I 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!