Category Archives: Book reviews

catching up – what I read betweeen April and August 2011 (1)

OK, so it’s been a while, a long while. I had it in my head that my last post was from the end of May and I find that it was actually at the end of April, and even then, only consisted of photos (admittedly worth a thousand words each, but still). The last post about books was in March, yikes!
So here goes, to help me remember what I’ve read, I’m relying partly on my Kindle, and partly on my memory… The list is likely to be incomplete and definitely not in strict chronological order. Right, disclaimers written, tick, various household and garden chores done, tick, husband and daughters otherwise occupied, tick, prevarication is officially OVER.

Blogging in the garden – Photo: R Wilkinson

What I read

Les Colombes du Roi Soleil, tomes 1 à 4, de Anne-Marie Desplat-Duc, livres recommandés par ma fille de 10 ans. C’est une série d’histoires romantiques pour filles (pré-ados), où des jeunes filles intelligentes, belles et bonnes, bravent tous les interdits pour des jeunes gens mièvres et pas très intéressants, mais bien faits de leur personne. Les jeunes filles en question sont pensionnaires de la Maison Royale de Saint-Louis à St Cyr, créée à la demande de Madame de Maintenon, épouse secrète de Louis XIV. Les références historiques correctes (me dit-on) assurent également le succès de cette collection, les parents ne pouvant s’empêcher de dépenser jusqu’à douze euros par tome (oui DOUZE euros pour ces livres qui sortent d’abord en grand format) pour instruire leurs filles sur cet aspect de l’histoire française. Et tant pis si, une fois encore, elles apprennent en fait que trouver l’amour avec l’Elu compte plus que tout…

The ballad of the sad café, by Carston McCullers, recommended by a colleague and co-founder of the work book club. I only read The ballad of the sad café in the Penguin edition of seven short stories by Carston McCullers and hated it. Dark, dark, and twisted. Not just depressing like Zola or Steinbeck (bless them). I spoke about it to the person who recommended it, who said that was what appealed, which I kind of understand: I know someone who said the same sort of thing about Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller – “You can feel the despair and pain this person is going through”, they said. Fine, but I don’t enjoy that experience. In the same way, I never choose to go and watch a horror film, or a really scary one, and can only take violence if there is a “point” to it, as in the fist fight in On the Waterfront, for instance. In fact, I can swallow any amount of squalor, misery, gore, nastiness etc, so long as there is some kind of redemption at the end, or at least some kind of clear illustration about what this nastiness is about (e.g. Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone – see below). But a book or film that is just horrible from A to Z, with no other message than “life’s shit” turns me off. Yes, I need escapism (I think we all do, really.)
A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell, which was the first work book club choice. I had read this many years ago and “loved” it. It is truly nasty, with a completely amoral character, and a mad one. The “nice” people are tragically self-centered and blind. The crime is sordid. It is also all plausible and, against all the rules of classic whodunits, it gives the name of the culprit and the reason for their crime in the first sentence of the book. Which leads to this profound sense of unease, as the inevitability of the (announced) crime becomes ever more obvious. It is also a very interesting piece of work on the problem of illiteracy, which I have witnessed a couple of times in my career. To me, the book is a perfect example of “nasty, but interesting”.