Archive of February 2009

Fri 20 Feb

In Somerset, one of my favourite bookshops

I find myself in Somerset recuperating with family after the awful experience of being burgled.  I am typing on a netbook - so please bear with any typos, since I doubt I shall be able to see them!

It surprised me, but the local bookshop (linked) where I probably buy more books than I do at home in London, were able to order me the Raymond Chandler which I have to read for a Thursday book group.  It should come in time for me to collect tomorrow.  Not only that but they have an automated system for the computer to txt me the moment the book is in the shop!  And even more, they knew of the Amazon reseller I mentioned briefly on the "Prayer to a Bear" post as having a volume of my father's in stock!!  This was great since I could supply him with the contact detail's which he required.

So - if you are in Somerset and require any bookshop services - you know where to go!  Their site look as if it may be able to help you from a distance also - I cannot recommend them too highly!

Sat 14 Feb

Ode to a burglary

Come on you burglers

Come and have a go

Take every thing I own

I'm a Quaker so

that's OK....


The riches of my spirit

far outweigh your karma

if you want to hurt me

You'll have to try harder


Come on all you burglars

You got my daughter's DS

now you really shouldn't

Mess with my princess


Come on all you burglars

show me your face somehow

I may be a Quaker

But I could kill you now


All the stuff you have is tainted

You can have it all

But frightening my daughter

You really didn't oughta


That made it personal

that made me care

Makes me see your life as worthless

But I can't go there


We'll get our home back

we have our love

You have some stuff

and when you go above

You're going to fucking pay for this in ways you never could imagine you fucking bastard.


Sorry I'm a Quaker

What I meant to say

was God bless and I feel sorry for you

and listen to a voice inside next time



Tue 10 Feb

I had read Dickens fairly extensively in my youth, the usual suspects plus Bleak House and Barnaby Rudge.  I think that last put me off returning to Dickens for a long time!  But although it took me a while to read the "Tale of Two Cities" I was really glad to return for a spell of Dickens on account of a new book group I joined at Urban75.  I had forgotten how adept Dickens is at making his stories a cracking read.  This was initially published like most of his works in serial fashion, though shorter episodes than he preferred initially (I wonder if that was a more lucrative way for a writer to be published?).  It was reprinted in the more customary monthly episodes with Phiz illustrations, their last collaboration, and I expect this was the format for the "posh folk"!  There's no real equivalent today that I am aware of, athough some writers are experimenting with similar endeavours online these days, notably Alexander McCall Smith's "Corduroy Mansions").  After the initial comment on Maggie O'Farrell below perhaps a Dickens is appropriate to mix things up too?

There were a couple of things I would single out; one a piece of trivia (likely known to many) is that both the opening and closing sentences are extremely famous as quotations.  The opening I was familiar with -

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, ...."

I was quite surprised at the close though to read

"It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done; ..."

I chose the illustration to show this last, rather then a jacket cover, as Sydney Carton takes the place of his friend at La Guillotine.  Incidentally I discovered this illustration was made by Ralph Bruce who worked a good deal on " Look and Learn" which I fondly remember my grandmother scrimping and saving for me to compile into binders when I was a young boy.

The other point is how much Dickens managed to bring alive the history he was portraying (this was written some fifty or sixty years after the revolution, so is comparable to recent literature like Pat Barker's regeneration trilogy.  I do not normally enjoy this sort of "educational" side to literature especially, but by interweaving it as a very necessary plot component Dickens managed to make it thoroughly engaging for me.  It comes with the territory for Dickens, and I was able to take it in good spirits of course, but the prose does wax lyric at times and I could not help wondering if he was "padding" to make the required wordage perhaps!  This is more than compensated by some of the cracking dialog, I especially enjoyed that of "Cruncher" when forswearing any return to grave robbing and forgiving his wife her "flopping" as he is himself praying for his and Miss Pross' lives.

Some last point of trivia, a couple of obscure words I enjoyed and a fact;

"Choused" - duped, deprived of.

"Metempsychosis" - the translaton of souls from one body to another.

Apparently this is also the first mention of eating "chips" in literature and, needless to say, it seems they came from France!

Thu 5 Feb

I read this book in two days, which is quite quick for me.  But I would not say it is a completely easy read.  The story itself is very engaging but the style of the telling involves some interesting techniques, especially as the narrative progresses.  It is largely told in the first person, but the chosen first person changes and at times this can seem disjointing (it is typically done by starting a paragraph with a hyphen, not a fresh chapter).  The technique works on a number of levels though, particularly for Kitty who is suffering from Alzheimers as the story is told.  I think it is less effective when one is just piecing together the circumstances which have led to Esme Lennox "vanishing".

About half way through the book there is a great description of the way Esme actually seems to make herself "vanish" but on another level she has also "vanished" because from the age of sixteen until her seventies she has been incarcerated in an asylum.  It becomes quite apparent that she is remarkably sane under these circumstances, she explains to us all of her actions that are seen by onlookers as evidence of her being "unbalanced".

The tale is a tragic one, but for me at least the revelations towards the end of the book were really surprising, no doubt as Ms O'Farell intended.  There is a sub-plot of sorts involving Iris and her step-brother, so the tale could be seen as one all about skeletons in closets.  I loved the tales of Esme's youth, during her long stay in an institution she has relived these moments over and over again.  It seems that and her "vanishing act" are her survival skills.

I found it especially heartbreaking that her parents could so easily discard their eldest daughter, and it was impossible for me to understand how her father in particular was capable of this (no explantaion is offered, whereas we are given some sketchy insights into the mothers character and motivations).

At the end of the book I had enjoyed a good read though, and would read more of Maggie O'Farell with interest.  It is not great literature, but it is a great story and I'd place her on a par with Ann Fine in my estimation, which I think is praise indeed.

Mon 2 Feb

I remembered this book today, which I read not long after it's initial publication.  This is a credit to a book for me, because there must be many books I could not and would not wish to remember particularly and worse yet some I wish I could forget!  (Mark Haddon's follow-up to his hit publication being a case in point).

The remarkable thing about Stef Penney's book as it was presented at the time was that it had been written and entirely set in the frozen wastes of Canada during the early days of settlement (nineteenth century) and yet Ms Penny had never set foot in Canada, her only experiece of any snowbound wilderness being confined to her native Scotland (and she was a city dweller from Edinburgh at that).  I think the media unkindly fixated on this because she suffered agrophobia and limited all her research to libraries.  The book won the Costa prize in 2006.  During that year I was profoundly in love with a Canadian woman who shared my love of books.  I knew I would read this book, though I had no idea she was to jilt me not long after to my great shock and hurt.

I clearly remember mentioning at book group when I finally did read this book (in 2007, I think) that I could see this novel set as a film script, so it has not suprised me to discover that Stef Penney has also done some work as a film maker, she obviously has a filmic eye when writing, and I think it does her credit that this shines through.  The portrayal of the Hudson Bay Trading Company is interesting and not something that had occurred to me.  I liked the interplay of characters, particularly our heroine and the native, Parker.  Some of the others struck me as a pain in the fundament, particularly the two sisters, one of whom has the awful fate to become a "cat woman"!  The portrayal of the "love that dare not speak it's name" was well done, I thought.  I found the protagonist a great example of a positive model in post-feminist times, even if she does seem to do some extremely dumb things as the adventure side of the novel unfolds (I seem to remember her getting lost in the snow AND allowing her feet to get wet!).

I thought I would post a belated and somewhat abbreviated set of notes on my recollections of this book in view of the weather - the Hamish Henderson post will come in the end!