Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Fugitive - post II

Apologies after a good morning fell asleep on the way home so only managed 50 pages.

The old saying ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ could well apply to the time Marcel is now spending trying to fill in blanks in Albertine’s past.

Bullet points from pages 490 - 540

* The death of Albertine is still taking time to sink in and he feels a mixture of love and jealously as he remembers what happened between them and comes to the conclusion that she in a way killed herself by leaving him and going off horse riding

* The problem is that despite the fact that she is dead Marcel cannot get the jealous thoughts out of his head so he recruits Aime the waiter from the hotel in Balbec to go back to the seaside resort and check on Albertine’s credentials on the lesbian front

* While he waits for the reply he realises that he has forgotten his grandmother, never thinks of former loves Gilberte and Madame de Guermantes and so accepts that in time he will forget Albertine

* Mind you he is not going to forget her in a hurry if he keeps digging up her past and Aime returns with a story that collaborates his suspicions of her being a lesbian and then he goes the extra mile and digs up even more details involving a laundry girl leaving Marcel's head spinning

How far will he go on his quest for the truth or will he move on? maybe some answers will come tomorrow...

The Ghost-seer - spooky lunch post I

As it is Halloween today I have started some lunch time reading with a spookyish theme so have opted for The Ghost-seer by Friedrich von Schiller.

Highlights from the first 25 pages

* The story in book one evolves around a Prince and his friend who are based in Venice and keep coming across a mysterious Armenian who seems to be able to predict the future

* Mysterious things keep happening that are part illusion and part magical and there is a scene where a sorcerer says that he can summon an apparition of someone who has died

* The doors rattle and the shutters slam and an apparition appears but then the police break in and expose it as a sham and are set to arrest everyone but a Russian solider, who turns out to be the Armenian shows the police officer a piece of paper and they are released

* The Armenian disappears but the Prince asks the officers who the man was and they reply that they didn’t know him but he is part of the inquisition but the Prince says that the way he acts and inspired fear in the sorcerer that was not human…the mystery deepens

I’ll read some more tomorrow…

The Pilkington philosophy

On the free podcast by Ricky Gervais available on the Guardian website there is a bit of the dialogue when Karl Pilkington, who has a book out about himself The World of Karl Pilkington, says that he is refusing to do promotion for the book. His attitude makes a refreshing change to the numerous celebs on the television currently plugging their books for the Christmas season.

“I have bought books without people telling me to buy stuff,” he adds ”I am sick and tired of putting tele on or the radio and having people telling me you have got buy this or you have got to buy that. I don’t have to do anything I’ll have a look myself when I am in a bookshop.”

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Fugitive - post I

This is the sixth volume in the seven volume opus Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust. The Captive, the preceding volume, ended with Albertine leaving Marcel and the story in Volume VI picks up on that story.

In case you are wondering about the page numbers I am reading a three volume set by Chatto & Windus that includes volumes V, VI and VII all in a single book.

Bullet points from pages 425 – 490

* With Albertine gone Marcel can’t quite believe it and keeps expecting her to return and not only tries to convince himself of that but also Francoise who is over the moon that she has left

* He gets his friend Saint-Loup to go and visit her at her Aunts and try to get her to come back but the mission is a failure and it gets Albertine to write to him and imply that he should not have sent messengers

* In response he writes a malicious letter that talks about the Rolls Royce and yacht he would have bought her and the hand in marriage she just missed out on but she replies in an equally teasing way telling him not to waste his money on cars

* He decides that maybe jealousy will work so writes to her asking if she would have any objections if he transfers his affections to her friend Andree but she writes two letters back the first saying that is no problem and the second asking for a rethink and an invitation for herself of a return to his life

* The problem is he receives this letter after the telegram from her aunt explaining that Albertine has dies in a horse accident - a piece of news that understandably sends Marcel into deep grief

Where will he go from here? More tomorrow…

Style at a price

An interesting piece in The Guardian on Saturday talked about the iconic design of the Penguin classics, which celebrate their 60th anniversary, and how the book format became so important. To celebrtate the publisher has commissioned various people to come up with the art work for the covers including artist Sam Taylor-Wood, fashion designer Paul Smithand the graphic designers Fuel who could each take any book and design what they wanted. The books are limited to 1,000 copies coming in a perspex slip case and come with a price tag of £100 per book. The publisher is describing them as “The most stylish gift to give this Christmas”. Somehow I can’t quite see my wife taking that view.

Anyway of all the book designs Penguin is the one that continually gets the recognition and over the past couple of years I have seen the exhibition of Great Ideas book jackets that were short listed in the Design Museum Design awards and an exhibition of book covers at the V&A. You walked away from both exhibitions appreciating the work that goes into thinking about book jacket design but you also felt, particularly at the V&A exhibition that perhaps the publisher is at risk of getting trapped in a certain style and that perhaps on some titles the covers get revised far to often.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Bookmark of the week

I have always been a big Tintin fan and this is a bookmark set that includes most of the main characters including TinTin, Captain Haddock and of course Snowy.

Book of books – Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk

As explained in the introduction this is by a Russian author Nikolai Leskov who is not too well known because his work was not only censored but it seemed to have been overlooked by quite a few people and then was seen as unfashionable. As the introduction points out that is a shame because he is a voice that has something to say and his writing deserves to be appreciated by a wider audience.

Plot summary
The main character of Katerina Lvnova is married to a rich merchant and lives with him and her father-in-law. Her life is one of complete boredom and in a period when both her husband and father-in-law are away trying to repair a mill she is seduced by the steward Sergei who hopes to use her to become rich. The first barrier is the father-in-law who finds them together and is poisoned by Katerina. Then the husband returns and is killed by the pair of them and buried in the cellar. After those two killings they think they have the estate but a child heir with a half share emerges and so they silence him through suffocation but are seen in the act and a mob catches them. In prison and then on the way to penal servitude in Siberia Katerina only dreams of Sergei but he finds another lover on the long march to Siberia and in a moment of madness/revenge as the prisoners cross the Volga in a ferry Katerina grabs her rival and drowns her and herself.

Is it well written?
The story runs pretty quickly and there are some moments when you wish there could have been more description but it seems to hope from murder to murder. The most emotive bit is at the end when Katerina feels wronged and then the moment when she drags her rival to the depths is incredibly powerful. But you are left with too many questions. For instance you don’t get too much of an insight into why Sergei changes his attitude to Katerina other than thumbnail sketches a sort of dot-to-dot of lust, murder, bitterness and then the conclusion.

Should it be read?
If you were going to read a Russian author it would not be Leskov because there are so many other greats that are already recognised. That said it might be unfair to avoid it but it certainly would not be the first stop before Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Pushkin and Oblomov, and that’s just for starters. Read it at some point though to see what Lady Macbeth transported to Russia looks and feels like.

Leads to
Probably more Russian authors including some of those listed above.

Version read – Hesperus paperback

Book of books – The Death of Ivan Ilyich

This short book by Leo Tolstoy comes with some blurb on the front that says it is a book that encourages the readers to think about their own life

Plot summary
The story obviously evolves around Ivan Ilyich who you discover is dead in the first couple of paragraphs. Then the rest of the book is about the back-story and his life, which seems to be very successful in terms of work, mixed on the marriage front because he drifts apart from his wife and his children don’t seem to care very much for him. After losing out in the promotion race Ilyich heads off to Petersburg to get a better job and gets one. He gets a house ready for his family and while hanging curtains falls and hits his side, which becomes the source of all of his future troubles. As he starts to slide towards death he struggles to understand why it is happening to him and has to conclude that he is being punished for the life he has lead. His personal revelation doesn’t seem to be shared by anyone else and he dies alone and in a great deal of pain.

Is it well written?
Because of the title and the opening page you realise the subject of the book dies so you are waiting to find out what the story is about wondering if he is a victim of jealous rivals or some other plot. But it turns out that the real battle is with his own past and in the end he loses that realising that his life has been going in the wrong direction. Tolstoy keeps you waiting until near the very end to discover how things will play themselves out and for a 106 page book that is a real achievement. He crams in tension and emotion that other novelists would need three or four times the same space to get the message across.

Should it be read?
The beauty of the story once it gets past the start where numerous Russian names are thrown around it settles down to a pretty limited cast and then it focuses in on Ivan. As a book that is thought provoking it is pretty hard to beat and as a read that has a depth that is much more than its page length. At 106 pages what really is stopping you from knocking this off in a very short space of time?

Leads to
Other Tolstoy books have the reputation of being very long so it might be a bit of a jump from this to War and Peace but that same detailed characterisation on display in Ivan is also in that book but writ large and there is also Anna Karenina, which will also provoke a range of emotions caused purely by brilliant characterisation.

Version read – penguin paperback red

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk - holiday post II

Talk about tragedy against the backdrop of an emotive landscape and it’s hard to beat the image of convicts crossing the Volga in a ferry in violent water.

Highlights from the second half of the book -chapters 9 – 15

* Having killed the husband and the father-in-law things look good but all of a sudden another heir with a right to half the estate emerges a young boy that moves in with his aunt to wait until he is old enough to enjoy his share of the business

* Katerina decides to dispose of the barrier to their happiness and one night when she is left alone in charge she gives the nod to Sergei and they kill the boy by holding a pillow over his face

* They are seen because people in the village are keen to see what the lovers get up to and someone sees them killing the boy and a mob break into the house and after he is taken to the Police Station Sergei confesses and gets them to dig up the husband

* Katerina gives up the baby from the relationship and only lives for the moment when they will set off on their trek to Siberia but two other women convicts get Sergei’s attention and in the end he starts to taunt her and shows a cruelty that is designed to hurt her presumably because he blames her for his misfortunes

* As they cross the Volga on a ferry Katerina is continually taunted and in a moment she drags the other woman to the depths and despite attempts to save her makes sure that the woman who took Sergei’s heart dies

Powerful stuff and it reminded me of something I learnt studying Macbeth at school, which is that once you have killed once it leads to more and it is always easier the second, third and fourth times around.

Will post a review tomorrow.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk – holiday reading post I

After reading a slim Tolstoy novel I thought it a good idea to squeeze in this short novella by Nikolai Leskov another Russian writer.

The introduction explains that for some reason Leskov is not as well known in the West as other writers, which is a shame because he has a number of good works to his name, and as a result this is a largely unknown work. It also explains that he was not the first to introduce a Shakespearian character into Russian, but the idea of a Macbeth type figure set in a bleak Russian landscape works well according to critics cited in the intro.

Highlights from the first half of the book – chapters 1 - 8

* The story is essentially about a woman, Katerina Lvovna who is married to a merchant double her age and lives in a house with her husband and father-in-law but she is bored and when they are absent for a time repairing a mill she comes under the attention of the steward Sergei Filipych

* They start having an affair and when discovered by the father-in-law, who has returned alone from the Mill operation, Katerina kills him and buries him before her husband gets home

* She then becomes more blatant with Sergei and starts to dream about a cat, which turns out to be the ghost of the father-in-law, which wakes her one night just before her husband returns unexpectedly

* The couple argue and she introduces her lover and then between them they finish him off with a crushed windpipe and a candlestick to the head and then bury him in the cellar

Will they be caught and who is the next victim? Find out tomorrow…

A turn on?

There is a small piece in the Independent today about the launch of a book programme on Sky that will interview authors and get discussions going around books. The piece in the Indy makes the point that none of the terrestrial networks seem to have been able to sustain a books programme.
I have always found that part of the reason why those programmes led to me switching off is that they always appeared to be like a club. The same old faces kept propping up to talk about literature and that sense of a being offered a fortunate glimpse of an insiders world actually made me turn away from it. Let’s hope the formula on the new show gets it right.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich - holiday post III

This might not be the best book to give to someone who is facing the end of their days but for the rest of us it does provide some serious food for thought

Highlights from chapters 7 - 12

* As the months go by Ivan weakens and becomes a sorry figure looking for sympathy and only able to find it from a peasant who hold up his legs fo him to ease the pain at night

* Nothing the doctors say brings any relief and he hates his wife more than ever

* But he starts a dialogue with his soul and comes to the conclusion that he is being punished for leading a bad life an no matter how much he tells himself otherwise he believes this can be the only answer for what is happening to him

* He gets to the point where he loses hope and accepts the judgement and after three days sacreaming with a brief repsite towards the end when he sees his son and wife he dies knowing that he in someway deserved it for the way he lead his life

Will post a full review on Saturday

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Death of Ivan Ilyich - holiday post II

The emotions Tolstoy expresses through Ivan Ilyich are powerful and distressing and make you wonder how you would feel in a similar position. The mind can be a very dangerous place when all you can think about is death…

Highlights from chapters 3 - 6

* The progress of Ivan Ilyich is suddenly stopped when he gets passed over for promotion so he heads off the St Petersburg to get a better job and a lucky twist of fortune means he knows someone able to give him a good position

* He acquires a flat and does it up to perfection but while showing a curtain maker how to hang a drape he falls and bangs his side. His family move in and he starts to complain of a funny taste in his mouth and a pain in his side but it doesn’t seem to distract from his life of social whirling too much

* He goes to the doctor and starts to believe he is dying and becomes obsessed with his health and visits numerous doctors all looking for a way out of the illness

* Worst of all his family don’t seem to care: “And he has to live like this on the edge of destruction, alone, with nobody at all to understand and pity him.” Pg 51

* His brother-in-law comes to visit and is shocked at his appearance and describes him to his sister as a dead man walking and this then sparks off a further visit by Ivan to a doctor but then he seems to end the night resigned to death and hating his wife with every fibre of his body

* He tries to bury himself in work but that doesn’t help and he then uses the chance to rearrange the house as a way of distracting himself from the pain and focusing on ‘It’ the thing eating away at him but he knows that time is running out

More tomorrow…

Book of books – The Captive

This is the fifth volume in Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust and it is one of the shortest volumes so far coming in at 422 pages and maybe it is as a result of that that the book feels tighter in story and locations than the other four volumes

Plot summary
Marcel is living with Albertine in his apartment but despite having a live in mistress is consumed by jealousy and convinced that she is a lesbian. He asks people to spy on her, controls her movement and then seems to get some sort of fuel for his fire because she does constantly lie. He threatens to leave her and gets a great many confessions of deceit out of her but in the end he backs down and asks her to stay, revealing his weakness. The question you are asking from the start is: who is the captive but with the volume ending with Albertine escaping the apartment and leaving the answer, if it was in doubt, becomes clear.

Is it well written?
The sense of captivity is one you pick up as a reader so you feel worn down by the repetition of argument; the constant living in fear and the limited world of Marcel’s apartment soon becomes a prison cell. When he does finally go out he comes across De Charlus who is experiencing a similar form of captivity of the heart with Morel the musician. This volume feels very much like a landing stage that you have to spend some time on before heading off towards the climax of this seven volume work.

Should it be read?
If you have embarked on a mission to read the entire story then you can hardly skip a volume. It is sometimes hard to stick with it because your empathy for Marcel is nearing zero and the tolerance of his society is also hovering close to the indifferent mark on the barometer of interest. What keeps you going is that this has to be going somewhere and all the way through you hop that either he or Albertine will have the guts to make a break in the relationship. When it finally happens there is a sense of relief and the time is right to move the story on.

Leads to
The final two volumes of Remembrance of Things Past or other Proust type books, of which in recent weeks I have read and posted reviews of Nabokov’s Speak, Memory and Dreams of My Russian Summers by Makine.

Version read – Chatto & Windus hardback published in 1982

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Save me Santa

It’s almost impossible not to go all 'bah-humbug' when you see the celebrity authors lining up to sell their wares in time for the Christmas market. Only two days into this week and yesterday on the way to get petrol I switched on the radio and there was Billie Piper promoting her book Growing Pains on Simon Mayo’s Radio Five Live show. Then this morning on BBC Breakfast up pops Griff Rhys Jones to talk about his childhood memoirs, Semi Detached.
There seems to be no escape from the avalanche of books being written by people that would do a great deal better to either do a bit more growing and then tell us all about it or keep things to themselves. Okay so I haven’t read either book and neither do I have any plans to do so, but you get the point that the scales of book production have been overloaded with celebrity life stories in the run-up to Christmas.
Remember a book isn’t just going to be read on Christmas Day, it might end up on your shelf for ever, so choose a good one.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich - holiday post I

The plan for this week of holiday was that I picked a couple of light reads and in between playing with my son who is on half term I could knock off a couple of books. The plan got slightly derailed by the Proust that dragged into Monday so now I am going to put up bullet points for the first third of The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy.

Here are the highlights of the first two chapters

* The story starts in the law courts with the news of Ivan Ilyich’s death being discussed by colleagues who have something to gain – in promotions – from his demise

* One of his colleagues Pytor Ivanovich decides to go to the funeral, although he tries to escape before its starts to go and play cards, but gets caught by the widow who wants his advice about how to get money out of treasury in death benefits

* He then leaves and heads off to play cards as originally intended but you are left with the feeling that the family, the son and daughter especially, seem to hold him somehow responsible for their father’s death, which was an agony of screaming that lasted three days

* The second chapter fills in the personal background on the dead man with him the being the second of three brothers and not the best or the worst and a gifted social adapter that had pulled himself up in the legal profession to die at the age of 45

* Things are going well, he meets and marries a well respected girl, but as she gets closer to delivering her first child she becomes jealous and demanding and crabby and this only gets worse leading to him focusing on his work and the husband and wife drifting apart

More tomorrow…

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Captive - post VII

Well we got there in the end. My excuse is that it is half term and I am now meant to be on holiday – in fact I worked hard today and cheesed my wife off on our anniversary – but still without the commute the reading is harder to get done.

The fifth volume ends on a knife-edge as Albertine walks out on him and despite telling himself he no longer cares for her he is crushed.

Bullet points between pages 362 - 422

* Having told her to leave of course Marcel relents and asks her to stay and they can see how it goes week by week and then he slips back into the relationship based at the house

* The difference is that of course having been told the things she told him after he returned from the Verdurin’s he is both free from some demons but looking for new ones and you sense there is a truce with his jealousy and distrust abated for the moment

* In a passage where Marcel discusses literature he goes into detail about Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy criticising them for repeating the same characters throughout their novels. Some of the criticism seems a bit harsh because most Russian literature depends on a certain amount of stereotype

* He realises that he cannot possess Albertine and as a result the fears and insecurities return and start to focus on her friendship with Andree but he admits that when he is not jealous he is bored

* Using the ruse of anonymous letters he starts to tackle her on all of his speculations over her lesbian affair but he always backs down and apologises in the face of her denials and show of temper

* An aeroplane in the sky becomes a metaphor for his lost freedom and he decides that it is time for him to pursue some of his own dreams

“Yes, I must go, the time has come. Now that Albertine no longer appeared to be angry with me, the possession of her no longer seemed to me a treasure in exchange for which one is prepared to sacrifice every other.”pg 420

She beats him to it and disappears bringing the curtain down on Volume V.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

bookmark of the week

This is one of those film tie-ins that some people probably think is a bit naff but I quite like it because it is one of a set featuring the main characters from the first film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Captive - post VI

Getting closer to the end and this reminds me of the time when I was in a relationship that had gone stale and the result of a bit of ill-judged bluff calling was that it ended. Marcel would be wise to learn that you can only threaten to end it with power once and then each time after that becomes weaker and weaker. In case you are wondering I was the liberated captive not the victim of my personal experience of the leaving threat

Bullet points between pages 332 - 362

* The trip out to the Verdurin's makes Marcel realise that he is the captive going back to his jail after a rare night out and that probably influences his frame of mind, which provokes a fight with Albertine

* As he mentions he went to the Verdurin's she is angry and believes he went there to find out the truth of what she had been telling him about some of her relationships with some of the guests in the salon

* As a result she spills the beans and starts telling him about lies she has uttered and it starts to destroy his faith in her so he asks her to leave in the morning and never see him again - but of course he doesn't want that and he starts to waver without the strength to hand her back her freedom

The conclusion comes tomorrow and as it stands it's hard to see how Marcel can get his freedom back when he values it beneath is control over Albertine

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Captive - Post V

I don't know if you ever get one of those weeks at work when you barely get time to think, your heart is pumping double-time and you feel jet-lagged all the time? That's been my problem this week and as a result it has been hard to stay away on the train home and read. So that's my excuse for struggling to get through a 422 page book this week.

Bullet points from pages 284 - 332

* Charlus is distracted while the Verdurin's plant the poison into Morel and they are successful in convincing him that Charlus has been mocking him for his humble roots and he tells his besoted friend to never come near him again

* Marcel expects fireworks but instead Charlus is in shock and then following the rupture with Morel and and the Verdurins is seriously ill

* Against this background this is the first time in this book that Marcel has ventured out alone and he starts to realise that Albertine is a "ball and chain" that is keeping him stuck to Paris

There are around 90 pages left to go over thw weekend and you sense that potentiallly both Charlus and Marcel will be free of captivity at the end of it. We will have to wait and see...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Captive - Post IV

The predicted problems of Charlus - an inevitable run in with someone over his sexuality - seems to be on the brink of happening as he brings down the wrath of Madame de Verdurin. All should become clear in tomorrow’s reading but for now here is the build up to the confrontation

Bullet points between pages 212 – 284

* There are real parallels between the pain that Marcel feels over his jealousy around Albertine and the jealously Charlus feels for the violinist Morel

* You start to appreciate how much they have in common when they meet and talk at a party being thrown by Charlus at the Verdurin's house

* An audience of quality people comes to the house to see Morel and the other musicians play but at both the beginning and end of the evening M. de Charlus makes a huge mistake in not thanking the hostess and if anything attacking her

* In response Madame de Verdurin asks her husband to speak to Morel to get him to choose between her company or the Baron’s and then starts spreading lies about Charlus having been in prison

It should get all rather interesting tomorrow in the battle of the society hostesses…

Sticking with paper?

The book world might well be looking over its shoulder at what is happening in the music business. As Keane becomes the first band to release its single, Nothing in My Way, on USB memory stick you wonder how long it will take before the first book comes out on memory stick to encourage people to use products like the Sony Reader.
It certainly offers the potential to add things like author interviews (video as well as text), a biography and other material that will add a great deal of value. Who knows when The Guardian will get the chance to write about books on memory sticks as well as music?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Captive - post III

A welcome move of the spotlight away from the relationship between Albertine and Marcel as other locations and characters make a reappearance

Bullet points between pages 154 - 212

* Bergotte, the writer who had so inspired Marcel, dies while studying a Vermeer painting in a gallery and his death exposes Albertine's lying because she says she was with him at a time when he was already dead

* Continuing on the death theme it is then revealed that Swann, who had predicted his own death through a terminal illness, has died and Marcel only passes this information onto the reader when he is reminded of it on a trip to the Verdurin's home

* The triangle between Morel, Baron de Charlus and Jupien's niece is heading for tragedy as Morel looks to get out of the marriage plans and escape the pressure to keep with her being exerted by Charlus

* The subject of lying is touched on and Proust addresses the reader admitting that even he has to lie in his account because it is easier to edit out certain events to make the story more digestible

* As he gets more desperate for kicks Charlus becomes even more camp and his language to men is very sexual so expect some more fun and games from him as he camps it up and gets caught out in a less tolerant branch of society

More tomorrow...

Parents failing to make the effort

Reading to children is something that is pretty close to my heart having two boys, one of which has just started school. So it was with interest that I read through the article in the Times today that reports that according to research from Pearson one in ten parents never reads to their children and it is the dads who are the most likely to be failing to read with their children. The tragic thing is of course is that if you fail to read with them when books are mainly pictures and very thin then how on earth are they going to discover the love of reading and have the interest to read alone thick tomes like Proust when they are older?
Pearson’s answer is to distribute a large number of free books to schools. The problem with that is of course it still doesn’t guarantee that once the books come home any of the parents will read them with their children.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

biggest blog in history

there is still time to join the masses trying to make the history matters blog the biggest in history (get the pun). I have just put the details of my day up online and if you click on the History Matters site before midnight then you can join in the fun.

The captive - post II

I have to admit that there are times when if you came across the jealous possesive Marcel there would be a serious temptation to tell him to get ba grip and stop being such an idiot. That said there is always the situation you find yourself reading about it that you know there is some pain coming his way so you could always keep quiet and wait for that to shake him up.

Bullet points from pages 60 - 153

* The relationship between Marcel, he finally gives the narrator that name, is getting more strained because of his jealousy

* His control over her surely cannot go on for much longer and there are hints that those people who he hopes will spy on her are actually on her side and spinning him lies to keep Albertine's movements secret

* The captive status of Albertine is putting a strain on his relationship with his mother and Francoise the servant who continues to live with him in his apartment

Things are left at this stage with him working himself up into a state, rarely going out, and losing trust in everyone around him. The title of the volume really applies to Marcel and just like Swann and Saint-Loup before him the only hope is that he sees sense and snaps out of it before it drives him crazy

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Captive - post I

Picking up on the Marcel Proust again with Volume V the story starts in familiar fashion with some of the main characters making an appearance in the first sixty pages

Bullet points between pages 1 - 60

* Albertine is now living in Marcel's apartment as a captive, hence the title, although there are other captives as you will see, and reports her movements to him on a daily basis

* Marcel is a captive to his jealously and can't seem to trust Albertine - still suspecting her of being a closet lesbian

* Baron de Charlus is captive to his fear of losing control over Morel, the violinist he is in love with, and as a compromise plans to control both Morel and his bride, should he end up marrying the tailor's daughter

So there are plenty of people captive to feeelings and situations they might well try to get out of so it should get interesting this week...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

book of books - Guermantes Way & Cities of the Plain

My wife is a big fan of Lost and I read somewhere that they had made season one about the crash, two about the hatch and season three was going to be about the others. Using that sort of sweeping thematic approach with Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things past it seems the volume III is all about the Guermantes family and volume IV all about Albertine.

This is the second volume of three published by Chatto & Windus including The Guermantes Way and Cities of the Plain.

Plot summary
The Guermantes Way
The family move into an apartment in the Guermantes building and Marcel falls in love with the Duchess de Guermantes and stalks her and imagines being with her. After a visit to her nephew Saint-Loup at the army barracks he is stationed at not too far from Balbec, his interest in the Duchess peaks and after he has got over her he is introduced into her social world. What makes the break is that he is totally distracted by the death of his grandmother, which takes quite a while to occur. Once into the Guermantes social circle he meets the duchess and her family, which includes the mysterious Baron de Charlus and also Swann makes an appearance in a terrible condition because he is dying of some sort of inherited disease. The volume becomes bogged down towards the end with details of the behaviour and conversation of people in the Guermantes salon, which is not of great interest after a while.

Cities of the Plain
Apart from the development of Marcel’s relationship with Albertine the other main theme of this volume, which is mainly based in Balbec by the coast, rather than Paris, is that it deals on numerous occasions with the subject of homosexuality. Firstly, Baron de Charlus is discovered to be homosexual and then Marcel has fears that Albertine might be a lesbian. These fears cause him to turn his back on the social scene with the Verdurin’s at Balbec and not just return to Paris with Albertine as virtual prisoner but also to tell his mother that he intends marrying her.

Is it well written?
The same comments made about the first couple of volumes also apply here. The style is a mixture of dense description and dialogue between characters and it feels as if you are stepping into someone’s dream. There are passages that quite simply take your breath away and there are other moments where he very simply moves the story on when there could have been an opportunity to stretch it out. But what you feel as a reader facing a long trek up to the summit of theses two volumes, which are among the longest of the seven, is that some parts get too bogged down. So after a while you start to lose an interest in what is happening in the salons of Paris or in Balbec and yearn for the characters to move on. Welcome relief does come in the form of some real comedy, increasingly around de Charlus, who you sense is heading for a comic fall over his secret homosexuality.

Should it be read?
It is of course almost impossible to walk away from the commitment to read these two volumes once you have embarked on the Remembrance of Things Past journey. I am rather hoping that much like the second book in the Lord of The Rings trilogy the pace will quicken slightly in the remaining three books as the story nears its conclusion. Having said that some of the passages are rich in description and mood and where the admiration for Proust grows is the consistency in his writing. To be able to keep up a style of such high quality for 2,000 odd pages is an achievement most writers will never live to achieve and so in that respect these two volumes can stand tall on their own merits.

Leads to
It goes without saying that it leads to the final three volumes of Remembrance of Things Past but also there are other writers, some of which I have read in between volumes of Proust, including Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory and Andrei Makine's Dreams of My Russian Summers, that are all said to be influenced by a Proustian style

Version Read – Chatto & Windus hardback 1982

bookmark of the week

I lived in Cambridge when I was growing up and a popular family day trip out was to Ely, which is famous for its cathedral. Known as "the ship of the Fens" because it looms large above a flat fenland landscape it is a cathedral that had a happy vibe, especially at Christmas time.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

book of books – Dreams of my Russian Summers

The reason for reading this in a break between volumes in Remembrance of Things Past is that Andrei Makine’s work is rather Proustian in that it is based on memory and the power of the past.

Plot summary
Andrei comes from a French and Russian background. Living in Russia but spending each summer with his French-speaking grandmother he develops an identity crisis coinciding with adolescence and tries to discover who he is. Part of that search is working out which is better – the lost France of Charlotte’s memories – or the Russia he lives in today. In the end it is unclear which wins other than the power of survival to cope in exile and he discovers that he has come from a bitterly sad Russian background and the Frenchness was more of an illusion that he thought.

Is it well written?
Unlike Proust who for most of the time is recollecting his own memories this relies heavily on the experiences of his grandmother and there are passages of narrative around her experiences in the world wars, civil war and revolution. Ironically Proust gets a couple of mentions being seen in Paris at the turn of the century by Makine’s grandmother. The story develops its own plot, which is whether or not he will see her again after leaving Russia and then ends with a twist that leaves both the author and the reader looking at all of the preceding relationships in a different light. Without that sense of victory/tragedy it would wane towards the end but it manages to keep going and it leaves you wondering where he goes next.

Should it be read?
The version of the book I purchased was a Reading Group special edition with some questions at the back to help start debates going and on the front the blurb said that it was a national bestseller in the US and had been short listed for various prizes. I stumbled across it by a web search on Proust and feel that it is one of those books that is all too easy to miss, which is a shame as it deserves to be read and for anyone with an interest in memory novels or Russian history this should be added to the reading list.

Leads to
More Russian history or literature to try and put a perspective on what it felt like to live through the war and then Stalinism. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a great short introduction to the brutality of the Stalinist Gulag system, which rears its head in Dreams of My Russian Summers

Version read – Scribner Paperback Fiction (Reading Group Edition)

book of books – Chronicle of a Death Foretold

This has been another slim volume lunchtime read by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and just like last week’s choice, No One Writes to The Colonel; it has a depth that is disguised by the smallish number of pages.

Plot summary
Against the backdrop of a marriage between a very rich relative new comer to the town, Bayardo San Roman who marries Angela Vicario but then rejects her because she is not a virgin and when confronted by her family she names Santiago Nasar as the man who took her honour. Her twin brothers kill Santiago in a very public way providing hours of notice of their plans hoping that someone would stop them. The story is told through memory and official document recollections by someone in the town determined to get to the bottom of the story 23 years later. The conclusion is that the whole town, which had plenty of warning about the crime, is guilty.

Is it well written?
The style is different with the murder being told from various different angles before the finger of blame turns on the town. What is more interesting than what is said is what is not so there is a clear suspicion that Santiago never touched Vicario but she named him thinking her twin brothers would never dare touch him; that the major and the priest in particular were guilty of failing their duty; and that the metaphor of the Bishop sailing by rather than stopping near the start of the tale is in fact the same thing most of the townsfolk are guilty of.

Should it be read?
It makes you think, it is written in a way that exposes the psychology of people jealous of wealth but proud in the poverty and it is a story that makes you think about what your reaction would have been. An ideal book to hand to someone who has walked past and accident expecting someone else to call for an ambulance. At 122 pages there is also little excuse in not fitting this slim volume in somewhere in your reading time.

Leads to
More Garcia Marquez or in my case a search for books of the same length to fill up my lunchtime reading time. One of the areas that most people overlook is the short story genre and so I might well start with some of those in the next few weeks.

Version read – Penguin paperback

Friday, October 13, 2006

Dreams of My Russian Summers - post IV

The book ends with the feeling of exile moving from the steppes of Siberia to a flat in Paris as Andrei is unable to go back to Russia and meet for one final time with Charlotte

Bullet points between pages 188 - 241

* Andrei spends a last summer with Charlotte and remembers the afternoon they got caught in a storm, hopped onto a moving train and then ate a cold meal in a powerless station cafe

* He then leaves fro Paris and spends 20 years away falling into some bad times before managing to get himself established as a novelist

* The question of whether or not Charlotte is still alive haunts him and he sends a contact to find out who reports back that she is in her 80s but alive and well leading to attempts by Andrei to get a passport to go back and visit her and try and bring her back to Paris

* He is refused a passport and then is informed that Charlotte has died and sent him a package which contains a letter that at first seems to contain a story unrelated to anything but then it reveals the true story of his mother and his relationships with Charlotte

* The ending, which is over with in just a few pages, indicates the love that Charlotte had to take him in and bring him up in her own family and the relationship between France and Russian within him has to change again

I will post a review tomorrow

Chronicle of a Death Foretold - lunch post V

The final chapter completes the story in a way that you sort of saw coming but didn’t expect to be executed quite as well as it is.

Bullet points from chapter five

* Having dealt with the victim, the murderers, the bride and the autopsy the final chapter deals with the town as a whole and the collective guilt they all feel over the crime and their responses to it

* The narrator, who has set out to dig over the past presents the results of his findings which include a detailed description of the murder and a one-by-one catalogue of responses to the crime

* Most people had the chance to warn the victim but even when he was warned no one went to his aid and the final irony is that it was his own mother who locked him out and allowed him to be carved up on the doorstep of his own home

I will post a full review tomorrow…

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Dreams of My Russian Summers - post III

This book is starting to develop a richness that at first is not apparent but much like Andrei's development as a person the book moves from distant memories of the rich and famous to the more personal

Bullet points between pages 120 - 188

* Following his interest in history it seems there is not much left about France at the turn of the century that Charlotte can tell her grandson but after his mother and father die and his aunt comes to stay a soviet view of the world is imposed

* Part of the Soviet view includes a different history and he learns about Beria, who used to choose women to rape and then make them disappear, and soon after he discovers that his grandmother was raped

* Rather than rebel against the Russian side of his character he starts to embrace it and as he does so is accepted much more by his classmates and his interest in girls starts to increase

* As he becomes again a point of mockery in the classroom he heads back to visit his grandmother without warning to confront her and blame her Frenchness for making him suffer but he finds her in a changed mood and together they discuss the past, her rape and the war and he discovers the difference when Charlotte treats him as a man

The final leg of this book comes tomorrow...

Chronicle of a Death Foretold - lunch post IV

As today is a press day on the magazine I work for lunch break has been squeezed so I have not been able to finish chapter four but till complete the posting tonight

Bullet points from chapter four

* The story moves on to focus on what happens after the murder and the autopsy, which is a disaster because no one knows what they are doing and in the end they have to bury the body in a hurry because it is decaying so quickly

* Back in prison the murderers are suffering from sleepless nights, fears of revenge attacks and illness that leads one of the twins to conclude that he is being poisoned

* The other victim of the soiled bride is of course the groom and he is found in the dream house he bought almost dead through alcholol poisoning and he is finally dragged off by his family leaving everything behind

* The narrator puts the story in a context revealing that he has gone back to interview the main witnesses 23 years later in an attempt to get more details about the murder and the events surrounding it

* Angela Vicario, the rejected bride writes to her five-hour husband for 17 years and finally he walks through the door with one suitcase full of clothes and another containing 2,000 letters and says that he has come back

It will be interesting to see how it all gets tied up in the last chapter over lunch tomorrow...

Cutting out the dead trees

There is a great deal of activity at the moment for people to brush up their green credentials and prove that they are carbon neutral and use sustainable materials and eco-friendly suppliers. When it comes to books the approach that seems to be the greenest is to check back where the paper has come from to ensure that it originates from a paper mill with links to logging companies that are environmentally sound.
An article in the latest issue of The Ecologist explains how Alison Kennedy, production director of Egmont UK book divisions , set out to publish books with a ethical product guarantee. One of the keys to it is to grade paper by origin with the worst type being stocks that come from unknown sources. After a great deal of hard work it seems that book printers are now starting to embrace the concept. To read more get the Ecologist because this article is not online.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Dreams of My Russian Summers - post II

I am afraid I have been off work sick today and as a result have had a splitting headache most of the day and not felt like reading as a result I have managed very few pages but here are the highlights.

Bullet points between pages 87 - 120

* The story follows Charlotte's experiences through the Second World War with some moments of fear, courage and luck as her and her husband both survive

* However the husband, who has ben declared dead by the authorities twice, returns at the end of the war and lasts barely a year and dies of his wounds

* Curious to know more about the enchanted France of the past, ot Atlantis as Makine calls it, he reads up on French history with the result that when he visits his grandmother next summer he knows a great deal and the innocence of before has gone

much more tomorrow..

Chronicle of a Death Foretold - lunch post III

Having been introduced to the victim in chapter one, the motive in chapter two in the third chapter we meet the killers

Bullet points from chapter three

* The twin brothers of Angela Vicario who is returned as a soiled bride by Bayardo San Roman set out to defend her honour by killing the man who took her virginity Santiago Nasar

* The chapter follows then as they set out to sharpen their knifes and tell everyone about their intentions to the moment when they are disarmed by the mayor but then set out again with different knifes to kill Nasar

* Despite the numerous people that saw them for various reasons the message fails to get through to the intended victim and he is killed by the brothers

* The chapter starts with them claiming that the crime is one of honour and that they are innocent of murder and the details included in the chapter lead you to believe that they are released after three years

More tomorrow...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Dreams of my Russian Summers - post I

Keeping with the Proustian style this is a book about growing up in Siberia and the memories handed down from grandmother to grandson and Andrei Makine is able to talk about his own reactions to those memories and add some biography of his grandmother

bullet points between pages 1 - 86

* The main characters in the story are Charlotte the grandmother Andrei and his sister and Albertine the great grandmother and the story starts when they spend a summer with their grandmother and she starts to share memories of the Tsar's visit to France at the turn of the 20th century

* The stories told against the backdrop of a blue-lamp lit balcony on the edge of the Siberian steppes is how they learn about the Tsar and the esteem he was held in before the first world war started

* Then Andrei reads a cutting about the abdication of the Tsar and his anger boils over because he feels the sentiments expressed by the French president were false and no-one helped them

* Following the end of the summer holidays there is a passage of biography that explains how Charlotte came to be in Siberia and some of the things she did and saw during the First World War, revolution, Civil War and the establishment of communism

* Some of the passages about the horrors of the Civil War are very moving as is the story of her trek back from Paris to Siberia to be reunited with her mother Albertine

* As you would expect in this type of fiction there is a mention for Proust who was seen in his Paris days by Charlotte and it does feel Proustian in that the power of the past, even when it is about the Tsar and Tsarina and not personal, can have a powerful impact on the dreams of those in the present

The major difference between this book and Proust and Nabokov's Speak, Memory is that the story is largely about someone else - in this case the grandmother - but that doesn't distract from what is a very engaging and moving tale

Chronicle of a Death Foretold - lunch post II

With the death of the character introduced already completed the second chapter turns the clock back to the wedding on the day before providing a motive for the murder

Bullet points from the second chapter

* The chapter focuses on Bayardo San Roman a rich son of a general who turns up in town with the express intention of getting married and then settles on Angela Vicario the daughter of a blind goldsmith and a teacher

* He sweeps her family off its feet and buys her the best house in the village and then spends thousands on a wedding feast

* He then returns his bride because she is not a virgin and after her mother has beaten her one of her brothers demands the name of the man who slept with her before the wedding and she tells them it is Santiago Nasar, the man who has been killed in the first chapter

book of books – Putin’s Russia

Although this review might not seem immediately related to current reading it is a way of remembering the murdered journalist and author Anna Politkovskaya who was a voice of conscience in a world of secrecy and corruption

When I read the book a couple of years ago the note I made in my book of books was: “This is journalism of the highest order and it is amazing that this woman hasn’t been killed.”

Contents summary
The reason for that is she lifts the rock and lights the darkness underneath in Putin’s Russia. She points out that Putin was KGB and now 6,000 jobs in the government system have gone to KGB cronies. One of the symptoms of the ill state of Russia is the way it treats those that are charged with defending the country and she catalogues solider abuse and the ruthlessness with which the hostages in the Moscow theatre, when they used gas without telling the victims what they used.

Of course what most people remember Politkovskaya for is her expose of what was really happening in the war in Chechnya and some of those abuses are covered here as well to illustrate the point about the approach Putin takes.

What really disgusts Politkovskaya is that the West are silent about the things that Putin does and help keep him in power.

Is it well written?
It is partly because of this book that Politkovskaya died last week and very few people have the guts to take on a regime that is prepared to go to extreme lengths to silence its critics. She knew that because the evidence was contained on the pages of her books and in her journalism but that didn’t stop her. It would be easy to get carried away with a tirade of anger but she manages to use a series of personal stories to illustrate a point that things are rotten in the state of Putin.

Should it be read?
For anyone interested in Russia and as a background to what has happened in Chechnya this is vital but for most people it is the sort of political/historical book that gets overlooked, which is a great shame.

Leads to – Either similar contemporary stuff, some of which is also by Politkovskaya, or back into the past, into the time of the Tsars.

Version read – Harvill Press paperback

Monday, October 09, 2006

Cities of the Plain - post VIII

The fourth volume finally ends in a rush of emotion and resolutions are made that could change things forever for Marcel. A great cliffhanger to take it onto Volume V.

Bullet points from pages 1110 - 1169

* The social scene of the area starts to bore Marcel and he struggles to keep interested in the comings and goings of the group as it all starts to become over familiar

* He tells his mother that he is going to break things off with Albertine because he has decided that he does not want to marry her and sets out to do just that but in a conversation there is a revelation that really disturbs him

* Albertine tells him that she knows well the lesbian daughter of the composer who wrote the music that both Marcel and Swann like and after that he has visions of Albertine with other women and sets out on a policy to isolate her from all women who might lead her astray

* The volume ends with him telling his mother that he has made a mistake and actually he wants to marry Albertine - but the reader knows that the motivation is mixed and not just out of love

I will post a full review in the next couple of days and start Volume V next week after a Proust break with some memoir style reading that will start tomorrow...

A note on Anna Politkovskaya

It is shocking to see freedom of speech silenced by a bullet. Over the weekend the response to the killing of Russian journalist and author Anna Politkovskaya has been one of understandable outrage. I remember after reading her book Putin's Russia thinking that it was incredible that someone was able to write a book like that and still be able to work as a jorunalist in Russia.
Her bravery allowed people like me, with an interest in Russia but complete outsiders, to get a glimpse of the world at the top of the pile in that country. Some might say it was inevitable she was going to be killed but the nature of her death provides a fresh credibility to her work about corrupt practices that Putin's government will hopefully find hard to brush under the carpet.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold - lunch post I

It is always interesting to read a book that comes with a different style. In this case Gabriel Garcia Marquez let's you know that the character that dominates the first chapter is about to be killed and in what reads almost like a coroner’s report you follow the man from waking up to the moment of murder.

Bullet points from the first chapter

The story starts with Santiago Nasar describing his dreams to his mother and then getting ready to head off in his best clothes to see the Bishop who was coming into the docks on a paddle steamer

Everybody except his family seems to know that there is a plan to kill him and the assassins are waiting with knifes wrapped in newspaper on benches in the square

Santiago sees the bishop sail by and tells the narrator’s sister that he plans a big wedding like the one that the town has just enjoyed and heads back to get changed to enjoy breakfast with the narrator’s family

The narrator’s mother discovers the plot to kill him and heads off to offer her support to the mother and as she gets near the square is told by a passer by that the murder has been committed.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Cities of the Plain - post VII

The fourth volume, set almost entirely in Balbec, is reaching its climax with the love between Marcel and Albertine growing and the behaviour of M. de Charlus becoming more obvious to those suspicious of his sexuality

Bullet points between pages 969 - 1109

* The meet-up at the Verdurins displays a mixture of boredom, bullying and showing off as a host of the faithful are abused and praised by the host and hostess. All play a part and anyone who is insulted has their ego massaged to ensure they will return

* The relationship between Morel the violinist and M. de Charlus appears to be platonic because the elderly aristocrat is quite capable of getting aroused through words as well as physical deeds

* In an earlier volume there was an interesting passage about the development of technology, in that instance the telephone, and there is another sequence where Marcel hires a motor car and is amazed at the distances it can cover compared to horses

“We realised this as soon as the vehicle, starting off, covered in one bound twenty paces of an excellent horse. Distances are only the relation of space to time and vary with it.” Pg 1029

* His possessiveness of Albertine provokes a comment by his mother who asks him to maybe take a break but he is clearly to the reader deeply in love with her and at that stage of the relationship where possession and jealously are the main emotions

* Sticking with the technology breakthroughs Marcel sees an aeroplane and bursts into tears at the sight of his first plane on horseback, a mode of transport he is forced to revert to after the car hire company recall the car to Paris

* In fact there have been some underhand dealings between the chauffeur of the car and Morel who gets him into a position as the Verdurin’s driver at the expense of the head coachman who is sacked

* There are a number of humorous mistakes that involved Baron de Charlus including M. Verdurin telling him that he is one of their sort and then Madame Cottard believing that he is Jewish when he is a protestant

* The problem for M. de Charlus is that everyone in the Verdurin’s circle has guessed at his sexuality and the more he thinks he is being clever by talking about “immoral acts” in conversation the more he is making a fool of himself, although he is well liked

* There is a laugh out loud moment when Charlus strokes Dr Cottard's hand and the Dr thinks he is going to be raped and has been asked to meet the Baron in a pub as some sort of elaborate trap

All that is left is a magical 60 pages and even I can manage that tomorrow...

bookmark of the week

A couple of weeks ago it was Banned Books Week in the US with libraries across the States encouraging people to read books which were either banned for their content or challenged because of specific passages. Along with posters the libraries also handed out free bookmarks. There might be more money in the US but there is a lot our own libraries could learn about how to stir up an interest in specific books.

In case you are wondering I don't live in the US but thanks to my parents who do I was able to get this bookmark.

Cities of the Plain - post VI

The story is getting slightly bogged down with the social world of the little group that attend the Verdurin's meet-ups on Wednesdays.

Bullet points from pages 915 - 969

* The group of the faithful travel by train to the Verdurins, who are renting a property for the season from the Cambremer's, and are joined by M.de Charlus and his latest conquest the violinist Morel

* Morel speaks to Marcel and begs him not to mention that his father was merely a valet for his Uncle and instead asks him to pretend his father ran all of the estates for his Uncle

* The interaction between the group is probably meant to be dull because it makes you realise what limited social company the Verdurin's must have been but despite that Marcel is still hanging in there

* His mother lets it slip that there are expectations that he might actually marry Albertine which doesn't get her approval or disapproval but she does say that she believes he can do much better

More of the remaining 200 pages tomorrow...

Saturday, October 07, 2006

book of books - No One Writes to the Colonel

This is the first slim book I have chosen to digest over my lunch break and it took less than two hours to get through this story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Plot Summary
The novel is essentially about two people – the colonel and his wife – plus an animal, the rooster that was left after their son died. Their son was shot for distributing clandestine literature in a town that is ruled by the authorities. The signs of the repressive regime include the curfew and the cinema being banned. The 60 odd pages cover the struggle the husband and wife have to get food on the table as they wait, as they have done for 15 years, for his war pension to turn up. Each Friday the mail boat comes in and each week it is empty of his letter leaving the postman to comment: “No one writes to the Colonel”.

Is it well written?
For such a short book it is able to get across the location, the sense of repression, the stress of a struggle against poverty and the relationship two people have after many years of marriage in the face of adversity. Against a wet and cold October the tale starts to unfold but the boldness of the style here is that there are numerous questions left unanswered that means you continue to think about the book and the characters long after putting it down. For instance apart from the main question of whether or not they will survive you are also left wondering if his pension will ever come in, whether or not he will tell his wife he still gets notes from his son and if the rooster will win its fight. It is unusual for novels not to tie up the loose ends and in that sense it is only the depth of the writing that enables Garcia Marquez to get away with it.

Should it be read?
There is really no excuse for not reading a book that is so light it could not be seen as putting off the reader because of the page count. Plus there is something healthy about reading books from South America, which is off the beaten literary track for most people. This is different because life there is different and in that regard it meets the requirement of reading to broaden the mind with ease.

Leads to
More Garcia Marquez including the most well known Death in the Time of Cholera and One Thousand Years of Solitude but my first port of call will be Chronicle of a Death Foretold, which will be my lunch time reading for the early part of next week.

Version read - penguin paperback

Friday, October 06, 2006

Cities of the Plain - post V

I am suffering a bit with toothache so have found it hard to concentrate on reading and have managed very few pages but for what it is worth here are some bullet points

Bullet points between pages 870 - 915

* Marcel is still worried that Albertine might have a thing for other girls but his doubts are dispelled when she flirts with Saint-Loup, who realises that his friend is in love with her and doesn't pursue it

* Marcel then goes to see the Verdurins and meets some of the party on the train on theor way and gets an introduction into the world of the faithful who follow the Verdurins including among their number Dr Cottard who is fighting against the reputation of being boring

That's it I'm afraid hope to get some strong pain killers and plough through some pages tomorrow...

No one writes to the colonel - post II

This is the second half of the book and at the risk of stealing the content of the review this is a thin book that is also a fantastically deep in the range of emotions it covers and it leaves you with a lot of questions left unanswered

Bullet point from the second half

* The colonel changes laywers in pursuit of his veteran's pension but in the meantime runs deeper into debt to the point at which he starts to argue more with his wife

* He tries to sell the clock, the picture and in the end even the rooster to try and claw some money back but in the end he keeps waiting for the letter that never comes with details of his pension

* His wife slowly starts to be driven to despair over the situation and the asthma that is worsened by the rooster being in the bedroom and in the end confronts the colonel over the future and is left in the dark

A full review will appear tomorrow...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Cities of the Plain - post IV

Again the curse of 60 pages strikes and I get no further. It's clear that this is going to stretch into the weekend again.

Bullet points between pages 810 - 870

* The main themes of these pages are that he is starting to come out of his grief and start to appreciate Balbec, the people there like the Verdurins and Albertine more seriously

* His jealously over Albertine reaches fever pitch when in a passing comment Dr Cottard suffests that she might be a lesbian and doubts that she might be plague Marcel until he has a conversation with her where he asks her for the truth

* He lies to her and says that he is is love with her friend but it is ovbvious, to the reader at least, that his love for Albertine is growing and becoming something serious

We need to see if the relationship will develop further tomorrow...

No one writes to the colonel - post I

To kick-off, and this might be a single shot rather than a long-lasting campaign, my lunchtime reading posts I have chosen a slim volume that should be digestible over a couple of lunch breaks

I have chosen No One Writes tor the Colonel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which is the perfect read for a grey wet October day because that is exactly the weather when the book starts

The first half of the story

* The book starts with you being introduced to the Colonel and his wife on a misty, cold and damp October morning that is interrupted by the ringing of church bells because of a funeral

“For nearly sixty years – since the end of the last civil war – the colonel had done nothing else but wait. October was one of the few things which arrived.” Pg1

* His wife is asthmatic, they have a son who has died who has died and they seem to live a pretty quiet and miserable life, judged on the first few pages

* You discover that they are living against a backdrop of tension with the authorities and that their son, who owned the fighting rooster the colonel looks after, was shot distributing clandestine literature

* The colonel and his wife have no money and he is waiting, as he has been for 15 years, for a letter regarding his pension hence the title of the book

More tomorrow….

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Cities of the Plain - post III

A more solid reading day today and I am possibly getting ambitious but planning to start reading in my lunch hour something short to cover that time and might start posting those results tomorrow.

Bullet points between pages 731  - 809

* Swann explains to Marcel that what the Duke had to tell him was in fact the opposite to what the gossips thought and that he now agreed with Swann about the innocence of Dreyfus and so did his wife the Princess de Guermantes

* He then leaves to head back for his meeting with Albertine and turns down invitations for dinner with the Princess and to go to a ball with the Duchess just to have a little bit of physical comfort

* Albertine fails to turn up and finally rings on the telephone and Marcel is a truculent as a child and demands that although she doesn’t particularly want to she must visit him straight away. He then sends a letter to Gilberte Swann, the girl he used to love, Because he had promised her father that he would do

* The action then moves to Balbec, where he is all primed up for quite an enjoyable holiday but once back in the rooms he stayed in with his grandmother he starts to feel grief and once his mother arrives they mope around the place remembering the grandmother

* He experiences some vivid dreams where his grandmother although dead is physically at anaddresss where he could go an visit her but the mourning that came on him slowly is cleared quickly

More tomorrow...

The reading rules

There is a great article in The Guardian by D.J. Taylor on the current craze for books about how to read books with John Sutherland’s How to Read a Novel already out and John Mullan shortly bringing out How Novels Work as the main two examples cited. Taylor points to the reading groups as part of where the hunger for knowledge about guides to reading. Certainly when I went to see Sutherland talk to an audience at the London Review of Books shop in London the other month one of the most disappointed exchanges came from a reading group member who had hoped for more tips on reading and was unsatisfied in being told to just do their own thing.

Sutherland said that reading should be instinctive and not taught by rote but with more books than ever before coming out and a hunger to get through as many as people can it is understandable why people want tips to make reading something they can get better at. The hunt for the reading rules will no doubt continue with more books following those already out or planned, but they must at some point, despite the resistance to nanny state and mimicking 19th century teaching techniques, provide the sort of answers most readers are looking for.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Cities of the Plain - post II

I have been at a conference all day today about Internet publishing so apologies for the lateness of this posting plus there are regrets about only hitting the usual 60 pages - there seems to be some curse about that.

Bullet points from pages 670 - 730

* The party is in full swing and there is a scene between the Prince and Swann with the later reported to have been thrown out because of his Dreyfus sympathies and even Swann's friends start to distance themselves from him

* Knowing what he does about M. de Charlus, Marcel watches him in action as he starts to line up some pretty boys as potential conquests for the future

* Saint-Loup turns up and seems to have changed - following the end of his great passion for Rachel - and along with spurning love now also dislikes literature and instead seems to be concentrating on the pleasure offered by brothels

* Swann, who is seriously ill, reappears and Marcel is determined to know what passed between him and the Prince but there is a passage of description that indicates just how changed the face of the ill man has become and how ill he really is

* Marcel is told by Swann that he will confide with only him about what passed between the prince and himself but we will have to wait until tomorrow to find out what it was...

Monday, October 02, 2006

Cities of the Plain - post I

I am attending a work event tonight and all tomorrow during the day so I am going to post up a shortened number of bullet points to the fourth volume of Remembrance of Things Past.

The page numbers might seem a bit odd but I am reading the Chatto & Windus version which is split into three volumes and puts two books in this volume.

Bullet points between pages 623 – 670

* At the end of the third Vol. Marcel was waiting on the stairs to see if the Duchess de Guermantes would return when he saw something happen which he now discloses – with M. de Charlus and Jupien the tailor who is a friend of Francoise having a homosexual encounter

* There follows a whole treatise on how some men can look like women and how homosexuality is an activity that those that partake can see signs and codes to make sure they know that they are talking with someone like minded

You have to remember of course that Proust was homosexual so it is an interesting take he has distancing the narrator

* Suddenly the situation with M. de Charlus becomes clear and maybe there was a lucky escape that he didn’t accept all of the proposals to get close to him

* Part One ends and Part two starts with Marcel finally going to the Princess de Guermantes social evening where he was convinced that his invite had been a joke. It turns out to be alright and he gets set for an evening in yet more refined company

Hoping to read a fair bit tonight in a child-free hotel room so hopefully the posting tomorrow will be fuller…

A picture paints...

There was an interesting supplement in the Guardian on Saturday to celebrate National Children's Book Week, with support from booktrust. A feature by Shirley Hughes, a children's author, makes the point that illustration is crucial in attracting a child to a book. I couldn’t agree more and as an adult still appreciate the art of illustration and will go out of my way to visit an exhibition that is about an illustrator.

The Magic pencil – A couple of years ago there was an exhibition of illustrators work at The British Library. In the introduction to the book the comment is made that one artist said it would be odd seeing the pictures without the words that are meant to accompany them. However, there is an alternative effect that means you end up appreciating the art more in isolation and as the title suggests there is a real magic about painting a picture to match the imagination

Heath Robinson – I remember reading an old paperback containing pictures of his crazy inventions back when I was a child and this exhibition drew the attention to the more traditional illustration work he did alongside the madcap designs.

Arthur Rackham – The cover of the exhibition catalogue is enough (will add later) to show the richness of his work and it was a real pleasure seeing his work, which ranges from the epic to the small and detailed. World famous of course as being the man who illustrated the fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm as well as Alice in Wonderland.

Quentin Blake – This was an exhibition of his Christmas themed work and he is one of those artists that is able to paint a picture that contains a great deal of manic movement and from a child’s point of view the pictures often chime in with how they would expect the characters to feel. He is of course known for his work with Roald Dahl but he has written in his own right and is more than just Dahl’s illustrator

Most of the above exhibitions took place at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in South London that seems to have a habit of staging an exhibition of illustration around Christmas Time. I also say the work of the Winnie the Pooh illustrator E.H Shepard there as well.

The Guermantes Way - post VII

A real day for getting the eye to the paper and reading through the remaining pages left in Volume III of Remembrance of Things Past.

All the way through this volume I thought the title referred to the journey that he took in the first volume in a physical sense as he walked with his family. But when you get to the nub of it then it is about the way that the Guermantes live and view the world.

Bullet points between pages 457 - 620

* The final third or so of the book concentrates on an evening that Marcel spends with the Duchess de Guermantes, something that earlier in the book hw fantasised about but now he no longer loves her he is able to observe in a calmer more neutral capacity

* The centre of the Guermantes Way is a large family that is acutely aware of its own history and its own position in society. The Duchess and the Duke no longer love one another but know how to spur each other on in public to get the best out of each other

* The Duchess is well read and displays wit that entertains her social circle but can often be rude and introverted in its humour

* At the end of the evening, where Marcel does enjoy himself because he laughs at some of the anecdotes in the carriage on the way, his visits M. de Charlus as arranged and is kept waiting for a long time before being given a meeting

* Charlus, who has been described as mad seems to think that Marcel has bad mouthed him and the more the narrator protests his innocence the more Charlus gets angry until he vows never to see him again

* The volume ends with a sad reappearance of Swann, who is a friend of the Guermantes, who comes round to see them despite being very ill and at the end he warns them that he can not go with them to Italy because he is dying and in their rush to get to a social occasion they leave him with Marcel as they fuss over the carriage and shoes

I am at a work related conference for the next couple of days but will post a review by mid-week.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

book of books – The Don flows home to the sea

I am still posting reviews relating to stories of families torn apart by the Russian revolution, following last weeks reading of Nabokov’s Speak, Memory. Mikhail Sholokhov’s second volume about Don Cossacks is faster paced than the first as everything comes to a head.

Plot summary
You pick up the story with the same characters and the main family and Gregor at the centre of the novel. The story is very much about how the Cossacks, and by extension other peasants, were caught between the Reds and the Whites. The struggles to pick the winning side sees the Cossack community switch sides and ultimately make their position untenable because they are distrusted by both sides in the civil war. At a micro level the arrival of the Reds gives those who are on the fringes of the current society the chance to challenge it and in the end it makes the civil war a series of personal vendettas. Gregor’s family falls apart and he goes from Whites to Reds then into banditry and in the end he returns to face a staunch communist enemy who vows to kill him but he would rather risk that and see his children once more than wander the countryside for ever

Is it well written?
No doubt what appealed to Stalin was the way the Cossacks in some passages are cast as devious side-switchers who just look out for their own survival but there are more subtle pictures painted of Reds leaving you with the impression they are bitter, jealous outsiders who are using the revolution as a chance for personal revenge. So nobody really comes out of it that well. What you are constantly reminded of is the importance of the countryside and the fact that for the peasants the First World War and then the civil war just took them away from the land, somewhere they were masters of their own crops and homesteads, into a world they could never succeed in.

Should it be read?
As I said with the first volume, as a study of peasant life in Southern Russia and a tale of the hardship of those people it has echoes in Grapes of Wrath and once the revolution starts the novel and the relationship between the reader and the characters changes because you too are forced to pick sides and work out who you want to support because there are moments when Gregor sits on the fence leaving it up to the reader to work out their own position. In the end although Gregor is a flawed hero he asks the question of the reader: “what would you do?” Books about the revolution should do that because characters were not dealing with reasonable situations and so the reactions should not be predictable.

Leads to
This works well with Dr Zhivago and Speak, Memory as a run of titles on a similar theme. On a non-fiction front there are plenty of books about the revolution but only a few about the civil war but one of those that does exist is Red Victory by Bruce Lincoln.

Version read – Penguin paperback

bookmark of the week

This is a bookmark that I picked up in a place called Salts mill in Saltaire in Yorkshire. it is famous because it is where David Hockney the artist has a dedicated exhibition of his work in the old mill. I went years ago and can't remember much more than climbing the stairs and going through the door into what seemed to be like an art studio and then coming back out an hour later and climbing back in the car and heading back to wherever we were staying.