28 October 2009

The Return

I am in the process of dragging myself back from the hinterlands of reality after having farewelled Earhart and escaped to Bath for a few days in hopes of ignoring the fact she has left me alone in this cesspit of sin and depression... London.

Another week and things are looking happier- I find London quite palatable again and feel I should catch you all up on my literary endeavours over the past few weeks. Most importantly- the books we snagged for next to nothing in Hay on Wye!

I found three first editions of Evelyn Waugh (not Brideshead unfortunately), a first edition of Thornton Wilder's The Ides of March (tucked in the front cover were newspaper reviews from 1948, the year it was published) and a first edition of A Girl of the Limberlost. I'm sure Earhart will wax lyrical on her purchases when she emerges from the pile of book reviews she has to do for other publications.

First and foremost I must post a review of A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, which I have been threatening to do for weeks.

Whilst I am editing that and overseeing a rather violent and clumsy ballet rehearsal which is going on in the living room you should allow your attention to be diverted here. If you have never discovered Asterix, his golden jubilee would seem the perfect opportunity.

07 October 2009

Booker Prize 2009

Hilary Mantel has won the Booker Prize for her novel Wolf Hall. Click here to read my earlier post on the Booker where I decided Mantel would definitely NOT win. It is an insightful post.

I will write no more on the subject because I am in bed, although it is the early hour of 7:51 pm. I am finishing up John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces and I have not been this excited about a book since Vernon God Little. Stay tuned for a sickeningly positive review.

Guilt + The Summer Book

So...I kind of thought since we were in Paris/I am in London that maybe posting would slow down. Ducked into an internet cafe to escape the downpour this afternoon, clicked on the blog and saw the seven million book reviews Alcott has done whilst I've been wandering around with my head in the French clouds. Oops. Feeling guilty now. So I bring you... The Summer Book.

Not heard of it? Shame on you. It is a classic in Sweden! Tove Jansson (who I love love love) is the author of the amazingly fantastic Moomintrolls series (both the books and the comic strip). If you haven't heard of the Moomintrolls, then shame on you AGAIN - basically they are small, round hippo-like creatures who have ridiculous adventures. The books are for children... the comics not so much.

The Summer Book, which is about real people (not Moomintrolls), is a book for grown-ups which enchanted me from the start. The book is made up of short encounters between Sophia and her Grandmother over various summertimes on the island where they live. One summer Grandmother carves animals out of bark and wood and leaves them in the magical forest. Another someone new moves onto the island (!) and Sophia and Grandmother break into the new house. Sounds odd, but it is truly magical.
Gently philosophical, almost in the same way as The Little Prince, this is a very calm book to read, and a real treasure.

I realise this review is super short, but fear not...I have just started Three Men on the Bummel (follow up to the hilarious Three Men in a Boat) and am laughing already. Stand by for review.

06 October 2009

Paris and How To Be Topp

Earhart and I had the most wonderful time in Paris, being cultural etc. I am not really allowed to speak French when I am with my sister. She rolls her eyes and looks pained whenever I open my mouth. Apparently all my phrases are seriously dated- I tend to say the equivalent of "That's so nifty!" instead of "Cool!" and I am more likely to ask how the time is feeling instead of the more useful (yet so predictable) "What is the time?"

The most ridiculous thing that happened to me over our French weekend occurred in a bistro on Sunday afternoon. Having excused myself to go to the bathroom I came back to the table and sat down, feeling a bit bemused.

"I haven't used a squat toilet since Japan." I said, giggling slightly. "It was a bit tricky."
One of the other girls we were with looked at me strangely. "It's just a normal toilet." she protested, confused.
We went up to investigate and... I now know what a french urinal looks like.

Which is why Shakespeare and Co is such a haven for me. Any bookshop is a joy to be in, but an English bookshop surrounded by a sea of mostly incomprehensible conversations is truly an oasis of calm. The bookshop opposite Notre Dame was our first stop when we arrived in Paris and we wandered around for a good long while, soaking in the ink and paper (pretentious but true). I considered purchasing many things (it seems I am ridiculously uneducated when it comes to Orwell- he didn't just write three books! Who knew?) Ultimately, however, I parted with only a small denomination of euros for a book I have heard much about but never read: How To Be Topp: A guide to Sukcess for tiny pupils, including all there is to kno about SPACE.

I had been told by a very reputable source in Bath that this book was brilliant and hilarious and thus I opened it with excitement. 45 minutes later (it is not long) I closed it, a fixed smile on my face. I had laughed out loud in several chapters and a chuckle was kept ever ready. However, I confess I was DETERMINED to find the book funny and charming and thus forced the laughter out of myself.

I do not blame the book nor the source. I feel that the book is much more relevant for a boy who went to private school about 40 years ago. I'm sure said boy (now a man) would be clutching his sides in stitches of laughter, gasping for a glass of water. Thus, I shall send this book to my father. I am certain he will find it most amusing. If not, I shall at least get some brownie points for sending him something. He will be touched that I purchased naught for myself in Shakespeare and Co but thought immediately of my darling pater and how much he would enjoy this book.

I only hope his assurance that he reads the blog every day is a fib.

Rating: 7-9/10, depending on reader demographic.

01 October 2009

Restless (William Boyd)

This was a very tolerable read. I know that sounds lukewarm but it's actually quite positive compared to the review I was composing in my head before I had even started William Boyd's Restless. This is because it came out at around the same time as Paul Auster's The Brooklyn Follies. I detested The Brooklyn Follies and because Boyd's novel had the unfortunate luck to come out in the same month they are now intrinsically linked in my mind.*

Nonetheless, I was moved to pick it up the other day from a box of books advertised for 50p in Clapham. I came away feeling most pleased with myself, having grabbed Helen Garner's The Spare Room, John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces and something else I have now forgotten the name of. The universe, it seems, was telling me to read Restless.

As I've already said, not a bad read at all. Instead of the cosmopolitan mid-life crisis I was expecting I was pleasantly to find that it was actually a WW2 espionage 'thriller'. I say 'thriller' because the action/adventure part was a bit geriatric. The most exciting thing that happens is a Mexican policeman gets stabbed in the eye with a pencil.
As a relatively anxious person I don't look normally head for the thriller section of a bookshop. If I'm going to be scared I want it to be supernatural so I know there's absolutely no chance whatsoever it could actually happen to me. So I'm not complaining that this didn't have me cowering in terror from the shadows in my loft. I'm just being pedantic and saying that Time Out's comment that it is "heart-stoppingly exciting" would indicate that the reviewer didn't actually read the book.

I particularly liked the way the novel was structured- in ambience as well as tense. The story switches between a young woman who is recruited by the British Secret Service at the beginning of WW2 and her daughter, decades later, whom she enlists to help settle old ghosts. Eva Delectorskaya as an old woman fearing her past demons adds a surreal menace to the text. As the reader I had trouble believing that anyone would actually go after a grandmother who spends all of her time gardening. It is her rising paranoia rather than any actual events which propel the drama along.

Boyd's main problem seems to be his inability to adopt the female mindset and write, realistically, from the point of view of women. Ruth (the daughter) is strong and independent but comes across as cold, which I don't feel is at all deliberate on Boyd's part. Eva as the young, beautiful spy is a mere caricature, sort of like a particularly intelligent Bond girl. Had Boyd managed to inflate these characters into a three-dimensional state the novel could have been quite a bit better. As it stands, it is merely a non-trashy historical fiction novel with some mildly exciting action halfway through.

Rating: 7/10.

* I THINK. I could be wrong and they came out at completely different times. Maybe their covers are the same colour.
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