Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Officers and Gentlemen - post II

One of the real achievements of both the first and this book is the way that Waugh manages to convey the sense of waiting that comes with the war.

At one point Guy muses on the idea that soldiers should be given a drug that allows them to wait without any side effects. The commandos, now known as Hookforce because they are led by Colonel Ritchie-Hook, are finally deployed to Egypt.

Guy seems to spend most of his time simply getting on with it while the rest of the troops kick their heels. Meanwhile back in London the case against Guy, started after a mistake in an Italian restaurant, gathers pace as the disturbed boss of the secret service starts to plot a worldwide conspiracy that involves Guy.

It doesn’t help that leaflets encouraging Hitler in a mistaken belief it will aid Scottish nationalism are attributed to Guy rather than the unhinged niece of the laird of Mugg, the island where the commandos are carrying out their training.

But this is that sort of book. Fuses are lit to explode in laughter at various points with some going off quickly and others being timed to be detonated much later in the trilogy.

More tomorrow…

Lunchtime read: Frankenstein

The monster is always lurking and finally Frankenstein meets him again climbing high in the mountains. The creator wants to question his creation about the murder of his brother and the framing of the servant girl. Despite his knowledge of her innocence Frankenstein is unable to stop her being put to death by the court.

To get over his grief he heads for the mountains and there he meets the monster. The creature begs him to listen to his story and then decide how to react to him. If he spurns him without justification the monster warns he will go on a revenge spree.

Sitting in a mountain hut Frankenstein is then told a story of loneliness and solitude after everyone who comes across his creation rejects him. The story starts with the monster looking on a brother and sister and elderly father as a family that he aspires to be part of. He does things to help them under the cover of darkness but you sense that some sort of rejection is coming because there is always the fear of rejection underlying the story.

More tomorrow…

Officers and Gentlemen - post I

Sometimes the break between two books the follow each other can be used as a chance to introduce some more back story or to roll out some fresh characters.

In a comforting way Waugh just sticks with picking up where things left off. The opening pages set Guy against a backdrop of a London being torn to bits in the blitz and although he is meant to report back for a hearing no one seems to know what is going on.

As before the war the real jobs worth having are being given out at clubs between friends and Guy is advised to hang around if he wants to get involved with something interesting.

But wherever Guy goes he seems to be unwanted. A bit like his father, who is under pressure to give up his comforts in the boarding house, the war seems to be all about displacing people.

The limited number of characters are all roughly reunited with Guy being sent to the commando training camp run by Tommy Blackhouse, his ex-wife’s former husband. Meanwhile the ex-wife is in Glasgow down on her luck and prepared to enjoy a few days being pleasured by Trimmer her old hairdresser.

Guy meanwhile is just focused on finding a role and getting stuck back into the war.

More tomorrow…

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lunchtime read: Frankenstein

Although the language is firmly 19th century and the style not immediately accessible the strength of the story keeps you reading. The scene in the mountains with Victor and his creation is vivid and no wonder so many film makers were inspired to turn such clear scenes into action.

Having created the monster, although he keeps it secret how he did it, Victor Frankenstein is revolted by his eight foot high creation. What he thought might be beautiful and the best of men is hideous once the muscles underneath the skin start working.

He flees from the monster and is relieved to discover it has gone when he returns to his rooms with his old friend from home who has come to visit him. Victor then succumbs to a brain fever that keeps him in bed for months. Meanwhile there is no sign of the monster and his family, who he has not seen for almost six years.

He promises to write to them and then plans to visit. But then he hears that his youngest brother has been killed and he heads home grief stricken. On his way home he stops at the place where his brother was found in the mountains and as the rain falls and the lightning streaks the sky he spots the monster he created.

Victor is in no doubt that his own creation killed his brother and hurries home after watching the monster scale the heights of the mountain.

More tomorrow…

Monday, April 28, 2008

Taking a break from Powell

Although Dance to the Music of Time is enjoyable you do after a while start to look at other books by other authors with envy. As a result the choice of reading reverts back to the second part of the Waugh Sword of Honour trilogy. Get through that and finish off Dance... and no doubt a series of French, Russian and German writers will be a good antidote to so much British fare...

Lunchtime read: Frankenstein

There are certain books that you feel you know so well without ever having read them as a result not just of films but because they seem to form a part of society’s collective consciousness.

One of those is Frankenstein and another is Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Odd choices maybe for lunchtimes reads but titles that I intend to knock-off over the next few weeks.

Starting with a £2 version of Frankenstein printed by Penguin in its cut price Popular Classics range and it starts slowly. Through a series of letters a polar explorer explains to his sister about his ambition to get to the North Pole. As his boat reaches the ice the crew is disturbed to see a man pulled by dogs on a sleigh miles from land. The next day a similar sledge is found by the boat and they save the occupant from certain death.

Once aboard it takes days for the survivor to warm up and be in a position where he will talk. When he does start his tale it is for the captain’s ears only and it begins with a life story detailing a boy with an open mind about science and a desperation to understand the laws that govern life and death.

But what of the other man on a sledge? Why does the saved traveller talk of destiny and death?

More tomorrow…

Sunday, April 27, 2008

bookmark of the week

This was given to my son as a gift and is one of those bookmarks that has an image that moves when you look at it from side to side. In this case a flock of sheep about to be terrorised by a wolf. In this scan it somehow managed to get a bit of both images at once so you can see the wolf licking his lips about to attack...

Casanova's Chinese Restaurant - post IV

The last chapter in the book is dominated by death and a sense of injustice. Both Sir John Clarke and Maclintick die, one of old age and the other of suicide. Moreland and Jenkins had only seen the bitter critics three days before he ended his life. His wife had left him, probably never quite recovering from the evening where Stringham showed her that there was an alternative.

As the two friends sat uncomfortable in the house that held the wreck of the man and the marriage Maclintick talked about his marriage in reasonable terms. But Jenkins identifies a deeper malaise and it is without shock, but not without disappointment, that three days later the police break in and find the critic’s body.

As a result of the death of Maclintick because of the sense of warning that his misery showed could be contained in marriage, Moreland calls of his affair with Priscilla Tolland. She opts to get engaged to Chips Lovell, an old acquaintance of Jenkins’s adding another mess to the mix of family and friendships the narrator continues to make.

Meanwhile, Sir john Clarke has died and the real interest hovers around the question of his will. Quiggin has already shown irritation that suggests he know it is not him. Indeed it turns out to be Erridge, a wealthy landowner that manages to land the money. The windfall means he will not have to sell the woods after his return from a failed campaign in Spain where he managed to irritate rather than help anyone fighting Franco.

His rather sheltered life contrasts to the real misery and pain that must have been felt by the failed writer and lowly critics Maclintick.

A review will follow shortly…

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Casanova's Chinese Restaurant - post III

The stresses of marriage are quickly on display as Moreland falls in love with Priscilla Tolland and upsets his wife, who reveals some of her past to Jenkins, including some of her former romances.

She can clearly read her husband like a book but the moment he actually concludes his symphony and Mrs Foxe throws a party for him. The Symphony is received with cautious praise from the critics Maclintick and Gossage who sum up that it is not bad but it is not outstanding.

But Moreland doesn’t have time to dwell on it because he ends up in a corner with a very drunk, but very amusing, Stringham. Although at his own mother’s home it is quite clear that Mrs Foxe would rather her son leave. Before he goes he also recalls some of the reasons why his marriage failed. It is genuinely amusing but tinged with sadness that the bright young thing of the first pages of the first volume has been reduced to a family embarrassment. Mind you it does make you smile the way Powell captures a character at full drink fuelled tilt.

More tomorrow…

Friday, April 25, 2008

Casanova's Chinese Restaurant - post II

There are the usual coincidences with Moreland and Jenkins bumping into each other in the hospital as they visit their wives – one expecting and the other recovering from a miscarriage. In the hall they also come across Widmerpool who is suffering from boils.

Before that there is a scene setting out the life that Jenkins has married into with Sunday lunch at Lady Warminster’s with various members of the Tolland family sitting round the table. Joining them is novelist Sir John Clarke but he is overshadowed by the news that Erridge Tolland is heading out to Spain to the civil war.

That dating reference puts this second chapter about three years on from the start of the book. Most date references are oblique but it does make you realise that in a matter of pages a fair amount of time has passed.

The end of the chapter sees the flipside of marriage. If Jenkins represents the state of marriage post true-love then Moreland sits in the middle of being more cycnical and at the other extreme – one punch away from divorce – is the music critic Maclintick. Moreland convinces Jenkins to go and visit him and when they get there they find husband and wife arguing.

An uncomfortable evening proves that marriage is not necessarily all smiles and professions of true love.

More tomorrow…

Thursday, April 24, 2008

book review - Men at Arms

When you pick up an Evelyn Waugh you expect a satirical novel that will be well written but also amusing.

Having read Helena it is no surprise that to that mix you can add some religion and with the novel starting in Italy there is instantly a Catholic feel to things that is carried through with the religious views of the main character Guy.

This is the first of a trilogy about the second world war so you pick it up half expecting the action to start from the first page. But this is before things start to happen and as the main character shuts up his Italian villa and heads for home his driver tells him no one wants war.

Once back in London there is nowhere for him to go so he has to use contacts to get drafted into to a regiment that still appears to operate on a friends and contacts basis. But this is still the phoney war and even when things start to get formal with Germany it is still all about exercises and drill for Guy and his fellow would-be officers.

But then things get suddenly serious and before Guy and his colleagues can even get there the Dunkirk escape has happened and France has fallen. They are left defending against rumours before being shipped out to the African coast. Once there they are dissuaded from taking any action. But Guy is led into attacking the coast by a mad Brigadier and that combined with accidentally contributing to his friends death by giving him alcohol in hospital lands him on a boat heading home for a court martial.

The satire is subtle with it being more about the military establishment and a certain class of people more than happy to appear in their clubs in military dress but equally as keen to keep away from any real action.

But there are two great figures in this first volume. Firstly, fellow elderly officer candidate Apthorpe. With his thunder-box, a portable latrine he used to avoid catching syphilis from fellow soldiers, he manages to provoke a battle with the officer in charge for the use of the device. Then he also manages to confuse his rank and overstep his authority on numerous occasions.

Colonel Ritchie-Hook is the other great character. He seems intent on leading his own war in a sort of bayonet charging way and in the end leads Guy into trouble for encouraging him, and then joining him on a landing on the coast that descends into a grenade throwing match. He represents the old army but also a type of attitude that is lacking in those hanging around the bright lights of London.

This does evoke a picture of London on the outbreak of war and there is also an insight into the apparent unpopularity of Catholicism very few people seem to want to worship along with Guy. Where there is humour it is directed at the system and the attitude of certain types of people. But there is also fear, buried underneath the Ritchie-Hook bravado but nonetheless there all the same.

No doubt that fear will surface in the second book. But where Waugh differs from some trilogy writers is that he does leave not just the main character on a cliff hanger – will he be court martialed – but also the entire state of the war.

Version read - Penguin paperback

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Casanova's Chinese Restaurant - post I

One of the criticisms some people have made of Anthony Powell is his occasional timing problems with Dance to the Music of Time. This book starts in a place where it feels as if there is a continuity problem.

This is a time when Deacon is alive and in a pub with some musicians and critics who become central to this book. It feels odd because why were they never mentioned in the previous books in a period when they would have overlapped?

The answer probably has more to do with the theme of this book - marriage. Central to the first scene apart from Deacon is Moreland who is a musician who is sitting with critics Maclintick, Gossage and fellow musician Carolo. An actor, Norman Chandler arrives to try to get Deacon to buy an antique and the party move on to Casanova's Chinese Restaurant.

From there they move onto see Matilda, the focus of Moreland's attention, acting alongside Chandler. At the end of the performance Jenkins foes back stage to meet Matilda but the interest is the fawning Charles Stringham's mother Mrs Foxe shows for Chandler begging him to join her for dinner.

More tomorrow...

Lunchtime read: What's Become of Waring

The moral of the story seems to be that publishing is not such a great industry to get involved with. At the end Hugh the publisher goes back to school teaching. Plus in addition the conclusion seems to be that everyone is ultimately driven by a lust for power. Everyone it seems apart from the narrator.

The last couple of paragraphs, after all the loose ends have been tied-up, have Powell musing about what drove his characters on. But just as with Nick Jenkins in Dance to the Music the narrative figure seems to be content drifting along observing rather than getting directly involved with the rat run.

In the end of the story the various different strands are concluded and you do put the book down having enjoyed a tale that makes fun of what isn’t there. In the case of Waring it was an absence of any real writing talent, the case of the séance crowd the absence of happiness with the current world and for those in the publishing world the constant hunt to end the absence of the happiness that a best seller would deliver.

A review will follow soon…

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Lunchtime read: What's Become of Waring

I am not feeling very well. Don't quite know what's up but a headache is part of the problem. As a result I will post about this tomorrow. I finished the book today ad it ended with smiles nearly all round but then had a last couple of paragraphs that did make you wonder.

I'll explain all tomorrow...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Lunchtime read: What's Become of Waring

Where some authors might set out a cast of characters that interlink and drive the narrative forward Powell tends to use family as a device. It is the same in Dance to the Music of Time but what he does here is clearly more limited. It moves around the Pimley family.

Initially the link is childhood memories and Hudson, who is engaged to one of the two daughters Beryl. But there is a black sheep in the family Alec and he turns out to be the mysterious T.T Waring.

The problem with Waring is not so much him being alive - something he might not be anymore as the result of a storm - but the fact that Hudson has discovered he is a plagarist.

Meanwhile, the narrator's boss has become a follower of a sect and the femme fatale Roberta continues to weave her spell.

More tomorrow...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

bookmark of the week

Picked this up at Borders earlier today. Obviously Roald Dahl's books are great but I have always liked Quentin Blake's illustrations. This bookmark should really just have his picture on but as it shows Charlie and Willy Wonka it has Dahl's surname at the top. Blake is not only a great illustrator but a real enthusiast for drawing, particularly turning pictures into stories, so as a result he is also a champion of reading.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Dance to the Music on Radio 4

Only just discovered this because I have been on holiday. Radio 4 has been broadcasting a six part version of Dance to the Music of Time. The second episode is still on line and well worth listening to. It doesn't appear to matter if you missed the first part because the narrator puts everything in context. Listen and enjoy.

"Life is a dance where we seem to repeatedly bump into the same people..."

Friday, April 18, 2008

book review - The Steep Approach to Garbadale

The Steep Approach To Garbadale is the first Iain Banks I have read for a while. The blurb on the dust jacket would lead you to believe it is one of the finest things he has ever written.

Things start badly with some Scottish stereotypes of the Irving Welsh variety living in a council flat drinking and drugging and not contributing much to anyone. But entering their world is a smart executive who is searching for his cousin – Alban – to take him home to vote against a takeover of the family firm and mark the occasion of his grandmother’s 80th birthday.

As a result of that opening you are left with several questions. First is the question of Alban and that is quickly followed by trying to work out who is family is. These two questions keep the book going through its 300 plus pages. The way the story is told is through a series of flashbacks, which come without any warning and end just as quickly.

The result of the flashback technique is that this becomes almost a series of images going back and forth with the reader advancing occasionally but more often than not having to go back even further to get the context for the Alban situation. In some senses the impact is probably how it feels to be playing a game of snakes and ladders with the forward and backwards taking players in random directions.

But as well as putting the relationships between Alban and the family firm and his grandmother into some context there are two main story lines running through the book. The first is mainly told in flashbacks with the growth of the love between Alban and his cousin Sophie. They are finally split apart by the grandmother. But he still holds a torch for her and will the big family get together be a chance to rekindle old flames?

Secondly Alban’s mother killed herself when he was not much more than a babe in arms and one of the aunts implies that there was some pressure on her to lose the baby and that drove her to suicide. Again will the big birthday bash with all of the family gathered together be the chance to solve that mystery?

Without giving the ending away the final few chapters of the book do deliver a result on both counts but in a typical Banks way. No penis in jars moments but something equally as dark. The idea seems to be that lurking inside every family is some horrible sort of secret. That darkness does make the last few chapters grab you but it is after a long battle with the flashback mechanism. Possibly alternate chapters might have been a better way of driving the plot forward rather than the headache inducing backwards and forwards here.

It is still going to be hard for Banks to beat The Crow Road if he is looking for a family epic with dark secrets and destructive passions. But this is not that bad a read either. Losing the bookends of the Scottish drunks would have made it even better.

Version read – Abacus paperback

Thursday, April 17, 2008

book review - At Lady Molly's

There is a hint of the Tolstoy about the way that Anthony Powell describes a few of the large families that seem to have relatives that pop up throughout his books. The advantage is that with the narrator Nicholas Jenkins marrying into one of them that world becomes much richer.

Things start though a little bit like A Buyer’s Market with memories of old friends of his mother and father who happen to then crop up again as potential in-laws to Widmerpool who decides that he is going to get engaged. The marriage plans are made public and they turn up for one of the social evenings in Kensington at Lady Molly’s. Together with her odd ex-solider husband Jeavons they manage to attract a large range of people to their home.

One of those attending is a member of the Tolland family, who suffers from having a son that is letting the family country house fall into disrepair because he is some sort of socialist and a daughter – one of many – who appears to be in a lesbian relationship.

The mention of the weird character mucking around as a tramp means that an encounter between Jenkins and the man Erridge is bound to happen sooner or later. Ironically the one to bring them together is Quiggin who is living off the back of some small critic pieces for the papers but mainly through the patronage of Erridge who is keen to get him to promote his Marxist views in a newspaper they plan to launch.

In a case of history repeating itself Mona, who left her husband Templer for Quiggin, is now bored and looking for some more adventure. Ironically she turns to Erridge and together they head off for China to see how things are done in the Far East. The scandal that is caused not just by Erridge going to China, but going with a woman, rather overshadows the announcement of Jenkins own engagement to Isobel Tolland, the sister he met while visiting Erridge for a meal with Quiggin and Mona.

Again Widmerpool provides the comic turn inviting Jenkins to lunch so he can ask advice about when to attempt to start sexual relations with his fiancé, a woman of many more years experience. He agrees with Jenkins that a weekend away to her relative’s stately home would be a good idea.

But the plan backfires and it is after his failed attempt that the marriage is called off and the final scene involves a potentially awkward moment with the newly engaged Jenkins bumping into Widmerpool at Lady Molly’s. The later confirms he is again single and warns against marriage.

The only slight oddity about this book is that there is barely a mention of the courtship and lead-up to his proposal of marriage with Isobel. He falls in love with her the minute he sees her but unlike the details given of his affair with jean Templer there is nothing here.

The other comment to make is that the vast majority of the action in the book happens at night with Lady Molly’s coming alive, a pub crawl with her husband Jeavons drifting into the early hours and the evening spent with Erridge and meeting Isobel.

As a result this has that sort of nocturnal feel to it with the hours between work and play blurred with everyone quite happy to keep enjoying themselves well into the early hours of the morning. Above all that the spectre of Stringham haunts proceedings as he has now developed a serious alcohol problem.

Version read –

Lunchtime read: What's Become of Waring?

The story starts to develop with T.T Waring the link but increasingly something in the background as the cast of characters developed by Powell starting to interact independently of the narrator.

The expolsive combination of love and lust centres around Roberta - the last fiance of Waring - and she manages to snare Hudson,who breaks off his engagement and marriage to Beryl as well as the narrator's publishing boss Hugh.

Hugh wins out because he manages to get Roberta to commit to a Scandinavian cruise. That leaves Hudson, who is eriting Waring's life story, as the loser in love. He has his first book to concentrate on but the more digging he does on Waring the more complicated it becomes. Hudson disovers that most of his hero's first book on Ceylon was lifted from a battered old book he dragged up from the archives of the British Library. Just what other fictions is Waring responsible for?

More tomorrow,although hard to read this week as I am on holiday and the kids are fairly demanding...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

book review - The Acceptance World

The title of the book refers to something that Peter Templer tells Jenkins he believes that Widmerpool is involved in. Some sort of UN trade delegation that can help him and some of his friends make a bit of money. The third in the Anthony Powell 12 book Dance to the Music of Time opus starts in familiar territory.

Just as the first book featured an odd meeting with Uncle Giles this starts with Jenkins visiting him at a hotel in Bayswater where another guest, the very odd Mrs Erdleigh reads his fortune predicting love as well as a reunion between her and Jenkins in a year. If the first book was about learning, the second about entering a world of bright lights, dances and intrigue then the third is about love.

One of the predictions Mrs Erdleigh makes is around the idea of two young men competing for the attention of an older man. Quiggin and Members fit that bill and they both compete for the attentions of elderly novelist Sir john Clarke, who under the influence of the young men becomes first a Marxist and then finally a Trotskyite.

Jenkins’s meets up with his old friend Templer and is invited to visit his house and dine with him and his wife Mona. The beautiful but argumentative Mona was before marriage a model that hung around Deacons studios. They row and when Quiggin is invited to liven things up he ends up being the excuse Mona needs to leave Templer.

Meanwhile Jenkins has renewed his acquaintance with Jean Templer, Peter’s sister, and they start an affair, which for Nicholas is intense and something that will hopeful continue if she fails to return to her estranged husband.

The start of the end happens the night of the old school reunion dinner where in a passage that is ripe with humour Widmerpool tries to shake off his old school image of being an oddball and speaks about his success. His speech contributes to his old housemaster la Bas having a stroke. Stringham arrives and now divorced has become a heavy drinker and Jenkins and Widmerpool together have to help him to bed.

This book has the feeling of being a moment when childhood and childish things are finally put behind Jenkins forever. The old school dinner is marred by the collapse of La Bas, the upstaging of the event by Widmerpool and the sorry state of Stringham. The bright lights and high hopes seem a million miles away for those starting to suffer some of the adversity that life is quite capable of throwing at people.

As a result this feels more of a swing back to a more personal narrative from A Buyer’s Market, where it was very much listing off the details of who was doing what at various balls and country houses. The background of London also starts to feature more prominently in the book as the proper setting where the dance is taking place. It starts to become a character on its own and a city that as Powell describes it has gone forever. Must have been a great place to be with wealth – mind you in many respects that is still the case.

Version read – Arrow paperback

Lunchtime read: What's Become of Waring?

Just as the medium at the seance predicted T.T Waring has died and now the real story can start to begin.Up until now Powell as been setting the scene with the publishing company and the state of the publishing industry post the first world war, when it was apparently easy to make a career but very hard to keep your name going.

In the novel the talent that Waring had was apparently in self-promotion as well as writing travel diaries from obscure parts of the world. On a smaller scale than in Dance to the Music of time there is also a social world opening up with old connections being made.

The link between the narrator and the world of an old general that he knew in the past is Hudson, a soldier he meets at the seance.

Back in the publishing world the challenge is to find a suitable author who can produce a quick but high selling life story of T.T Waring. Few facts are even known about his death, yet alone his life. But all will be revealed.

More tomorrow...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

book review - The Man on the Balcony

The first book in the ten title series of police procedural thrillers put together by husband and wife writing team Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo was something so different that it really stuck in the memory.

Sadly this book, the third in the series of ten books following the career of policeman Martin Beck, was not quite as good. Partly of course it is because the shock of the style has worn off. But there is a flaw with the story that it is quite hard to put to one side.

A series of child murders in parks coincide with park muggings. It becomes imperative to find the mugger and get him to share the information he knows, including a description of the killer. That part makes sense. It even makes sense to a degree when Beck interviews a three-year-old boy who met the killer before he dragged off one of his sister’s friends and murdered her.

But where the problems start is the leaps that Beck makes to tie together a phone call at the start of the story from a woman complaining about a man standing out on his balcony all day and night staring at children playing and the idea that he might be the killer. The descriptions are the same and that is enough for the policeman but then finding the balcony is like searching for a needle in a haystack.

The problems is that you know that they are going to find that needle because there are no other leads on the table. The other problem is that for some reason everyone in the police station where Beck works is ill or grumpy. It adds to the colour but a whole book of people being rude to each other does get a bit wearing.

What manages to save the book from utter disappointment is the pace that kicks in as they start to get close to solving the crime. Plus there is a twist at the end that makes it clear Beck is human and that chance rather than hunches and good police work can sometimes be the keys to solving a crime.

Although not as good as Roseanna I would read the fourth in the series and follow it through because even when things seem to be plodding and the plot might take an unreasonable turn the writing here is fantastic. What you notice is the mixture of different viewpoints with the moment when a hardened policeman has to tell a woman her daughter has died being handled so sensitively.

On to the next one and hoping for something better.

Version read – Harper perennial paperback

Lunchtime read: What's Become of Waring

In a scene that reminds you slightly of Mrs Erdleigh in The Acceptance World a séance is organised and the owner of the publishing firm invites along the narrator to see what it is all about.

Not a great deal seems to happen and most of the members of the little troop are very sceptical of the occult. But at the very end the medium shouts out that the person from the other side has a warning that something dreadful has happened to some one with the initials T.T.

The publisher and narrator both know T.T Waring but the publisher dismisses the possibility that something awful could have happened to him. But for once could the séance have actually have thrown up something?

More maybe tomorrow…

Monday, April 14, 2008

book review - A Buyer's Market

If you can imagine a series of different dances then the tempo for this one would be sprightly and youthful with a hint of romance. In the second of his 12 volume series Anthony Powell introduces Jenkins into the world of balls, debutantes, gossip and love.

One review I saw on the web said that the book skirts on the edge of becoming too gossipy and that is true but what saves it is the detached air that Jenkins has. Although he is happy to report on what is said and happens he is never obsessed with it. If anything he manages to keep friends with almost anyone he meets, ranging from the left to the right of the political spectrum.

Jenkins thinks he is in love with Barbara Goring, one of the major families in the social scene, but after an evening where his apparent girlfriend is besieged by suitors including Widmerpool he thinks better of it. The partners in the dance are largely the same as the first book, with Widmerpool popping up again along with Stringham who drags them both to a party that ends with Widmerpool going off with Gypsy Jones, a friend of an artist Deacon.

Like a good comic who starts with an anecdote and then keeps reworking in that theme at moments that provoke both surprise and laughter, Powell is quite capable of doing the same. So the book starts with Jenkins remembering a trip to Paris in 1918 with his parents and the moment they bumped into Deacon the painter in Paris. Initially Deacon is remembered through the appearance of one of his paintings in the hall of one of the hosts of a party Jenkin’s visits but then he meets the artist again and that takes him into contact with someone who is peddling an anti-war newspaper and has surrounded himself with some artistic hangers –on. One of these is the mysterious Gypsy Jones but there is also Barnby who is a womanising artist who lives above Deacon’s shop.

As Jenkins, Widmerpool, Deacon and Jones stand talking they are joined by Stringham who invites them to a wild party hosted by Mrs Andriadis. Most of the major players in Jenkins world are there plus some new characters including the camp piano playing Max Pilgrim who gets into a row with Deacon. Then things move away from London with a trip to the home of Sir Magnus-Donners where Widmerpool, who now works for the industrialist, making a fool of himself trying to ingratiate himself with his boss.

Stringham gets engaged and then Deacon dies. After the funeral Jenkins has a taste of Gypsy Jones himself but then goes from that into the bizarre environment of the Widmerpool's for dinner.

The book centres on Deacon more than anyone but he is used as a way of introducing several more characters – Gypsy Jones, Barnby and Max Pilgrim. Stringham remains elusive and Widmerpool still driven by a lust for power. In the meantime Jenkins, now clear of any infatuation for Barbara Goring seems to drift from engagement to engagement without any of the drive of his contemporaries.

Following on from the first book this starts with the feeling of one step back but then shuffles quickly into a London that is all but now forgotten. The world of late night parties, dinner jackets, gossip and debutantes is in its way fascinating. It reminds you of the world that Stephen Poliakoff works so hard to recreate on film and in that sense this occasionally has a cinematic feel to it. Art is also becoming much more important with pictures used to describe someone’s taste, intelligence and depth of wallet. But as with all series you have half an eye on the next book as you come to the end of this one.

Version read – Flamingo paperback

Lunchtime read: What's Become of Waring

What’s Become of Waring is one of the books that has been described even by Powell himself as a sort of dress rehearsal for Dance to the Music of Time. It has the same feel and the same voice from the narrator.

Things start at a wedding where old friends meet and then part just as quickly leaving you wondering who Eustace and Roberta are before things settle down and the story appears to start.

There are other similarities with Dance, with the narrator working for a publishing company that relies quite heavily on its star writer, T.T. Waring, who produced popular travel books.

The introduction sets out a brief history of the publishing firm Judkins and Judkins, run by two brothers, and gives the distinct impression that its future prosperity is far from assured. A new book from Waring is imminent and the sooner it arrives the better.

The same social scene that Nicholas Jenkins inhabits in Dance to the Music of Time is here and so this feels comfortable. It appears to be heading into slightly more satirical country.

More tomorrow…

Sunday, April 13, 2008

bookmark of the week

One of the joys of going on holiday - apart from getting away from work - is that it always marks a good opportunity to get some books. The other bonus is that it is one of the few times my wife will encourage me to buy books. So it was with her blessing I stumped up the £8 cover charge and picked up the latest copy of Slightly Foxed. I have never felt indulgent enough before to buy it before, but as its a holiday...

Occasional series - bookshop of the week

The idea of the blog was never to use it as some sort of semi promotional tool to be gushing about things that I liked other than books. But this is semi-related. After a day trip around Bath today I had to post about the experience of going into the Topping & Company bookshop. Not only did it feel like a relaxed bolthole from the crowds but also once inside it stretched back with stripped wood floors and floor to ceiling shelves lined with a wonderful selection of books.

One touch that I really liked was the way that hardbacks, and certain paperbacks were wrapped in plastic to protect them. It made you feel that the books were really special and were worth protecting. It was a little thing but it really did make a lot of difference. If you get the chance to go it is well worth a visit.

Friday, April 11, 2008

men at Arms - post IV

The first part of the trilogy ends with Guy being shipped back to London in disgrace facing a potential court martial for a couple of offences.

The first one is almost forgivable because after training in Scotland and then being moved around from here there and everywhere the men are finally packed onto a ship and head out towards Dakar.

Once in sight of land they get told that they are not going to be allowed to go ashore and the frustration is palpable. By this time the British forces have been expelled from France with Dunkirk being the last act of the expeditionary force. So the troops have pent up energy. Colonel Ritchie-Hook instructs Guy to take a secret mission onto the beach to prove that it can be done.

The problems start when Ritchie-Hook is shot in the leg after he manages to behead a native to prove he has made it ashore. The result of the botched raid is hard to hide.

But then once docked in Africa he compounds his error by taking some whisky into the hospital where Apthorpe is ill and manages to help kill him as a result.

Once Ritchie-Hook is well both him and Guy are put on a boat and sent home to face the music.

This manages to convey the frustration and need for constant patience that must have been the case for those watching on the sidelines as France fell. Where could they fight once the nearest battlefields were lost? When could they put their training into operation? And how could they prove to themselves and their country that they had courage and wanted to die for the cause?

A review will follow soon…

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Men at Arms - post III

Meant to post on this last night but you know how things go. Still it gave me more of a chance to think about the humour deployed in the novel.

There is a passage that is promoted on the back as one of the highlights from a humorous point of view about Guy’s fellow aged officer Apthorpe and his desire to keep his own toilet – the thunder-box.

He argues that it is essential he can use it because of the fears of catching a sexual disease from other soldiers but the Brigadier has the same idea so a game of cat and mouse begins with Apthorpe and Guy moving the thunder box around trying to get it away from the Brigadier. Eventually the thing is blown up and the matter ends there although the legend lives on in the ranks.

The humour is subtle but not laugh out loud. But it does show the desperate need that there was for some levity to lighten the misery as they went through the motions of training to get ready to go and fight in France.

The news coming back from France is not good with the troops running away and the losses mounting. As a result the probationary officers are made permanent and squads are announced and the national service men arrive and it all starts to get very serious.

More tomorrow…

A bit of spin

The phrase “paying lip service” is always bandied around politics and now and again you see it can be applied with good reason. The video link that beamed in Gordon Brown into the Galaxy British Book Awards last night so the prime minister could congratulate JK Rowling on her outstanding achievement award was cringeful.

Well done for congratulating the author but it is not quite good enough to talk about her ability to get “the whole country reading” and then beam out. Literacy rates will prove quickly to Brown that the whole country is far from reading and now Potter has hung up his wand where is the next JK Rowling coming from? That’s what he should be more worried about.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

One in one out?

One of my dilemmas at the moment is being forced to face up to the reality which is that I will never have the room to house all my books. My two overloaded bookshelves are never truly representative of the books I own but have served a function for the past few years.

But now maybe it is the time to get to a position where it is a case of one in and one out with new books passing old ones. I am still very much undecided about it and the hoarding instinct is very strong.

Plus it doesn’t help when you see images of the Maastricht bookstore, in today’s Guardian, which reminds you powerfully of how beautiful books can make a space look.

Lunchtime read: The Steep Approach to Garbadale

Well there is still room for a twist in the tale with the main surprise being that you discover that you really do care about Alban after all. That concern comes when you start to get the sense that he might be killed as a result of his prying and aggressive stance towards the American company taking over his family’s company.

The realisation that here is a character that you don’t want to see snuffed out yet comes at roughly the same time he realises he no longer loves Sophie.

But he also understands that Sophie was in some way the key to the mystery of his mother’s suicide so creates one last scene pretending to love her to prise open his grandma. This time she tells the truth and the pieces of the jigsaw fall into place. Not just about his mother but also about the true nature of what being loyal to the family firm involved.

The final few pages are taken up with the voice of the drugged out bum that had been living with Alban at the start of the novel. Quite why this character was needed escapes me Fielding could have worked just as well for a different standpoint. Anyway the reader is left with all the loose ends tied up.

This type of sprawling family epic had its attractions but I’ll save my thoughts for the review…

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Men at Arms - post II

Waugh’s style is to set the story in a serious and totally believable framework and then work in some clever moments of humour that never become just hollow comic moments.

The politics of the army divide not just between rich and poor, officer and probationary office but also along age lines. With his knee damaged Guy feels even older than he is and as they move to Southend-on-Sea for training he feels lonely and isolated from the rest of his fellow soldiers.

He meets his ex-wife and seems to slay that ghost but all around he is trapped by his past, to a certain extent by his rigid Catholic faith as well as his sense of sleepwalking through to face the war in France.

More tomorrow…

Lunchtime read: The Steep Approach to Garbadale

Banks is winding it up now with Alban suddenly getting clarity on quite a few of the questions that have been going through his head.

Firstly, he goes fishing with Sophie and realises that although he loves her the feeling is not mutual and he is wasting his time thinking anymore about a life with her.

On their way back from fishing the pull to start the engine comes loose and they only just manage to get back in time for the AGM and the discussion of the sale. Both Sophie and Alban suspect that the cord was cut with the idea of preventing them from returning in time for the meetings.

As the action draws closer the use of flashbacks diminishes and there is a technique of using different view points to give a feeling of large numbers of people and the uncertainty of the sale.

Secondly, Alban suspects his grandmother of authorising the cord being cut and comes close to accusing her of driving his mother to suicide. She certainly fits the sort of person who could do that being a grudge-bearing and manipulative old crone.

Finally, as the storms lash the Highlands Alban is spending a fair amount of time worried about his girlfriend out climbing alone. Is that the love he thought he could only feel for Sophie coming out? He doesn’t seem to realise it but it has to be.

This has reminded me of The Crow Road but it lacks the same power that story did. Maybe it is because at a big part of the heart of it is a story about money and greed – something that is cold and not easily empathised with.

Final chunk and the showdown and climax tomorrow…

Monday, April 07, 2008

book review - Les Enfants Terribles

There is something deeply disturbing about this story of two orphaned siblings. Along with the text there are images drawn by the author Jean Cocteau and these tend to add only a brief amount because they are line sketches that provide an impression but not much more for the reader.

But perhaps that is the idea – these are two figures that can never be caught - and for anyone who tries they are doomed to failure.

Driven on by their own rules and imaginary world the siblings Paul and Elisabeth start the story without a father and before too long are left without a mother after the bed-ridden woman dies of an illness.

The children hardly pause for their mother’s death because Paul is ill after having a snowball with a stone inside thrown at him by his school hero Delgado. There is a lot of hero worship throughout the book with Paul obsessing over Delgado and then his female lookalike Agatha. In turn Paul’s school friend Gerard seems to hang off every word of the siblings and is prepared to be with them when they run riot as part of the “game”.

The game appears to be something that is fundamentally devised by Paul and Elsabeth and the rules appear to be totally selfish with them excluding the outside world in order to entertain themselves. The game becomes one of stealing when they are on holiday with Gerard’s uncle and at other times concentrates on the siblings hurting each other's feelings. The winner seems to be the one that leaves the contest with the last word, a sense of superiority and ideally having caused a display of angry frustration from the other.

But as they grow and develop into a man and a woman the inevitable happens and love comes between them. Elisabeth is first to get married to a wealthy young man who dies on his way to a business meeting before the married couple can even enjoy a honeymoon. The result of the marriage is that the siblings inherit a large house.

Inside the game moves towards its end. Elisabeth, who has worked in a store brings home another orphan and Paul falls in love with her. Elisabeth cannot stand to see her brother happy, but there is also an element of it being a game to see how much hurt she can inflict. She manages to bully Gerard, who is in love with her, into marrying Agatha and as a result helps break her brother’s heart.

Things go full circle and Gerard reintroduces the name Delgado into Paul’s life after he recounts a meeting with the man who now collects poisons. One of which he has sent as a gift for Paul. That poison is taken by Paul to end his life after writing of his love to Agatha. In a panic-stricken moment Elisabeth makes the mistake of leaving the two would be lovers together and they soon realise what the sister has done. In her final moments, knowing that Paul is dying, Elisabeth senses that this is yet another twist in the game and by dying he has beaten her to the final move. She shoots herself and by a matter of seconds beats him to it.

This is a book that is setting out an argument, although extreme, for a certain approach to life. No doubt what you are meant to feel some sense of admiration for two people who refuse to live by the normal rules of society and maybe you too have a longing to escape into the world of the game.

Maybe if I had read this when slightly younger I might have felt that. But as someone stuck very much in the grind of the nine to five the idea of two rich self-centred children flouncing around in an imaginary world is one that provokes a sense of cynical loathing rather than joyous respect.

This feels too contrived with the game being in some cases forced and without an end point. Keep playing the game into your 30s, 40s and 50s and it starts to look ridiculous. Death seems to be the only option for the siblings who refuse to grow up.

Version read – Vintage Classics paperback

Men at Arms - post I

Surfing on the web the other day to browse some more information about Anthony Powell I stumbled across a review by Max Hastings of a Powell biography. In a piece that makes it clear he not only doesn't like the sound of Powell as a person he also states that he was overshadowed by Evelyn Waugh. They were of course contemporaries and so it is natural to make comparisons between them. But it would be good to think there was a place in the world for both of them.

The Sword of Honour trilogy is on the list of 110 books you should read that was in The Sunday Telegraph list yesterday. The reason for starting it though was not that list but a sense that this would complement Powell in the sense that as he nears the war here is a trilogy set just a couple of years ahead.

Having said that it starts in Italy not London and with a rather confusing family tree that you try to get through to settle on a central character. After a few pages Guy Crouchback emerges as the focus and he shuts up the family home in Italy and heads back to London to join up and make a difference. On his way out of Italy he is reminded everywhere of Mussolini’s image but his fascist supporting cab driver believes there will be no war because nobody wants it on either side.

Back in London it does feel a bit like Dance to the Music of Time with Guy doing the rounds of the clubs bumping into old acquaintances who are all in uniform. he finally manages to get into uniform and then the fun starts. There are a couple of comic moments where some real characters are introduced into the story. leading them with his monocled stare and blood thirsty stories of war is Colonel Ritchie-Hook, who seems determined to train his soldiers to die as quickly and gloriously as possible.

More tomorrow...

Lunchtime read: The Steep Approach to Garbadale

The same technique of flashbacks is used to build the narrative history up to the point where there can be a climax to the story.

For that to happen Banks tells you what happened with Sophie and Alban in the intervening years after they were caught in a compromising situation in the garden. They meet in LA and make love, something she seems to regret, and then after that meet again years later at a trade fair in Singapore.

In Singapore he opens his heart and tells her that he loves her but she rejects him – details of that encounter to come – and he seeks refuge in drink.

At the same time there are episodes weaved in with his family, mainly his grandmother, who he hates for splitting him and Sophie up. She can read him like a book and realises he is unhappy and wants to leave the family firm.

You also suspect she is the one behind his mother’s suicide but maybe I’m shooting the gun there. Mind you there is a murder mystery element to this book as well as the love story that surrounds Alban - will it be Sophie or the mathematician.

The mathematician drives him up to Garbadale and makes a subtle but convincing pitch to stay with him. But all she can do is wait to see what happens when Sophie arrives.

More tomorrow…

Sunday, April 06, 2008

bookmark of the week

This is an odd sized leather bookmark from an museum tucked away a stone's throw from London bridge and the crowd-fest that is The London Dungeon. The collection of memories of the war was vividly made real with the presence of an old evacuee who seemed to have popped in to take a trip down memory lane.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

A lost world

Having read the first four books of Dance to the Music of Time you start to get drawn into a world that seems so much friendlier than this one.

I have been wondering about whether or not it is possible to be more like Nicholas Jenkins, the narrator of the story, moving from scene to scene being willing to spend time talking and listening to people being friend to all and enemy to none.

The conclusion is that sadly it is not. For various reasons including the fact this is not pre-war Britain but a much darker society where walking around on a pub crawl with an old man like Jeavons at night would just be asking for trouble.

There is also the added factor that most of us are not treated with any where near the same levels of friendship and respect shown to Jenkins. These books are possibly much more attractive because they are describing a lost world. In that sense they remind me of Stephen Poliakoff’s TV dramas, particularly the last one about Capturing Mary, where that lost world of the evening drinks parties, black tie and aristocrats is so mesmerising.

At Lady Molly's - post IV

The final chapter is dominated by relationships. Jenkins announces his engagement but it is overshadowed by the news that his fiancé’s brother Erridge has run off to China with Quiggin’s partner Mona. There is no time to absorb that news because the next bombshell is the discovery that Widmerpool’s engagement has been called off.

Widmerpool did attempt to prove himself sexually on a weekend away that was witnessed by the General, a friend of Jenkins’s family introduced at the start of the book. The general tells him that after Widmerpool’s hasty departure Mildred had informed them that her engagement was off because her fiancé was not up to satisfying her.

Back in the formal surroundings of his engagement party Jenkins meets Widmerpool who informs him of his broken engagement but puts a completely different spin on it.

As I posted yesterday most of this book is set at night and the nocturnal feeling invades the narrative. Time is loosely defined and the hours that most people seem to keep are entirely flexible.

But this volume is also about love. In the case of Jenkins love at first sight. For Mona love of a type caused by boredom and for Widmerpool the lesson of how the flipside of success in a relationship is always failure.

A review ill follow after I have waded my way through the queue…

Lunchtime read: The Steep Approach to Garbadale

By now the style of flashbacks is starting to become familiar but it still can be frustrating. The frustration is when a memory seems unconnected to the next piece of plot development.

You can’t quite work out why Alban keeps going back to the drugged out losers he has been hanging around with in Perth. The complexity of his love life starts to unfold with the memory of chasing and then capturing the heart of the mathematics professor who is his on-off girlfriend. That is interspersed with flashbacks of him desperately trying to get in touch with Sophie after their families had separated them.

A question starts to form in your mind that is quite crucial to your participation in the story. Do you like Alban? Is something you keep asking, quickly followed up by whether or not you want him to get back with Sophie.

You might want him to discover who drive his mother to suicide but as to his personal love life – well let’s see of we care when it comes to that bit.

More next week…

Friday, April 04, 2008

At Lady Molly's - post III

Having met his future wife the partners are again switched in the dance and Jenkins gets a chance to spend an evening in the company of lady Molly’s rather odd husband Jeavons.

Starting at a pub just off Oxford Street the two men decide to visit a club owned by Dicky Umfraville and are gossiping in the corner about different things when all of a sudden Peter Templer along with Widmerpool and his fiancé Mildred enter the club. They join forces but not before Jeavons has confided to Jenkins that he had a one night stand with Mildred during the last war. They seem to hit it off again and Widmerpool has to excuse himself suffering from the ill effects of jaundice.

Oddly for a first person narrative the details of the courtship and blossoming love for Isobel Tolland is almost completely absent from the story – might appear later on perhaps – which seems rather odd when other relationships have been so carefully examined.

There is also a sense in this book that the action takes place at night. Late night pub-crawls along with evening drinks at Lady Molly’s dominate the social landscape giving it a quite nocturnal feel.

Last chapter tomorrow…

Lunchtime read: The Steep Approach to Garbadale

Fielding manages to convince Alban to join him on the London tour of his campaign to get support to fight the takeover deal. On the list of people to visit are Fielding’s parents as well as Alban’s own.

A smattering of recollections about one night stands with beautiful women and an awkward trip to Paris with Fielding’s brother are interspersed with a chance to meet old family.

But the main story gets another injection of pace when Alban sits with his father drinking and starts to ask questions about his mother. Through the flashback device you sit in the mind of the mother as she puts on the poacher’s coat, fills the pockets with stones and walks out into the sea.

The father clears himself of suspicion but that just points the finger at someone else in the family keeping the mystery going. Other flashbacks also detail the moment the teenage relationship with Sophie took on a sexual element and the moment when they were discovered by her father and their grandmother.

More tomorrow…

Thursday, April 03, 2008

At Lady Molly's - post II

Widmerpool is one of those odd characters that inspires mockery in some people but never in the narrator Nicholas Jenkins. He seems to accept that he will bump into his old school acquaintance at various times in his life.

On each occurrence Widmerpool displays an odd mix of a highly ambitious man hungry for power and influence but one also prone to gaffs both of a social and a physical nature.

Sitting down to lunch with him the conversation or pre-marital sexual relations comes up and Widmerpool displays a self-obsession with his own problems that although not bothering Jenkins is noted by the narrator.

He leaves his old school friend, who is now set on a plan to be a Mr and Mrs Smith in a hotel one weekend soon, to go and meet his future in-laws. The old general and his wife, who were first introduced at the start of the story are bemused by the prospect of Widmerpool entering their family. But the arrival of one of the Tolland girls changes things and the scene swishes off, just as a dance with another partner, to another location.

This time there is a chance for Jenkins to be taken into the heart of scandal with a trip to the flat of Norah Tolland and Frederica Walpole-Wilson who are sharing their flat. He hears about their strange brother and meets a lesbian piano player before escaping.

A chance meeting with Quiggin leads to an invitation to the country and a chance more by mistake than design to meet the Tolland boy that everyone is moaning about. He turns out to be Quiggin’s patron and Marxist mentor.

A meal at the large house that Tolland lives in is interrupted by the appearance of the youngest Tolland sister Isobel and jenkins is back in love but this time there is a ring of permanence to it.

“The sound of girls' voices and laughter came from the passage outside. Then the door burst open, and two young women came boisterously into the room . . . The elder, so it turned out, was Susan Tolland; the younger, Isobel.

The atmosphere changed suddenly, violently. One became all at once aware of the delicious, sparkling proximity of young feminine beings. The room was transformed."

"Would it be too explicit, too exaggerated, to say that when I set eyes on Isobel Tolland, I knew at once that I should marry her?"

More tomorrow…

Lunchtime read: The Steep Approach to Garbadale

In many respects this book does remind you of The Crow Road because it is all about families and the secrets they possess. In the case of the Crow Road it was murderous secret and in the case of The Steep Approach it looks like being something not too dissimilar.

Banks is slowly but surely building up to a crescendo. On one level the climax is going to be about the future destiny of the family company. On another level it is about the meeting again of Alban and the love of his life Sophie. But it is also going to be the backdrop to the solving of the mystery of Alban’s mother.

As Fielding drags Alban round the family to rally support for the opposition to the company takeover the central focus of the story is given information that starts to unlock the mystery of his past.

His great Aunt Beryl tells him that his mother tried to commit suicide to get rid of Alban before he was born because she said someone wanted her to get rid of the pregnancy. That mysterious person could be his father but more than likely it is someone in the family.

Throughout there are flashbacks about the relationship with Sophie and how it went from friendship to love. Innocent games played in the bushes in the garden are then contrasted with a present day moment between Alban and his current girlfriend.

The questions are piling up and heading for a climatic showdown at Gran’s birthday and the AGM at the family home at Garbadale.

More tomorrow…

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

At Lady Molly's - post I

The plan was to read the first three books and then take a break but before that thought even had a chance to settle the fourth book had already been started.

There is something very comfortable about the world described by Powell. No one ever seems to get hurt, even after losing their wives or their fortunes, and the same small circle of people keeps widening but always via a connection that has already been made.

So in this case Lady Molly is introduced via a relationship with an old couple that Jenkins was introduced to as a child. But the result is that he is reintroduced to the Tolland family, which is blighted by an odd son and a daughter in an apparently scandalous lesbian relationship. The lesbian theme is another echo of the Proustian world that Powell is so often credited with putting a British spin on.

There are a few lines here and there that bring you up to speed very quickly on the fact that jean Templer has got back together with her estranged husband and as a result the relationship with Nicholas is over.

There are also a few hints that Hitler is in power in Germany and there is a growing sense of unease among the politically aware. There is also a reference to Nicholas’s job as a scriptwriter as part of the quota system that was designed to protect the British film industry.

But as usual what keeps this moving along is the colourful characters and the inevitable appearance of Widmerpool – this time engaged to a woman older and more charismatic than he could ever be.

More tomorrow…

Lunchtime read: The Steep Approach to Garbadale

Maybe it is an unwise decision but it seemed only fair to give Iain Banks another go and take advantage of a discount on his new book, The Steep Approach to Garbadale.

Reading Banks in the past – The Wasp Factory and The Crow Road – has been a patchy experience and the views on the subject aired by fellow blogger Stephen Lang echo my own.

But for various reasons it seemed like an idea to give The Steep Approach a go. The start could be mistaken for an Irvine Welsh novel with the almost sterotypical drunk, drugged up Scottish slackers being introduced.

What saves it from going off in the wrong direction is the development of the story about a wealthy family that is rounding up all its relatives to fight a takeover of the family firm by a US operation.

One of those identified as being against the deal is Alban Wopuld and it is from a drunken stupour that his cousing Fielding drags him away to appear at his Gran’s 80th birthday and an family meeting to decide the future of the business at the family home at Garbadale.

Through a series of flashbacks, that are occasionally confusingly introduced, you gather that Alban broke away from the family partly because of the politics and also because of his failed romantic relationship with his cousin Sophie.

More tomorrow…

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Acceptance World - post III

If the first book was about education, the second about entering the social world of dances and gossipy dinners then the third book culminates sealing the themes of love and adulthood.

The reason for the adulthood suggestion is that by the end Jenkins is secretly seeing Jean and most of his contemporaries have either suffered a marriage breakdown (Templer and Stringham) and as the fortune telling Mrs Endleigh pointed to at the start thoughts are on the future not the past.

This is illustrated with Widmerpool choosing the school reunion dinner to break convention and speak about his own success. Rather than conform to his image of the past he wants to establish another more successful name for himself. His outburst leads to his old house master La Bas suffering a stroke. At the end of the dinner, which breaks up quickly Jenkins and Widmerpool have to help Stringham, who is so drunk he can hardly walk, home and into bed.

A sense of failure, heart break and realism has crept in and it is no longer a case of reading about young friends and acquaintances dreaming of success and wealth.

A review will follow soon…

Lunchtime read: The Man on the Balcony

A chance encounter with the woman who reported the man on the balcony with a young police officer provides the location for Beck to focus on. Entering an empty flat the evidence is there that links the killer to the murders of the two girls.

Noe they have an identity they start a chase to catch him before he kills again. In the end Beck ironically catches the wrong man and it is left to two humorous traffic cops to prevent another killing and bring in the real killer.

Although there is pace there what doesn’t quite work is the leap between the seraching for a man in the park and the man on the balcony. Usually these books are accurate but with that moment it is pushing the suspension of disbelief slighty further than you would like.

The other problem is that throughout the book everyone is at each other’s throats and that starts to make it a rather depressing read because even with the killer caught there is little sign of relief.

A review will follow soon…

bookmark of the week

This is overdue but the bookmark of the week is an interesting one. I normally pick up bookmarks from places I have visited or from bookshops. But this bookmark was so unusual that I chose to buy it off eBay. It is a bit of a mystery because it leaves you wondering if there was a library on the Underground for the public or if there was something that staff could use. Also the stamped dates on the bookmark indicate that this was being used before through and after the Second World War. As something that at least makes you think when you are pausing between pages it is a great bookmark.