Weekly Fragments ~ November 15th

142004194470138886_zzjkurbS_fI’ve had a rather difficult week in some respects and so I haven’t really got as much done as I’d hoped I would the last time I wrote one of these Fragments.  I could really do with a picture of someone tearing their hair out rather than sitting reading as if there was all the time in the world to pour over the newspaper before gently contemplating what the world has to offer after that second cup of tea.  In part this was my own fault because for reasons I will tell you about in a later post I took myself off to London on Tuesday and by Wednesday had to recognise that this is a trip I no longer have the necessary stamina to undertake.  I still haven’t completely recharged my batteries and as a consequence I am yet again behind in my reading.

I have almost managed to catch up with the lectures for my Historical Fiction MOOC and will find some time later today to go over to our discussion site and add to the comments there.  I’m still bitterly disappointed by the choice of books set for this course and eventually gave up on Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.  Life is just too short and my time too precious to spend it reading a book that simply doesn’t catch my attention, especially as I had to work my way through another such novel for a reading group last week.  I said last time that I wouldn’t have picked up Jonas Jonasson’s The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared off my own bat but was willing to give it a try because so many people had said it was worth reading.  Well, I’m sorry but I have to disagree.  When I think of all the excellent fiction there is out there just waiting for someone to come along and translate it I despair that novels like this get picked up and accorded so much attention. Given that it is advertised as an International Best Seller I recognise that I must be in the minority here, but to be truthful there wasn’t that much enthusiasm for it in the group as a whole when we met on Wednesday to discuss it.  Perhaps we all had the wrong sort of sense of humour.

I was also disappointed with the crime novel I’d picked out to leaven the work load.  I posted about Val McDermid’s latest Tony Hill novel, Cross and Burn, last weekend and explained there how I felt that this book had come out too soon and was still in need of a lot of work.  Those of you who know me will be aware that this is an increasingly anguished cry of mine because I’m convinced that popular authors are being pushed into publishing one book a year for the Christmas market whether said book is ready or no. This one wasn’t.  

However, just in case you think I’m in a real grump (I am, but I’m trying to find a bright spot) I did also read the new Ben Aaronovitch Broken Homes. If you haven’t read Aaronovitch’s crime fiction it’s rather hard to explain what it’s about.  I once saw it described as a cross between the police procedural and Harry Potter and that isn’t as far fetched as it might sound. This is the fourth in the series and I’m telling you now that if you don’t start at the beginning with Rivers of London you don’t stand any chance whatsoever of understanding what is going on, but I think it’s worth the journey.  As you get to know Peter Grant, a young PC who suddenly finds himself caught up in the London manifestation of a mythical and magical underworld linked through their alchemical heritage (the London practitioners are known as Issacs after Newton) to the past history of the capital, you learn with him just how much of that past is still potent and influential.  Of course, you are going to have to suspend your disbelief as you meet the spirits of the various London rivers and watch as Peter does battle with the Faceless Man, but at the same time Aaronovitch manages to conjure up the essence of London as it is today and patch the two together seamlessly.  I suspect these novels are an acquired taste but one that I am definitely cultivating.

So, what is on the cards for this week.  Well, I have to read the next book for my Historical Fiction course, Geraldine Brooks, The Year of Wonder. This is about Eyam, the small village in Derbyshire whose inhabitants agreed to seal the village off in 1666 to prevent the plague from spreading to neighbouring settlements thus condemning themselves to almost certain death.  I’ve read a number of Brooks other novels and enjoyed them, so I’m hoping that I’ll fare better with this than with the previous two selections.  However, I know Eyam very well and so I am going to be hypercritical, I’m afraid.  This is a true story and those courageous people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, so I’m going to be demanding a lot where this set text is concerned.

Then I have my next book group read to finish for Wednesday.  This is Naguib Mahfouz’s novel Palace Walk, the first of his Cairo trilogy and a work influential in his being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  I’m about a quarter of the way through and I can see that it is a very well written book, but I’m finding it hard to sympathise with Mahfouz’s portrayal of Cairo society during the First World War.  I accept that it was a world where the men got their way in everything and ‘respectable’ women were incarcerated in the house for pretty much the totality of their lives, existing only to serve their husband’s will, but it does make it hard to sympathise with any of the characters and The Bears are having to frequently put their paws in their ears to block out my vitriolic comments as to what I would do to the main male protagonist should I get anywhere near him with a sharp knife.  I suspect that this is one of those cases where you need to read the whole trilogy to really appreciate the role of any one of the three books, but whether I shall have time to do that in the near future I very much doubt.

Where lighter reading is concerned I have the latest in Laura Wilson’s Ted Stratton series to begin.  The Riot is another London crime novel, this time set in 1958 and centred around the Notting Hill Riots of that period which grew out of increasing racial tension in the capital and the rise of Rachmanism – so maybe not so light after all.  The thing I love about this series is the detailed way in which Wilson captures the social history of the time.  The first book, Stratton’s War, is one of the best evocations of the London Blitz that I know as well as being a first rate crime novel.

And only one theatre visit this week, Tartuffe at the Rep this afternoon.  I don’t know much about the play or the production so I’m going with an open mind.  Some you win and some you lose – that’s my philosophy where the theatre is concerned.  I’m hoping this one will be a winner.

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28 thoughts on “Weekly Fragments ~ November 15th

  1. Well better luck on your upcoming reads than the past week’s. I do think Year of Wonders to be Geraldine Brooks’ best work to date – I’ve read all her novels. Caleb’s Crossing was okay.

    Palace Walk by Mafouz is brilliant and although the others in the series aren’t nearly as good, the books work together nicely. You’re right, the characters are not really “likable,” but if I remember correctly the situations do increase the reader’s sympathy for a couple of them (no spoilers).

    1. The quality of Mafouz writing leaves me breathless, Becky, although I wish I wasn’t having to read it in translation. I suspect we may find ourselves putting the other novels on the reading group list for later in the year because he is exactly the sort of writer the group likes.

  2. Sorry about your tiring week and disappointing books. I did have a look at the opening of The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared on Amazon when it was on offer a while back and decided it wasn’t for me, so in a strange way I’m glad you didn’t take to it either!:)

    Now The Year of Wonder does appeal to me. I know just what it feels like when a book is set in a location I know – and things are wrong.It’s most disturbing. So I hope the book is accurate.

    1. So far the book is accurate in terms of the setting, Margaret. I could almost be walking down Eyam’s main street. However, she is mingling real people with twisted versions of real people, with made up people and I’m finding that disturbing. Why not stick with the real story or make up a different village and tell a similar tale? This mingling isn’t working for me.

      I really don’t think the Jonasson is your sort of book. I’d follow your own instincts and steer clear.

  3. Sorry about the difficult week! That’s a lot of reading you have going on: too bad more of it isn’t better. I quite enjoyed Palace Walk after a while, though I had a slow start with it. I have the next two in the trilogy but put off reading them until now I’m afraid I’d have to read the first one again to know who everybody is. I haven’t read the Geraldine Brooks you mention but was fairly disappointed in March so have kind of avoided her others.

    1. I had exactly the same experience with Palace Walk, Rohan. The first fifty pages or so were hard work but now that I’m more than half way through it I don’t want to put it down. Mind you, I would get on much faster if I didn’t spend half my time yelling at the main character, who is not obnoxious because of the time and culture in which he lives but would have been a bullying, hypocritical tyrant whenever and wherever he had been born. The Bears are sitting here with their paws in their ears.

    1. I’m having problems with it, Cleopatra because she can’t seem to make her mind up whether she is writing about the real village of Eyam or a fictionalised version of what happened there.

      1. Ah that is a shame, it is funny how we all have different requirements in a book. I always took it to be a fictionalised version of what happened in the village but I completely understand where you are coming from.

  4. Sorry to hear about the horrible week. I’m off to London myself for the day tomorrow, but it should be a fairly chilled day, meeting my best friend at the station, going for lunch, going to the Persephone shop and seeing her new house. I’m also going New St- Euston which cuts down on the tiring travelling time (although also the reading time) so hopefully that will make a difference.
    I dislike historical fiction (except for the old Anya Seton types) and don’t fancy that man that climbed out of the window one but I enjoyed reading about your reading and plans. I’m reading a great novel at the moment that I really can’t put down, which is gratifying!

    1. Now that I’ve got into Palace Walk, Liz, it is really extremely good and I can see that I’m going to want to get hold of copies of the other two parts of the trilogy. My London journey was made solely for the purpose of visiting a bookshop, but there will be more about that later in the week. I hope you have a good day.

  5. Sorry to hear the London trip knocked you for six. I love the city but it is exhausting sometimes. Like you I am not enamoured by the reading for the course. Wish I had given up on Deliverance Dane because it truly was a dreadful book but for some perverse reason I kept going to the end. Am just about to start Fever so am hoping this is better.

    1. Oh dear, it doesn’t seem from the comments on your blog that ‘Fever’ is going to serve us any better, does it? It would be a terrible shame if all the course did was to put us off historical fiction for the rest of our reading lives 🙂 I find travelling any distance these days difficult but there are times when it has to be done. This didn’t have to be done but had a satisfactory outcome which I’ll write about later in the week.

  6. I think we have had very similar weeks! I went to the osteopath yesterday to deal with a sore left arm, which turns out to be more nerve damage from the tooth… sigh, endless trouble. He says he helped, but the arm’s sorer than ever… hopefully this is just that post-manipulation pain. And I’ve been on a run of not-terribly-good books too. Just this morning I finished The Safe House by Nicci French and it was awful. I’d really enjoyed their latest series with the psychotherapist-as-sleuth and thought I’d try one of the older ones. The multiple murders and convoluted plot were implausible enough but THEN there’s a moment when the main character throws off her writer’s block and produces a brilliant research book on trauma in a few weeks, not needing to even glance at her notes because the information was ‘all in her head anyway’. I thought, oh so we really HAVE moved into the realm of fantasy then!

    1. Oh yes, osteopaths always leave you feeling far more bruised than you went in feeling whatever they tell you about how much better things are. It is amazing how much nerve damage in one part of the body transfers itself around to unexpected places, isn’t it. I’ve had exactly the same experience with Nicci French. I really enjoy what I think of as the days of the week stories, but the earlier work leaves me completely cold. I wonder if readers who’ve enjoyed those early books get on with this new series or if they really are aimed at a different audience?

  7. You have so much going on! I’m not surprised but am still sad to see in the comments that Brooks isn’t doing a great job capturing Eyam very well. I liked the book but didn’t love it, but I know nothing of Eyam, so that part didn’t bother me at all. I read and enjoyed Palace Walk, but not enough to want to dive into the other two in the trilogy. I think one book might be enough for me with Mahfouz. I liked it, but not enough to be pushed to read further.

    1. The further in I get with Palace Walk the more interested I get, especially now the politics of the country is beginning to come more to the fore. I think I shall have to read the other two although possibly not straight after I’ve finished the first. I’m beginning to suspect that reading books about real life situations I know isn’t for me. I know some people love it and I also know that authors have a very good reason for changing certain facts, but it doesn’t seem to be working for me.

  8. It seems a very dissapointing choice of novels to study – at least with the Laura Wilson you have a historical novel to enjoy, she is an excellent crime novelist. I remember listening to the World Service reading of Palace Walk years ago and I always meant to read it – must hunt out my copy!

    1. The first fifty pages take a bit of dedication, Ian, but once you’ve got involved with the characters I think you’ll find it hard to put down. Yes, Wilson is superb, isn’t she? I’ve only read her Stratton novels. Have you read any of her stand alone work? Are they as good?

      1. Only read one stand alone. I think it was called The Lover and was a novel of brooding intensity with the central figure of an RAF fighter pilot in 1940 who is a serial killer. Worth reading but I do prefer the Stratton novels.

  9. I read the first Aaronovitch novel and you’ve made me think I should search it out and put it in my daughter’s room, for when she returns from her semester in London. If she likes it, then I can better rationalize ordering the next one, which isn’t available in the local public library yet.

    1. Oh do! I bumped into a complete stranger in the library this morning who was just taking out the new one and we spent a good ten minutes rhapsodising over them. He is so good about both London as it is today and it’s back history. In his way he knows and loves the city as much as Peter Ackroyd does, and that really is saying something. Where is your daughter studying and what is she reading?

      1. She at a Grinnell-in-London program that shares space with University College, London. She was taking Shakespeare (thus the Richard II tickets), Modern British Drama, Art History, and History of London. Now that term is over and she’s taking a 3-week course in Irish Literature, going to Ireland for four days this week.

        1. Green with envy at this end, Jeanne. I used to teach Irish Literature and had some wonderful times over there. No one knows the meaning of the world hospitality like the Irish do.

  10. Sorry your trip was so tiring. I hope you are catching your breath and had fun at Tartuffe. I’ve not heard of Aaronovitch before. I’m not much of a crime reader but the sound of these makes me think maybe. I hope you enjoy Year of Wonders. I am interested in what you make of it especially since you know Eyam. I just finished Fever over the weekend. It was ok, overall. The first half of the book was actually pretty interesting but the second half of the book was mostly a snore.

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