Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf

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This has the appearance of being a day in the life of a wealthy married woman in London after WW1 but Mrs Dalloway is not defined as a mother or wife. This is not a guide to her daily tasks but to her psyche – how she came to be herself, from her experiences and the choices she has made, to how she reacts to the people and world around her. Many books run like plays where a cast of characters act out scenes and the authors deftly supply the details to help us stage the action in our imagination. While Woolf always assembles an intriguing cast, she does not write so much about actions but emotions, impressions Continue reading “Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf”

The Shepherd’s Life – James Rebanks

 

This book has a bit of everything for everyone. As well as conjuring up the traditions  of generations against a backdrop of the beautiful Lake District, there is a strong human element, unexpected happenings and the perfect balance of detail and technical talk to keep both those with prior knowledge and those without a clue hooked throughout. It should be read by farmers, walkers, lovers of the British countryside and ancient traditions, anyone who has ever knitted or eaten lamb or even refused to eat lamb. Basically everyone, get you this book. There is also an illustrated version jam-packed with photographs that looks stunning or you can check out his instagram account full of sheepish goings on.

Continue reading “The Shepherd’s Life – James Rebanks”

Tender is the night – F. Scott Fitzgerald 

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There is no doubt that Fitzgerald has a wonderful way of laying words on the page. The first few pages of this book are sheer eloquence. This excerpt perfectly captures that delightful happy wriggle of getting into cool water on a hot day:

Rosemary laid her face on the water and swam a choppy little four-beat crawl out to the raft. The water reached up for her, pulled her down tenderly out of the heat, seeped in her hair and ran into the corners of her body. She turned round and round in it, embracing it, wallowing in it.

It’s not that the rest of the book is any less eloquent, only that I find the poetic
summations a bit wearisome after a while. It takes me longer to work out what is actually going on and feels a bit like wading through mud and poking around with a big stick, trying to find the point. I, shockingly, felt the same about ‘The Great Gatsby’. Continue reading “Tender is the night – F. Scott Fitzgerald “

The new sorrows of young W. – Ulrich Plenzdorf

IMG_3427 The sulky, sarky and irreverent Edgar narrates from beyond the grave as his father investigates his death. Edgar holds that common youthful belief that he knows better than anyone else and feels noone understands him or his potential while never seeming to really understand others himself. Knowing nothing about its context or the GDR in the 1970s, I read this as an amusing, confusing ‘trials and tribulations of an aspiring artist’ that was quite stark and just a bit odd. It felt as if the book was probably being very clever in a way I couldn’t quite understand. And it was. It turns out that the tale was a remodelling of Goethe’s ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’, written a century before, and the original is repeatedly referred to and even plays a starring role as a nameless High German book that Edgar finds and keeps quoting from. Overall, it seems a quirky quick read that made me go find out a bit more about East Germany.

This quote is not typical of the slang heavy style but I loved the sentiment.

All the books suddenly looked like they were constantly being read by someone. You suddenly wanted to go and plop yourself down somewhere and read them all one after the other.

From: the local library

Read: February 2016

Felt: a general wry sense of amusement but slightly unsure of what exactly was going on. I think it could make quite a good play with a really bare set and a lot of ‘pretend this box is a boat’ involved.

Liked: Edgar’s grudging admiration of Zaremba – probably the most real and likable of all the characters.

Would recommend: if you happen across it. Don’t rush out to find it but if you stumble across it and you’ve a long train journey ahead then go for it. Or if you have any interest  or understanding of Germany in the 1970s.

Vie Française  – Jean-Paul Dubois

A brief history of modern France as viewed and experienced by a fictional frenchman. Having bought this after falling for the cover, which is not just beautiful but soft enough to make the physical process of reading really enjoyable, it was nice to find it contained a punchy and engaging story. It was very frank and there were a lot of gritty or unpleasant moments (and characters) but it still managed to be charming. It reads like an autobiography rather than a work of fiction and includes a lot of reference to contempary events in France in each time period. It still worked in translation but probably has another layer of meaning to those with a better knowledge of the country and its history. It was interesting to see the ripples these political and national events  caused in the private lives of the characters. If you dont mind unlikable characters and a lot of talk of sex, Dubois has turned an apparently unremarkable life into an interesting and thought-provoking read.

The wonderful wry tone of the narrator allows him to laugh at himself and everyone he meets while still expressing a great fondness for life.

On his childhood behaviour

The child is father to the man

On his boss

Spiridon became giddy from his adorably effervescent little sin of pride

And finally, a great quote from the Marquise de Montespen – Mistress of Louis XIV

The grandeur of a destiny arises as much from what one refuses as from what one gains

From: The French Embassy in New York. Really. Walking along the side of central park, coming out of Café Sabarsky and heading for the Frick, I stumbled across a sign saying French and English books for sale. This felt the most magical place, hidden past a beautiful marble entrance hall. I ended up buying this book in both English and French (not as pretty but a compact little thing that seems to be a standard in French publishing), an even smaller book of Rudyard Kipling’s work in French and a canvas bag with Jules Verne quotations. The French bookseller’s enthusiasm for this particular book was encouraging too!

Read: Nov 2015 in Seville over breakfast on the roof terrace.

Felt: like I was listening to someone reminiscing on their life over a bottle of red wine.

Liked: The honesty and realism with just a touch of the bizarre. The tree photography concept was also mesmerising.

Would recommend: to anyone wanting to learn more about France or French life, or to those who like life stories and books that are more than fluffy niceties.

The reluctant fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid

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This is an extremely well written book on a difficult topic. Challenging the stereotyping and scaremongering that always surface around cultural or religious rifts, Hamid manages to keep the story engaging and even pleasant to read. The unusual conversational styling is well constructed and avoids being clunky or distracting. The language was beautiful and pitched just right to create the warm tone of an educated man, from a land with a proud tradition of poetry and storytelling, recollecting a series of events ranging from perplexing to incomprehensible. The narrator was not lovable or good but very human and understandable, a real and relatable person refusing to be wholly defined by their labels or circumstances. A brilliantly observant book that can be read and read into as much as you wish. If only it were less, rather than far more, poignant today than when it was written.

For a more detailed plot review head to the wonderfully written post by Miss quickly at the blue bore which inspired me to dig these thoughts out the archive.

It is not always possible to restore one’s boundaries after they have been blurred and made permeable by a relationship: try as we might, we cannot reconstitute ourselves as the autonomous beings we previously imagined ourselves to be. Something of us is now outside, and something of the outside is now within us.

From: the depths of the TBR shelf, origin unknown.

Read: April 2015 as my ‘it’s ok, I’m early’ backup book. I have never been so punctual as the week I was reading this!

Felt: like I was sat with them in the cafe, and ashamed of how familiar and common all those acts of prejudice were.

Liked: the clever construct and seamless switching between the past and present.

Would recommend: to everyone. Would read again someday.