced to ten years in a
forced labour camp). Solzhenitsyn, himself, was in such a camp (arrested in
1945 for making derogatory remarks about Stalin - where he stayed until he was
released in 1953, on Stalin’s death). As you imagine, it’s bleak, cruel, unremitting
and very, very cold (they’re only exempt from working if the temperature gets
below minus 41 degreesC!). It’s about survival, making the most of the
appalling daily food “allowance” and avoiding the wrath of the guards.
Denisovich counts the days until his release (3,653 days) - although he
acknowledges that he’s unlikely to be allowed to return home to his family…
simply to be sent into exile. Powerful and frightening, but also a testament to
the endurance capacity of the human spirit.
Bernice Bobs Her Hair (F Scott
Fitzgerald): It took
me ages before I read “The Great Gatsby” (only a couple of months ago) and so
thought I’d follow it up with another one. This is a book of short stories.
Essentially, they provide a snapshot of America in the 1920s – albeit the America
largely inhabited, it seems, by twenty- and early thirty-somethings and about
square-chinned, successful males and beautiful women and their mutual quest for
living the “high life”… or maybe I’m just too cynical! Very readable.
3 weeks ago