Monday, December 14, 2015

november-december 2015 books

More book stuff:
The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver): We’ve had this book on our shelves for the last 15 years. Moira had recommended that I read it… but I’ve only just got around to doing so. As a result, I’m about to become one of those annoying people who are ridiculously evangelical about something that an awful lot of people already know. The story is told by the wife and four daughters of a fierce Baptist minister who takes his family and mission to the Belgium Congo in 1959. It’s beautifully-written and the characters are all drawn wonderfully well. Although it’s a work of fiction, the historical figures and events described within it are genuine. I found it utterly compelling. The painful backdrop to the story is the greed of the western world for the natural resources of an African country; the desperate political power struggles – again influenced, at that time, by the United States and others (shipments of weapons to opposition parties/violation of peace agreements etc). A simply brilliant book. One of the best books I’ve ever read… yes, THAT brilliant!    
Absent In The Spring (Mary Westmacott): Agatha Christie wrote six novels under the pseudonym Mary Westacott (not many people know this!)… and this, first published in 1944, was one of them. It tells the story of a woman, returning from a visit to her daughter in Iraq, finding herself unexpectedly alone and stranded in an isolated rest house by flooding of the railway tracks. During this unexpected period of solitude, the woman finds herself reflecting on her life, her relationships and her attitudes (if I described her as self-centred, shallow, selfish and smug, you’d probably get a reasonable picture of the lady!). It felt it was a little like reading Dickens’s “Christmas Carol” – as the main character “discovered” some “home truths” about herself. As a result, would she re-assess her life and vow to change? I couldn’t possibly say! Although not really “my kind of book”, I found it a very readable novel – not altogether surprising perhaps, given Christie’s experience in writing popular literature.
The Essential Henry Longhurst (edited by Chris Plumridge): I’ve had this book for some 20 years (first published in 1988) and thought it was about time I re-read it. It comprises over 130 of Longhurst’s articles written for ‘Golf Illustrated’ during the late-1950s and 1960s. I’d been a long-time admirer of Longhurst as a television golf commentator and you can certainly “hear” his voice as you read his writings. Inevitably, his pieces are all very much “of their time” and written before televised golf, easy plane travel, huge sporting prize money and the internet were commonplace. He was public school (and Cambridge) educated, middle class, a Conservative MP (1943-45), a “gentleman”… and also comes over as a bit of a snob too (with much talk of “The Empire” and patronising references to “the ladies”! Nevertheless, still fascinating and entertaining (if somewhat repetitive) – especially when it comes to such matters as the cost of golf clubs, prize money and the difficulties of keeping up with scores in the early days of televised golf.
Yes Minister: The Diaries Of A Cabinet Minister, Volume 3 (edited by Jonathan Lynn+Antony Jay): I’ve had this book for probably 25 years (it was first published in 1983) and I’ve read it perhaps half a dozen times (but the last time was a fair few years ago). It NEVER fails to make me laugh out loud! Essentially, the “diaries” are re-written versions of the old television programme scripts. One thing that I’d failed to spot until now, was the “editors’ note” (by scriptwriters Lynn+Jay) at the start of the book – which is supposedly written from “Hacker College, Oxford” (Jim Hacker is the book’s Minister for the Department of Administrative Affairs) in September 2019 – no doubt in the light of Hacker’s sparkling contribution to British politics! If you’ve never read any of the diaries (or seen the television programmes – including “Yes, Prime Minister”), then you REALLY must – they make a wonderful backdrop to the exploits of our own current batch of parliamentary high-fliers! Simply brilliant.
Paradise Jazz (Kat Pomfret): Published in 2005. It’s a novel about family, history and identity… as well as jazz, food and life! It attempts to unravel the complexities of family history (separating truth from lies and searching for what’s missing or lost). Pomfret is a very talented, almost poetic, writer; her characters are believable and frequently very amusing. This book surprised me… it’s rather lovely.

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