Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck

Sweet thursdayI read John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row five years ago. At the time I didn’t know he’d written a sequel – Sweet Thursday. So when I discovered it, as I’d loved Cannery Row I wanted to read it. Written in 1954, I think it’s just as good, set in Monterey on the California coast the 1950s after the Second World War when the cannery had closed down.

Sweet Thursday’ is what they call the day after Lousy Wednesday – one of those days that’s just bad from the start. But ‘Sweet Thursday’ is sunny and clear, a day when anything can happen.

I was delighted to find that there is just as much humour and generosity within its pages. Some of the same characters are still there, Mack, Hazel and friends who live in the Palace Flop-house (a dosshouse) and Doc too. There are some new characters, notably Suzy at the house called the Bear Flag, the local brothel. Dora who ran the Bear Flag had died and it has been taken over by her sister Fauna (previously known as Flora). Lee Chong had sold the grocery and it is now owned by a Mexican called Joseph and Mary Rivas.

I loved the opening of the Prologue:

One night Mack lay back on his bed in the Palace flop-house and he said, “I ain’t never been satisfied with that book Cannery Row, I would have went about it different.”

And after a while he rolled over and raised his head on his hand and he said, “I guess I’m just a critic. But if I ever come across the guy that wrote that book I could tell him a few things.”

Doc returned from the war to his laboratory, Western Biological Laboratories, now run down, covered in dust and mildew. He’d left Old Jingleballicks, in charge and he’d neglected it. But his heart is now longer in his work and the ‘worm of discontent‘ is gnawing at him – he feels a failure.

Whisky lost its sharp delight and the first long pull of beer from a frosty glass was not the joy it had been. He stopped listening in the middle of an extended story. He was not genuinely glad to see a friend …

What am I thinking? What do I want? Where do I want to go? There would be wonder in him, and a little impatience, as though he stood outside and looked in on himself through a glass shell …

Doc thought he was alone in his discontent, but he was not. Everyone on the Row observed him and worried about him. Mack and the boys worried about him. And Mack said to Fauna, “Doc acts like a guy that needs a dame.”

So they decide that Suzy is the answer. But Suzy, an independent spirit who isn’t much good as a hustler, doesn’t think she’s good enough for Doc. The schemes for getting the two of them together seem doomed from the start, ending in a disastrous party, when all Mack and Fauna’s good intentions seem to backfire. But this is not a tragedy, although at times it has touches of melancholy. Hazel, one of my favourite characters in the book, takes matters into his own hands. Although he appears to be slow and stupid, his problem is not that he lacks intelligence, but is that of inattention, as he just watches life go by. After the party he put his mind to thinking about what had gone wrong. And then he goes on a Quest …

Mack, in the Prologue, sums up for me what I like in a book. After saying that he likes to have a couple of words at the top of each chapter that tells what the chapter is about he says:

‘Well, I like a lot of talk in a book, and I don’t like nobody to tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. and another thing – I kind of like to figure out what the guy’s thinking by what he says. I like some description too,’ he went on. ‘I like to know what colour a thing is, how it smells and how it looks, and maybe how a guy feels about it – but not too much of that.’

This is what you get in Sweet Thursday, great dialogue, great sense of location, eccentric and funny characters, wit, humour, irony and a touch of farce and surrealism, along with plenty of philosophy. I loved it.

This was my Classics Club Spin book for May, but I was late finishing it! It’s also one of my TBRs and a book that qualifies for the What’s In a Name challenge.

 

The Classics Club Spin: My List

It’s time for another  Classics Club Spin. By 22 April compile a Spin List of twenty books that remain ‘to be read’ on your Classics Club list.

On that day the Classics Club will randomly pick a number and that will be the book to read. You then have until the 31st May 2019 to finish your book and review it.

I have only 15 unread books left on my list  so, I’ve repeated five of the titles to make the numbers up to 20 – Little Dorrit, Oliver Twist, The Return of the Native, Sweet Thursday and Clouds of Witness.

  1. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
  2. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  3. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  4. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  5. The Forsyte Saga (1) : The Man of Property by John Galsworthy
  6. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  7. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  8. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  9. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  10. Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers
  11. A Town Like Alice by Neville Shute
  12. The Saint- Fiacre Affair by Georges Simenon
  13. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
  14. The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey
  15. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  16. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  17. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  18. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  19. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
  20. Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers

I think I’d like it to be one of Charles Dickens’s books …

Top Ten Tuesday: Rainy Day Reads

top-ten-tuesday-new

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

This week’s topic is Rainy Day Reads (submitted by Shayna @ Clockwork Bibliotheca). My idea of a ‘rainy day read’ is that it is a book you can get lost in the story. I went round my bookshelves and picked out these books that I loved when I first read them – they are all books I’d happily re-read.

Click on titles below to see their descriptions on Goodreads.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, the classic that scared me when I first read about Pip’s meeting with Magwitch, the escaped convict in a graveyard. I must have been about 11 or 12 when I first read it – such memorable characters, the tragic Miss Haversham, cruel Estella, kind-hearted Joe Gargary as well as the terrifying Magwitch.

A book I first read and loved as a teenager – Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. It begins with this sentence: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. That first line has never failed to delight me and that dream sets the tone for the book. I’ve read it many times and each time I fall under its spell.

A book I read whilst recovering from flu – Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson, in which she records country life at the end of the 19th century – a portrait of a vanished England. It’s a gentle and beautiful picture of the lives of ordinary country people.

The first book by Kazuo Ishiguro that I read – The Remains of the Day I love the pathos of this novel about Stevens, an English butler, reminiscing about his service to Lord Darlington, looking back on what he regards as England’s golden age and his relationship with Miss Kenton who had been the housekeeper at Darlington Hall.

The first Tommy and Tuppence story I read, (but not the first one Agatha Christie wrote) – By the Pricking of My Thumbs in which ‘something wicked’ is afoot, there is evil about and Tuppence’s life is in danger. A dark and sinister tale.

Because I love cats I was drawn to this book in the bookshop one day in the 1990s – The Wild Road by Gabriel King. It’s a magical book of fantasy and adventure as cats and other animals navigate the ‘wild roads’ and meet the perils of sharing a world with humans – a story of good overcoming evil.

I first read some of Thomas Hardy’s books at school – The Woodlanders, though is one I’ve read after I began my blog. I love the way Hardy describes the landscape (the whole of this book is full of trees!) of Little Hintock in his fictional county of Wessex and how he integrates them with the characters.

The Falls by Ian Rankin  – this combines so much of what I like to read in crime fiction – a puzzling mystery, convincing characters, well described locations, historical connections and a strong plot full of tension and pace. When a carved wooden doll is found in a tiny coffin at The Falls Rebus then discovers that a whole series of them had been found dating back to 1836 when 17 were found on Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano within Holyrood Park, east of Edinburgh Castle.

The Rain Before it Falls by Jonathan Coe – there is so much that appealed to me in this book about three generations of women. It’s a story within a story – after her aunt Rosamond died Gill discovers family secrets she never knew before . 

And finally a beautiful book by Marghanita Laski – Little Boy Lost the story of Hilary Wainwright, who is searching for his son, lost five years earlier in the Second World War. It’s  emotional, heart-wrenching and nerve-wracking, full of tension, but never sentimental. It is a wonderful story!

Greenmantle by John Buchan

Greenmantle by John Buchan was my Classics Club Spin book to read by 31 January. I read the free Kindle edition (525 pages).

Greenmantle (Richard Hannay Book 2)

3*

Greenmantle is the second of five novels by John Buchan featuring the character of Richard Hannay, first published in 1916, the first being The Thirty-Nine Steps. It was written as the First World War was being fought, before the Battle of the Somme. Many of Buchan’s friends and his younger brother were killed in the war and his adventure stories are a form of escapism. It continues Hannay’s story, taking him from convalescence in  a big country house in Hampshire following the Battle of Loos in 1915, back to London for a vital meeting at the Foreign Office, and then to a top-secret and perilous mission across war-torn German-occupied Europe.

Narrated by Hannay, this is basically an adventure and spy story with a highly improbable plot. It’s pure escapism, as Hannay and his comrades, Sandy Arbuthnot, Peter Pienaar, a South African Boer, who Hannay met in South Africa when he was working as a mining engineer before the First World War, and an American, a dyspeptic businessman, John S Blenkiron embark on a quest, travelling incognito across Germany to Constantinople, reaching a climax at the battle of Erzurum in eastern Anatolia (Asian Turkey) in 1916.

Sandy, a master of disguise, is I think the hero of the book, although Hannay is the man in charge of their investigation. Ludovick Gustavus Arbuthnot, known as Sandy, was in the same battalion as Hannay during the Battle of Loos. The book begins as Hannay received a telegram from Sir Walter Bullivant summoning him to the Foreign Office where he offers him a ‘crazy and impossible mission’ to investigate the rumours of an uprising in the Muslim world. Bullivant tells him:

There is a dry wind blowing through the East, and the parched grasses wait the spark. And the wind is blowing towards the Indian border. Whence comes the wind, think you. (page 9)

The only clues they have to guide them are the words ‘Kasredin’, ‘cancer’ and ‘v.I’.

I was fascinated by the first half of the book as Hannay and the others set out on their mission, following the events of 1916, after the Gallipoli disaster as the Germans were supplying munitions to their allies, the Young Turks. Hannay describes his brief meeting with the Kaiser, Wilhelm II, who he felt had ‘loosed Hell, and the furies of Held had got hold of him.’

I didn’t think Buchan’s villains were particularly convincing as characters, the most evil being the mysterious Hilda von Einem. She fascinated Hannay whilst at the same time he instinctively hated her as he realised she was trying to cast a spell over him. The German Colonel von Stumm is a big man, a brute and a bully, whose ‘head was exactly the shape of a pear with the sharp end topmost’. Hannay thought he was

the German of caricature, the real German, the fellow we were up against.  He was as hideous as a hippopotamus, but effective. Every bristle on his odd head was effective. (page 84)

I liked the contrast between the ordinary and the exotic. The ordinary, such as the domestic scenes as in the opening scene of the book with Hannay just finishing breakfast and Sandy hunting for the marmalade. When Hannay returns from the Foreign Office with his mission in hand Sandy is eating teacakes and muffins. Blenkiron’s diet is mentioned several times as he only eats boiled fish and dry toast whilst drinking hot milk. On the other hand the exotic is found in the Garden-House of Suliman the Red, in the garden of a tumble-down coffee house, transformed from a common saloon into a place of mystery where the Companions of the Rosy Hours perform their potent magic of dance, making the world appear at one point ‘all young and fresh and beautiful’ then changing into something savage and passionate, ‘monstrous, inhuman, devilish’, until the spell is broken.

In the second half or the book the pace increases when they reach Constantinople and Buchan describes the action of the battle at Erzerum. But I found that it didn’t hold my attention as much as the earlier sections of the book, but then again I’m not keen on descriptions of battles and fighting. Overall, then I enjoyed it, which is why I’ve given it 3* on Goodreads.

This is my third book for the Mount TBR Challenge, a book I’ve owned for nearly 5 years, and as well as being on my Classics Club list it is also a book that fits into the When Are You Reading Challenge, being set in 1916, and as it it a spy/espionage story it also qualifies for the Calendar of Crime Challenge.

 

 

Six Degrees of Separation: from The French Lieutenant’s Woman to The Lieutenant

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins with The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles, a book I read and loved years ago but now I’ve forgotten most of the details – I’ve been meaning to re-read it for years.

The French Lieutenant's Woman

But what I do remember is that it is a book with an alternative ending and what I first thought of for my first link is a book with no ending – The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. It begins with a scene in an opium den where Jasper lies under the influence of several pipes of opium, trembling and almost incoherent from the visions that came to him.

Drood

Drood by Dan Simmons is also full of opium induced nightmares. In this book Drood is horrific, a half-Egyptian fiend who takes laudanum by the jugful. I didn’t enjoy this book – it’s too long, too wordy and full of unlikeable characters, but it does contain some vivid descriptions – the slums of London, the train accident at Staplehurst and the fantastical “Undertown” with its miles of tunnels, catacombs, caverns and sewers.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning: a biography by Margaret Forster reveals that from an early age Elizabeth took a tincture of opium (laudanum) prescribed to her for various illnesses, including ‘nervous hysteria‘. Elizabeth had a beloved spaniel, Flush, who shares her sickroom.

Dumb Witness (Hercule Poirot, #16)

Agatha Christie also had a much loved dog and dedicated Dumb Witness to him. Poirot investigates the death of Miss Emily Arundell. The ‘dumb witness’ of the title is Bob, Emily’s wire-haired terrier. After Emily fell down the stairs, tripping over Bob’s ball, she was convinced her relatives were trying to kill her.

TNow We Shall Be Entirely Freehis brings me to Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller in which the main character, Captain John Lacroix, also takes opium and meets an Emily – Emily Frend, who is losing her sight. Lacroix, unable to face the memories of the horrors he experienced at the battle of Corunna is being tracked by Corporal Calley and a Spaniard, Lieutenant Medina, who have been ordered to kill him for his part in the battle.

The LieutenantMy final link is to another book about a lieutenant and also linking back to the start of the chain. It’s The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville, based on real events and set in 1788, about Daniel Rooke, a lieutenant and an astronomer with the First Fleet when it lands on the shores of New South Wales. Rooke gets to know the local Aboriginal people, and forges a remarkable connection with one child, which will change his life in ways he never imagined.

I like the circularity of this chain beginning and ending with books about lieutenants and containing a third book about yet another lieutenant. The chain passes through time and place from England in the 19th century to Australia in the 18th century, connected by the endings of books, opium addicts, a love of dogs and characters called Emily. I have read all the books except for The Lieutenant, which is one of my TBR books.

Next month (February 2, 2019), the chain begins with Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.

Six Degrees of Separation: from A Christmas Carol to No Further Questions

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins with A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

A Christmas Carol cover

I love A Christmas Carol and when I sat down to think about this Six Degrees post I thought I’d be linking up to more books with a Christmas theme, but it didn’t work out like that. Instead what came to mind after the first link to another Dickens’ book is a series of mystery/crime fiction books! These are all books I’ve read, so the links are to my review posts.

The MoonstoneDiamonds Are Forever

  • The Holly Tree Inn by Charles Dickens. This was originally published in 1855, being the Christmas number of Dickens’s periodical Household Words. It was so popular that it was then adapted for the stage. It’s a collection of short stories by Dickens, Wilkie Collins, William Howitt, Adelaide Anne Procter and Harriet Parr, around the theme of travellers and inns.
  • The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins – The ‘Moonstone’, a large diamond, originally stolen from a statue of an Indian God and said to be cursed is left to Rachel Verinder. She receives it on her 18th birthday and that night it is stolen from her bedroom.
  • Diamonds are Forever by Ian Fleming in which James Bond is assigned to infiltrate and close down a diamond smuggling operation, run by the Spangled Mob, operating from Africa to the UK and the USA. It’s run by a couple of American gangsters, the Spang brothers, and the mysterious character known as ‘ABC‘.

The ABC Murders (Hercule Poirot, #13)The House at Sea's End (Ruth Galloway, #3)No Further Questions

  • ABC leads me to The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie – one of her best books, I think, in which there’s another mysterious character known as ‘ABC’. Poirot and Captain Hastings investigate a series of murders. An ABC Railway Guide is left next to each of the bodies.
  • The House at Seas End by Elly Griffiths – The bones of six people are found in a gap in the cliff, a sort of ravine, where there had been a rock fall at Broughton Seas End. Seas End House, which stands perilously close to the cliff edge above the beach is owned by Jack Hastings. I really, really do wish these books weren’t written in the present tense!
  • No Further Questions by Gillian McAllister – also written in the present tense, but in this book it didn’t irritate me. I was totally gripped by it. It plunges straight into a trial as Martha sits in the courtroom listening to expert witnesses being questioned  and cross-examined about the death of her baby, Layla, just eight weeks old. I didn’t want to stop reading it and when I wasn’t reading it I was thinking about it, about the characters and their relationships, about how they had got themselves into such a terrible situation. An excellent book, and it is without doubt one of the best books I’ve read this year.

From tales told in an inn, to diamond smugglers, murders connected to a mysterious character, characters called Hastings and books written in the present tense, this chain has once again surprised me at where it has ended up!

Next month (January 5, 2019) the chain begins with another of my favourite books – The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles.

 

Six Degrees of Separation: from Vanity Fair to Oliver Twist

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins with with Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. I read this book in December 2004 (I know this as I’d written the date at the front of the book). I loved it. I didn’t watch the recent TV adaptation, not wanting to lose my own mental pictures of the characters and it always irritates me when adaptations move away from the original story.

Vanity Fair

 

The main character in Vanity Fair is Becky Sharp, an orphan who was brought up at Miss Pinkerton’s Academy for young ladies in Chiswick Mall, which leads me to my first link in the chain –

Pinkerton’s Sister by Rushforth. The main character is Alice Pinkerton who is most definitely eccentric. The book begins: ‘The madwoman in the attic was standing at the window.’  It’s a bizarre story, funny, even ludicrous at times, full of literary and musical references and I got lost in it for hours. It’s a very long and detailed book and I don’t suppose it’s everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it.

Pinkerton's Sister

My second link followed on naturally to another book by Peter Rushforth, A Dead Language. I was disappointed with this book as it was so hard to understand what was going on – it’s about Alice’s brother Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, the young naval lieutenant who abandoned Madame Butterfly as he is about to set sail for Japan. It is strange and I didn’t finish it.

A Dead Language

It leads me on to another book with ‘dead’ in the title – The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer. This is about Eve Singer, a TV crime reporter, who will go to any length to get the latest scoop. But when a twisted serial killer starts using her to gain the publicity he craves, Eve must decide how far she’s willing to go – and how close she’ll let him get.

The Beautiful Dead

The fantastic TV drama Killing Eve is based on Codename Villanelle, a series of novellas by  Luke Jennings.  Eve Polastri, a desk-bound MI5 officer, begins to track down talented psychopathic assassin Villanelle, while both women become obsessed with each other.

Killing Eve: Codename Villanelle

In Worth Killing For by Ed James  DI Simon Fenchurch witnesses a murder when a woman is attacked by a young hoodie on a bike, who snatches her mobile and handbag. The hoodie is part of a phone-theft gang, run by the mysterious Kamal.

This reminded me so much of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, in which young boys are recruited by Fagan to ‘pick-a pocket-or two’. After running away from the workhouse  Oliver is lured into a den of thieves peopled by vivid and memorable characters – the Artful Dodger, vicious burglar Bill Sikes, his dog Bull’s Eye, prostitute Nancy, and the cunning master-thief Fagin.

Oliver Twist

I am so surprised at where this chain has ended – from one classic to another, both about an orphan, but very different in style. Both Vanity Fair and Oliver Twist were first published as serials, before being published as books – Vanity Fair in 1847-48 and Oliver Twist in 1837-39. In between it has passed through two rather strange literary novels and three books focusing on death and murder!

Next month (December 1, 2018), we’ll begin with A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.