Wednesday, March 01, 2017

february 2017 books…

The Sussex Downs Murder (John Bude): First published in the 1930s, this is the second John Bude crime fiction book I’ve read. This one features Superintendent Meredith as the investigator. Enjoyable, easy, escapist, light reading – even if I’d basically worked out what had happened after the first 100 pages!
Dame Laura Knight (Caroline Fox): I’ve been a fairly recent convert to the art of Laura Knight, 1877-1970 (principally after seeing one of paintings at The National Portrait Gallery). This excellent book, published in 1988, provides a very well-illustrated account of her life and her work. She was the first woman artist to be made a Dame (and one of the first women to be Royal Academicians). Born in Derbyshire, she was brought up by her mother (her father had left shortly before her birth) and her grandmother. Encouraged by her mother (who taught art for a while), Laura enrolled at the Nottingham School of Art at the age of 13 (one of their youngest ever pupils) and there met her future husband, artist Harold Knight. During the course of her long lifetime, she produced a remarkably varied range of work – from early images in a Yorkshire fishing village, vibrant pictures of Cornwall, to her WW2 work and her subsequent visual record of the Nuremberg trials. She was most famous for her portrayals of the world of London’s theatre and ballet, and of the circus and I was particularly impressed by her colourful, vigorous paintings of gypsies and fairgrounds. At some stage, I think I need to read her two autobiographies.
Politics (Nick Clegg): I’ve read a fair number of political autobiographies over the years and the one thing they all have in common is that the authors have the gift of the gab! You just KNOW that they’ll be able to justify lots of their poor decisions… and almost convince you they were right. Actually, I’ve always thought Clegg was ‘one of the good guys’ and this is an excellent, frank account of his experiences in coalition government with the Tories and the LibDem’s subsequent disastrous showing in the 2015 general election… and then, of course, the awful outcome of the EU referendum. I’ve also posted a separate blog about Clegg’s book and about the future of politics in this country (not a bundle of laughs!).
The Boys In The Boat (Daniel James Brown): This is a powerful, true story about the 1936 American eights crew at the Berlin Olympics - how nine “working-class boys exchange the sweat and dust of life in 1930s America for the promise of glory at the heart of Hitler’s Berlin”. The Times critic cleverly described the book as “Chariots of Fire with oars” – which just about sums it up. It’s a hugely gripping, inspiring story and I really enjoyed the book. My one criticism is the book’s syrupy, somewhat gushing “narrative non-fiction” writing style (this is just a random example: “She glanced across the seat at Joe, and saw at once, through a blur of tears, that his eyes were full of hurt too. But his jaw was set, and he stared ahead over the steering wheel rather than turning to look at her”!!). Nevertheless, it’s a brilliantly researched book and an absolutely brilliant story. Well worth reading.  
Cheerful Weather For The Wedding (Julia Strachey): This is another one of Moira’s beautiful Persephone books and (it’s strange how things work out) the painting on the cover, “Girl Reading” 1932, just happens to be by Harold Knight – Laura Knight’s husband (see previous book, above!). First published in 1932, this ‘novella’ describes the events that took place on Dolly Thatcher’s wedding day – she’s decided to marry someone she hardly knows (or loves?)(it appears that Strachey wrote it at a time when her own marriage was failing). It captures the minutiae and chaos of the day within a well-to-do family of somewhat absurd (yet fascinating) characters – especially the ridiculous, frequently distracted and vague mother of the bride. I really quite enjoyed it!

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