The New Men by CP Snow

The New Men by CP Snow

English fiction

Source personal copy

it is the 1954 club this week I have a pile of books I hope to get over the week but I start with this from the writer CP Snow I had long wanted to start his stranger and brother series of which this is one so when it was announced the 1954 club I looked at the various list around the net and discovered that this was on the list of books published that year. I looked at the book blurb and yes it is part of the series but seemed to be a self constant story. CP snow was a writer that tried to connect as he called it the two cultures of Art and science here is a book that is an example maybe of that idea as it is about science in a way as it follows two brothers as they are involved with the search for atomic fission which is what powers Nuclear power but also is used in atomic weapons. a group of scientist from Cambridge try and make the discover in the early 40s

Martin gave a friendly, sarcastic smile. I went on. He met each point on the plane of reason. He had reckoned them out himself; np one insured more carefully against the future. I was telling him nothing he did not know. I became angry gain.

“She’s pretty shallow, you know. I expect her loves are too”

Martin didn’t reply.

“She’s bright, but she’s not very clever”

“That doesn’t matter to me” He said

“You’d find her boring in time.”

I”I couldn’t have done less so up to now”said Martin

The book like the others in the series revolves around the life and times of the Elliot brothers here we see them get the chance to be involved int he search for Atomic fission. The book opens as the two brother meet and Martin has a new lady friend he introduces Lewis to his new lady friend but when Lewis dismisses this lady as unsuitable and says his brother will bore of her over time the two fall out. Then Martin as he says in the meeting with Lewis is starting to look at fission and he is called to a group in a small village called Barofrd near Warwick to study and try and perfect the research. in what is called Project Mr Toad as the group splits up into a couple of teams doing slightly different things he decides to try and reconcile with his brother and get him to join him at Barford.What follows is the journey in try to discover but also a side story of maybe someone spying. As part of the project connects with Nuclear weapons.The story is about the morals of what they did as well as s=what different characters in the book around the brothers see as the moral rights and wrongs

Though Hector Ross had left me in suspense about his intention, I did worry much. Despite our mutual dislike I trusted his mind, and for a strong mind there was only one way to open,

Thus Luke, in the midst of disapproval, got all he asked for, and went back to playing his piano. There was months to get through before the pile was refitted. He and Martin had set themselves for another wait.

It was during this wait I had my first intimation of a different kind of secret. one of the security branches had begun asking questions. They had some evidence( so it seemed though the muffled hints) that there might be a leaked

The later part of the book follows this revelation around the brother and the project

Now this is part of a series and in the middle of the series it seems but for me it did work as a standalone story of the two brothers and there journey from initially falling out the both getting involved in Mr toad as the project is called (I just loved the fact the project was called mr toad). Snow used a mixture of real facts around the discovery of fission.He also question the outcome of some of the research which lead to the Atomic bomb in a small part. Snow worked in the government around the time the part involving government officials and parts of the government feels very real in the way he portray it. The project is set in  Barford is an actual village in warship in fact I was very near it this weekend when I was away but didn’t get chance to pop and take a pic of the village sign. The rest of the series is around Lewis Elliot. I will hopefully read the other in the series. I chose this as my first for Club1954 as it  made me finally get to snow and this series I had listen to him on Desert Island disc when he was on in the in 1975 here is a link to that episode. I felt I had to read him and also the idea of science and art working closer together appeals to me and I’m sure he’d liked books like Benjamin Labatut  When we cease to understand the world a recent book (see what I’ve done there manager o link to a book in translation). Have you read anything from CP Snow ?

Winstons score – A a lost gem of English lit

Vesper flights by Helen Macdonald

Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald

Nature writing

Source – Personal copy

I said to myself at the start of this year I need to add a couple of non-fiction books here and there which is something in all the time I have blogged has been thin on the ground I always see other Bloggers and Vloggers mention different non-fiction books and think I should read some of the books they have mentioned and I have always been a fan of nature writing but had only reviewed one book a year in the woods in my time blogging I had read a couple of other books A roger Deakin being one but not reviewed any of them anyway the second book from Helen Macdonald I brought last year when we visited were we scattered my mum’s ashes in Cheshire (which is an odd connection given the cover could be Jodrell Bank the radio telescope that dominates The area of Cheshire I grew up so the Linocut cover caught my eye). So I brought it last summer and the other memory of that day was a squirrel that was so tame it stood a mere couple of feet away as I place some flowers near when we scattered my mum’s ashes.

This creature was not what I expected, despite its slap of familiarity. It had the forward-meancing shoulder of a Baboon and the brute strtength and black hide of a bear. But it was not really anything like a bear, and what surprised me most of all was that it was nothing like a pig. As the beast trotted up to us, a miracle pf muscle and bristle and heft, I turned to the boy, and said, surprised, “It’s nothing like a pig!” With great satisfactionhe grinned and sad “No they’re really not.”

The meeting of a wild boar in the woods when it was reintroduced to the UK

 

I was immediately grabbed by her writing when Helen Macdonald talked of this collection as being like a Wunderkammern ( a box of curiosities ) this collection of Nature writing. that we get insight into how she first wanted to be a naturist the opening story talks of Nest and egg collection which Naturists used to do in the past but now seems so out date to the modern Naturist. I was reminded of Gald Durrel and his Amateur Naturalist series and book I loved when I was younger the way he collect things like Nest and eggs. Then we see how the reintroduction of Wild Boars makes walking in the wood different these days !! ( this also remind me of the film Beast of the southern wilds which had a recurring motif of an ancient giant Boar running ). An essay that touched me was her connection with a boy that Autism a touching tale of when they met. Then a tale of old Field guides which mention an old guide written about seeing birds through your opera glasses Elsewhere we see the effects of building on birds and An essay about Ants. Hares are the subject of another essay I was reminded of Moring in  Northumberland where I see the Rabbits and hares out in force near Alnwick Castle in the fields around as I walked my first dog.

The process of indentifying aniumals in this way has a fascinating history, for field guides have closely tracked changes in the ways we interact with nature. Untilthe earlyyear of the twentieth century, bird guides, for example, mostly came in two kinds. Some moralised, anthropomphic life hiostories, like Florence merra’s 1889 Birds through an opera-glass, which describes the bluebirdas having a “model temper” while the catbird possessed a “lazy self indulgence”. “If he were a man,” she wrote of the latter “you feel confident that he would sit in short sleeves at home and go oin the street wthout a collar.” The other kind was the technical volume for ornithological collectors.

Old field guide this made me smile with the description of  the old guide looking through Opera glasses.

I think you can guess from my description how much I loved this book I love books that make you think of your own experiences and I have always loved Nature I used to love walking in the Northumberland countryside and now these days in the Peaks I think it was Durrell’s book that opens my eyes and that is the beauty of a book like this is that it reminds you to appreciate the world around us and it also reminds us how fragile the world around is us is and how much effect we can have on the world around us. If you like nature writing I would say pick this up it left me wanting to read more from Helen Macdonald and also wanting to go out and observe the world around us again afresh. Have any of you read her Memoir H is for Hawk?

Winstons score – +A, A gem and uplifting read for a dull January day !!

Beard’s Roman Women by Anthony Burgess

Beard’s Roman Women by Anthony Burgess

English Fiction

Source – Personal copy

I haven’t talked about how Anthony Burgess is one of my all-time favorite writers, so when I looked at the list of books for club 1976.  was happy when I saw this book which I had brought when it came out two years ago as part of the University of Manchester Irwell edition of some of Burgess works that had fallen out of print or as in the case of Puma was part of another novel that Burgess had wanted to publish as a separate work. Anyway, this book was one of the books from Burgess that had fallen out of print this new edition is the first to include the pictures that David Robinson had taken around Rome to highlight the text supernatural parts of the book the original edition had them but in black and white not like color here. The book also has a number of Autobiographical elements that parallel Burgess’s own life.

She died in an English March. He should known, those quiet years in Londin when he was earning their living as a writer of scripts for radio, television and cinem, what her trouble was. He had even written a television play in which one of his characters, a writer of scripts for radio, television and cinema, died of cirrhosis. From those years in Brunei on, when he had woirked for Radio Brunei, it never seemed to him that either of them drank excessively. In the tropics, surely you sweated all that gin out before it got anywhere near the liver.

His own wife died due to Alcoholism they had both lived in Brunei as well.

The book opens with the main character in the book Ronald Beard as we see him with his wife dying. When his wife finally passes away, he decides to head and pursue a job as a screenwriter in Hollywood as he has been hired by a studio exec to write a Musical based on the time Shelley and Lord Byron spent in Geneva. A time that changed both the writers forever as they see a big Hollywood star playing Bryon he heads to Rome as he tries to wor on the musical he is drinking but soon after he arrives in Rome he falls for a woman this is maybe like the drinking a way of avoiding the grief but his wife is still there as we see he is haunted by her as he tries to get on with his new life bu the past keeps creeping in did she die?  As he thinks of there past and figures from his past in the far east crop up. So why did he run off to Rome. Then mix in the atmospheric pictures from Robinson which lifts Beard’s journey of the page.

In Geneva Mary and Percy and his limping lordship(come in perhaps on that Limp) looked up at the statue of John calvin. “The monster that created a monster,” said Byron, handsomely bitter,”A clockwork toy called Predestinate man, wound up by god and arribitrarlly set by him on a path leading to salvation or preditio. No choice is the matter, no freedom in the scheme. How I hate Jack calvin and how I hate  John Knox. i was brought up, ye ken, changing to stage scotch, “on the pestilential puritanism of that woman loather ”

His work on the musical he was sent to work on

 

Now, this has large chunks of Burgess world he loved Rome Which like Dublin he was more drawn to as a capital city than London. He was a catholic so felt closer to these two cities. Like his character Beard Burgess had lost his wife, he also married an Italian woman.  Then there is a shared history in Brunei where Burgess had also worked he also did write a screenplay for Tv about Shelley and Lord Byron that is included in the appendix to the book the book has these elements but Beard isn’t Burgess he used his life as a setting and biography for the story. There is a supernatural element to the book I was reminded at times of the scenes from Don’t look know where we see the image of the lost child in the canal in Venice here we see Beard’s wife there in the background the pictures conjure up the feeling of loss and mystery. The book of its time a world has now gone screenwriters writing musicals about Byron for a Hollywood studio now !! if only lol. If like me you are a huge Burgess fan this is one to read if you like Rome it is partly set there and lots of pictures around Rome. Have you a favorite book from Burgess I have reviewed four other books by him which include two other books from the Irwell series of books. A little late for club 1976

Winstons score – A for me I loved it but I love his writing so much this had lots of his life story in it !

Beowulf A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley

Beowulf A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley

Classic Epic poetry

Original title – Beowulf

Source – review copy

I haven’t reviewed a lot of poetry over the years of the blog which is strange as I have a lot of poetry on my shelves that I tend to dip in and out of so when I was given the chance to read a reworking of the great Anglo Saxon Poem Beowulf. In the acknowledgments for the book Maria said she came up with the idea of translating Beowulf when she was up for a world fantasy prize for her acclaimed book The Mere Wife how she had used a translation of Beowulf in the research for the book and was asked in the Q & A when her translation would be out she decided to pick up the Baton. As for me, I did read the Seamus Heaney about the time it came out as there was such acclaim for that book as it made the poem more accessible but I always feel language moves and there is always room for new angles at old works if it brings something new to the table. as Borges said in his poem about his thought on translating Beowulf.

Poem Written in a Copy of Beowulf

At various times, I have asked myself what reasons
moved me to study, while my night came down,
without particular hope of satisfaction,
the language of the blunt-tongued Anglo-Saxons.

Used up by the years, my memory
loses its grip on words that I have vainly
repeated and repeated. My life in the same way
weaves and unweaves its weary history. Borges

The opening of Beowulf in the new translation!

Bro! Tell me we still know how to speak of kings! in the days

Everyone knew what men were: brave, bold, glory-bound.Only stories now, but I’ll sound the Spear-Danes song hoarded for hugry times

Their first father was a foundling: Scyld Scefing.

He spent his youth fists up, browbeating every barstool-brother, bonfiring his enemies. That man began in the waves, a baby in a basket.

but he bootstrapped his way into a kingdom, trading loneliness for luxury. Whether they thought kneeling necessary or no, everyone from head to tail of the whale-road bent down:

There’s a king, there’s his crown!

Thats a good King

The opening 11 lines of Beowulf !!

 

Beowulf follows the hero of the Title as he heads from Anglo Saxon England (Although England is never mentioned in the text as Q (Arthur Quiller-Couch) pointed out in a lecture in his work “On the art of writing”. he travels to help the king of the Dane who has lost many of his best men to the monster Grendel. he offers his help to kill Grendel and creature that has been terrorizing the kingdom since the creature is meant to be descended from Cain a nod to biblical connection in the origin of the book. They celebrate when Beowulf kills him with his own hands and then on the next night they are attacked by Grendel mother as Beowulf isn’t there but when he arrives back there follows a great battle Beowulf returns home and is made king of his own land only many years later to die fighting a dragon now this is the story but what Maria has done is made it easier to get into with the use of street terms and add a little more flow to the prose.

 

Hidden by fog,grendel roved the moors, God-cursed

Grudge worsening. He knew who hunted:

wine-drunk, mead-met men, and he oined

for his prey. Under storms clouds, he stalked them,

in his usual anguish, feeling a forbidden hearth,

that gulded hall stop the hill, gleaming still,

through years of bloodshed.This was not

the first time he’d hunted in Hrothgar’s hall,

butnever before nor later had he such hard luck.

no one worthyhad historically lain in wait

10 lines from early on in the book just show you how the book pops.

Christopher Hitchens said in his review of Harry Potter many years ok said it would spark a revival of anglo Saxon works like Beowulf as it has since the likes of Tolkien and C S lewis been interwoven with the world of fantasy as well. With dragons, quests warriors it has a link to Fantasy and also back to greek epics but what Maria has done is make it also sound modern with her use of street slang with words like Bro. She has also made it bloody it’s almost as though it has mixed a Nordic noir with an episode of Vikings and has also made the female characters appear a little more than I remembered in the Heaney translation. This is a great new version of the book if you haven’t read it this may be the edition for you if you like a=fantasy or greek epics this is the bridge between those works a cornerstone of English literature given a new breath of life for a new generation !!

Murder at the vicarage by Agatha Christie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Murder at the vicarage by Agatha Christie

English crime fiction

Source personal copy

When I read the list of books for 1930 online I saw that I had the three I have reviewed this week on my shelves so I decided to read them I usually read all translation but I got chance to revisit two writers I have enjoyed in my gran was a huge Chrisie fan she had all those gory fifties and sixties paperbacks wish I wish I had saved a few when she passed many years ago mine is a retro hardback. I picked this copy up in Devon on my Honeymoon as it is set in the quintessential Devon village which is where Christie grew up and Miss Marple lives.

Griselda is nearly twenty years younger than myself. She is most distractingly orettyand quite incapable of taking anything seriously.She is incompetent in every way, and extremely trying to live with. She treats the parish as a kind of huge joke arranged for her amusement, I have endeavoured to form her mind and failed, I am more than convinced that celinacy is desirable for clergy. I have hinted asmuch to griselda, but she has only laughed,

The vicars wife is very much younger and he worries she may have her eyes elsewhere later on in the book ?

Now I have seen both the tv versions of the book both miss bits from the book which I forgot when I reread this book. The book revolves around the Murder of Colonel Protheroe. He is a churchwarden and wants to see the vicar about a problem in the church accounts the opening is narrated by the Vicar where he says that Prfotheroe is the type of man to make a mountain out of a molehill and very much wants the  ways kept as they are not like the new high chuch curate wants it in the church. So when he is due to meet the vicar at the vicarage and is found dead by a shot in the head. Miss Marple is well placed as she lives next to the vicarage and has been in the garden at the time the shots where heard and saw the comings and goings firstly the Colonels with before the shot and the artist in the vicars garden. The Artist Lawrence is painting a number of ladies in the village the vicars younger wife Griselda who around this time says she has been somewhere but was seen elsewhere?  he is painting the colonel’s daughter who has a huge crush on him and hates the colonel’s current wife. A mysterious woman renting a local house that the colonel may have known an odd acting curate. An archaeologist and his secretary that has been working on the colonel’s grounds. The Vicars maid the spinster next door a Mrs price ridley all could have done it as the vicar said the man dead would make the village a better place! even Miss Marple says there could have been seven suspects who did it who will put their hands up and what time did he die all these set the tale twisting and turning to a shocking ending.

“If miss Marple says she had no pistol with her, you can take it for granted that it is so” I said “If there was the least possibility of such a thing, miss Marple would have been on it like a knife”

“THat’s tru enough. We’d better go and have a look at the studio”

The so-called studio was a mere rough shed with a skylight. There were no windows and the door was the only means of entrance or egress. Satisfied in this score, melchett announced his intention of visiting the vicarage with the inspector.

The chief constable and inspector know MissMarple so respect her insights into the dress the colonels wife was wearing that day!

This is the classic christie mystery in a way a cast of characters an unlikable murder victim that means there is a whole host of possible victims then we have the twists of the crime what time did he die ? was it a shot that Marple heard that killed him ? each means the closer we are getting to the truth. How is the mystery woman and why did Lawrence redding chose this particular village to set himself up as a painter ?why did the archaeologist and his secretary come to the colonel’s land for the dig? when these are answered we get to the bottom of the tale this is a classic book from the golden era of crime that uses a microcosm of a small village to show how easy a turn here and there can have wider effects on people’s lives. A nice final choice for 1930 club wonder where we will end up next time round?

Vile bodies by Evelyn Waugh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

English fiction

Source – personal copy

Well, I enjoy Kaggy and Simons year club this time we are now back in 1930 this time for the 1030 club and when I looked at a list of books published in 1930 this one was jumped out at me as I have read this a few times before it is one of my favourite books in English. I may review mainly translated fiction these days but in my youth, I loved the works of Waugh and have in the past did a small weekly blog event for Waugh. This book for me maybe captures those bright young things at the best and worst the only book that comes near is Henry Greens party going.

“French, eh/” he said. “I guessed as much, and pretty dirty, too, I shouldn’t wonder. Now just yoy wait while I look up these her books? – how he said it! “in my ist. Particularly against books the home secretary is. If we can’t stamp out literature in the country, we can at least stop it being brrought in from outside. that’s what he said the other day in parliment, and I says “hear,hear,” =Hullo,hullo,what’s this, may I ask?”

The custom officer confiscating his books and his own manuscript as he arrives back in the UK.

The book focus on the ups and downs of the life of Adam Fenwick Symes as he returns to London after time in America trying to write his magnus opus of a book which he has in his Case. The first down for him is that he loses this book and the money he was going to get for it from his publisher as it is seized by an over efficient custom officer with a hatred of literature. Putting at risk his marriage to Nina Blunt this on-off marriage runs through the book as he on a number of occasions tries to get her father a rather mad colonel. He returns to his hotel and by chance doing a magic trick wins a sum of money which he is persuaded not to keep but by a Major to let him bet on a sure thing outsider horse that is running at 33/1. So when the horse wins he needs to find this Major this is another thread in the book. Also, he is given a chance of a job as mr chatterbox by his publishing tycoon boss in a chance to redeem himself as Mr Chatterbox. A role Adam jumps at but then as his predecessor in the job got in trouble he is pushed by Nina just to make up characters and events and trends like a green bowler hat which leads to fact and fiction blurring as people start wearing them. Will Adam get Nina will he get his money or even his book back?

(… Masked parties, savage parties, victorian parties, greek parties, wild west parties, Russian parties, Circus parties, parties where one had to dress as somebody else, almost naked parties in St John’s wood, parties in flats and studios and houses and ships and hotels and night clubs, in windmills and swimming baths, tea prties at school where one ate muffins and meringues and tinned crabm parties at Oxford where on drunk browbn sherry and smoked Turkish cigarettes, dull dances in londonand comic dam=nces in Scotland and disgusting dancesin Paris – all that succession and repetition of massed humanity …Those Vile bodies

In his Mr Cgatterbox piece we see the title as Adam describes those bright young things parties and what they get up too !!

Well this is a book that is timeless in fact since the last time I read it Adam stint at Mr chatterbox seems more apt than ever we live in a time that Gossip is now news it seems ever more to me every time you see a red top paper there isn’t news just gossip as news and also the angle of Fake news the reporting of green Bowler hats a piece of fake news that drifts off into reality,. The book is based on Waugh own life and his circle of friends at the time from the batty to those near the prime minister of the day mad relatives. It is for me his funniest book his later books have humour but also the tinged  by world war two this is a moment between the wars that saw as Stephen Fry retitled the book for his film those Bright Young things were able to party and be carefree just before the crash and far enough away that hope had grown after world war one. A perfect first choice for the 1930 club have you read this or have you a favourite Waugh book?

Quichotte by Salman Rushdie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quichotte by Salman Rushdie

English fiction

Source – Library book

I am now on the third of this year’s Booker shortlist as I said the three books I have read so far were ones I may have read anyway. I have read Midnight’s children, satanic verses, Haroun and the sea of stories and the ground beneath her feet so I haven’t read anything by him for at least twenty years as my reading path went towards translation I moved away from his works but this being based on Don Quixote caught my eye when it made the longlist which was before it came out when I read he was using that classic tale as a background to a road trip through middle America I decided to read it.

“Sancho”, Quichotte cried, full of a happiness he didn’t know how to express. My silly little Sancho, my big tall Sanch, My son, my sidekick, my squire! Hutch to my Starsky,Spook to my Kirk, Scully to muy Mulder, BJ to my Hawkeye, robin to my Batman! peele to my Key, Stimpy to my Ren, Niles to my Frasier, Arya to my hound! Peggy to my Don, Jesse to my Walter, tubbs to my Crockett, I love you! O my warrior Sancho sent by Persues to help me slay my meduas and win Slama’s heart, here you are at last. “Cut it out,,”dad”, the imaginary young man rejoined. “Whats in all this for me?”

He imagines Sancho as his sidekick

As in the other books by him, I have read by Rushdie he uses various stories within his novel. here we have a man an anglo Indian writer of spy novels that is alone his son has left him. He has wanted to write about a man traveling across  Middle America this is where he comes up with the Character of Quichotte an Indian salesman Ismail but he takes the name Quichotte. A man who has spent his evenings and all his free time watching the trashy side of US tv those odd reality shows and dramas and quiz shows he is a sickly man and has fallen for an Indian tv star Salma R he writes to her and decides to travel across America and get to this woman as he does this he invents a son as he sees it all those great Tv stars he had seen had a sidekick so he has a son called Sancho along the way he meets many racists in Middle America in one small town they become Mastodons this is a nod to the Absurdist work of the Italian writer Ionesco his play Rhino about the rise of fascism in Italy here is echoed with a warning with the undercurrent of Populism that Trump has brought to the fore that has a whole heap or racism entwined in its heart. So as he heads across the in his battered old Chevy Cruze meanwhile the writer of this story sam sees his story of Indian salesman having echos of his own life! Will Quichotte get to Salma R?

My dear miss Salma R<

with this note I introduce myself to you. With this hand I declare my love. In time to come as I move ever closer you will come to see that I am true and that you must be mine. You are my grail and this is my quest.I bow my head before your beauty. I am and will ever remain your knight

sent by a smile,

Quichotte

A letter he writes to his beloved Salma as he heads across the US to her.

 

Another book taking a look at the heart of Trumps America it is interesting that two of the books on this years list take a view of this country at its heart I heard Rushdie interviewed and he said he had wanted to move his book outside the big cities in the US like Duck Newburyport it use the heart of America as Rushdie pointed out the red states the heartland of Trump. What Rushdie captures with Quichotte and  Sancho is that unspoken undercurrent of racism that is just below the surface that he shows him with a brilliant piece of magic realism when they all turn into dinosaurs. A writer that even in his seventies is still trying to challenge his readers. Now I read half of the list I wanted I’m not sure if I will read the other three I do have two books and am awaiting the third. If I do the next book will be the orchestra of minorities

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann

British/American fiction

Source – personal copy

I am rarely tempted by a new book in English but this book grabbed me when I saw pictures of this huge book I was interested in what it was about any way Lucy Ellmann had written a number of books since the late ’80s. She is the daughter of two writers and is married to a writer and has taught creative writing. She had all her earlier books published by a big publisher. But when this book was finished and described to her usual publisher They turned it down. It was picked up by the small publisher Galley Beggar Press. I mean a thousand-page modernist novel that has no plot and is a stream of consciousness eight sentences that makes up the book.

I wish I had nice handwriting, the fact that i also have a few of her favourite sweaters, but that’s about it, beside the stuff she gave me, like some books and stuff, ups, fedex, rolex, X-ray, and my old patchwork quilt that was always on my bed as a kid, the  fact that it’s reall falling apart now, the fact that Jane Austen no longer exists and only ever existed briefly, not long enough to finish  Sandition, tragedy, enormity, Bronx cheer, Graduation Gowns, Choir Robes, paper owels, humdinger, Uber, Lyft, biege countertop, the fact that some people work for Uber and lyft at the same time.

One passage where she admires her moves handwriting then drifts off to something else in her mind.

The book is narrated by a housewife she is from Ohio and that is all we really know. Well, we learn more like she has her own baking business that she runs from her home.  What follows in the book is her thoughts that flow and drift from here to there lists words jumping from words that sound alike. These lists I loved as she had a thought an old productor some such and then from that word jumps to similar words. It then goes to the state of Modern America Trump gaining power. Writers she likes Laura Ingalls her of little house fame and then she references Anne Tyler especially her book The Accidental tourist which maybe of all her books captures modern American life as it follows a family recovering from the loss of a son to a shooting. The book is full of America but also her family from the title that relates to an event in her youth involving her sister. Then she worries about her own four kids in Trump’s world. It is hard like many books of this length, to sum up the world of this book as it is more about the internal mind than the external world and how her thoughts run and that is so difficult to capture.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s dog was called Jack, the fact that i keep thinking I see the abominable snowmanmoving between those trees down there, a bigfoot, just behind the bushers, gully the fact that ben would be thrilled, the fact that I should photograph it, but of course I don’t have my phone, that that if I had my phone I would be in this mess freezing to death in the wilderness, the fact that I am always forgetting my cell, the fact that it’s so silly not to have it with you at all times, the fact that the people on the planes in 9/11 made good use of theirphone, the fact that I bet every American has carried their cell phone with them since 9/11

Another digression from Laura Ingalls to 9/11 in four lines.

Everyone knows this book as I was discussing one twitter when a friend ask me what I thought of it as they had been put off by the hype and I could connect with that but the thought of a thousand-page book that tries to grapple with the scary world that is modern America. Well for me this remind me in tone at times to Thomas Bernhard as it has at times a similar feeling in the tone of her words if he had been a midwest American housewife this would have been how he wrote even the lack of paragraphs and long sentences are something that Bernhard used in his books. I was pleased when I read that she had given Bernhard to her husband to read many years ago. When it made the Booker shortlist I knew I had to read it I had already got it as a fan of really long novels it was one that grabbed me and showed that small publishers are great at taking chances she describes how she actually added 30,000 words in one edit of the original manuscript how many large publishers would allow that to a large book get larger. I was reminded of Sergio de la Pava struggle to get his Naked singularity like this another huge modernist work that in another way wrestles with the world that is modern America. Ellmann tries to grab what life is like for a middle-aged woman struggling to get by the changing of focus in the female roles with in the world the rise of Trump and does it in a wonderfully poetic and thought-provoking book.

A gun for sale by Graham Greene

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A gun for sale by Graham Greene

English fiction

Source – personal copy

I found a few days ago every book I was reading wasn’t grabbing me I start three or four never getting more than forty pages in so I decided it was time to try an old classic one of my Graham Greene for me he is one of those go to writers when you have been struggling to find something great. Graham Greene is one of those writers that didn’t write many bad books and this is one that isn’t as well known as some of his other books but it was made into a film in the forties an Italian and Turkish films and a tv film in the nineties and was written before Brighton rook and like Pinkie raven is a very amoral character.

Murder didn’t mean much to Raven. It was just a new job. You had to be careful. You had to use your brains. It was not a question of hatred. He had only seen the ministeronce: he had pointed out to Raven as he walked down the new housingestate between the little lit christmas tree, an old, rather grubby man without any friends, who was said to love humanity

The cold wind cut his face in the wide continental street. It was a good excuse for turning the collar of his coat well up above his mouth. A hare-lip was a serious handicap in his profession; it had been badly sewn in infancy, so that now the upper lip was twisted and scarred. When you carried about you si easy an identification you couldn’t help but becoming ruthless in your methods. It had always, from the first been necessary for Raven to eliminagte the evidence

The opening two paragraphs could jump from a classic american hard boilded noir i loved them!!

The book unfolds after a hired assassin Raven kills the minister of war in a distant European country. his father was hung for murder and his mother committed suicide so he grew up very amoral and with his own code.  He returns home to get paid by his paymaster a man called Cholmondeley. It is only after he is paid he gather he has been double-crossed when the notes he is using are stolen and being tracked by the police. He finds that Cholmondeley is heading on a train to Nottwich a fictional midland town. This is where the man that paid Cholmondeley is a steel magnate Sir Marcus paid him to kill the minister. On the train he meets a chorus girl who is the fiance of a detective on the tail of Raven, So he takes Anne with him but as she knows Cholmondeley real name which is Davies and helps him get to him as a way to keep her self alive. Will he get Davies and find out who paid him and will Anne escape.

Nor did the meter fail him. He had a schilling to spare. When Mr Cholmondeley led the way in by tthe Euston war memorial to the Greart smoky entrance and rashly he gace it to the driver: rashly because there was a long wait ahead of himwith nothing but his hunderd and nitey-five pounds to buy sandwich with. For Mr Cholmondeley led the way with two porters behind him to the left-luggage counter depositing there three suitcasesm a portable typewriter, a bag of golf clubs, a small attache case, and a hat-box.Raven heard him ask which platform the midnight train went.

Raven tracking after he found he had been double crossed and they head tio Nottwich on the train .

This is an early Graham Greene written before Brighton rock Raven is maybe an early take on the Pinkie character that sort of Amoral man of circumstance here raven is a cold-blooded killer and isn’t pleased when double crossed so he then goes on an act of revenge. It is wonderfully paced keeping you gripped to the last page and has an interesting set of character the chorus girl Davies the middle man Sir Marcus the man paying for the killing and Anne’s boyfriend the main detective on Raven’s tail to add a nice twist in the tail. This is Greene before he was Greene a writer early on his career it has pinches of Buchan, Conrad and a touch of American Hard-boiled thriller. But for me it still has that Catholic guilt that in a lot of his fiction. Have you read this or have you another favorite By Greene?

 

The pianoplayers by Anthony Burgess

 

The Pianoplayers by Anthony Burgess

English fiction

Source – personal copy

I review another of the lesser known books from Anthony Burgess this has actually just been reissued by Manchester university press as part of the Irwell series. In fact, if you order the books now there is 50% off for next week or so . I have all the books they have reissued barring Beard roman women and Puma (although I have the end of the world news which puma is a part of the book now removed into a separate sci-fi novel).This book was near the end of Burgess life and in a way was maybe more personal than his other books as it is set in Manchester and one of the main characters had the same job as a piano player as Burgess own father had. Music has been a large part of Burgess life he considered his own music more of an accomplishment than his writing.

My father wasn’t really getting married. What he was going to do was just live with a woman who kept a pub, a woman separatedfrom her husband,her husband had gone off with a young girl, a barmaid I think it was. The woman had had the pub licence from the husband who had died previously , not the one who’d gone off.The pub was called the grapes though it sold no wine except port and sherry, it was in a slummy district it was big and full of brass rails and it had two singing rooms as they were called.

This remond me of the pub in the northern based comedy Early doors like this pub an old pub for the working man the sort that is dying out now.

As I said this book is partly based in Manchester it has two storylines that are in the present which at the time the book was written well earlier maybe but sometime between the late sixties and eighties we meet Ellen Henshaw she is a madam on the French coast her life goes back to the backstreets of Manchester and the story of her fatherBilly  a drunken cinema piano player. He is one of the men that made the music to the silent films before sound took off and  played in pubs as well as she follows him from Manchester through places like Blackpool and the Lancashire mill towns in the ups and downs of his life as the cinema jobs dry up and he starts to fall down the bottle some more this leads to the latter half of the book which is Ellen’s own journey from a convent girl to the sort after girl to spend the time with for money as that career wanes she starts a school of love.

This maggie had a snub nose and a bit of a double chin coming on, but she had these very lovely legs, I’ll say thart for the little bitch. They were very long and you could seethem right up to her bottom, and they were in sheer black silk stockings with the seam absolutely straught at the back.They were beautiful legs, and she didn’t deserve to have them. They were like the legs you see much more of post-war legs having got longer due to better nutriment or Marshall aid or something,My dad played a song for her, nut while she did her bit of monolougue i couldn’t helo notice that he kept looking at these legs

When he has to do Vaudeville with an older act but with great legs as he points out here.

This is a personal book the best character is Billy which is based on Burgess own father who like Billy was a piano player then there is a connection with Ellen who had escaped England which is something that Burgess had done himself in his later years he lived in Tax exile all around Europe. This is a comic lament of a world that is long gone of men playing along to films trying to stay sober to the end of the film and the coming of the talkies meaning they had to leave Manchester and head to the Vaudeville stages that were still around at that time and these pubs with piano players. Maybe not his best book after the death of Billy Ellen story is maybe less believable than that of Billys. But the book is worth reading as the first part evokes those years of piano players in the cinema and how hard it was to improvise to the films there is a number of passages around the musical  notes he played not being musical I not sure how good they were but Burgess was a composer so I expect them to be accurate. Have you read any of Burgess lesser novels I have a lot more to get through by him but this is a fun book by him .

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