Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Lots of books

This is cheating I know but I have gotten so far behind that today I give you a mass half-arsed review of books that I have read in the last few months but have languished on the 'To Be Reviewed' pile.

'The Making of Henry' by Howard Jacobson, was picked up in a charity shop because I enjoyed 'The Finkler Question' so much, but this one, written several years before was nothing like as good a read; too much navel-gazing and self-pity on the part of Henry and not enough of the other characters. Like Finkler it is very much just about the people and their relationships but I found Henry much less relatable or likeable, in fact it felt suspiciously self indulgent and playing to his readership profile; rather boring and shallow middle aged bloke is strangely very attractive to women, who fall over themselves to make him happy. Having said that I did enjoy the story and it had plenty of entertaining moments to make it worth the reading. This quote pretty much sums Henry up, but I am sure that many people, myself included, recognise this feeling:

"Something that had tormented Henry all his life, something he felt at school, at university, still feels today when he goes to a party, a conference, a concert, the theatre even: how well acquainted everybody but Henry is with everybody else. Leave aside coincidences of sympathy or interest, where do they actually meet, at what Henry-free time and in what Henry-free dimension do they make contact, dock, establish intimacy, and agree, without so much as mentioning Henry's name, to exclude him? Let Henry be the first person in the room, it will transpire as soon as the room fills that every single person there except Henry is on close terms with every other. does it happen when he goes to get himself a drink? Does it happen when he blinks? Or, as seems much more likely, was it all laid down long ago in anterior time? Was there another world before this one, a sort of metaphysical prep school, a preliminary universe, to which someone forgot to send Henry?" (p.67)

Tish, Monkey and I had a little spate of reading together. Both the girls use Terry Pratchett audiobooks to get themselves to sleep so they have become a firm family favourite. 'Monstrous Regiment' is the wonderful tale of a gang of trainee soldiers joining up to fight in some foreign skirmish. It gradually emerges that some of the lads are lasses, but by this time they have formed a strong bond, and using some pretty unconventional tactics they set about winning the war.

'Sourcery' has the entire Discworld disrupted by the arrival at Unseen University of Coin, the eighth son of an eighth son of an eighth son ... which makes him Sourcerer, and able to command magic at an existential level. But it's ok, Rincewind and the Luggage are on hand to save the day, with some assistance from Conina, daughter of the infamous Cohen the Barbarian. 

'Yesterday's Weather' by Anne Enright is the second book in the pile from a Booker Prize winner. It is a collection of short stories that I was reading back in March, so far too long ago for comment. Her writing is always lovely and understated, with perceptive observation of the human condition, what more can you ask for. This is from 'Little Sister', a young woman telling of her sister's demise: 

"We waited for ninety-one days. On Saturday that thirteenth of September there was the sound of a key in the door and a child walked in  - a sort of death-child. She was six and a half stone. Behind her was a guy carrying a suitcase. He said his name was Brian. He looked like he didn't know what to do.
We gave him a cup of tea, while Serena sat in the corner of the kitchen, glaring. As far as we could gather, she just turned up on his doorstep, and stayed. He was a nice guy. I don't know what he was doing with a girl just out of school, but then again, Serena always looked old for her age.
It is hard to remember what it was like in those days, but anorexia was just starting then, it was just getting trendy. We looked at her and thought she had cancer, we couldn't believe this was some sort of diet. Then trying to make her eat, the cooing and cajoling, the desperate silences as Serena looked at her plate and picked up one green bean. They say anorexics are bright girls who try too hard and get tipped over the brink, but Serena sauntered up to the brink. She looked over her shoulder at the rest of us, as we stood and called to her, and then she turned and jumped. It is not too much to say that she enjoyed her death. I don't think it's too much to say that." (p.162)

I bought Megan Beech's poetry collection 'When I Grow Up I Want to be Mary Beard' purely on the basis of the title, because who doesn't want to be Mary Beard; she's up for my third life because I plan to be Victoria Coren next time around. As is often the case poets who write for performance sometimes don't translate brilliantly to book form, and while I enjoyed reading her poems I do think they would come across much better live; if she makes it to the literature festival some time that will be a date for the diary.

"When I grow up I want to be Mary Beard.
A classy, classic, classicist,
intellectually revered.
Wickedly wonderful and wise
full to brim with life,
while explaining the way in which Caligula died,
on BBC prime time." 
And life goes on, and other books arrive to fill the gaps. This new shelf-full came partly from a charity shop trawl in Brighton with Claire and partly from work a couple of months ago, when I came across two bags of books left out in the hallway of a block of flats in Withington. 


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