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I only managed a week without buying any books; this embargo thing isn’t working terribly well I have to say. Though I do think I had a bit of an excuse – I was meeting my friend the Semi-Scandinavian for cocktails on Tuesday (yes, I know, on a school night) and I was early, and remembered that I needed to buy a card for another friend who is about to go off on maternity leave so I popped into the nearest Waterstone’s to find something suitable, which I did.

I also found these:

  • The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham – one of his that I haven’t read, was totally seduced into buying this by the wonderful cover
  • The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge – seems suitable in the year that we commemorate Captain Scott’s attempt on the South Pole (though disloyally I have been an Amundsen fan since we did a project on this in Primary 7)

And I finished a book, Bury Her Deep by Catriona McPherson, a 1930s murder mystery set in Fife.

I am now in a struggle with my friend Silvery Dude who is trying to influence my reading at the moment, by pushing me towards three books he has finished recently and recommends highly. I may succumb, but only under protest because it should be the OTHER WAY ROUND.

(But they do look good so I may let him off)

Have a good reading week!

Since last week’s massive haul of new books I have been good and not been tempted to buy any more.

I have been able to secure a couple of tickets for Silvery Dude and me to see Ben Aaronovitch speak about his new novel Whispers Underground at Waterstone’s in London’s fabulous Piccadilly in June; I am very excited about that indeed as I love the series.

I have also managed to catch up on some of my reviews both here and over at Bride of the Screen God; still got quite a few to do though.

But the big news this week is that yes, I have finally finished a book; my re-read of ‘Salem’s Lot. I am so glad I picked this up as part of my Big Re-Read project as I had sort of forgotten just how awesome it actually is. I’m going to enjoy writing about it (when I get that far).

Have a good reading week!

About The Abbess of Crewe:

An election (?) has been held at the Abbey of Crewe. The new Lady Abbess takes up her high office with implacable serenity. She had expected to win – one way or the other

When did I first read this? sometime after 1977 (when the edition I have was published) and June 1980 (when I started keeping a record of books read)

What age was I? between 16 and 19

How many times since then? This is my fifth time of reading.

Thoughts about the book:

I have been a fan of Muriel Spark for almost thirty-five years which is an astonishing thing to realise given that inside my head I am still 17 rather than the batty old dear I sometimes consider myself these days. I can’t recall now when I was first introduced to her; my memory says The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (which I have reviewed here) but another part of me thinks that I may have read some of her stuff before then and that The Abbess was one of the first.

It fascinates me because it is a short and pointed re-telling of the Watergate saga if it had taken place in an English convent, with The Abbess the Nixonian figure and her rival, Sister Felicity, representing the Democrats. And of course it’s not the theft of the silver thimble during the election of the Abbess, it’s the ensuing cover up which causes the problems. I think this has stuck with me not just because it’s another one of Sparks’ perfect little jewels but because it’s about Watergate which has fascinated me since I read All The Presidents Men in the early seventies (I still have the film tie-in edition somewhere in the house with long-haired Redford and Hoffman on the cover) and I have quite a few books on the subject, so some of the fun in reading The Abbess is in trying to identify the equivalents of the real life protagonists such as Haldeman and Kissinger (though the latter is really easy, Sister Gertrude a wonderful character awkays at one remove from political danger).

So almost certainly not a masterpeice but one of my absolute favourites and short enough to be read in one satisfying sitting.

Favourite bits:

“Why should they trouble themselves about a salacious nun and a Jesuit? I must say a jesuit, or any priest for that matter, would be the last man I would myself elect to be laid by. A man who undresses, maybe; a man who unfrocks, no”

“And it seems to me, Gertrude, that you are going to have a problem with those cannibals on the Latter Day when the trumpet shall sound. It’s a question of which man shall rise in the Resurrection, for certainly those that are eaten have long since become the consumers from generation to generation.”

“Now if you please, Walburga, let’s consult The Art of War because time is passing and the sands are running out.”

This is the second book in my Big Re-read Project; it was also my first Readathon read and would have been part of my contribution to Muriel Spark week if I had been sufficiently organised to (1) read a couple of other Sparks and (b) get around to blogging about The Abbess.

The Last Days of Glory by Tony Rennell gives us a detailed insight into events around the death of Queen Victoria, from Christmas 1900 until her magnificent funeral six weeks later.

It’s a book that’s been on my shelves for a long time; I spotted it in a bookshop just after it came out which is why I have this rather handsome little hardback copy. I’m slightly astonished (and also a bit ashamed) to say that means this has been in the stacks for close to twelve years. But it is one of those books which needs to be read at exactly the right time because of its level of detail. I can’t even remember why I picked it up when I did but I was soon absorbed and read it over a weekend.

I studied history at university and the past has always been of great interest to me, regardless of period, but I came late to the Victorians, probably being in my early thirties when I started to read up on the nineteenth century although the social history of her reign was very much a focus at school and so I knew enough to get by, I just wasn’t interested enough to become absorbed. I blame the Bloomsbury set a bit for that, probably unfairly, but it seems to make sense that I wasn’t interested in a period which some of my great literary heroes had written off. A number of books on social and cultural history and a bit of a passion for the Pre-Raphaelites had me wandering back, and the figure of Queen Victoria herself became increasingly fascinating to me.

So if you are at all interested in Victoria and her family and household then this is a really enjoyable book. Much of what is in it comes from the recollections of the doctor who attended her in her last weeks and months, and who assisted in preparing her body for burial. Rather than being slightly morbid as a topic, the whole issue around what she had instructed was to be placed in the coffin with her is a mini-drama in itself, and Rennell devotes a number of pages to it, giving a sense of how strong-willed and secretive the old Queen could be. There is a real insight into the complex relationships between her children and grandchildren and the figure of the Kaiser looms large. There is also a great deal about the planning of the funeral itself; she had been on the throne for so long that there was no-one alive who could remember the last time a monarch was buried and what the protocol should be, so much had to be reconstructed and quite a bit invented entirely.

It seems odd in some ways to consider the impact of her death, but for a great many of her subjects she was the only ruler they had ever known; it will be interesting to see if something similar happens when the present Queen dies (she came to the throne 10 years before I was born) although  I’m not so sure in this day and age whether it will be seen in quite the same way as the end of an era.

This is a book full of rich anecdotal material and a really interesting and useful annex on the whole issue of the role of John Brown in Victoria’s life; it is well written and it gave me great pleasure to read. Recommended.

Since my last post to the Sunday Salon I have singularly failed to finish anything though I have been dipping in and out of a number of books.

And despite the imposition of an alleged book buying embargo, I have obtained the following new books since my last post (some paid for by a book token left over from my birthday so not quite as damning as it looks):

  • Watson’s Choice by Gladys Mitchell – Sir Bohun Chantry’s party to celebrate Sherlock Holmes is thrown into disarray by the arrival of the Hound of the Baskervilles but luckily Mrs Bradley is there to put things to rights (as soon as I got this I added  it to my Readathon pile and it is well and truly read)
  • The Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown – ” a novel of vast scope and depth, yet imbued with humanity and characters you’ll come to love” and a recommendation from Silvery Dude, as is:
  • The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan – “You’re the last. I’m sorry. The end is coming” Justin Cronin says its glorious so how could it possibly be avoided?
  • Adorned in Dreams by Elizabeth Wilson – an updated version of a book on fashion and modernity which was first published in 1985. When it came out, Angela Carter said it was “the  best I have read on the subject, bar none”
  • Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan – I’ve left some clues for you. If you want them, turn the page. If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”
  • Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel – the sequel to Wolf Hall, and a means of encouraging me to finally getting round to finishing it
  • Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel – “Alison Hart, a medium by trade, tours the dormitory tons of London’s orbital road with her flint-hearted sidekick Colette, passing on messages from dead ancestors” Philip Pullman says this is one of he greatest ghost stories in the language
  • A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel – I think i can see a bit of a pattern here – “a gripping epic and tour de force of historical imagination”
  • The Saltmarsh Murders by Gladys Mitchell – Mrs Bradley once again, proving that “some English villages can be murderously peaceful”
  • Foundation: The History of England Part 1 by Peter Ackroyd – just dipping into this on the way home in the cab was a joy; takes us up to the death of Henry VII

Not a bad haul; now if I could only get some of my current reads FINISHED…….

About The Telling of Lies:

On a  beautiful hot day off the coast of maine an iceberg looms on the horizon and Calder Maddox, and aged and unprepossessing pharmaceuticals millionnaire is found dead on the beach. Nessa van Horne has photographed the day’s events and as she studies the pictures she draws parallels between her own experience of evil when she was imprisoned in a Japanese concentration camp and the increasingly chilling evidence of Maddox’s murder and a political cover-up

When did I first read this? February 1993

What age was I? 31

How many times since then? This is my first re-read.

Thoughts about the book:

I can’t remember when I first realised I had a thing for all matters Canadian. I think I must actually have been quite small and it may have been because of a visit from some of Dad’s relatives who had emigrated from Scotland to Ontario in the 1920s. Anyhow, it is a real thing for me and although I haven’t yet made it there (I was insanely jealous of the Book God when he went to Vancouver on business and I couldn’t go with him because I had just started a new job, but I will get my revenge, oh yes) I seek out the books and films and music and of course lovely blogging people like Susan. But I digress. In my twenties I worked my way through Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Robertson Davies etc and was looking to widen my horizons a bit, and someone recommended Timothy Findley to me. The Telling of Lies wasn’t the first of his books that I read (that honour probably goes to Famous Last Words or The Butterfly Plague) but it is the one that has stayed with me the longest. It pops into my head every so often and I was completely astonished to find that I had only read it that one time.

I love this book but I’m not really sure that I have got to the bottom of what it’s actually about. On the surface it’s exactly what it says on the cover, murder and cover-ups and so on, but I can’t help feeling that there is something more that I’m just not getting and that’s perhaps why it stays with me. And of course I just love Nessa; I see her as being a sort of Vanessa Redgrave figure (as she was when I was lucky enough to see her in The Year of Magical Thinking, tall and dignified and white-haired), and she is a remarkable character.

Favourite bits:

Everyone has always known that Lily has a heart of gold; but we have also known it’s a chocolate heart and the gold is only a wrapper made of foil

I asked him if, there being so many more, he intended to read them all. And he said “I’ve read them all before, Miss Van Horne. This time, I’m reading them just for pleasure.” I had no reply for this, not having known there could be pleasure in Henry James.

Memory is like that. It buffets you with stories out of sequence. It harries you with the past and it blinds you to the present. It seems to take all its cues at random – failing to deliver what you want to know, while it offers up data that seems to have no bearing on the moment.

As for me – I saw them both as beautiful and exceptional, until he died. It was only then that I encountered Mother as she really was: a reflection stranded in an abandoned mirror.

If I could only learn to be at peace with the wonderfully simple, scientific fact of life: we die. Surely, how we die is all that matters, when it comes to that.

If online comments are to be believed (and I haven’t been exhaustive in my search for the views of others), I’m one of the few out there who seems to rate this novel.  One thing is certain; I’m not going to leave it for another almost twenty years before I pick this up again.

This is the first book in my Big Re-read Project

Let’s start with the introduction:

Once there was a widow with three sons, and their names were Black, Brown and Blue. Black was the eldest; moody and aggressive. Brown was the middle child; timid and dull. But Blue was his mother’s favourite. And he was a murderer.

So our narrator is B.B., and what an unreliable person he is. All of his story is told through blog entries, some of them public and commented on by a small group of readers, some of them private and giving more detail and context to what are ostensibly murderous vengeful fantasies, but are they fictionalised versions of real events?

B.B. by his own admission is (as my Gran would have said) “not a nice man, not a nice man at all”, part of a dysfunctional family (horrible brothers, absent father and monstrous mother) and surrounded by secrets from the past which he shares with us piece by piece until we think we have a picture of his troubled past. And then there is a revelation near the end which certainly gave me a bit of a WTF moment and a quick flick back through the pages to see whether I had missed anything as it was rather unexpected.

Joanne Harris has set blueyedboy in the same town as her excellent Gentleman and Players which I read and enjoyed last year, so there is an air of familiarity about the setting and the feeling of being an outsider. I’m not sure I would go so far as to say its a companion piece but there are some similarities, particularly around the need for revenge, but blueyedboy is not anywhere near as gleeful as I found G&P.

It’s an unsettling novel, well written and cleverly plotted and I enjoyed reading it at the time but as the weeks have passed I think the impact has diminished and I’m not sure this is one that will stay with me.

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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May 2012