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 Result

Classics Club

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced today. It’s number …

19

which for me is Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by May 31, 2019.

Sweet Thursday

I added this book to my Classics Club list after reading Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, a book I loved. I’m hoping it will be just as good,

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

In Monterey, on the California Coast, 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. Returning to the scene of Cannery Row, Steinbeck brilliantly creates its bawdy, high-spirited world of bums, drunks and hookers, telling the story of what happened to everyone after the war. There are colourful characters old and new, all united by love, laughter and tears: Fauna, the latest madam at the Bear Flag brothel, Doc, still there for everyone else but feeling strangely sad himself, and Suzy, the new hustler in town who might just be the girl to save him.

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

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 …

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.

 

 

The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced today. It’s number …

1

which for me is Greenmantle by John Buchan. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by January 31, 2019.

Greenmantle

Greenmantle is the second of five novels by John Buchan featuring the character of Richard Hannay, first published in 1916. I’ve read the first, The Thirty-Nine Steps.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

Richard Hannay is tasked to investigate rumours of an uprising in the Muslim world and takes off on a hair-raising journey through German-occupied Europe to meet up with his old friend Sandy Arbuthnot in Constantinople, where they must thwart the Germans’ plans to use religion to help them win the war. Set during World War I, Greenmantle is a contraversial meditation on the power of political Islam (it was pulled from Radio 4’s schedule at the time of the 7 July bombings).

I’m really pleased this book came up in the Spin for me as it will fit in with my reading about World War I.

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr

He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr was my Classics Club Spin book for August. It was first published in 1946. Carr (1906 – 1977) was an American writer who also wrote under the pseudonym of Carter Dickson and Carr Dickson. In 1936 he was elected to the Detection Club in London. He Who Whispers is one of his ‘locked room’  mysteries/impossible crimes, featuring Dr Gideon Fell, an amateur sleuth.

He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr

I really didn’t know what to expect so I was pleased to find that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s well written, set in 1945 just after the end of the Second World War when Miles Hammond is finding it hard to getting used to peacetime. London is still showing the scars of the war and he feels that his life is unreal. He has been discharged from the Army after being in hospital suffering from diesel-oil poisoning.

Then, gasping out to the end like a gauleiter swallowing poison, the war is over. You come out of hospital – a little shakily, your discharge papers in your pocket – into a London still pinched by shortages; a London of long queues, erratic buses, dry pubs; a London where they turn on the street-lights and immediately turn them off again to save fuel; but a place free at last from the intolerable weight of threats.

People didn’t celebrate that victory hysterically, as for some reason or other the newspapers liked to make out. What the newsreels showed was only a bubble on the huge surface of the town. Like himself, Miles Hammond thought, most people were a little apathetic because they could not yet think of it as real. (page 6)

His friend, Dr Gideon Fell, has invited him to dinner as a guest at the Murder Club, their first meeting in five years, where the speaker is Professor Rigaud. But when he arrives he finds none of the members of the Club have turned up. The only other people there are the Professor, and a beautiful blonde called Barbara Morell. Rigaud, however, tells them the story he had prepared for the Club – a tale of an impossible murder on the top of a ruined tower, that had once been part of a French chateau burnt down by the Hugeunots in the 16th century, and a mysterious woman, Miss Fay Seton.

The body of Howard Brooke was found lying on the parapet of the tower by two children between 10 minutes to 4 and 5 minutes past 4. He had been stabbed through his body with a sword-stick and yet the evidence showed conclusively that during this time not a living soul came near him. Rigaud points out the difficulties of scaling the wall of the tower, leading Miles to suspect he is alluding to ‘some sort of supernatural being that could float in the air‘ – in other words, a vampire.

Now, six years later Miles, Rigaud and Barbara together with Dr Fell set about trying to solve the mystery. I was fascinated by Dr Fell, supposedly based upon G. K. Chesterton (author of the Father Brown stories), in his appearance and personality. He’s immensely tall and fat, with a big mop of grey-streaked hair, and wearing a long, dark cape. He strides along ‘with a rolling motion like an emperor, and the sound of his throat-clearing preceded him like a war-cry‘.

I thought the characterisation was excellent and there is a great sense of location. The book is full of tension and there is a real sense of approaching danger and disaster as the characters struggle to uncover the truth. It is only due to Dr Fell’s ingenuity that their fears are calmed and he produces a rational explanation and reveals the truth. I too was puzzled and the book had kept me guessing right to the end. Even then when I knew what had happened I was so involved with the characters that  I was left wondering –  what happened next? 

Now, I’m keen to read more of John Dickson Carr’s books. There are a lot of them – see the list at Fantastic Fiction.

  • Paperback: 206 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books in association with H.Hamilton (1953)
  • Source: I bought my copy
  • Rating: 4*

The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced yesterday. It’s number …

9

which for me is He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by August 31, 2018.

img_20180801_192319728

My copy is a Golden Age Mystery, one of the Green Penguin Crime and Mystery series paperbacks, published in 1953 (first published in 1946). It features Dr Gideon Fell.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At the edge of the woods by the river stands the tower. Once part of a chateau since burnt down, only the tower remains. The inside is but a shell with a stone staircase climbing spirally up the wall to a flat stone roof with a parapet.

One that parapet the body of Howard Brooke lay bleeding. The murderer, when Brooke’s back was turned, must have drawn the sword-cane from it sheath and run him through the body. And this must have occurred between ten minutes to four and five minutes past four, when the two children discovered him dying.

Yet the evidence showed conclusively that during this time not a living soul came near him.

I’m looking forward to reading He Who Whispers as I  haven’t read any of Carr’s books before and I’m really pleased one of the crime fiction novels I listed came up in the Spin.

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?