Today I started reading The Birthday Present by Barbara Vine. but I’m not sure that I really want to finish it. Maybe I’ve read too much crime fiction recently because this one just seems rather silly.
Ivor Tesham, MP decides to give his married girl friend a birthday present, one with a difference. He arranges to have her “kidnapped” and delivered to him bound and gagged. Not my idea of fun and I nearly stopped reading at that point, but thought I’d go on a bit longer with it before giving up. I can’t say any of the characters are likeable, in fact they’re rather more stereotypes than real people – a sleazy politician, a plain single woman with no hope of romance, a beautiful young woman with no morals stuck in a boring marriage etc. And despite Ivor’s fears that he’s going to be found out and his name splashed across the newspapers ruining his chances of a dazzling political career it’s sadly lacking in tension.
Much more interesting are my current non-fiction reads:
After the Victorians by A N Wilson. This is not an academic study of the period 1900 – 1952 and Wilson interjects history with his own opinions and it’s full of references to art and literature as well as being an account of the political events of the times:
… artists … hold up mirrors to what is going on in societies, they take soundings of a society’s cohesion, moral wellbeing, strength or lack of it. That is why totalitarian regimes persecute poets and composers with just as much rigour as they do to silencing overtly political opposition. Stalin and Hitler both had violently strong views about art and music. (p.156)
When the Lights Went Out by Andy Beckett. I’m enjoying this much more than I expected and surprising myself by wanting to read about the politics of the 1970s. But again this book is not solely a political history and there are plenty of personal touches. Beckett had interviewed many of the personalities and his accounts are compelling reading. Here he is on meeting Ted Heath:
Heath came slowly into the room, supported by a walking stick and another of his staff. His clothes – a baggy cream short-sleeved shirt with half the buttons undone, and the casual grey chinos – came as a small shock after watching hours of his pinstriped and uncomfortable early seventies political broadcasts. But his face was much the same: small determined eyes, the proud dagger nose, big plump cheeks barely lined despite his lingering yactsman’s tan – a usefully aspirational political signal back in the pre-easy Jet Britain of his premiership. (p. 28)
Part of its attraction is that it reminds me of many things I’d forgotten – like the three-day week, the Winter of Discontent, and the TV programmes The Good Life and Fawlty Towers.
Should Be Reading – Miz B – hosts this weekly event – quoting a couple of sentences from our current read (without spoilers, of course) to entice you to read the book.
I’n currently reading three books – all non-fiction: a biography of Jane Austen, a popular history of Britain 1900 -1952 and a political history of Britain in the 1970s. I couldn’t decide which one to choose – so here are quotes from all three.
First Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin:
Jane Austen was a tough and unsentimental child, drawn to rude, anarchic imaginings and black jokes. She found a good source for this ferocious style of humour in the talk she heard, and sometimes joined in, among her parents’ pupils, bursting out of childhood into young manhood. (page 33)
Then After the Victorians: the World Our Parents Knew by A N Wilson:
One of the scientists who worked on the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Leo Szilard, said that the idea of nuclear chain reaction first came to him when reading Wells’s The World Set Free (1914), in which atom bombs falling on world cities during the 1950s kill millions of people. These things were not possible when Wells wrote about them. We know that the twentieth century would see them happen. (page 67)
And finally When the Lights Went Out: Britian in the Seventies by Andy Beckett:
Declinism was an established British state of mind, but during the mid-seventies it truly began to pervade the national consciousness. It filled doomy books aimed at the general reader. It became a melodramatic staple for newspapers, magazines and television programmes. (page 181)
Two of those programmes were the comedy series Fawlty Towers and The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin – both about middle-aged men “trapped in a decrepit England and filled with rage or dreams of escape”. Interestingly, we’re now watching a new Reggie Perrin (Martin Clunes); is it a sign of the times?
Some more books found their way to me last Saturday. In the morning the postman delivered When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the Seventies by Andy Beckett sent to me courtesy of LibraryThing Early Reviewers Programme. Actually, the postman just left it propped up against the wall by the front door and I didn’t find it until about 11am, so anyone could have walked off with it! This is a whopping book of over 500 pages and it’ll take me ages to read. The Seventies were times of strikes, the three-day week and the Winter of Discontent. My first impressions of this book are that it looks well researched from the number of sources Beckett has used and there’s a chronology that may be useful, but it does look as though it could be more of a political history than I would like.
I went to a booksale on Saturday afternoon. I debated with myself whether I should go or not, after all I don’t need any more books right now, especially considering I’d just got When the Lights Went Out. But the booksale was in aid of Multiple Sclerosis and other local charities so I felt I ought to go, because if my reading helps other people that’s a plus.
There were plenty of books to choose from both fiction and non-fiction and I came away with these:
- The Country Life by Rachel Cusk, the winner of the Somerset Maugham Award 1998. I’d enjoyed her Arlington Park, so I thought this looked good. On the back cover it’s described as being a mixture of P G wodehouse and Jane Austen!
- Mrs Jordan’s Profession: the story of a great actress and a future King by Claire Tomalin. The biography of Dora Jordan, a comic actress and the mistress of William IV in late-eighteenth century England. My knowledge of this period is very slight and of the history of the theatre, practically non-existent. I am addicted it seems to Claire Tomalin’s biographies.
- A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel. This is yet another massive book – it’s nearly 900 pages long. I do like historical fiction and Hilary Mantel’s writing. From the back cover:
Superbly readable … nothing less than a well-researched but richly idiosyncratic fictional history of the French Revolution …
- Billy by Pamela Stephenson. This biography by Billy Connolly’s wife was my husband’s choice, but I’ve no doubt I’ll read it one day. Billy is a very funny comedian, although not everyone’s cup of tea. Recently we watched his TV series Journey to the Edge of the World when he travelled through the North West passage from the Atalantic to the Pacific, packed with laughter, information and stories of pioneers, colourful characters and wierd and wonderful scenery.