Hot Water (PG Wodehouse): Another ‘escapist’ read in these strange times! Published in 1932, the plot is utterly preposterous (and ridiculously complicated) but, coming from Wodehouse, is also hugely entertaining. The plot involves a house party in a rented Brittany château with an odd array of American guests… and where the rich hostess is intent on trying to persuade an American Senator to recommend her (distinctly reluctant) husband for the position of American Ambassador to France. Other guests include “Soup” Slattery (a safe-blower) and “Oily” Carlisle (a confidence trickster). Needless to say, not everything goes to plan… Despite my reservations about the bizarre storyline, Wodehouse’s brilliant dialogue and descriptions are simply wonderful and hugely entertaining.
Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury): This is our next StorySmith bookgroup’s book (Science Fiction theme) and, for me, a long-overdue chance to read my first Bradbury book. First published in 1954, and set perhaps in the 1990s (there’s a reference to V-2 rocket films of “fifty years ago”), it’s a terrifying prophetic novel of a post-literate future. The main character, Guy Montag, is a fireman who burns books in a futuristic American city (Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which book-paper catches fire and burns). In Montag’s world, firemen start fires rather than putting them out. The people in this society do not read books, enjoy nature, spend time by themselves, think independently, or have meaningful conversations. Instead, they drive very fast, watch excessive amounts of television on wall-size sets, and listen to the radio on ‘Seashell Radio’ sets attached to their ears. I found it utterly compelling… something of cross between “Animal Farm”, “1984”, “The Handmaid’s Tale” and even our daughter Alice’s book “Ink”. Scarily sobering in its anticipation/prediction of TV walls and the ability to communicate via ear pieces, its two major themes are resistance to conformity and control of individuals via technology and mass media. Hugely thought-provoking… and quite, quite brilliant. Why on earth hadn’t I read this wonderful book before now?
A Good Enough Mother (Bev Thomas): The novel’s central character is the director of a highly respected trauma unit… she’s confident, capable and very good at her job but, as a mother of twins (in their late teenage years), there have been times when she’d struggled, was over-anxious and even overbearing. Her marriage had broken up; her son had mysteriously disappeared (and was perhaps dead?); her relationship with her daughter wasn’t brilliant (and she was on a gap-year in Australia)… It’s an intelligent story on the dilemmas of the therapist-client relationship and good parenting (the author was a clinical psychologist in the NHS for many years). At times, I found it extremely unsettling; at times, it felt like reading a tense thriller (a real page-turner). I don’t want to give away the plot, so I’ll stop here (but I do admit to enjoying the various references to ‘Into The Wild’ book/film!). I struggled somewhat at the start of the novel, but gradually ‘got into it’… and ended up REALLY enjoying the book. A gripping story.
Fifty Fifty (Steve Cavanagh): I bought this book after seeing it reviewed on TV’s ‘Between the Covers’. Irish-born Cavanagh used to be a lawyer (he now says he studied law “by mistake”!); he’s now the international award-winning author of a number of ‘Eddie Flynn’ novels (Flynn is an American con-artist who became a lawyer). It’s the story of two sisters who are on trial for the murder of their father. Both accuse each other. Who is innocent? Who is guilty? Well, I REALLY enjoyed this book (I absolutely ‘consumed’ it in one and a half days); it’s a real page-turner of a thriller… very well written, well-researched, intelligent and clever. I’ll say no more, except that it was the perfect escapist novel in these strange and difficult times… and that I clearly need to read more Eddie Flynn novels (I think there are another five)!
A Walk In The Woods (Bill Bryson): I just love Bryson’s books… and, at a time when we all need a bit of ‘feel good re-assurance’, this didn’t disappoint (understatement). Unsurprisingly, I really REALLY enjoyed it… it made me laugh out loud SEVERAL times! Published in 1997, it’s the tale of his adventures, aged 44 (as he then was), in tackling the world’s longest continuous footpath, the Appalachian Trail – from Georgia to Maine on the USA’s east coast… tottering under his 40lb plus backpack. The entire trail is some 2,200 miles (ok, he doesn’t walk its entire length… but hey!) of remote mountain wilderness (filled with bears, rattlesnakes, poisonous plants, disease-bearing ticks and the occasional murder – not to mention the severe weather). At first, I was disappointed when I learnt that he was undertaking the walk with an old friend, Katz, who had apparently put on ‘some’ extra pounds since their somewhat fraught travels around Europe 25 years earlier, when they’d ended up “despising each other” – as Bryson’s wife put it! I really didn’t want someone else disrupting Bryson’s ‘lyrical flow’… but, actually, their hilarious exchanges proved fundamental to the book’s enjoyment. Bryson saw it all as a supreme adventure; Katz was far more focussed on surviving their various camp experiences and getting to a motel to watch ‘The X-Files’! Katz always lagged well behind on their walks… he was guilty of throwing out, clothes, equipment and food (not to mention his spare water bottle) in an effort to make his backpack lighter. Together (in the words of the blurb on the book’s cover), they “gamely struggled through the wilds to achieve a lifetime’s ambition – not to die outdoors”. Quite brilliant. I highly recommend it.