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Willoyd's Reading Log 2012

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Great review of Capital. I've been watching this one, and have been disappointed by the negative reviews as I have high hopes for it. It looks like my kind of book, so I think I will give it a go (when it gets a bit cheaper!)

 

Thanks bobblybear. I bought Capital for my Kindle - just over a fiver, and felt it pretty good value.

 

I've now moved on to Catch-22. Have to admit, I'm just under a hundred pages in, and really struggling, finding it dull, dull, dull: no plot (as yet), minimal character development, and even less about the setting. As yet, this is yet another twentieth century 'classic' which I really can't understand what all the fuss is about.

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I've now moved on to Catch-22. Have to admit, I'm just under a hundred pages in, and really struggling, finding it dull, dull, dull: no plot (as yet), minimal character development, and even less about the setting.

 

Have temporarily abandoned. I really can't settle to this, so am saving it for the Easter break, when I can have a really concentrated go at it. If that doesn't work, I'll abandon altogether. Singularly unimpressed so far. It's amazing me how many cult/iconic books I really can't stomach, having abandoned Slaughterhouse Five, The Princess Bride, and even 1984 in the past two to three years.

Edited by willoyd

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A Brief History of Britain 1066-1485 by Nicholas Vincent ***

 

Well, actually, no it's not - a history of Britain that is. This is very much a history of England, with the other elements of Britain only mentioned when impacting on the English story, and even then only superficially. The dates are a giveaway - significant in English history, barely relevant to the rest of Britain (other than 1485 was the date a Welshman came to the throne of England).

 

This was an eminently readable introduction to a nowadays all too often neglected period of history (at least in schools!), a real pity considering how interesting it is, and how much so much of life nowadays stems from these times. I have to say, though, that in reaching the end, my overrriding sense is one of mild disappointment. It's very readable, but it's also, for me, rather too superficial, and even rushed. Yes, I know it's a 'brief' history, so that's almost inevitable, but I did feel as if the author's priority was to simply cover as many bases as he could. As a result, I never really got a grip on the characters involved, other than the monarchs, and even key events seemed to get glossed over rather, whilst space was devoted to other material that was relatively trivial. I think that's partly because the author tried to do a wee bit too much, not just telling the story of 'great events and people', but covering elements of social and economic history as well. The problem is that, inevitably, holes were left unfilled, and I was all too often left wondering how something had happened, who had been involved, and/or what exactly had occurred, even when elements of that had been explained. However, the inclusion of an extended chapter on further reading suggests that the author is fully aware of the limitations of the project he undertook and the potential for criticism, and I did feel that I was moving towards a much better grasp of the overall story, so maybe the book did the job it always set out to do. This is the first volume in a four volume series, and in spite of my reservations, I'm still looking forward to reading the next in the series.

Edited by willoyd

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Reading notes for week ending April 1st

With the usual mad end of term, and my head firmly stuck into Nicholas Vincent's A Brief History of Britain 1066-1485, there's not been much time left over for keeping notes up to date, so this is a summary of the last couple of weeks since completing Sarah Turnbull's excellent Almost French.

 

As can be surmised, I've not yet managed to get back in to Catch-22. I will do at some stage, but it doesn't loom large in my priorities at present, with too many other books vying for attention. I'll probably go for something lighter before diving back into some more classical or historical reading after Easter.

 

To that end, we went to see a captivating performance of Helen Edmundson's new play Mary Shelley on Saturday afternoon at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, which has left me wanting to know much more about her and others in her life. By sheer chance, I found a copy of Lyndall Gordon's biography of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, this morning in the local Oxfam bookshop, so bought that fairly promptly. I also found a nice copy of Frankenstein in the Leeds Waterstones after the performance, a book that I'm surprised not to have yet read, and have ordered a second hand copy of Emily Sunstein's biography of Mary Shelley, as this seems to be the one that most recommend.

 

Indeed, having had a bit of a book buying hiatus the last couple of weeks, I've had a bit of a rush lately, not least because of some attractive choices in the Kindle spring sale, which included Pythagoras (Kitty Ferguson), Bismarck, A Life* (Jonathan Steinberg) and Romanno Bridge* (Andrew Greig). The Oxfam visit also yielded After Hannibal (Barry Unsworth), whilst I did eventually succumb and buy The Oxford Companion to Charles Dickens and Lives of the Novelists with that gift card. I'm already enjoying dipping into both.

Edited by willoyd

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Ripped a few from you for my wish list Willoyd thanks for the great reviews.

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Hello willoyd, how are you? :) I've been rather quiet on the forum lately, too busy and stressed with uni stuff and all, and I've been neglecting reading people's reading logs, and I'm now trying to make amends. It's a lot of fun, though!

 

I just have to say that I love reading through your weekly reading notes, keep it up! It is really inspiring, it makes me want to read more, think more, write about what I read and think more.

 

I also want to say that I love reading your reviews, I think your style of writing is very compelling. Your style is not, how shall I say, 'in your face' funny, but rather more subtle, and I've noticed that when I read your reviews I don't usually laugh out loud but I do end up snorting a lot. I suspect I will, at some point, come down with a new medical syndrome, 'coffee-infested nasal cavities', and when that happens I will direct all the medical bills your way, thank you very much ;)

 

The Angel's Game by Carlos Luiz Zafon **

 

It is such a shame TAG wasn't as enjoyable as TSoW :( I'm sorry for you but I'm grateful for your review, I shall lower my expectations accordingly and thus hope to get more out of the book.

 

Oh dear, it sounds as if you've had quite a few boring reads in a row! Here's hoping your luck (ok next book) improves! I've been lucky this month and 4 out of the 6 books I've read have been really really enjoyable, 5/5! I'm pretty meticulous about picking what I read though :blush:I don't think any one tooth combs their wish list like I do :lol:

 

Haha, I love how you phrased that :D

 

Tom-All-Alone's by Lynn Shepherd ***** (out of 6)

 

Ooooh, this sounds great! I've read The Woman in White but not The Bleak House, and eventhough you said it isn't mandatory, I shall read TBH before getting into Tom-All-Alone's. Thanks for the review! :)

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Reading notes for week ending April 14th

 

I'm so glad you enjoy these notes and reviews Frankie, and thank you for your kind words - they are much appreciated. I have to admit that I started writing them as much for my benefit as anybody else - it really helps me clarify my own thoughts about the books I read (and buy!) - but having so enjoyed others' reviews on this forum, I'm glad to be able to add to the body of opinion/knowledge!

 

As I was off-line all last week in the Scottish Highlands, these notes will not only have to suffice to catch up with the last fortnight, but to cover the book reviews from that period - otherwise I'll be accumulating a (for me) substantial back-log, and if this summer term is anything like, there won't be much catching up if that happens! It's been a good fortnight, with four books completed since the Nicholas Vincent history, all enjoyed in their own way:

 

The Family Tree by Carole Cadwalladr ***

This is fairly typical of a certain type of book (Joanne Harris and Kate Atkinson jump to mind) where the mystery centres around how events in the past influence those of today, often based around several generations in a family. The title almost says it all, with all the questions revolving around nature vs nurture, and how or whether certain characteristics have been passed on from daughter to daughter over 3 generations. The stories around these are integrated well, and the book is an easy, fairly lightweight read. I have to say that I thought it quite predictable, and never felt that the author was doing much more than skimming the surface either of the characters or of the issues. An enjoyable enough read, but can't say it raised its head much above the general mass of standard literary fiction, and am thus slightly perplexed at the wodge of 5 star reviews it has received on Amazon, and the raves I've read elsewhere. Solid enough though, thus the 3 stars.

 

To The River by Olivia Laing ****

Based around a week (?) long walk along the River Ouse in Sussex, Olivia Laing uses what would otherwise be a fairly short recount to digress into a whole range of meditations and contemplations on a range of (sometimes semi-) related topics, including the troubled life of Kenneth Grahame, the Baronial Wars of the 13th century (culminating in the Battle of Lewes), Piltdown man, the story of the 21st century floods in Lewes and the surrounding area, and, inevitably, the life and suicide of Virginia Woolf, who drowned herself in the river near her home in Rodmell (I have to admit to some surprise at the reports that the body was found at Asham Wharf, some way upstream from Southsea Bridge where it is believed the body may have been trapped for most of the weeks it was missing - maybe the tide carried it?). Laing also shows both an interest in and a good grasp of the fauna and flora, and an obvious love of the landscape. A few pages in, and I was expecting this to be a 5 or 6 star book; the fact that it's landed up with 'just' four really comes down to two things - firstly, her language really is, on occasions, just a bit too overblown for my taste, and secondly, those digressions are, again on occasions, just a bit too long winded and off the thread, especially when she starts discussing classical mythology. A bit more about the river and the people she met and a little bit more editing, and this would have been an all-time classic. Even so, I really enjoyed it, and am looking forward to revisiting the area (we stayed in Barcombe for a short break a few years ago) with book in hand!

 

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell ***

Waking up at some ludicrous hour of the morning earlier this week (4-ish I think), I picked this up of my brother-in-law's bookshelves, and finished it before breakfast. My first experience of Maggie O'Farrell, and this says a lot about her readability. Some reviewers have commented about the difficulty of keeping track of the speaking voice - I can't say I noticed, as for me that side of things all meshed fairly seamlessly. But, a little bit like The Family Tree, it all proved a bit predictable, with even the ending not really taking me by surprise - it was all building up that way. And, for me, the characters never quite gelled - can't quite put my finger on it, but things didn't quite ring true on occasions. So, probably a three and a half, but not enough to gain 4 stars (although that might possibly be because it was over so quickly?? If so, not the authors fault!!). I certainly want to read more of her books though.

 

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert *****

Madame Bovary has been panned here on occasions (Frankie? poppyshake?), but I have to say I enjoyed the novel, indeed finding it fascinating. But, I can see why others might not! I suspect one of the prime reasons is that there are no really likeable characters, least of all Emma Bovary herself (Charles doesn't exactly impress me either) - there are plenty of villains in this piece, especially those prepared to take advantage of Emma's weaknesses. Not surprising, really, as I don't think Flaubert had much time for the bourgeoisie. I struggled to even believe in her character some of the time - could anybody be quite so self-centred and uncaring of those around her, quite so self-deluding, with such an excess of romanticism? But I think that's the point - Flaubert is contrasting her excessive romanticism with the mundanity of provincial life, emphasised by his detailed descriptions, much of which focus on the very ordinary (I remember the jam making for instance!). Having said that, I've got a real penchant for well developed settings, and Flaubert certainly works on those, so straightaway I'm probably on-side! This is very much a book that grew on me, resulting in my being absolutely gripped for a couple of hours of a train journey finishing the last quarter or so of the book off. Definitely one that I could spend hours discussing in a book club - that alone makes it a high scorer. I started off this review thinking this would be a 4, but the more I think about it and write about it, the more I'm convinced it's worth more. Not quite a full six star read - some of the writing is just a bit OTT and there's still that element of Emma not being quite believable enough at times - but a book that has made me think long and hard, and one that will certainly live with me for some time.

 

On the book purchasing side, it's been a bit quieter of late (just as well!). I did, however, download The Complete Works of Virginia Woolf from Delphi Classics for the Kindle. Aside from one ranting blogger, Delphi has had pretty good reviews of the way they have gathered the works of a range of out of copyright 'classic' writers together into a useable package, and at £1.95 it was worth a try out. So far it looks good, but will see how things pan out. But if they work out, there looks to be some great collections to get into.

Edited by willoyd

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I am one of those who has loathed Madame Bovary - I did read it twice with a gap of 15 years ago to see if I could like it more, but no, if anything I liked it even less :( Good to see that you enjoyed it, though. I hope you enjoyed your break in the Highlands; we live in Argyll, and when we used to live in London we used to holiday in the Highlands whenever we had time off.

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Reading notes week ending April 21st

 

The week has been largely taken up with reading one book:

 

Black Out by John Lawton ****

The first in a series of books about Inspector Freddie Troy, an emigre with distinguised connections (father a baronet, uncle a prominent scientist, brother a war hero and politician) who served the war in the Metropolitan Police. This is set in the final year of WW2, just before D-Day, and involves the murder of.... well, that would spoil the story (a bit). Let's just say that I found it an absorbing story with a genuine sense of time and place - I'm no in-depth expert on the war, but it felt very real. Troy himself seems to emerge from unconsciousness to fight the next round rather too often for the good of the narrative, and the coda was a bit too extended for my taste, but there were some good twists and sufficient tying up of loose ends and explanation to make the ending thoroughly satisfying. Putting it another way...I've already downloaded the second book in the series, and am looking forward to reading it!

 

So, along with Old Flames (the second book in the series), I also downloaded Craig Taylor's Londoners, a book of London oral history that is a must read for any London history fan (which I am) according to the reviews, which was a Daily Deal this week, as well as Marcus du Sautoy's The Number Mysteries. A visit to the local discount bookshop (a regular source of great books) resulted in the acquisition of Philip Henshel's King of the Badgers, Anthony Horowitz's The House of Silk, and Max Hastings's Overlord - I've recently finished his history of WW2, All Hell Let Loose, a rare nonfiction 6-star read. Which all means that my willpower remains pathetic, and whilst I'm spending a lot less than last year, I'm still totting up more books to read than I can possibly get through. Ouch!

Edited by willoyd

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Great review of Madame Bovary. :) Finally I have somebody on my side!

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The Waves by Virginia Woolf *****

 

(Un?!)comfortably the hardest Woolf read to date, this complex, abstract novel still kept me enthralled to the end. I can't say I understood it all, and am planning to do some reading of the criticism examining the book, but there is something so entrancing, almost hypnotic, about her writing, that I find it almost compulsive reading.

 

Told through the internal voices (and nothing else) of six characters (Bernard, Louis, Neville, Jinny, Susan and Rhoda), this is the story of their lives from childhood through to older age, along with a seventh character, Percival, from whom we never hear, but who features prominently in their thoughts. The 'narrative' is broken up with a sequence of scenes describing a section of seashore at different stages throughout a single day, breaking the lives up into their various stages.

 

That's the simple version, but Virginia Woolf pushes her stream of consciousness writing further than she has ever done in her previous books, and the result is a piece of highly poetic prose that, whilst highly lyrical, punishes you severely if you lose concentration for a second, and which even then, left me feeling somewhat lost at times, and grateful to be able to re-anchor myself on something I could fully understand. Not the sort of writing that I'd normally give 5 stars to - a book where I didn't actually understand a fair proportion of what was going on - but I came away fascinated, challenged, and wanting to know and discover more, and for that I can only give it at least a five. It does help that I love Woolf's style. Just as well really, as I'm really going to have to do my background reading then come back and give it another go.

 

This was pretty much the only book activity that I managed in the week ending April 28th, as I was away on residential with children from school, so this review will have to also suffice as my reading notes for the week. More than enough for a week!

Edited by willoyd

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Reading notes for period to May 10th

 

The summer term picks up speed, so reading tends to take a hit.... what I find also happens is that when work builds up, I struggle to stay focused with my reading and find myself chopping and changing indecisively, completely incapable it seems of settling down to any one book! These past few days are completely typical, with a pile of unfinished volumes scattered around the house, some barely started before dismissal: Moo (Smiley) and, India: A Portrait (French) are still on the go (the former only just), but in the past few days I've picked up and abandoned Between the Assassinations (which appears to be a series of loosely connected vignettes of line in a fictional Indian city - and I rarely enjoy short stories), The Book of Human Skin (sections of which I find desperately tiresome to read, written to try and reflect the semi-literate voice of one character), and Catch-22 (again!). Just one book has actually achieved completion:

 

Vendetta by Michael Dibdin ****

The second in the Aurelio Zen series. Another cracking read, with plenty of twists and turns. The solution felt a bit weak, being nothing to do with Zen's investigations, but I really enjoyed the journey that he took to get there. Zen himself is not totally likeable (not unusual amongst fictional detectives!), but he is credible, and you do find yourself rooting for him. I find it particularly interesting how Dibdin has him down for a completely honest cop (a bit unusual in the Italian force is the implication!) who has managed to attain the image amongst many of his colleages of someone exactly the opposite. I definitely intend to continue reading the series.

 

Book buying since the last set of notes include a couple of second-hand lit crit books about The Waves (still haven't worked out what this book is about!),and Armageddon by Max Hastings (discount bookshop), I had also pre-ordered Hilary Mantel's sequel to Wolf Hall, and that arrived today - Bring Up The Bodies. Saving this for half term in a couple of weeks time!

 

In the meantime, it looks as if I've now sort of settled to read Somerset Maugham's short novel, Cakes and Ale, which I hope to finish over the weekend, followed by.....well, who knows?!

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Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert *****

Madame Bovary has been panned here on occasions (Frankie? poppyshake?)

 

Guilty as charged! And since poppyshake hasn't made it here to comment on this yet herself, I can say for her that she also quite disliked the book, hehe :giggle: However, as much as I disliked the book, I kept on reading your review, I was very curious and intrigued to find out what you had to say about it.

 

but I have to say I enjoyed the novel, indeed finding it fascinating. But, I can see why others might not! I suspect one of the prime reasons is that there are no really likeable characters, least of all Emma Bovary herself (Charles doesn't exactly impress me either) - there are plenty of villains in this piece, especially those prepared to take advantage of Emma's weaknesses. Not surprising, really, as I don't think Flaubert had much time for the bourgeoisie. I struggled to even believe in her character some of the time - could anybody be quite so self-centred and uncaring of those around her, quite so self-deluding, with such an excess of romanticism? But I think that's the point - Flaubert is contrasting her excessive romanticism with the mundanity of provincial life, emphasised by his detailed descriptions, much of which focus on the very ordinary (I remember the jam making for instance!).

 

Yep, I disliked pretty much all of the characters, and it really turned me off the novel. But I have to admire you for carrying on anyway, and seeing past that, and thinking that it was probably what Flaubert intended in the first place. Which really makes me realise that you really process what you read, and that you always seem to read with your thinking cap on. Respect!

 

Great review of Madame Bovary. :) Finally I have somebody on my side!

 

But it's the wrong side! :giggle:

 

The Waves by Virginia Woolf *****

 

The most difficult book by Woolf, therefor should not read it next... *scribbles down notes* I'm happy you enjoyed it :smile2: The world would not be the same if you, the most faithful fan of Woolf, hadn't liked it :)

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The world would not be the same if you, the most faithful fan of Woolf, hadn't liked it :)

My faithfulness has lasted all of a couple of years! I really only came to Woolf when I reread Mrs Dalloway then, and found it all the more rewarding second time around. Before that, I'd barely read any of her material. Much of her writing is still new to me - including most of her essays. But, yes, what I have read - wow!

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Cakes and Ale by William Somerset Maugham *****

My first Somerset Maugham, this is a slim (under 200 pages) volume telling the story of Rosie, the first wife of the (fictitious) world famous author, Edward Driffield, as seen through the eyes of the younger writer, William Ashenden, the first person persona that WSM adopted for a number of his short stories, and this one novel. It's a satirical take on the world of the literati, heavily based on real characters (Driffield is almost certainly Thomas Hardy).

Half way through, this was heading for a steady 3 star rating - an enjoyable read, but nothing special to recommend it, other than Maugham's highly readable, limpidly clear writing style. However, as the various threads start coming together, and various twists start kicking into place, I was drawn more and more into the story, finding it completely unputdownable by the end. Maugham's short story skills are certainly to the fore: not a word wasted, and yet everything vividly to life. Rosie herself lived up to the blurb, being one of the most vivacious heroines I've read about in a long time, but other minor characters were equally well drawn in their own way. Reading the introduction afterwards (I never read it before, as they always give the game away) brought even morel ife out of the story - lots of interesting insight into how the novel came about and what it was about - an unusually genuine enhancement (most introductions end up disappointing).

I read this as I bought it as part of one of The Book People's special deals (10 volumes of WSM for some ridculously cheap price from Vintage, whose productions I generally really enjoy), and I'd always fancied giving Maugham a go. I'm glad I did, and am looking forward to trying some of the others now!

Edited by willoyd

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Great review of Cakes & Ale Willoyd :smile: One of my favourites of his is The Moon & Sixpence inspired by the life of Paul Gaugin. Coincidentally I picked up a copy of his short stories in a charity shop the other day & I see Eliza is reading Of Human Bondage. I read quite a lot of his books but years ago so they're a bit hazy in my memory but I don't remember disliking any of them but of course it's all a matter of taste I suppose :D

 

Re: The Book Of Human Skin I found it difficult to get into at first but once I got into the characters I did enjoy it though I did find the ending a little disappointing.

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Great review of Cakes & Ale Willoyd :smile: One of my favourites of his is The Moon & Sixpence inspired by the life of Paul Gaugin. Coincidentally I picked up a copy of his short stories in a charity shop the other day & I see Eliza is reading Of Human Bondage.

Thank you! I must try both of those - several people have recommended the latter to me as his 'masterpiece'.

 

Re: The Book Of Human Skin I found it difficult to get into at first but once I got into the characters I did enjoy it though I did find the ending a little disappointing.

I can see that being the case (and I really enjoyedThe Floating Book). However, with the large backlog on my TBR pile, I've decided to be rigorously brutal in selection, and the Guiddo passages were just too irritating!

Edited by willoyd

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However, with the large backlog on my TBR pile, I've decided to be rigorously brutal in selection, and the Guiddo passages were just too irritating!

 

Oh yes I know what you mean it's hard to stick with a book your not enjoying when you've got so many waiting in the wings :smile:

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I read this as I bought it as part of one of The Book People's special deals (10 volumes of WSM for some ridculously cheap price from Vintage, whose productions I generally really enjoy), and I'd always fancied giving Maugham a go. I'm glad I did, and am looking forward to trying some of the others now!

 

Ooh, lucky you! I've bought several Vintage Maugham's, including the four collections of short stories. I've never actually read anything by him though, and I must admit that I've been a bit daunted to try for some reason. I'm so glad you found him to be readable. :)

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The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro ****

A Booker Prize winner subsequently made into a film that might even be better known, this short novel takes the form of the written reminiscences (almost a diary) of Stevens, long term butler at Darlington Hall, once home to Lord Darlington, now owned by an American. The new owner suggests that Stevens takes a motoring holiday in the West Country, to which Stevens eventually acquiesces, mainly because it will be an opportunity to visit the ex-housekeeper, Miss Kenton (now married).

 

As Stevens travels westwards, his entries gradually reveal more and more of his character, his relationship with Miss Kenton, and of the household that they have served: Lord Darlington is heavily involved in interwar diplomacy and relationships between Britain and Germany. The outcomes will be familiar to many - I haven't come across many who haven't read this book or seen the film (other than me until now!) - but I won't elucidate further, as the gradual lifting of the curtain is one of the key aspects of the book. Suffice to say that the curtain is very delicately raised, one learning what happens almost as asides.

 

The book is a beautifully written character study, not just of Stevens, as one learns almost as much of Miss Kenton, in spite of the fact that we never see her directly - all we know of her is what Stevens reports. So much of what we do learn about, we have to read between the lines, as Stevens's ability to understand and relate to others is hopelessly repressed by his dedication to his vocation, and maintaining the 'dignity' which he sees as essential to his aspirations to be one of the 'greats'. It's fascinating to see how the author ensures that we are absolutely clear as to how people feel, or about what is actually going on, whilst Stevens, our reporter, remains completely ignorant. Whether he himself eventually understands, the reader will have to find out for themselves, enjoying Ishiguro's simple but elegant prose as they go!

 

So, why only four stars? I'm not really sure, and this may eventually turn out to be a book that I rerate (higher). It was a book that I stayed up late to read, so it certainly falls into the unputdownable category, but I have to admit being left with a certain degree of disengagement that stopped me giving any more. Whether it was not being able to relate to the lifestyle, or the character, or....I can't really tell, but whilst I found it very easy to finish, indeed really wanted to keep reading, there was always a small part of me that was left thinking "I'm really not relating to this." Maybe it was a little bit too cool and elegant? However, it is a really good book, and one which many people rate far more highly than me. Certainly much more worthy of the Booker than some I've read (or, at least, tried reading!).

Edited by willoyd

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Ooh, lucky you! I've bought several Vintage Maugham's, including the four collections of short stories. I've never actually read anything by him though, and I must admit that I've been a bit daunted to try for some reason. I'm so glad you found him to be readable. :)

I found him quite daunting as well, but he's definitely not once you get going!

 

What a wonderful review on Cakes and Ale, it's going on my wishlist! Thanks very much :smile2:

Hope it lives up to expectations (or, at least, the review does!).

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Reading notes for week to May 18th

 

After rattling through Remains of the Day, I settled down during the later part of the week to the much bigger read provided by Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver, the first in the three volume Baroque Cycle. However, soon discovered that the book was too big to commute to work with, and the print size was too small to comfortably read. Investigation on the Amazon site showed that the Kindle version is due out at the end of the month, so decided to wait till that emerged: Quicksilver promises much having read the first 40-50 pages, but book size and point size were just incompatible with comfortable reading.

 

So, I swapped to another long awaited read, Jamrach's Menagerie, which I'm almost a hundred pages through, and which is proving so far to be a superb read; I was so absorbed this morning on the train that I almost forgot my stop, and had to dive for the doors! In the meantime, all three of the Baroque volumes will be available on the Kindle at the end of the month - fortuitous timing!

 

Book acquisitions: some really nice hardback copies of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast Trilogy, Patrick O'Brian's The Nutmeg of Consolation and Clarissa Oakes, and Sir Walter Scott's Waverley. Again, all but the Scott were doubly attractive owing to the typefaces being enjoyable to read, unlike their paperback counterparts. Getting to be more and more of a deciding factor nowadays. Also a paperback copy of Love, Sex, Death and Words, a collection of a year's worth daily entries on book related topics, by John Sutherland and Stephen Fender. This last is sat next to my bed, and is already subject to much dipping into - it's fascinating.

Edited by willoyd

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Will be interested to read what you think of Quicksilver Willoyd it's on my TBR pile as well, it was a bit of an impulse buy as it's not usually something I would normally go for :smile:

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Will be interested to read what you think of Quicksilver Willoyd it's on my TBR pile as well, it was a bit of an impulse buy as it's not usually something I would normally go for :smile:

I'm pretty optimistic, as Cryptonomicon earned a six-star rating when I read it a few years ago. Big read too! In the meantime:

 

Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch *****

Set in the 19th century, Jamrach's Menagerie is the story of Jaffy Brown, narrated by his older self, who, aged eight, encounters an escaped tiger in the street, an event which changes his life, as it results in him working for the tiger's owner, Mr Jamrach, which in turn leads to him going to sea to hunt 'dragons' (Komodos), with major, and on occasions horrific, consequences.

 

It was easy to see why this book achieved both the Booker and Orange shortlists, and, for me, it was a vastly better read than the rather mannered winner of the former. Birch has a very 'rich' style of writing, matching in a way the historical setting, heavily, almost floridly, descriptive, pulling hard on all the senses. Some commentators have likened the book to Moby Dick, and I can see where they're coming from, although this is, for the twenty-first century reader, a much more straightforward read.

 

For some perverse reason, I always make a bee-line for the one and two star reviews on Amazon of books that I have read - BTW, I'm glad I didn't go before as there are innumerable plot spoilers amongst them - and amongst the 100+ reviews, there are a fair few. I have to say, on this occasion, they strike me as written by those who misunderstood the book. This is perhaps not surprising, as the blurb is particularly misleading here, giving the impression of a rather twee Doctor Dolittle type story. It is anything but, as Birch shows the narrator nature at its rawest, red in tooth and claw (literally!), before forcing him to recognise that, in extremis, humans might not be so very different. There is no doubt that some scenes are long, but they need to be for the reader to feel the full force of what is happening to the characters. Others, on the other hand, are some of the most exciting I've read in a long while; perhaps not surprisingly, they almost all involved the interaction between human and wild animal

 

Overall, I found this a very powerful novel, both in the language and in the story. It's not one that I'm going to read again in a hurry, but that's because there is unlikely to be any need to; I'm not sure it's one I'd really want to live through again in a hurry! It'll certainly be contender for my own novel of the year.

Edited by willoyd

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