Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Comfort Reading

This is my ultimate comfort read, and, heresy that this may be to some, is far more satisfying, and better for you, than a box of chocolates. I haven't yet read a Georgette Heyer novel that hasn't had fully realised characters, interesting plots, fully realised characters and sparkling, witty dialogue. This one is a classic, with reason, and is just sheer bliss from start to finish. I don't want to give the plot away, but Heyer transcends and transforms the conventions of romantic fiction and produces a scintillating and exciting novel. Try one. If you don't believe me fans such as A.S. Byatt, Margaret Drabble and Stephen Fry (yes really!) can't be wrong.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

And another book

I'm on a comfort reading binge, this doesn't mean that I don't also comfort eat, but in times of need nothing can beat rereading an old favourite and The Murder on the Links is an old favourite. It has a quite complicated plot, which is apparently based on a real case, and is very French in its feel. Unlike The Mysterious Affair at Styles Poirot is completely at the heart of this book and you can feel his character and his 'little grey cells' developing. There is a slightly ludicrous, romantic subplot involving Captain Hastings, but this does not detract from the novel in the least, which is vintage Christie.

Saturday, 26 January 2008


I loved this book as a child and I have to say that I love this book as an adult. Garner's writing is multi-layered and there are nuances to his writing that I am sure that passed me by as a child such as the differences between those who speak English and Welsh and the class barriers between the children which divide them. The story feel both fresh and as ancient as the myths it encompasses. Why Alan Garner is not as popular as JK Rowling I don't know as he should be.

Not My Favourite Christie

This is the first Tommy and Tuppence novel, they are not my favourite Christie characters as I do find all the 'old thing' and 'old bean' stuff cliched, but on first release this book sold very well, so it may be that the book has not stood up to the passage of time. It certainly is very much a book of its time and the annoying over exuberance of the characters does reflect a certain post WWI attitude. One nice thing about this book is that Tommy and Tuppence are characterised as equal partners in their adventures, which for 1922 was very progressive.

This is a spoiler if you haven't read the book, so stop here. But its interesting, especially if you follow Laura Thompson's idea of looking for clues about Christie's life in her texts, to note that in this book one of the characters pretends to have amnesia and sustains that deceit for a period of time. This book predates Agatha Christie's breakdown, disappearance and only memory loss by some years, but it is an interesting parallel.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008


I would have loved to have been able to read this in the original Italian, but as I can't I have to celebrate Ann Goldstein's translation which is beautifully delicate, just like the material it describes. I don't want to give too much of the story away, but just as a silkworm spins its thread, this book spins the tale of French silkworm merchant Herve Joncour's obsession for a Japanese concubine.

This is definitely a book where 'less is more', the chapters are extremely brief, the longest runs to four pages the shortest is just two lines and, like a poem, every word, every chapter break has been carefully considered. Its been made into a film, but, like Brokeback Mountain, the prose is so evocative that I find it hard to believe that any film adaptation can capture the essence of this book, without giving way to mawkish sentimentality, so its not a film I will be rushing to see.

I've got another of Alessandro Baricco's books, An Iliad, lurking in my tbr pile and I am so pleased, as if its half as good as this I am in for a treat.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

The beginnings

This is the first book Agatha Christie published and the one that introduced Hercule Poirot to the world. The story was inspired by her experiences working at the Torbay Dispensary during WWI and of all the criticisms that could be thrown at her stories, no one could accuse her of not knowing her poisons. This is especially true of this book where an understanding of how two chemical compounds interact is key to solving the murder. But this book uses Christie's key device of misdirection, as well as the assembling of all the suspects for the denouement, are there. What is interesting is that Poirot's moustache, which in later novels almost becomes a character in its own right, is not described as luxuriant, but as being 'very stiff and military' and isn't referred to again.

Harper Collins have been issuing facsimiles of the first editions which are wonderful. The back of the dust cover has given me hours of pleasure, did you know that in 1920 a book cost between 7s 6d net and 10s net?

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Sweeney Todd

I have a confession to make, I hate musicals. This is completely my Dad's fault as whenever a musical was playing on television over Christmas or on a Sunday afternoon, he would growl, rustle his paper and point out every cliche of the genre. Many of my friends have tried, and failed, to get me to appreciate the various nuances of the genre. I can just about cope with 'Once More with Feeling', the musical episode from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as this really doesn't take itself seriously and is very clever. However I had to see Sweeny Todd as its been directed by Tim Burton, who is one of my favourite directors. I am so glad that I did because the film is wonderful, gory and doesn't follow the standard musical conventions. Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Alan Rickman are, as always, superb. Go see it, you'll enjoy it.

Silent as the Grave

I have to start this with a quote from the back of the book, 'To say I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor...'. This is a marvellous and fun detective novel set in London 1886 and in creating Lady Julia Grey and Nicholas Brisbane Deanna Raybourn has created two fun, convention busting characters, in a detective novel that doesn't take itself too seriously. I shall definitely read later instalments in this series.

I, Lucifer

The basic premise of the book is that God offers Lucifer a second chance if he can live one month as a human. Declan Gunn is depressed London novelist contemplating suicide so God puts his soul on ice for a month and Lucifer takes control. This is an at times hilariously funny novel as Lucifer immerses himself in the pleasures of the flesh. The descriptions of Lucifer's reactions to smelling the various odours that make up a walk through the London streets are particularly vivid. The ideas that Duncan raises in this novel are not new but the first person narrative helps to create a compelling portrait of a fallen angel, who may or may not be ready to return to the fold. My only criticism is that Duncan's prose is very dense and I had to stop reading at regular intervals in order to assimilate the events narrated.

I understand that a film of the novel is proposed, starring Daniel Craig as Lucifer and Ewan McGregor as Declan Gunn. I suspect that this is not an easy novel to adapt to the screen and I look forward to seeing the final film with interest.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Agatha Christie

I am a fan of Agatha Christie's books and this book is an interesting and informative insight into Dame Agatha's life. There is a chapter about the famous 'disappearance' which feels psychologically sound, but, because Agatha Christie refused to discuss this incident, no matter how much Laura Thompson tries to illustrate her theory by using possible hints from the books, this is interesting speculation. What I really enjoyed about this book is the fascinating analysis of both the detective novels and the novels written under the pseudonym, Mary Westmacott, which forms part of Laura Thompson's argument that Christie's writing is, on the whole, of literary merit and value. She also, very fairly in my opinion, criticises some of the latest adaptations for their tinkering with the plots, ITV take note. I am now planning and scheduling a major re-read of of all the detective novels as this book has whetted my appetite.

An amazing meditation on grief

If you are in the fortunate position of never having to witness someone you love die then this is not a book for you to read ... yet. However if you have ever grieved, or are in the process of grieving, please read this book, death and grief are the greatest taboos in western society and this book carefully deconstructs this taboo in moving and unself-indulgent prose.

If you don't know the story, on the 30th December 2003, Joan Didion's and John Gregory Dunne's only child, Quintana, was desperately ill, possibly dying, in a New York hospital. Her parents spent the day with her at the hospital. Later that evening, as they sat down to dinner, John suffered a fatal heart attack. Although Quintana recovered from her illness, two months later, following a collapse, she underwent life saving brain surgery and in this book Joan Didion tries to make sense of these events. The result is an intensely moving and graceful meditation on all the emotions of grief, incredulity, anger, sadness, depression,etc. which is both personal and wise.

In one extremely sad footnote to the book Quintana died just after the book was completed.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Yet Another Book

In this novel Mr Watts tells Matilda, the main protaganist, that 'you cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch alight and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames.' So true. But sadly not me when reading this book. Its a shame as I loved the idea of a group of children on a South Seas Island enchanted by Great Expectations. Essentially the narrative is just too detached from the events depicted in the book, terrible things happen, some as a direct result of reading Dickens, but as a reader I was completely undisturbed. But having said all of that, Lloyd Jones is an author I will look out for again as I like his ideas. The good news is that having made it to the 2007 Booker shortlist with this novel his other works (past and future) should be published in the UK.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008


I've had a lovely day, playing hookey from work - I'm self employed so I gave myself the day off, which was not sensible as I need to keep the money flowing, but I couldn't miss this opportunity - as the planets aligned to grant me a day of peace. You see I have a very annoying neighbour who watches television for around twenty hours each day, and at top volume just in case anyone in the vicinity can't quite make out what she's watching. I agree that compared to some annoying neighbours, one friend has neighbours who are tone deaf yet persist in loud howlalongs around the piano every evening and don't get me started about my friends under siege in their South London Estate..., its not really that bad, but its been going on for four years now night and day with only a few days off. Polite requests to turn the sound down are greeted with either "I'm ill you know" or "How dare you, we've lived here for five hundred years" or my personal favourite "We've got rights you know" all accompanied by a wobbly lip and followed by the slamming of the front door and the turning of the volume up to maximum. After four years of 'This Morning', 'Loose Women', 'Richard and Judy' and the output of UKTV Style blaring into my home, I have realised that the only escape route is to move and take on a bigger mortgage(unless I win a large prize on the lottery that is)and that means returning to the world of employment, as bigger bills need a more regular income. In the meantime, you will understand, that on the very rare occasions that she actually leaves the building, rather than work I indulge myself by loafing around with a good book enjoying the silence.

And this was a good book. I love Alexander McCall Smith's books because they are deceptively simple and not at all overwritten, Ian McEwan take note. This is the fourth book in 'The Sunday Philosophy Club' series which is, for some reason beyond me, not as popular as his other books. The series is centred around Isabel Dalhousie, Edinburgh resident and editor of the 'Review of Applied Ethics' as she struggles with the ethical and moral dilemmas that life throws at her. I know that McCall Smith is a prolific writer, but I can assure you that he's no Barbara Cartland, his writing is deceptively gentle but, as he is lawyer and philosopher, his writing is far from superficial.

Monday, 7 January 2008

One of the best books I have ever read

This is one of the most powerful and moving books I have ever read. The book is comprised of two parts of unfinished four or five part novel that Irene Nemirovsky conceived as a 'symphony' about war. The first part deals with a disparate group of Parisians as they flee Paris following the fall of France in 1941, the second part follows life in and around a small village in rural France under occupation. Nemirovsky's characters are vividly drawn and complex as they try to come to terms with their changing situation and her greatness as a writer lies in her detachment, her German characters are just as vividly drawn and compelling as her French characters. This is a book which depicts war and how it changes everyone, oppressed and oppressor, for good or evil. Although this is a work of fiction there is a poignancy to reading this as Irene Nemirovsky died in Auschwitz in 1942. The second appendix to the book reproduces the frantic letters and telegrams her husband sent to the authorities and her publisher following her arrest, sadly he was also to die at Auschwitz, in the gas chamber, later that year.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Something missing

I finished reading this book a couple of days ago but was so unsure of my reaction to it that I decided to wait a couple of days before reviewing it and I am still unsure. It was an OK read, Jim Stringer is still a railway detective out of York and the mystery element kind of worked. The best I can say about this book is that it passed the time, but I won't be in a hurry to read any more books written by this author.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

First book of 2008...

This is a better read than either of the first two books. Firstly there is much less about trains, which is good news for me, as Jim Stringer is now a railway detective working out of York. The mystery part of the novel works well and is actually thrilling as Jim gets entangled in a series of crimes that may or may not be linked. We also get to meet a wide spectrum of characters as the mystery gets solved and, for the first time, the solution made sense to me, which is always a bonus in this genre. The novel is set in 1906 and Andrew Martin certainly seems to really evoke the feel of the period. Oh yes and we get to see more of Jim Stringer's family, which is always a bonus.

Last book read in 2007

This book is just as bonkers as the first book as Brenda and Effie settle down in Buffy The Vampire Slayer style on the edge of a hell mouth in deepest darkest Whitby. I don't want to give too much away, except to say that even more shenanigans ensue as they deal with the various beings and entities drawn in by the hell mouth. I love how Magrs mixes up the genres, horror, fantasy, detective fiction all take their turn in this fun book. Although I enjoyed this book, I have to say that on balance think that the first book is better than this one. But I really want to find out just what is going on at the Christmas Hotel so will definitely read the next instalment when it comes out.