The Sunday Salon – Start/Stop Reading

Today I haven’t done much reading so far. I’m in the middle of a few books, which because it’s physically impossible to actually read more than one book at a time means that I start a book, stop, start another one, stop start another and so on. This is because I like to vary my reading and also because another book has taken my fancy and I just have to look at it, which then leads on to reading more than a few pages.

So today I’ve read the start of Thomas Hardy’s short story The Withered Arm in Wessex Tales. It begins in the dairy where the milkmaids are gossiping about Farmer Lodge’s new young wife. Rhoda, one of the milkmaids has an illegitimate son (Farmer Lodge is his father) and she is obsessed by the thought that the new wife will be more attractive than she is. As it is a Hardy story I expect doom and gloom will follow and it will not end happily.

I also read more of Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham. I started this a while ago and keep coming back to it. I’ve nearly finished it now. It’s in a large heavy book containing a collection of Maugham’s novels which limits my reading because of the book’s bulk and weight.  Cakes and Ale is a scathing and amusing look at the literary world of the early 20th century. It fits in well with reading Hardy, because it is thought that the character of Edward Driffield is based upon Hardy. However, in the introduction to this book Maugham states:

When the book appeared I was attacked in various quarters because I was supposed in the character of Edward Driffield to have drawn a portrait of Thomas Hardy. This was not my intention. He was no more in my mind than George Meredith or Anatole France. … I knew little of Hardy’s life. I know now only enough to be certain that the points in common between his and that of Edward Driffield are negligible. They consist only in both having been born in humble circumstances and both having had two wives.

Maugham met Hardy only once. He describes him as follows:

I remember a little man with an earthy face. In his evening clothes, with his boiled shirt and high collar, he had still a strange look of the soil. He was amiable and mild. It struck me at the time that there was in him a curious mixture of shyness and self-assurance.

This reminded me that I had started to read Claire Tomalin’s biography Thomas Hardy the Time-Torn Man last year. I had stopped when I had reached 1867 (Hardy was born in 1840) because I decided that it would be better if I had read his earlier books before reading about how he written them.  I looked in the index this morning and found that Claire Tomalin had indeed referred to Maugham’s Cakes and Ale and the supposed likeness between Hardy and Driffield. Hardy had died in 1928 and in 1930 when Maugham’s novel appeared and became a best seller, it caused Florence, Hardy’s second wife, “intense distress, especially as she suspected supposed friends such as Sassoon of supplying Maugham with information about her.”

For something completely different this morning I also read the first chapter of A Pack of Lies: twelve stories in one by Geraldine McCaughrean. This won both the Carnegie Medal in 1988 and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award in 1989. In the first chapter Ailsa meets MCC Berkshire whilst she is in the town library doing a half-day work experience. She invites him home to help in her mother’s antique shop. MCC is a strange man who loves books. Ailsa finds  him in the secondhand book section of the shop reading:

He did not seem to see her, for his face was sunk towards an open book on his lap and he was reading with all the still concentration of a mosquito sucking blood through a sleeping man’s skin.

What an amazing description of concentrated reading. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this short book.

For the next week I’ll be continuing reading Joanne Harris’s beautiful book Chocolat – more about that when I’ve finished it. I’ve also got the following books lined up to read soon:

  • Man in the Dark by Paul Auster. A Library Thing in the Early Reviewer book.
  • Admit One by Emmett James. I’ve started this as well, but at the time I wasn’t in the right mood for this book, written in a very colloquial  style. I’ll go back to it because the idea of writing your life story through the films you have seen is attractive.

And finally out shopping today I succombed yet again to temptation and bought The Road by Cormac McCarthy, despite reading reviews which tell how heart-rending and depressing this is; One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson, because I enjoyed Case Histories so much; and last but not least In God We Doubt by John Humphrys because I was so interested in his Radio 4 series Humphrys In Search of God, when he asked Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams; Professor Tariq Ramadan, Muslim academic and author; and Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi about belief in God.