Weekly Fragments ~ December 1st

woman-reading-by-the-harbour-james-tissotI feel a celebration is in order simply because I’ve actually managed to reach this weekend in one piece.  I can vaguely remember looking forward to this Saturday and Sunday from the distance of a fortnight ago and not being entirely certain that I was going to make it.  But, here I am and all is well, if you don’t count the fact that I am now so far behind with my course on historical fiction that the course itself will be historical by the time I catch up and that I have two days in which to read On Chesil Beach for a reading group meeting early next week. This will be a third reading for me and having just looked over the first dozen or so pages I am very interested in how much my reaction to the text is altered by having discussed it with other groups in the past.  This is very much a book where every word is laden with meaning once you know where the author is going.  More than most it is a novel(lla) where re-capturing that first response is completely impossible.  I am going to have to temper my remarks when it comes to the meeting because the other members of the group haven’t read it before and consequently will have had a very different experience.

Part of what has made these last few days so hectic has been a rash of visiting speakers.  Some were excellent including the lecturer who started out by declaring that ‘common sense is wrong’!  That’s my sort of academic. However, the one whose topic appealed to me most turned out not only to be a poor speaker but to have set off to tell the world about his research before he’d actually done any, or at least not enough to have anything to say about it.  As always that was so embarrassing, especially when it came to question time, because it was difficult to ask anything that didn’t make his inadequacies even more apparent than they already were.  The thing with visiting speakers is that you don’t just have to put aside the time to listen to them, but also the time to entertain them and to see that they get back on their train safely – and it’s all good reading time.  You can see I’m not feeling very hospitable at the moment. I do try not to let it show.

But, I have got some reading done.  I finished Naguib Mahfouz’s Palace Walk and loved every word of it.  We had a first rate group discussion and then the following day, quite by chance, I got into conversation with someone who had lived in Cairo for over forty years and said that the Cairenes who remember the city in the days with which the latter part of his trilogy deals say how accurate he was in his depiction of both the people and the atmosphere.  I really want to read the other two parts of his tale, but they are so substantial and there is so much else I want to read in the very near future that I’m afraid it’s going to be some time before I get round to them.

Another substantial read is the latest in Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series, Just One Evil Act.  Coming in at well over six hundred pages I’m beginning to think that this is too long and that it would really have benefitted from a good edit.  I normally gobble my way through George’s work, but I can feel my self getting edgy and wanting to push the narrative on.  I will finish it, if only to find out if the goodie really is going to turn out to be a baddie, albeit a misguided one, but I suspect I shall start skim reading before too long.

And last weekend was taken up with the theatre in one form or another. On Saturday I went over to Stratford to see the RSC’s Antony and Cleoptra, which has been slightly tinkered around with and re-set in the time of Napoleon with Rome transposed to France and Egypt to Haiti.  It sounds as though it shouldn’t work and indeed the critics were scathing, so I wasn’t expecting much.  However, I thought it was excellent.  The transposition really emphasises the contrast between the two cultures and the verse was beautifully spoken.  I came out having had a very much better afternoon than I’d anticipated – always a bonus.  I think it’s still running so if you’d been thinking about going but have been put off by the reviews you might want to think again.

Then on Sunday I went to see the NTLive streaming of Nick Dear’s version of Frankenstein and found that I was having precisely the opposite experience.  While I could see that Dominic Cumberbatch’s performance was a tour de force, the continued iteration of the evil of mankind was just too much.  There are some good people around and occasionally it would be nice to see that fact celebrated.

Looking forward, as well as the McEwan I have to read Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh for a different group and I’ve just picked up the new Sara Paretsky, Critical Mass.  Paretsky is my favourite of the American crime writers.  I love how she has not been frightened to let V I Warshawski age along with the series and thereby have to face the annoying frailties and limitations that come with getting older.  She is my role model and I can’t wait to get through all my prescribed reading in order to spend some quality time with her.

And then, of course, there is the little matter of the first book from Heywood Hill, which ought to be dropping through my letter box towards the end of the coming week.  The question is, will I have the courage to open the package and see what it is!

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15 thoughts on “Weekly Fragments ~ December 1st

  1. Ah Alex – I had to drop the historical fiction class because of some family issues which wouldn’t allow me to focus. Of the other books you mention I’ve read On Chesil Beach – good book! And I’ve already said (somewhere on your blog) how much I enjoyed the Cario series by Mahfouz. I wasn’t all that happy with The Moor’s Last Sigh – too much Indian politics for my background.

    I also want to see about the crime books you mentioned as I really, really enjoy a good crime novel. I’ve got The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt) started here – speaking of long books (grin) and loved The Luminaries (Eleanor Catton) which, imo, certainly counts as a crime/mystery book even if it is very historical and wonderfully well written. I’ve been meaning to try something by Elizabeth George.

    1. Becky, I’m determined to finish the historical fiction course even if I’m late completing; the more so because, having just started one on the UK platform which is so bad as to be patronising, I am beginning to realise how good it is.

      If you want some UK crime writers to look out for then I would strongly recommend S J Bolton, Jane Casey, Tana French (Irish, but similar enough) and Elly Griffiths as good starting points. They’re very different from each other but all excellent in their way. And if you want something very different then Ben Aaronovitch. In each case it would be best to start at the beginning if their series but where Aaronovitch is concerned it is essential. You don’t stand any chance whatsoever of catching onto what is happening if you don’t.

  2. I haven’t read the newest Elizabeth George yet but I had exactly that response to the last one: that she was just going on and on, not in interesting enough directions to make it worth while, and she needed an editor who cared enough to say so. I wonder if successful authors after a while get very little editing (after all, their books will sell anyway, right?). Resources and time are scare so why bother … except that the result may be a book that’s not as good as it could be. But see, I’ll still read this one for myself anyway, just to catch up with the characters.

    1. That’s precisely why I’m going on with it, Rohan because it is clear that by the end there are going to have been major changes in both Lynley and Barbara’s lives and other important characters are going to be affected as well. However, as you say, the last one was very similar and so I’m beginning to think I may not go forward with this series. There are so many new writers coming on to the scene whose work I admire more that something is going to have to go to make time for them. George may be one of those that I decide to drop.

  3. How interesting to hear that people who know have said that Mahfouz’s portrayal of Cairo is so accurate. It’s not surprising at all, but still good to hear, since what I remember most about the novel is the sense of the city he creates. It sounds fascinating to read On Chesil Beach so many times and to have your thoughts about it develop and change. I’ve only read it once, and it would be worth a reread at some point, I’m sure. Not that I’ll actually do it, mind you, since there is so much new to read! 🙂

    1. One of the problems about books groups is that they do have a tendency to select books that I’ve already read and for the most part I resent time spent re-reading unless I’ve chosen which books I think I need to read again. Perhaps I should make a rule not to read anything until it’s been out for at least a year in paperback so that if it’s going to turn up on a list it will have already done so, but I don’t think I have the discipline to wait.

    1. There will be a couple of quieter weeks over Christmas. I don’t have family so I don’t have the same hectic rush that most people do. But I know I’m taking on too much at the moment and one of the things I’m going to have to do over that period I’d take a hard look at my schedule and see what can be trimmed.

  4. Can I be awful and say that I’m relieved Frankenstein wasn’t that pleasing? It’s purely selfish really — my cinema doesn’t often get the National Theatre broadcasts, so I am always greedily hoping that the plays weren’t that good anyway. :p

    1. Definitely allowed, Jenny. I know how frustrating it is not to be able to see something that everyone else is raving about. For various reasons I don’t do evenings and this can really curtail my entertainment, so I appreciate just how you feel.

  5. Hurray for surviving a tough week! I am finding it hard at the moment to manage with as many words in my head as I’d really like to be there. I’m reading a couple of review books, as well as books for my own research, and writing another essay and.. well, who would have thought that having a head overstuffed with words would be physically demanding? Turns out that it is. I’d love to read the Cairo trilogy, and you know I’m a huge fan of Sara Paretsky. I also loved Chesil Beach so I hope you have a good discussion over that. And I wish I’d heard the lecturer who was against common sense! Nothing like starting off a speech with a controversial remark! Phew – hope you have some quieter days ahead.

    1. Having a head stuffed with words is a nightmare. Apart from anything else think of the weight you’re carrying around! The ‘On Chesil Beach’ discussion was very good indeed. We were pretty much split between those who could admire the craft and not need to like the people and those who found that the craft wasn’t enough to carry them through. I do wish, though, that we’d had some men in the group because it would have been really interesting to get a male perspective on Edward. Try and find time for ‘The Cairo Trilogy’. I’m sure you would love it.

  6. I dropped Elizabeth George a few years ago, after reading What Came Before He Shot Her, and what you say about her newest sounds like she’s still headed in the same direction, so thanks for making me aware that it’s not time to reconsider! You did make me think about how much I enjoyed Paretsky a few years back, so I have her newest out of the library.

    1. I got nowhere with ‘What Came Before He Shot Her’ either Jeanne. I did get to the end of this one eventually and once we’d got well launched onto the second plot it wasn’t so bad. However, I simply didn’t believe what happened at the end. One problem I have with crime fiction is the number of rogue cops who go off and do their own thing (I don’t mean criminal, just completely idiosyncratic). I simply don’t believe the service would stand for them.

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