Sunday Salon – This Week’s Reading

I’m late coming to the Sunday Salon today, because just as I was finishing writing this post we had a power cut, which lasted nearly four hours and when it came back on I found that I hadn’t saved all of it! Last Sunday the heavy rain that had been forecast held off for our walk among the bluebells, in fact it was a warm sunny afternoon and there were still lots of bluebells in the woods. It’s been a mixed week weather wise – we’ve had sunshine and torrential rain, coming down like stair rods as my father used to say. But it has meant that everything in the garden is growing like mad. I love this time of year when the leaves are still small enough to see the branches. We have two small apple trees and a cherry tree which have now blossomed – promise of fruit later in the year.

On the reading front for some of the week I’ve been in the company of Dalziel and Pascoe, but mostly Pascoe as the book is The Death of Dalziel by Reginald Hill. Because I watched the BBC series before I read any Dalziel books in my mind I see Warren Clarke as Dalziel and Colin Buchanan as Pascoe. It’s a complicated plot with all the sub-plots intricately interwoven. The characters are so believable and the mystery so absorbing that I just had to read it through to the end. It was a while ago that I watched this on TV so, even though I knew what the outcome was I couldn’t remember the details. What I don’t remember from the TV are the episodes describing what is going on inside Dalziel as he lies in hospital unconscious (he was caught in the blast of a hugh Semtex explosion).

This is a nice example. Dalziel is

floating uneasily above Mid-Yorkshire. His unease derives not from his ability to defy gravity, which seems quite natural, but his fear that someone below might mistake him for a zeppelin and shoot him down.

Because he is Dalziel he breaks wind and his

… relief is huge and more than physical.
‘Dead men don’t fart!’ he cries triumphantly.
Dalziel breaks wind again, this time with such force he gets lift-off and accelerates into the bright blue yonder like a Cape Canaveral rocket. Soon the startled starling is nothing more than a distant mote, high above which an overweight, middle-aged detective superintendent at last realises the Peter Pan fantasy of his early childhood and laughs with sheer delight as he tumbles and soars between the scudding clouds of a Mid-Yorkshire sky.
In complete contrast I’m in the middle of The Maytrees by Annie Dillard. Some years ago I read and thoroughly enjoyed Pilgrim at Tinker Creek which won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction in 1975. In that book I was fascinated by the detail and description of the natural world that Dillard saw at the Creek and I expected her novel would much in the same vein. But for me it is too sparsely written, too economical. The Maytrees is about a couple, Toby and Lou who marry and have a son Petie, living out their seemingly non-eventful lives at Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod. After 14 years of marriage Maytree just ups and leaves with Deary Hightoe, which is as far as I have read. Part of me loves this book for the descriptions of the setting and characters, but part of me struggles with prose that seems so detached from emotion.
I always like to have more than one book on the go, so although I’m only progressing slowly with Les Miserables I’ve also started to read Our Longest Days, diary entries of people living during the Second World War. It’s fascinating reading about the war as it was experienced by the people left at home, enduring the bombing of Britain and the threat of invasion. I’m up to December 1940 – Herbert Brush, then aged 71 was living in London, described what he had done to make staying in the dugout more comfortable, with a paraffin stove, a curtain across the entrance and shields to keep the draught off the bunks on each side of the dugout:

It is quite a comfortable place now, when one gets used to the cramped space and the inability to turn over without falling off the bunk, for folk of my size.

It’s a touching account of the war years full of personal hopes and fears.

Finally I started to read John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids yesterday. So far I’m finding this an immensely satisfying book, easy to read, and full of suspense about a world where genetic variations are seen as Offences and Abominations that have to be rooted out and destroyed. Chillingly, when a baby is born it has to be inspected and if there is any deviation from what has been decided is normal, ie made in the image of God, even if there is the slightest blemish then it is taken away and never heard of again. My copy is an old second-hand Penguin book published in 1959 and I’m intrigued by the references on the cover to ‘what is unhappily known as – science fiction’, and again as writing that is ‘so unscientifically called Science Fiction‘. I must look up the history of sci-fi writing.

9 thoughts on “Sunday Salon – This Week’s Reading

  1. I am soooo sorry about the power going out. This happened, not with the power, but out internet was off for a couple of hours. Blogger has an auto-save feature. When you go to your dashboard and then click “Posts” look up where it says: Your Posts: All, Drafts, Scheduled, Published.It should be under Drafts. Hope this helps in the future.


  2. It sounds like you have really done some productive reading. It is interesting when a single author has two drastically different writing styles. I tend to like sprawling fiction myself. The only book of Dillard’s I have read is The Writing Life. It is a very tiny book, but I actually don’t remember it very clearly. I do remember not being as blown away by it as I expected to be.


  3. I felt the same way about The Maytrees. I loved the description but never really got pulled into it. In fact, until being reminded of it here, I’d even forgotten that I’d put it down a few months ago (at about page 100) and not picked it back up again. Perhaps I’ll check back here to see if I will do so or not. That happens to me more and more the older I get. I just want reads to me more compelling I guess. Not necessarily easy or comfortable, just something I look forward to coming back to. A lovely post. I’m sorry you had to rewrite some of it. TJ


  4. I loved ‘The Death of Dalziel’. Definitely one of the better Reginald Hill’s and at his best he is very very good. Like you, I came to them first through the television and so can’t divorce the characters form the actors involved. ‘The Chrysalids’ is a book I really ought to go back to. I read it as a teenager and was very much affected by it. I think it’s the best of his work, so psychologically realistic. I don’t think I still have my copy. Off to the library again!


  5. I’m not sure what to think about the possibility of reading The Maytrees — I admire Dillard, but I’m worried about getting bored by her. I’ve read bits of Pilgrim but haven’t quite been inspired to read the whole thing. This ambivalence is enough to keep me from The Maytrees, although I’ve heard positive things about it from other readers. We’ll see …


  6. Thanks JK. Most of the post had been auto-saved – it was the photos and links I had to re-do. It’s so annoying when you get cut off isn’t it!Megan, I’d forgotten that I’ve read the Writing Life too! I can’t have found it fantastic either.TJ I nearly gave up on The Maytrees, but something drew me back. I like books to be compelling too – life is too short and there are too many other books to read.Table Talk, The Chysalids has taken me by surprise – it’s so much better than The Kraken Wakes. I was reminded of that book last night when I saw ‘Flood’ on ITV!Dorothy, do you know I think that might be the problem with The Maytrees – dare I say that it’s just a tad boring in parts.


  7. I have Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and The Maytrees both at home waiting to be read. As they are so different, I don’t guess that it matters which I read first. Although this time of year may be a good time to read Pilgrim for the descriptions that you mention.


  8. I had a hard time getting through “The Maytrees,” too – even though I loved “Tinker Creek” many years ago. I thought some of the descriptive parts were memorable, but you’re right about the emotional detachment. I just never really found the plot or characters very credible.


  9. How interesting that the Penguin blurb-writer was so very dismayed at the idea of the novel being called ‘science fiction’! I suppose I can understand the concern in 1959, when the genre was still mostly identified with pulp magazines — but then again, it hasn’t really changed that much with the years. I seem to remember Margaret Atwood getting quite snippy at people who refer to her future-dystopia novels as science fiction. Maybe it’s because I’ve come to the literary world as an sf reader, but I’m not sure I see what all the fuss is about.John Clute is an interesting and articulate scholar of science fiction, but I don’t know if he’s written a comprehensive history.


Comments are closed.