Mini Reviews

I’ve been reading books recently and not writing anything about them. So, before they drop out of my mind completely here are a few notes:

Body Parts: Essays on Life Writing by Hermione Lee – this is a book about writing biography, which I’ve been reading on and off since I started it in 2007! I first wrote about my impressions in this post. It’s very good with an interesting selection, although some essays are a lot shorter than others. As with all books about writing it includes books and authors I haven’t read – and makes me want to read them – Eudora Welty for one. There are essays on T S Eliot, J M Coetzee, Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf, to name but a few.

My rating 4/5

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle – I bought this book several years ago, so it’s one off my to-be-read list. A fantasy/science fiction magical classic and 1963 Newbery Medal winning book, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s the story of Meg and Charles, searching for their father, a scientist, lost through a ‘wrinkle in time’, with wonderful characters such as Mrs  Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which to help them.

My rating 4.5/5

Maigret in Court by Georges Simenon. Maigret is two years from retirement and is wondering about this with foreboding. He does seem rather tired as he investigates the murder of a woman and small child. The book begins in court as Maigret gives evidence against Gaston Meurat, but he is beginning to have doubts that Meurat is the murderer and carries on investigating to save Meurat from execution. A complicated story, packed into 126 pages, that at times had me completely puzzled.

My rating 3/5

I read two books on Kindle:

Breakfast at the Hotel Deja Vu by Paul Torday. I rather liked this little e-book about a politician, a former MP exposed in the expenses scandal and staying in a hotel abroad, whilst he recovers from an illness and writes his memoirs. All is not as it seems, however, as each day he discovers he hasn’t actually written anything.And just who are the woman and young boy he sees each morning?

My rating 4/5

Crime in the Community by Cecilia Peartree – a free e-book from Amazon. I was disappointed with this one – too wordy, and convoluted. It’s about a small group of people who are supposed to be organising events to improve their community, but who actually don’t do anything except go to meetings. I found this part quite true to life for some committees I’ve known. But then it got tedious and eventually too far-fetched with a retired spy, a missing person and a mental breakdown.

My rating 2/5

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

I wasn’t sure that I’d like Salmon Fishing in the Yemen as its title put me off. In fact I only read it because it was my face-to-face Book Club choice. It sounded far too quirky and I’ve never had much interest in going fishing – but I did like it. I even liked all the details about salmon and the conditions necessary for them to thrive. Of course, the conditions in the Yemen are completely wrong and that is the conundrum that Dr Alfred Jones has to solve when Sheikh Muhammad wants scientific advice on how best to introduce salmon fishing into the Yemen. The sheikh has an estate in Scotland where he pursues his great love of fly fishing.

I didn’t get on at first with the format of the book. The story unfolds through a series of diary entries, letters, emails, extracts from Hansard and reports, but after a few entries I found myself enjoying it and being entertained by the satire of bureaucracy and politics. The project is completely barmy, but once I thought of it as nonsensical tale I began to enjoy the book for what it is.

Dr Jones is dead against the idea at the start but is forced into considering it by his bosses and eventually by the prime minister who sees it as the ideal photo opportunity – one of him not only fishing in a wadi, but catching the first salmon in the Yemen. Alfred is not a happy man at home either. He and his wife Mary have been married for over 20 years. Their relationship is distant at the beginning and becomes increasingly estranged the more he gets involved in the project. They both come across as dull, boring and pompous.

His life begins to change when he meets Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, who works for the Land Agents acting for the Sheikh. Harriet is the opposite of Mary, young and attractive and Alfred noticed immediately that she dressed

… as if she was about to go out to lunch at a smart restaurant rather than for a hard day’s work in the office. Mary always says it is demeaning for working women to dress themselves up like that. She herself is a strong believer in sensible, practical working clothes which do not accentuate the wearer’s femininity. (pages 21 -2)

Indeed, as Alfred begins to warm to the project under the sheikh’s influence his life is changed completely. He becomes more human, and not so totally absorbed in his small world as a fisheries scientist where his main preoccupation was with the cadis fly larva. It is through his diaries that we see his world opening up and he moves from being an atheist to someone who believes in belief. He also begins to fall for Harriet, whose fiancé is a soldier missing somewhere in Iraq.

There is also much in this book contrasting the secular western world with the faith-based societies of the Middle East. The sheikh contrasts the UK class system with the tribal system prevalent in the Yemen. He considers that there is a lot of snobbery in the UK  and people don’t seem to know what class they belong to with the result that the country is ridden with class prejudices, whereas in the Yemen there are many different ranks that are accepted without question – each person knows their own place and there is no fear of ridicule or restraint (paraphrased from pages 52-3).

However, he knows that the Yemeni are sometimes violent and quick to pick up a gun to finish an argument and this is one reason he wishes to introduce them to fly fishing. He has noticed that fishermen have patience and tolerance and fishing would change his countrymen’s nature.

This a light comic novel, much of it complete but enjoyable nonsense. Some of it such Prime Minister’s Question time and the interviews didn’t seem credible. Parts of it made me laugh – the ridiculous way politics and companies conduct their business for example. As it draws to it’s inevitable dramatic conclusion I was actually hoping the project would be successful and that salmon would run up the waters of the Wadi Aleyn in the heart of the mountains of Heraz.

Sunday Selection

This morning I finished reading A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie. I read it very quickly as it’s easy reading and although sprinkled throughout with lots of red herrings it wasn’t too difficult to guess the outcome. I’ll write about it later, along with three other books I’ve read recently.

I’m wondering which book to read next. I have a pile of library books – new ones I borrowed this week:

I think I’d better get on with reading Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday as that is the next book we’re discussing at the book club at the end of October. It’s a matter of timing it right so that I finish it in time but not too soon so that I’ve forgotten about it before the meeting. It’s actually a book that I’ve ignored in the past as the title doesn’t appeal to me – the idea of  fly fishing is not guaranteed to fill me with desire. I have started it, but chapter one isn’t inspiring me, with its details of migratory salmonids, the evolution of salmon parr and feeding conditions. I shall persevere and hope it improves.

Meanwhile, my mind is wandering towards the library books, even though I have two non-fiction books from LibraryThing that I feel I should read soon – why is it that books that sound so interesting suddenly lose their attraction when I start to feel the slightest bit under pressure to read them by a certain date? A hangover from my working life, maybe when I had to produce reports to deadlines.

Another thing too – why do I borrow so many library books when I have plenty of my own still to read? If I didn’t have to return books then I wouldn’t be tempted to borrow more – maybe D should go on his own to take my books back!

Back to the library books, I think I’ll look at Solar by Ian McEwan. I like his books but having read somewhere that this isn’t as good as others and I wondered if it may contain a bit too much about physics for me I decided not to buy it, but to check it out if I saw it in the library. At least, it starts off well, as Michael Beard’s marriage appears to be disintegrating and he can’t stand it – the shame  and inconvenient longing he has for his wife. It does make me want to read on.

I borrowed the other books because I like the authors – apart from The Autobiography of the Queen by Emma Tennant and Mr Monk goes to the Firehouse by Lee Goldberg. I haven’t read anything by these two authors and they are impulse loans. The Goldberg book caught my eye because of its title, which intrigued me as it didn’t convey anything at all to me. On the cover it’s advertised as being based on the Television Series – an American series, I assume, as I’ve never heard of it. If anyone knows this series I’d love to hear about it. Is it any good?

The Autobiography of the Queen attracted me when I read on the front cover that this is ‘hot on the heels of Alan Bennett’s fictional account of the Queen.’ I’ve read that and thought it was very amusing. I thought I needed something light and amusing to counter-balance the crime fiction and serious books I seem to have been reading lately.

Teaser Tuesday – The Girl on the Landing


Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read.
Let the book fall open to a random page.
Share with us two (2) ‘teaser’ sentences from that page.

Currently I’m in the middle of The Girl on the Landing by Paul Torday – today’s Teaser is three sentences from pages 67 – 68:

The sensation of being watched was now so powerful that I could scarcely prevent myself from breaking into a run. A prickle of sweat broke out on my forehead. All of a sudden I was seized by a feeling of horror as if something from outside had come into the world.

The Sunday Salon – newbooks magazine

tssbadge1My copy of ‘newbooks’ magazine arrived the other day. This is perhaps the one magazine that I always read from cover to cover. The editorial highlights the changes in publishing in the last decades with

… the conglomeration first of publishing houses and then bookselling, and the negative contribution made by literary agents pedalling a ‘stifling excess of lucrative junk’, hand-in-hand with Google and Amazon’s rapid growth in influence. … ‘No one can predict how books and readers will survive.

The trend seems to be away from books in print, with not only independent bookshops dwindling but also the high street bookshops in decline, towards the on-line digital era. Whilst this is something that has been debated extensively online before, it did strike me that this could mean that in future magazines like ‘newbooks’ would not be issued physically but only available on line and how would I like that?

Well, I wouldn’t – I like it dropping through the letterbox onto the doormat and then flicking through its pages before settling down to read it. Maybe there won’t be any letterboxes in future – everything will be done online? I have no problem with reading somethings online – after all I write this blog and read lots of other blogs quite happily. But I’m not up to reading whole books on screen, nor do I want to print them off and read them that way and the same goes for magazines – I want the physical object – books in print please. Although I do buy some books from online boksellers I prefer to go to a bookshop and browse the books. So I hope the complete change doesn’t come soon.

newbooks-augustIn the meantime I’m happy reading and choosing which book to pick as my free book from ‘newbooks’. Will it be An Equal Stillness by Francesca Kay, The Girl on the Landing by Paul Torday, Antigona and Me by Kate Clanchy, The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark, or The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery?

Mog commented on my previous post that she has chosen The Book of Unholy Mischief and I’m very tempted  by that one too. It’s set in Venice in 1498, where an ancient book, rumoured to contain heresies and secrets of immeasurable power, is hidden. Luciano, a chef’s apprentice in the doge’s palace is drawn into the search leading him into a perilous maze to the centre of an intrigue concerning some of the most powerful and dangerous men in Venice.

I’m also drawn to The Girl on the Landing, which is about Michael and his wife Elizabeth. Michael spots a painting whilst staying at a friend’s country house in Ireland. In the background of the painting he see a woman clad in a dark green dress, except his hosts say there is no woman in the picture and indeed when he looks again she is not there.

There is also an interview with Paul Torday in the magazine in which Zoe Fairbairns reveals that its the nature of Britishness and Englishness that is debated furiously in this book as Michael, on medication which he then refuses to take, plummets towards breakdown. She writes:

If identity and personality are so fragile, how can anyone said to be ‘truly’ British, ‘truly’ anything? It’s disturbing stuff, but compulsively readable, which is what Torday wants: ‘My perfect reader is someone who picks the book up and goes on reading it until it’s late at night.’

That could be me!