About Me

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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Sunday, 25 November 2012

"Miss Garnet's Angel" by Salley Vickers

Julia Garnet is a virginal school-marm who lives with her friend (but emphatically not lesbian lover) Harriet in a flat in Ealing. Then Harriet dies two days after their joint retirement and Julia rents an apartment in Venice for six months. Here the cautious, waspish, Julia comes face to face with beauty, passion and religion and the winter of Venice warms her wintry heart.

This charming tale of a barren old prude coming to terms with loneliness and barrenness is told with simplicity and elegance. Miss Garnet is so out of place in this modern, sensuous world and nowhere more so than in Venice, yet she is the rock of sense round which the other characters in all their foibles and weaknesses whirl; to whom they cling. Yet she is not a saint. Looking back on her empty life she realises that she has been spiteful, and damaged, and scared; that she has retreated from life and that this is a sort of sin.

Miss Garnet's unfolding is paralleled by a retelling of the Apocryphal Book of Tobit, in which Tobit's son Tobias travels with a spotty dog and the Angel Raphael to win a bride.

We learn a lot about Venice and about the Zoroastrians.

Delightful. November 2012; 335 pages

August 2016: This is one of those books that stay in your mind. Vickers has also written
The Cleaner of Chartres
Mr Golightly's Holiday which is simply superb!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

"The sense of an ending" by Julian Barnes

My sister hated this Booker 2011 prize winner. It beat Jamrach's Menagerie and Pigeon English; I would probably have awarded the prize to the last.

A recently retired man looks back on his youth with imperfect memory. In particular he remembers the University girlfriend who teased him, whom he dumped, who got involved with his best friend from school. His memories have been jogged by a recent legacy. But is he more sinned against than sinning or is the ex-girlfriend right when she says that he never 'got' it?

Short, very readable and well-crafted. The only problem with this book was that I'm not sure whether I 'got' it even at the end. Perhaps I didn't think the sin so terrible that it merited even a small book and the humdrum, even with well honed prose and carefully measured wit, rarely captivates.

November 2012; 150 pages

Julian Barnes also wrote England, England. I wouldn't bother.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

"The Bloody Chamber" by Angela Carter

This is a collection of short stories ranging from 2 pages long to 42 pages long. The stories are, in essence, a retelling of fairy tales: Bluebeard, Dracula, Beauty and the Beast, Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots etc.

They are transformed by the author's sensuous and luxuriant prose and by a powerful eroticism. Puss in Boots is told from the cat's point of view and imbued with the physicality of a feline. The title piece, the Bloody Chamber, reconstructs Bluebeard and describes with delight the mingled pleasure and disgust as the heroine surrenders her maidenhead to her new husband. The Lady of the House of Love is a vampiress who lures young men into her bed, simultaneously seducing and murdering them.

The theme of this book is the interplay between erotic sex and carnal death and Carter's beautiful gems of stories celebrate the animal in mankind.

Wonderful words. November 2012; 149 pages

June 2015: I think Carter is best at short stories. Although I thoroughly enjoyed Wise Children and Heroes and Villains, both of which are short novels, The infernal desire machines of Doctor Hoffman which is close to a full-length novel I found rather tedious: too much fantasy, too  much sex and ultimately not enough story.

"Fault Line" by Robert Goddard

Another typical Goddard in a genre that is showing signs of aging. The main protagonist, male and disillusioned with life, is obliged to investigate events that took place a long time ago. The story jumps backwards and forwards in time as the elements of the mystery slowly knit together.

As usual, thoroughly readable, marred this time by the fact that the villain was obvious from the first pages. Unlike most Goddards there were very few double crosses and rarely was I wrong footed. Not all the mysteries were cleared up and one sub-plot was more or less entirely separate from the main body. In the final denouement the motives of the villain were still obscure and the only surprise twist at the end was the happy ending.

Not a classic Goddard but I still read it in just over a day.November 2012; 509 pages

Saturday, 17 November 2012

"Pure" by Andrew Miller

Jean-Baptiste, a young engineer, is commanded by a minister at the Palace of Versailles to oversee the destruction of the ancient cemetery of Les Innocents next to Les Halles in only-just-pre-revolutionary Paris. All around the area is a strange miasma. There are reports of weird sightings. Things go bump in the night. Many of those living in the locality are hostile to the project.

He meets many strange characters. He is billeted with the Monnards and their mad daughter. Armand is the organist in the derelict graveyard church; he has revolutionary friends. Jeanne is the virginal granddaughter of the sexton. The priest in the church is a recluse, blinded by the Chinese whilst doing missionary work. Heloise is the local whore; she loves reading.

J-B recruits his best friend and a troop of miners, one of whom is a mystery man, and they begin to excavate the bones.

A very strange book, a comedy of manners set amidst corpses. November 2012; 342 pages

Sunday, 4 November 2012

"Bring up the bodies" by Hilary Mantel

This sequel to Wolf Hall continues the story of Thomas Cromwell, Master Secretary to the government of Henry VIII. This episode deals with the  downfall of Anne Boleyn.

Part of the magic is the way the story is told in the present tense and from the point of view of Cromwell (although continually referring to him as 'he'). Indirect speech is mingled with quoted speech so that one is never quite sure what Cromwell is thinking and what he is saying; this supports the essential secrecy of the central protagonist. The attraction of this man is that he is so modern. Faced with a world of nobles, chivalry and jousts, he organises and manages. In sweeping away the monasteries he places the monarchy on a sound financial footing; he understands trade and banking. Throwaway lines show that he is the man to begin baptismal records, he extends the justice system to Wales, he doesn't use torture (although his interrogations scarcely suit modern sensibilities and the trials over which he presides are show trials), he seeks to place the parish priests on a proper footing, and he tries to bring in a Keynesian law to give public work to the unemployed.

This book doesn't have the immense power of Wolf Hall but it is a very readable sequel. It won the 2012 Booker, beating The Lighthouse by Alison Moore.