Baswood's books

Questa conversazione è stata continuata da Baswood's books - well - part 2.

ConversazioniClub Read 2021

Iscriviti a LibraryThing per pubblicare un messaggio.

Baswood's books

Gen 1, 5:35pm

Last year I read 100 books and largely kept to my reading programme that I worked out at the start of the year. 100 books is the most I have ever recorded since I have used LT and so I figured that this years target should be the same and so over the last week I have selected my books for the year; any more will be a bonus.

The topics will be the same as last year and so:

Elizabethan literature
I am reading through on a year by year basis and I am now at 1594 (precise dates of publications or manuscripts are subject to much debate by literary scholars). The plague was raging in London and so the theatres were closed and so much of the material available is poetry or pamphlets and so I will start with two sonnet cycles by Thomas Lodge and Giles Fletcher and then move on to Shakespeare's poetry. Towards the end of my reading year I plan to get to four more of Shakespeares plays:
Loves Labours Lost
King John
Richard II
A Midsummer Nights dream

In between there will be works by Thomas Nashe Edmund Spenser Michael Drayton George Chapman Henry Wilobie and others.

Last year I picked a year at random 1951 withy the aim of reading as many books as I could published that year and found that I made many excellent discoveries which included:

Bestiary, Julio Cortazar
Jean Giono - Le Hussard sur le toit
A. M Klein - The second scroll
Simone de Beauvoir - The Mandarins
Morley Callaghan - The loved and the Lost
Howard Fast - Spartacus
Rachel Carson - The Sea around us
Shirley Jackson - Hangsaman
The Conformist - Alberto Moravia
The Grass Harp - Truman Capote
My Cousin Rachel Daphne DuMaurier
From Here to Eternity James Jones
The Cruel Sea Nicholas Monsarrat
and books by Ngaio Marsh Hammond Innes John Dickson Carr Olivia Manning John Masters Nancy Mitford

I am therefore going to carry on with 1951 as there are still some goodies to come:
A dance to the music of time Anthony Powell
Cairo to Damascus John Roy Carlson
Fires on the Plain Shoei Ooka
The log from the Sea of Cortez John Steinbeck
Curtains for Three Rex Stout
Lie down in darkness William Styron
A Game of Hide and Seek Elizabeth Taylor
The Goshawk T H White
The Cain Mutiny Herman Wouk
Judgement at Deltchev Eric Ambler
Seven Summers Milk Raj Anand
Colonel Julian and other stories H E Bates
Look down in Mercy Walter Baxter
Early stories, Elizabeth Bowen
Fancies and Goodnights John Collier
Marianne Rhys Davies
Conscience of the king Alfred Duggan
Pigeons in the Grass Wolfgang Koeppen
This man and this Woman James T Farrel
Chicago city on the Make Nelson Algren
Complete Clerihews E Clerihew Bently
Two cheers for democracy E M Forster
Poetry and drama T S Eliot
The End of the Affair Graham Green
The West Pier Patrick Hamilton
Le Rivage de Syrtes Julian Gracq
Memoires D'Hadrian Marguerite Yourcenar
Catcher in the Rye

There are at least another 150 books to read from that year, which are still available.

I am still aiming to complete the unread books on my shelves whose authors names begin with the letter B I have 15 of them including two by Balzac which I will try and read in French. I also have three books in the series The complete letters of D H Lawrence and books that are not on my shelves yet, but I hope to read this year are the Four seasons Quartet by Ali Smith

Science Fiction reading will continue with books from the 1950's

My reading will entail buying a lot more books (hooray), but I have only selected books that will cost less than 20 euros, many of the older books are of course free on the net.

Gen 1, 6:08pm

Between your Elizabethan reading and the classic SF, I always find interesting things on your threads. So I am just going to grab a coffee and sit down in the corner :)

Happy new year, Barry!

Gen 2, 3:52am

Happy new year! Looking forward to reading your posts.

Gen 2, 3:57am

Happy New Year, Bas! I will be following again, as always. Looking forward to your thoughts on the Steinbeck. I haven't read The log from the Sea of Cortez yet, but it is on my list.

Modificato: Gen 2, 6:41am

Nones - W. H. Auden
When this collection of poetry was published in 1951, many people considered Auden to be the greatest living poet, however some would claim that his best poetry was behind him and that he had to some extent lost his voice when war was declared in 1939. I am no expert on Auden's poetry only dipping in to various poems in anthologies and such like. My impression is that Auden is a poet of many faces for example some poems can be almost childlike in their simplicity and rhyming patterns with a sing-song like quality, while others can be wilfully obscure with no discernible structure and almost everything else in between. What is palpably obvious was that Auden was always in control of his technical ability and if the poems were open to interpretation then that was part of the process. I was excited then to read a collection of his later poems that he had put together for publication.

The collection starts with an introductory poem seemingly a dedication and entitled "To Reinhold and Ursula Niebuhr" The Niebuhr's were academics and theologians and were in correspondence with Auden over a number of years and especially at a time when Auden had returned to Christianity. They were also like Auden making a new life for themselves in America. The poem starts with the line;

"We, too, had known golden hours,"

and ends with the quatrain

"And where should we find shelter
For joy or mere content
When little was left standing
But the suburbs of dissent."

Auden knew that some of his devotees and critics were after him, but in this collection he seems not to care, producing a few of the more simple nursery type poems along with those where a dictionary of obscure/antiquated words would be helpful. What is evident is that many of the poems have a religious quality about them, a basic christian believe in God. This rarely becomes so overt that it feels like preaching, but many of the poems have this belief at their heart.

It would seem that most of the poems had been written during the period 1948-51 and so the big event in many people lives was a readjustment after the end of the second world war and Auden whatever one could accuse him of was never a poet to cocoon himself from current events and so this collection of a moment in time reflects the poets thought and fears for humanity first, and himself second. There are some wonderful poems in this collection there are also some that I don't pretend to understand and others that I just don't like, but most have that technical quality that makes them a joy to read. What is typical of the poet for me is that a poem will open with an idea that stimulates my imagination and then as it goes on I find myself getting lost as where it is going, stopping to think is an absolute requirement in a poem like "In Praise of Limestone" which seems to have a theme of the loss of innocence. I love some of the individual lines, but cannot always see the connection. I found myself looking at an analysis of the poem by other readers on the internet and discovered that they were as clueless as me. There is so much packed into those lines that an overall understanding is difficult and left me with the conclusion that I would probably read the poem differently every time I re-read it. Perhaps not a bad thing.

There were plenty of poems that I really enjoyed "Not in Baedeker" where the speaker reminisces about a town that was once the centre for a huge lead mine, but now after a relatively few decades the only evidence of the mine itself is in the contours of the landscape. It is an ugly looking poem but spoke to me because I lived for a time in an old lead mining village. "Ischia" is a homage to Southern Italy and the pleasures for a visitor but Auden warns:

"Nothing is free, whatever your charge shall be paid
That these days of exotic splendour may stand out
In each lifetime like marble
Mileposts in an alluvial land"

"The fall of Rome' where each stanza is a vignette of the fall of civilization. The 'Managers' which muses on those sometime faceless people that have control over your destiny. 'A Household' where the "man" of the house believes his own lies. The 'Duet' is another of my favourite poems. The speaker contrasts a singer of classical music giving a recital in a warm rich household while outside in the cold winter a scrawny beggar is an organ grinder:

“But to her gale
Of sorrow from the moonstruck darkness
That ragged runagate opposed his spark”

The title poem "Nones" is one of the more difficult poems to come to grips with as a whole, but each stanza deals with an aspect of humanity's shortcomings and ends with the thought that although we can heal ourselves ; death is coming. The collection ends with two absolute crackers. "The Precious Five Senses" where Auden devotes a stanza each to Nose-smell, Ears-hearing, sight-seeing, tongue-women (oops), hands-touch and brings these all together in a final stanza. The poem is both witty and thought provoking in equal measure; here is the opening lines to the stanza on ears:

Be modest, lively ears,
Spoiled Darlings of the stage
Where any caper cheers
The paranoic mind
Of this undisciplined
And concert-going age,
So lacking in conviction
It cannot take pure fiction
And what it wants from you
Are rumours partly true`

A Walk after Dark the final poem sounds personal to me; readers of poetry are encouraged to think of a neutral speaker as the voice of the poem, but in this instance It is personal:

"Now, unready to die
But already at the stage
When one starts to dislike the young
I am glad those points in the sky
May also be counted among
The creatures of middle age."

The poet takes a walk and looks up at the stars and thinks about the state of the world, and his own place in it, but it ends with a note of uncertainty eased by his new friends in his adopted country:

"But the stars burn overhead,
Unconscious of final ends,
As I walk home to bed,
Asking what judgement waits
My person, all my friends,
And these United States."

Writing about and reliving some of these poems is surely what reading is all about. Another great publication from 1951 and a five star read

Gen 2, 8:02am

Great review of Nones, Barry. That seems like a book I would be interested in reading, although I suspect it would be difficult to find in the US.

Gen 2, 8:06am

A great post to open the year. I was thinking how reading your 1951 reviews gives us a curious timeslice, but my thought process got lost thinking about these Auden poems. I haven’t read Auden.

Modificato: Gen 2, 11:56am

>5 baswood: A nice find! I’ve never got very far with late Auden, but I remember “Not in Baedeker” — it’s presumably Italy, but he makes it sound very like Derbyshire or the Lakes. Re-reading it, I somehow couldn’t help imagining Auden dressed in a Portillo blazer and wandering around book-in-hand followed by a camera team. But the pleasure he takes in the Victorian writer spelling “gulph” with a ph is so lovely!

Modificato: Gen 2, 12:18pm

>8 thorold: yes I presume it was set in Italy. I lived for a while in Wensley Derbyshire which was home at one time to the largest lead mine in Europe. The poem just feels so East Midlands.

Gen 3, 1:37pm

Happy new year baswood! There are interesting books in your 1951 list. I'll be happy to follow your reads and hope you'll have a wonderful literary year!
Out of curiosity, what are the two Balzac that you plan reading?

Gen 3, 2:04pm

Really interesting review on the Auden collection. I'll be learning plenty on your thread again this year.

Modificato: Gen 4, 5:28pm

L'écume des Jours - Boris Vian
I have never read a book quite like L'écume des jours, but then again I have never read a book quite like Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery and so reading these two in parallel was quite a strange experience, because in some aspects they are similar. Le Petit Prince was published in 1943 and Boris Vian's first novel hit the streets in 1947, both scenario's take place in a sort of parallel universe and its easy to believe that Vian was thoroughly familiar with The Petit Prince when he wrote L'écume des jours which takes his parallel world out of the reach of children and into a world of tragedy and satire.

L'écume des Jours tells the story of Colin a wealthy young man who loves jazz and has no need to work, he lives in an apartment with Chick his best friend. Chick is obsessed with the literature of Jean Sol-Patre (Jean-Paul Satre in the real world) and has little money himself. The apartment is also home to Nicholas who is both chef and chauffeur to Colin and a couple of mice who all live happily together. Nicholas introduces Colin to his cousin Chloé and Chick meets her friend Alise. Both men fall in love with the two girls and Colin marries Chloé who moves into the apartment. He lends some money to Chick who instead of marrying Alise spends his dublazons (it is an alternative world) on the works of Sol-Patre who seems to be publishing books and articles almost every week. Chloé becomes ill with a growth in her lung and Colin finds a doctor who treats her with new techniques. The treatment is expensive and Colin spends all his money on treatments and flowers, believing that cut flowers in Chloé's sick room will help her recovery (cut flowers are an expensive item in France). Chloe does not recover, Colin is impoverished and searches for work and Chick spends the last of his money on a pair of old trousers previously owned by Sol-Patre.

This is a tragi-comedy love story shot through with satire, magic realism and naivety. It is told in short chapters that have a certain grip on the real world then lurch into parody, this reader was continually wrong footed when at the start of the novel, but quickly learn't to go with the flow. The first chapter introduces us to Colin and describes his toilette in some detail and we meet Chick and Nicholas and then rather bizarrely in the cuisine are the mice who are dancing happily in the rays of the sunshine and Colin in passing by to see what is cooking caresses them lovingly. There is much talk about food and jazz as the first chapter comes to the end. From then on the chapters increasingly become a little more surreal until we are in another world which seems an awful parody of this one. There are some great moments (or little chapters) in the book: Nicholas takes Colin and Chloe for a drive and to avoid traffic they take a short cut on unmade roads through a copper mining area with open foundries and Chloe is frightened by the workers and the destroyed landscape, there is the strange hospital of Professor Mangemanche, there are the efforts of Colin to raise money by selling his pianococktail; an invention that mixes drinks when a tune is played on the keyboard, the burning of the libraries and the murder of Sol-Patre and finally the tragedy of Chloés sick room

In this surreal world which becomes more tragic Boris Vian takes aim and satirises religion, celebrity status, fine dining, the medical profession, discrimination and it seems many other aspects of contemporary life. The frothy good natured approach that Vian takes in his writing only starts to slip a little in the final chapters, but it is a book with its own unique style and as such succeeds wonderfully. Funny and sad at the same time and a five star read.

Gen 4, 7:01am

I think I have an unread cope of Le Petit Prince somewhere on my shelves. It's popped up several times in various mediums over Christmas - you're reminding me I should actually read it.

Gen 4, 2:07pm

>13 baswood: I’m entertained by your description, although not sure of I would make any sense of this one.

Gen 4, 2:39pm

>13 baswood: I loved this book, as a teenager! Then I lent it and never got it back...
Have you seen Michel Gondry's recent adaptation? For some reason, it's called Mood Indigo in English.

Gen 4, 2:43pm

Hi, baswood, liking the thread a lot already. Have you listened to Vian's music, or is that a stupid question... I haven't bothered to look up his jazz playing but I like his songs. Ref: Boris Vian - La complainte du progrès (1956) The video ends with a clip of Vian and Jeanne Moreau in Vadim's Les liaisons dangereuses. That's the 18th-century Laclos set all to jazz, btw.

Gen 4, 5:45pm

>16 Dilara86: Mood Indigo - title of a song by Duke Ellington, so I suppose that makes sense. The English translation of L'écume des jours (book) is Froth of the Daydream which doesn't make much sense to me either. I have not seen the film yet but will look out for it.

Gen 4, 5:47pm

>17 LolaWalser: Thank you for the link Lola I enjoyed the song and the clip afterwards of Vian.

Modificato: Gen 5, 3:22am

>17 LolaWalser: That was the song that played in my head all evening yesterday, after reading this thread! I was actually going to link to the same Youtube video, but you beat me to it!

More generally, Vian's songs - especially Le déserteur (English subtitles), La complainte du progrès, and On n'est pas là pour se faire engueuler - are a must to anyone interested in French culture, and postwar/fifties France in particular. They've become part of our "cultural vocabulary", to the point where people don't necessarily realise that they're quoting Vian. Personally, I have a soft spot for Higelin's take on Vian, as in Priez pour Saint-Germain-des-prés and La java des chaussettes à clous.

>18 baswood: The film is available on Netflix. I'm not necessarily recommending it warmly (not over the book anyway!), but Gondry's visual universe is well suited to the novel, and it certainly sparked up interest in non-French-speaking countries.

Gen 5, 4:29am

>20 Dilara86: I am certainly interested into dipping more into French Culture, having become naturalised French last year I have a lot of catching up to do, thank you for the links.

Gen 5, 1:42pm

>13 baswood:

I definitely need to reread this one - I read it back in my teens and fell in love with Vian's style but I am pretty sure I missed quite a lot of it (and I am pretty sure I read Exupery a few years after that for the first time). Wonderful review!

Gen 5, 2:24pm

>20 Dilara86: I would add to the list La Java des bombes atomiques, unfortunately I have not found a subtitled version.
I prefer the singer than the writer, but I have been meaning for some time to read J'irai cracher sur vos tombes, written under one of many pen names that Boris Vian took, and supposed to be written in an American style.

Modificato: Gen 5, 2:38pm

Ooh, you got me with your excellent review of L'écume des Jours, Barry! That sounds right up my alley, so I purchased the Kindle version of one of the English translations of it, titled Mood Indigo, just now. I may be reading it very soon.

Gen 5, 2:44pm

Beyond Infinity, Robert Spencer Carr and Monsters of the Ray, A Hyatt Verrill
Welcome to ARMCHAIR FICTION We are a new company dedicated to the restoration of classic genre fiction. Here you will find new, "Extra Large" paperback editions of top genre fiction from the past. Welcome indeed because they have republished a story from 1951 that I wanted to read and a bonus story with Monsters of the Ray.

Robert Spencer Carr specialised in short fiction and was actively published between 1925 and 1952. Beyond Infinity is novella length and tells s story of two rival scientists finally working together in their retirement years to build and fund a rocket ship. There is a certain amount of distrust between the two still and one of them hires a detective to search for a missing person; a woman whom he loved, but chose to marry another of his rivals. The detective with the scientists niece tracks down the woman and discovers that she has volunteered to be a guinea pig in the clandestine spaceflight. This is a good story well held together with a satisfying conclusion and Spencer Carr creates two strong female characters with a nice twist to the end of the story. Plenty of atmosphere and some tension.

I was more surprised by Monsters of the Ray which started with almost a record number of cliches in the first three pages, but afterwards set out to tell another good story. A reclusive scientist has built himself a laboratory in the mountains of Peru amongst an old Inca site. An anthropologist/archeologist tracks him down and becomes fascinated by his work. The scientist is trying to discover how the ancient Indians managed to cut stone to build their temples and an impressive bridge across a canyon. The archeologists discovery of a curiously shaped container leads to much speculation as to its use, this together with an Indian legend of Gods visiting the earth entices the scientists to explore the mystery container. A portal into another world results with dire consequences.

Both of the stories are not worried about scientific facts and don't let them get in the way of a good story. This is pulp fiction after all, but the writing is of a good standard. Armchairfiction are specialising in republishing stories from the golden age of science fiction, but I have probably outgrown my need for them now - 3 stars.

Gen 5, 4:13pm

>20 Dilara86:

I didn't know Higelin, fun versions, thanks.

>23 raton-liseur:

Agreed on La java... --probably my fave; I linked the other song for the clip at the end...

Speaking of translations, I haven't read the English versions but I recall there's an edition of L'écume... in English called Foam of the daze--no idea about the quality of the text but the title strikes me as promisingly clever.

Gen 5, 9:31pm

Stopping by to wish you a Happy New Year, and to drop off my star, Barry. You always read interesting things, and I like glancing off your thread.

Gen 9, 4:14pm

Lots of good books from 1951. A few years ago, I was trying to read the books published each year of my life as a way of choosing books to read that were already on my shelf. I got from1950 to 1953.
I read The Cruel Sea several years ago, and though it's not great literature, I really liked it, enough that I've bought another book by Monsarrat, though not yet read it. It is a book I remember my father reading when I was a child (he liked war books). Many, many years ago I read From Here To Eternity, and also liked it, so I guess I must like war books too.

Gen 10, 4:58am

Anthony Burgess - The Devil's Mode
When I was collecting together the unread books from my shelves, I realised I had five by Burgess; which I probably bought in a charity shop as a sort of job lot. The Devil's Mode was the third of the five and the most disappointing. It is a collection of nine short stories, with one of them (Hun) being of novella length and probably the most pointless one of the collection.

They start of well with "A Meeting in Valladolid" where Burgess imagines the 40 year old Shakespeare being a member of a trade and culture delegation sent over to Spain to heal relations between the two countries after the succession to the English throne of James I. Of course it is Shakespeare who suffers most from sea sickness and he spends an uncomfortable time in Spain organising shortened productions of his plays as entertainments; choosing Titus Andronicus in the first instance thinking that the Spanish will enjoy the buckets of blood used in the spectacle. He meets Miguel de Cervantes, who is as irascible as his character Don Quixote. From the nuggets of history that are known about Shakespeare, Burgess has made an amusing historical fiction short story (I am not sure that we know that the bard suffered sea sickness or that he went to Spain and met Cervantes). This is a template for several other stories. "The Most Beautiful" imagines a student lecture in Wittenberg at the time of Martin Luther. 'The Cavalier of the Rose' imagines Maria Theresa of Austria in bed with her young lover which develops into a Boccaccio like farce. In "1889 and the Devil's Mode" he imagines certain European poets and musicians visiting England and Ireland: Debussy goes to a brothel in Dublin with Stephan Mallarme and then they meet Browning and Christina Rossetti. These first four historical fiction stories are cleverly worked, but by the time that we get to 'The Devils Mode' it is only Burgesses cleverness that is on show. One could say Story? what Story?

There follows two stories that are set in Malaysia and tell spicy tales of European's sexual relations with native women. These feel like chapters that didn't quite make the cut for Burgesse's previous novels collected as the Malayan trilogy with their casual sexism and racism. Both forgettable if you have read any of his previous books. A curious modern story about a man spending his inheritance on air travel is next and is more original in conception, but this is all too quickly followed by Hun. The Hun is Atilla and Burgess imagines the barbarian hordes conquest of much that was Roman Europe. As an exercise in trying to understand Atilla it makes no sense with Burgess tackling that problem with 20th century hindsight. Christopher Marlowe was much more successful in the late 16th century with his depiction of another Asiatic conqueror Tamburlaine (Tamurlane) in his play Tamburlaine the great. With Burgess we get 15th century warriors speaking like 20th century politicians and descriptions of the barbarities enacted against the towns and cities in their way. This reader had trouble staying awake (but maybe the wine didn't help). The final story is a Sherlock Holmes adventure and this is more successful and fitting perhaps because Holmes is even more clever than Burgess.

These stories were collected and published in 1989 and perhaps with their 'intellectual' dazzle they seemed more original, but reading them today I found that many of them had lost their sparkle and a novella (Hun) has never seemed so long. 3 stars.

Modificato: Gen 10, 6:14am

>5 baswood: thanks for that review, very interesting. It's only been as an adult that I learned of Auden's connection to the north pennines, which I find satisfying always looking for literary localish links. You may be interested in this , if you are not aware of it, it may have some useful info too -

You've made me think to read it soon myself - but I may put it off to have looked at his earlier work more fully first. I lack in knowing the earlier works and wondered if they would have helped when i read The Shield of Achilles.

I also enjoyed the Vian discussion, will listen to the link. I don't think of Burgess for short stories, I'll have to think about that and see if there were more, but this does not sound liek a priority, thouhg in a way I do liek the idea of sort of making that modern-speak Hunnish, cos it can seem so.

edit - lol now watched la Complainte du progres -- made me think of the start of Trainspotting. I'll watch the rest soon.

Modificato: Gen 12, 4:48am

Elizabethan Sonnet-Cycles II: Thomas Lodge - Phillis: Honored with Pastoral Sonnets, Elegies and Amorous Delights. Part of a cycle edited by Martha Foote Crow (Free at Project Gutenberg)

In the mid 1590's there seemed to be a rush to get poetry collections into print, perhaps caused by the publishing of Sir Philip Sydneys Astrophil and Stella in 1591. Many of these collections have been filed away under the genre of The Elizabethan Love Sonnet. They took as a template Petrarch's Canzoniere in which the poet by means of sonnets, odes, elegies and songs proclaimed his undying love for Laura. Petrarch took over 44 years to put his collection together only brought to its completion by his death in 1374. Over two hundred years later and still feeling the legacy of the idea of courtly love the Elizabethans who followed Sidney were seeming to make their collections little more than poetical exercises. In many cases there seems to be no actual unrequited love affair involved; it is more an exercise for the poet to describe his degrees of suffering for an unobtainable love match. The poetry has become academic and abstract as the search for: or in many cases the refinement of existing imagery is the reason for the appearance of the collections at the publishing houses.

When approaching one of the love sonnet collections I ask myself what's new. Is there anything here to distinguish it from those that have gone before. In the case of Thomas Lodge's Phillis the answer to the first question is no and the answer to the second question is 'not much' and if the reader was interested in "Amorous Delights" promised in the subtitle then he would be disappointed. Thomas lodge was the son of the Lord Mayor of London and tried his hand at various types of written work: plays, pamphlets, social and morale tracts, historical prose, romantic stories and of course poetry. His most successful work was the romantic love story Rosalynde, which does contain some poetry. He undertook at least three sea voyages and on one of them he wrote Phillis, sonnet II:

You sacred sea-nymphs pleasantly disporting
Amidst this wat'ry world, where now I sail;
If ever love, or lovers sad reporting,
Had power sweet tears from your fair eyes to hail;
And you, more gentle-hearted than the rest,
Under the northern noon-stead sweetly streaming,
Lend those moist riches of your crystal crest,
To quench the flames from my heart's Ætna streaming;
And thou, kind Triton, in thy trumpet relish
The ruthful accents of my discontent,
That midst this travel desolate and hellish,
Some gentle wind that listens my lament
May prattle in the north in Phillis' ears:
"Where Phillis wants, Damon consumes in tears."

The positives from the collection are the freshness of Lodge's poetry; he does not draw so much on classical antiquity and obscure imagery and his poetry can sing with a more natural voice than some. Although the collection does not seem to go anywhere; there is no story line, it has been shaped as a pastoral and so there are a couple of eglogs (ecologues) and a debate between Damon and Damades while they tend their flocks of sheep. Perhaps a man like Lodge who was adept at satirical works and many other kinds of writing felt constrained by the love sonnet format. The frustration of the speaker comes through in the final five eight line stanzas ending with:

"Prime youth lusts not age still follow,
And make white these tresses yellow;
Wrinkled face for looks delightful
Shall acquaint the dame despightful;
And when time shall eat thy glory,
Then too late thou wilt be sorry.
Siren pleasant, foe to reason,
Cupid plague thee for thy treason!"

The final sonnet is ambiguous and seems to take the poet back to wondering if his poetry will survive. A collection of poems not without interest, but they might seem dull to some readers and so 3 stars.
Here is one of his more successful sonnets from the collection even if that final line does not quite fit.

Burst, burst, poor heart! Thou hast no longer hope;
Captive mine eyes unto eternal sleep;
Let all my senses have no further scope;
Let death be lord of me and all my sheep!
For Phillis hath betrothèd fierce disdain,
That makes his mortal mansion in her heart;
And though my tongue have long time taken pain
To sue divorce and wed her to desert,
She will not yield, my words can have no power;
She scorns my faith, she laughs at my sad lays,
She fills my soul with never ceasing sour,
Who filled the world with volumes of her praise.
In such extremes what wretch can cease to crave
His peace from death, who can no mercy have!

Modificato: Gen 13, 5:41pm

Elizabethan Sonnet-Cycles II Licia or Poems of love in honour of the admirable and singular virtues of his lady, to the imitation of the best Latin poets and others by Giles Fletcher. This is the second sonnet collection in the book edited by Martha Foote Crow >31 baswood:

Giles Fletcher came from a well to do family, educated at Eton and Trinity college. He was known for his public services, not as a poet or courtier. He claimed that Lucia was written at a time of idleness and he did it only to try his humour. He claimed that love was a goddess and the subject was not for a vulgar head, a base mind, an ordinary conceit, or a common person. He was claiming that his collection of poems were an exercise in writing poetry and it is clear that there never was a Licia; she was an invention that would be the object of his poems.

When the title of the collection refers to them as being "the imitation of the best Latin poets" it is no surprise to find them unoriginal in form and subject. There are 52 sonnets, an ode, a dialogue, a poetical maze and finally an elegy. On the plus side is that they are well composed and read easily. They are written without some of the poetical flourishes of his contemporaries with his imagery being less fantastic than some, mainly sticking to the well worn template. He does occasionally rise above the commonplace take sonnet 6 as an example:

My love amazed did blush herself to see,
Pictured by art, all naked as she was.
"How could the painter know so much by me,
Or art effect what he hath brought to pass?
It is not like he naked me hath seen,
Or stood so nigh for to observe so much."
No, sweet; his eyes so near have never been,
Nor could his hands by art have cunning such;
I showed my heart, wherein you printed were,
You, naked you, as here you painted are;
In that my love your picture I must wear,
And show't to all, unless you have more care.
Then take my heart, and place it with your own;
So shall you naked never more be known.

He proved to be more unselfish than some:

First did I fear, when first my love began;
Possessed in fits by watchful jealousy,
I sought to keep what I by favour won,
And brooked no partner in my love to be.
But tyrant sickness fed upon my love,
And spread his ensigns, dyed with colour white;
Then was suspicion glad for to remove,
And loving much did fear to lose her quite.
Erect, fair sweet, the colors thou didst wear;
Dislodge thy griefs; the short'ners of content;
For now of life, not love, is all my fear,
Lest life and love be both together spent.
Live but, fair love, and banish thy disease,
And love, kind heart, both where and whom thou please.

The last sonnet of the collection hints that he has gained the object of his desire, but it is fairly pedestrian and no cause for celebration. The final three part elegy pus the reader out of his misery:

Down in a bed and on a bed of down,
Love, she, and I to sleep together lay;
She like a wanton kissed me with a frown,
Sleep, sleep, she said, but meant to steal away;
I could not choose but kiss, but wake, but smile,
To see how she thought us two to beguile.

It is not difficult to read Fletcher's collection, but most of his poetry slips by without making an impression and the long A Lover's Maze is best avoided. It is a further example of a sonnet collection which will be most appreciated by people that enjoy the Elizabethan sonnet form. I found some enjoyment but would rate it as 2.5 stars.

Gen 14, 12:40pm

my heart's Ætna

*snicker* /twelve-year-old

This sort of thing is why I admired Shakespeare's sonnet about the plain Jane mistress so much, the one beginning "My Mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun". If hair be wires, black wires grow upon her head! Surely he was taking a dig at these guys?

Gen 14, 1:58pm

>33 LolaWalser: I am sure he was.

Gen 14, 2:01pm

The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson
First published in 1886 as a penny dreadful and subsequently filmed many times Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde will be familiar to many readers. The idea of a dual personality: one inherently good and one inherently evil inhabiting one body and the battle between the two certainly fired the publics imagination and it was an immediate success. I came to read as part of my progress through victorian novels that contain the seeds of science fiction. This book does more than contain the seeds it gave vent to a sub-genre all of its own; the crazy scientist working in secret on a potion that will enhance his life in some drastic faction, but has unfortunate side effects. Jules Verne's Doctor Ox published in 1872 had a comparable theme and Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Doran Grey published in 1891 arguably developed the idea, but these both had elements of humour to lighten the reading: Stevenson's book has about as much humour as Scottish bagpipes. It is dark and gothic in a way that gives a nod to the literature of Edgar Allan Poe.

It is a novella in length with the final third being epistolary in form and although it is Victorian and gothic there is a tightness to the writing. The mystery moves smartly forward with Stevensons characterisation's adding to the feeling of unease that the author generates. It is a story revelling in its maleness, the only female character in an unnamed maid who witnesses a murder. It is written as a mystery and so the insights into the characters of Jekyll and Hyde are only revealed in the fairly long denouement. Mr Utterson the protagonist is by his own admission dull, but trustworthy and he is aided by his cousin Richard Enfield said to be a man about town but gives little evidence of it. The focus of the story is on the mystery of Jekyll and Hyde and I think this is why it succeeds so well along with its exploration into the murky dualities of Victorian men.

It is little more than an afternoons read and it might surprise people who have only seen the movie versions. I enjoyed it and so 4 stars.

Modificato: Gen 18, 7:30pm

>35 baswood: This is a book that should be read more instead of going along with the film versions. In addition to all the good things you mention, I was impressed with how well Stevenson captured the duality in way that readers today would recognize as illness.

That's quite a cover.

I'll be interested in what else the Victorians throw your way.

edited for spelling

Gen 15, 4:48pm

>31 baswood: >32 baswood: I’m grateful for these posts, and the examples. ... The examples might be enough of the actual poetry for me.

>35 baswood: fun review. Sounds like you were ok with RLS’s lack of humor here.

Gen 17, 3:28pm

>35 baswood: I have still not read this novella (but I will, in a distant future...). I have not watched film either, but read a terrific graphic novel adaptation by Mattoti, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. It almost literally made me sick, which did not encourage me to read the novel, but it was an interesting way of getting acquainted with the book.

Modificato: Gen 20, 12:40pm

A Question of Upbringing - Anthony Powell - 1951
A Buyer's Market - Anthony Powell - 1952
The Acceptance World - Anthony Powell - 1955

The next book on my 1951 reading list was A question of Upbringing; this is the first part of Anthony Powell's 12 volume series A Dance to the Music of Time. It was much better value to buy the first three volumes in one book rather than just the first volume and as they were there in front of me I read all three volumes: I am just grateful that I did not buy all 12. Powells immense saga follows the lives of a number of individuals who meet as students at their Public School in the early 1920's. We follow the story in the first person through the eyes and many thoughts of Nick Jenkins, who like most of his school friends comes from a well-to-do family and these three books take us up to 1933. Anthony Powell was educated at Eton and Balliol college Oxford and his series of novels has the feel of an autobiography, certainly the milieu of Public school and debutante balls and then sliding into well paid positions of employment either in the city or through contacts made at University has a ring of authenticity. The social milieu could be described as upper middle class with plenty of Lords and Ladies hovering around the upper echelons.

Readers seem to have a love-hate relationship with this series of books and I can understand just why that is. Powell writes, as one might not be too surprised from his background, with a plum in his mouth and sometimes that plum becomes so large that the reader losses much of what is said. His long sentences with their many sub-clauses can become indistinct at best and completely obfuscate any meaning at worst. I lost count of the number of times I got to the end of one of these epics with only a vague impression of what I had just read. This style of writing is particularly evident in the second volume, and although it does occurs in volume three; The Acceptance World this book is a little more focused. One might give credit to Powell for imitating the confused thoughts of a 20 year old just making his way in the world, but I think this would be generous. Much Of volume 2 is focused on two events a debutants ball and a rather more bohemian party that some stragglers get to afterwards. Our protagonist Nick while spending much time describing the details of the guests dress and manners, their opulent surroundings and some of the events he witnesses, seems at a loss to understand their behaviour and even incidents in which he becomes involved remain a bit of a mystery.

Powell looks at everything through his protagonist Nick from an establishment point of view. This is a novel that reinforces the rigid class system that existed for wealthy people in the 1920's-30's and one could argue that Powell has his finger on the pulse of this era, however I sense an admiration of the social milieu in which he places his characters, it is though he is saying how wonderful it all was. One of the characters Widmerpool (we hardly ever learn their Christian names) who is less wealthy than most and realises he must work twice as hard as his contemporaries to get on says "brains and hard work are of very little avail unless you know the right people". This proves to be over optimistic because it is not the connections you might be able to forge, but the connections that your father or grandfather were able to make. It was all down to the position of your family in society. Widmerpool like other characters who were not from the right families are figures of fun in Powells hands, all the jokes are on them because they do not know how to behave correctly. It is all very well to have an accurate description of the young wealthy class in the period in which they lived, but not perhaps at the expense of all else. Reading the novels made me feel that they were outdated, but then thinking about the public school boys that currently run the British government in 2021; perhaps nothing much has changed.

Powells characterisations of his female characters are depressingly familiar; judged on their attractiveness to the male gaze and their propensity to conform to their partners wishes. Independently minded women are seen as either a threat or something to be managed and forever remain a mystery to their male counterparts. Nick himself who is very much a cypher in that he is a witness to events that happen around him, rather than instigating any of them, becomes in the third volume active in pursuing a love affair, but he is like a blind man stumbling towards an urge that needs satisfying.

There is much in these novels that were not to my taste, but they can have a dream like quality enhanced by Powells writing style. Characters did not elicit my care or sympathy for their predicaments, but I did enjoy the slow pace of the events and the insight of a world that I know existed and perhaps still exists. I will not be tempted to read any more of the books in this series; three were enough and I rate them as follows:
A Question of Upbringing - 3 stars
A Buyers Market - 2.5 stars
The Acceptance World - 4 stars.

Gen 20, 12:55pm

>39 baswood:

Ahh, I'm glad at the lack of enthusiasm, I detested the thing--well, the first book, didn't go past it. Couldn't believe he apparently thought he was "doing a Proust"... how sadly deluded. Both about Proust and his own powers.

Powell writes, as one might not be too surprised from his background, with a plum in his mouth and sometimes that plum becomes so large that the reader losses much of what is said.

Ha, this brought back his tone to me exactly.

Gen 20, 2:13pm

>39 baswood: Yes, he was over-rated, and over-rated himself too. I enjoyed immersing myself in the sequence when I first discovered it, but I don’t really feel I could face going back to it now!

I find there are quite a few scenes from Dance that have stuck in my mind, though, Powell did occasionally have something interesting to say, if not twelve books worth. The WWII books are the best, probably.

I much prefer Simon Raven, who never thought of himself as writing great literature, just getting his own back on people he didn’t like (i.e. everyone).

Gen 20, 2:15pm

>39 baswood: admiring your tenacity. And your limits. This review is will likely serve as all I will ever know of Anthony Powell.

Modificato: Gen 22, 5:23pm

Malcolm Bradbury - Who do you think you are?, Malcolm Bradbury
Malcolm Bradbury was an English academic and author and published this collection of short stories in 1976. This collection of seven short stories and nine parodies are largely satirical, based around life in academia. Bradbury held posts in both England and America and these stories criss cross the Atlantic ocean. The satire is sharp and witty; if a little one paced due to its subject matter not straying far from the campus. His first story "A Goodbye to Evadne Winterbottom" starts as follows:

Perhaps I should begin by saying all that follows I write if a little frankly as a professional man

This could be said about all the stories if he had added "prone to dalliances with the opposite sex" This first story concerns a welfare psychiatrist (if there is such a thing) and his patient Evadne Winterbottom whose issues make the psychiatrist examine his own life and who he wants to be. "A Very Hospitable Person" is set in America where an English couple newly working at the college are invited to a meal by an American work colleague, whose wife makes overt sexual comments which embarrasses the English couple. "Who Do You think You Are" is an intellectual quiz programme devised for the BBC where the expert participants must carry out an in depth personality review of a character selected at random, using their own specialist knowledge and ends with the experts psychoanalysing each other. This is one of the best stories with Bradbury using his insight in how the BBC worked at the time. "The Adult Education Class" is also very good telling a story of a poetry class, whose professor has to cope with one of his former college pupils, involved in a take over bid. "Nobody Here in England" is actually set in an American college who have invited an "expert" on George Bernard Shaw, who wants to make a benefaction of love letters that she claims to have received from him. The college must decide if she is genuine. "A Breakdown" is a story of a mature student falling in love with her college professor. The final story "Composition" is about a visiting English professor in America becoming involved with students, who will do anything to get better grades.

Following the stories there are nine short parodies that could have been written by writers such as Muriel Spark, Lawrence Durrell, John Braine, Alan Sillitoe etc; authors from the 1960's. A sort introductory paragraph informs the reader who Bradbury is parodying, but much of the humour would be lost if you were not familiar with the authors in question.

I found the stories witty and entertaining, there were no read duds and as satirical slices of life from the teaching side of the campus of five decades ago, they work well. This one might go back on the bookshelf 3 stars.

Gen 24, 12:11am

>39 baswood: Same feeling here, and almost the same rating fro the first three novels of Dance to the Music of time, which I read in July last year. I hope to finish the whole hing this year.

Modificato: Feb 1, 4:51pm

Wasp - Eric Frank Russell
Pulp science fiction from 1957 which has somehow become part of the Masterwork science fiction series. It holds the premise that a single person can seriously disrupt a world government if it goes about it in the right way; the analogy is of a wasp in a car full of people that can cause a car crash and this may be true because a friend of mine drove into a ditch when a wasp flew in his car window. While a wasp could cause a car crash we are really into a fantasy world in thinking that one person could be instrumental in bringing down an alien military government with the tactics that the protagonist James Mowry uses in this novel. There is not much science but plenty of fiction.

As a serialised entry in a 1950's pulp magazine this could have been splashed on the front page, but as an example of the cutting edge of science fiction writing in the late 1950's it does not cut. 3 stars.

Modificato: Gen 25, 9:29am

Thomas Lodge - The LIfe and Death of William Longbeard.
Thomas Lodge was a university man who made his living as an author in Elizabethan England. He never finished his law degree, but instead became a prolific writer in fiction, non fiction, drama and poetry. This short chronicle from 1593 is written in a genre that has come to be known as historical fiction, however in Elizabethan times no such prose work would have been printed without a selection of poetry and songs and this one is no exception with thirteen items inserted by Lodge. The source of Lodge's narrative is mainly Robert Fabyan's chronicle which was reprinted in 1559 and what is most interesting are the additions that Lodge made to the text which is otherwise fairly well condensed.

This is the story of a twelfth century rabble-rouser; William Fitzosbert who claimed to know KIng Richard Ist personally. The outline of the tale is that William Fitzosbert (Longbeard) was an ambitious child prodigy
of a well to do family, who framed his older brother for treason and inherited the family wealth and lands, when his brother was executed. He sought the support of the craftsmen and poor of the city and acted for them in legal disputes, gaining a number of devoted followers. His entourage around the city came to rival many of the courtiers to King Richard and this could not fail to anger the king and finally he was arraigned with nine of his followers on charges of treason. He and his followers were found guilty and they were all hung drawn and quartered.

Apart from the songs and poetry Lodge enhanced the story with two major additions. The first was with an example of the cases brought before the local assizes, where William acted for the plaintiff in this case a woman reduced to poverty by the actions of her landlord. The woman's husband before his death had provided the landlord with a sum of money to invest for him as provision for his family. The investment had not been made and the money spent. William was able to piece together some torn documentation that proved the poor woman's case. Lodge himself was a supplicant to the court over loans and investments of his own properties and had fallen foul of more wealthy opponents and so this was a subject dear to him, but in his addition to the story he stressed the suffering of the poor woman and composed a pitiful lullaby that she sang to her hungry children. To balance the work that William did on behalf of the poor his other addition told a story of his love affair with the unchaste Maudline. He dressed her in finery and her pranking around town caused tongues to wag and William murdered another of her suiters. Lodge takes the opportunity here to add a number of songs and sonnets written to Maudlin by William.

Traitors cannot be countenanced and however much good work William did Lodge stresses that it was his pride and his vanity that set him on his path and with the inclusion of the murder and his subsequent challenge to authority as well as the framing of his brother he was deservedly executed. Lodge ends the story with William's confession and included some spiritual poetry aimed at saving William's soul.

Lodge's lively retelling of William Fitzosbert's story makes an interesting narrative, especially as he portrays two sides to Williams character and he dwells somewhat on the plight of poor people unable to compete with their more wealthy counterparts. However in the final paragraph Lodge is clear that William's fate is an example to those who challenge the accepted order of society.

"Thus ended the life of William Long Beard: a glass for all sorts to look into, wherein the high minded may learn to know the mean and corrupt confusion of their wickedness........."

This is a good example of the better written prose that was appearing at the time, free from the euphuisms of John Lilly. In addition Lodge has used his own experiences to add a further dimension and so 3.5 stars.

Gen 25, 10:29am

>45 baswood: I have a favorite story by Russell. It is called Plus X if I recall correctly. In it, one man disrupts an entire military complex of victorious aliens (victorious over Earth, that is) with merely his imagination and a piece of wire. Written with broad humor, it involves a pun and misdirection. I love it, my husband loves it, and my kids all loved it when I read it to them. He wrote an expanded version of it which does not have quite the punch of the original story, but is quite tolerable.

Modificato: Feb 1, 4:54pm

John Roy Carlson - Cairo to Damascus.
"With the radical I was a radical, With the communist I was a pro communist, with the fascists, pro fascist; with the anti-Zionists, anti jewish. All these and many other roles I had assumed to survive"

John Roy Carlson was a pen name for Arthur Derounian who was an American free-lance investigative journalist. In 1943 he published Under Cover: My Four Years In the Nazi Underworld of America - 'The Amazing Revelation of How Axis Agents and Our Enemies Within are now Plotting to Destroy the United States'. His book was a best seller and so in 1947 he decided to use his contacts to infiltrate the fascist groups that were working in Cairo Egypt to train and finance the Arab volunteers who were launching a Jehad against the Jews in Palestine following the UN resolution to partition the country. Cairo to Damascus published in 1951 was the book resulting from his undercover activities. He arguably got closer to the action and a better understanding of the situation than the bus load of journalists covering the events who were working for various newspapers.

By the very nature of his task of spinning lies and disinformation to infiltrate and meet protagonists in a dangerous war torn situation, the reader might be suspicious that Derounian's writing is as much about the exploits of Derounian as the events that he describes. While this is true to a certain extent, because he explains in some detail the manoeuvres and tricks that he carried out to achieve his aims and the dangers to himself, he does not place himself above the events that he describes. His book is an important eye witness account of a dangerous conflict by an experienced journalist who developed sympathies to people on both sides in the struggle.

Derounian used previous contacts in the fascist underworld as well as his birthright as an Armenian to gain the confidence of the Arab volunteers, who were whipped up into a holy war against the Jews in Palestine. He managed to meet the movers and shakers in the two main volunteer groups; the Green shirts and the Muslim Brotherhood. When a brigade of the Green Shirts finally left Cairo, Derounian travelled with them as a photographer and sympathiser. The only way he could achieve this was to convince his compatriots that he was also extremely anti-Semitic. The Arabs were intent on killing as many Jews as possible at the behest of Allah. Derounian lived with the fighters in their advanced position outside the gates of Jerusalem and described the horrendous conditions under which they fought. They were a rag-tag of an army indisciplined, under prepared, unruly and lacking any sort of professionalism. They were both fanatical and cowardly, but Derounian grew to understand their passion and their hospitality and became attached to some of the individuals. The Arabs launched attacks against the Jewish Kibbutz outposts, which were at times spectacularly unsuccessful, but the Arabs had the numbers and were in a position to shell the new town of Jerusalem. Derounian was able to slip out into the Armenian quarter of the old town: The Vank and from their cross over to the Jewish side and talk his way into meeting the Jewish Haganah commanders. He stayed with them while they resisted the Arab onslaught of the Jewish part of Jerusalem and reported the inhabitants hardships, the hunger, the continuous bombardment and the grief over the dead. He managed to get back to the Armenian quarter to witness the Jewish Surrender.

At the end of the British Mandate the Arabs found themselves out fought by the much better armed and trained Israelis whose passion for their new country surpassed that of the Arab invaders, but Derounian himself was under increasing suspicion from both sides in the conflict and needed to get out fast, he then travelled to Bethlehem, Jericho, Amman and Damascus. In Damascus he managed to meet briefly with the Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Hussein who was involved in financing and supporting the Arab movement. He also met with Nazi organisers and military advisers. He went onto Lebanon, before finely taking ship with Jewish refugees on their way to Israel, where he toured and experienced the Kibbutz movement at first hand. In 1948 he visited his birthplace now Alexandroupolis in Greece and was appalled by the poverty surrounding his old house before thankfully getting back to the United States.

Derounian proves to be a good reporter, he has a connection with the countries he visits, but that is tinted by his American statehood and the culture of his new country. He is amazed by the dirt and filth of Cairo and the feudal civilisation that he witnesses. The extreme poverty and the small percentage of very rich people who have an iron grip on the country. He was able to witness Jerusalem just as the British mandate finished and describes the destruction he saw at the Christian holy sites. In Damascus he witnessed an Israeli aircraft attack on the capital, just two aircraft, but an absolute shock to the Arabs who thought that were going to drive the Jews into the sea. Derounian's book captures the hatred felt by both sides through his own personal experiences: in one of his attempts to cross from the Arab front line back to Jerusalem he gets lost in the darkness and at dawn he meets an old Arab on a donkey he greets him in Arabic fashion, but the old man screams 'Yahoodi' and draws his knife a young Arab races along the track with his knife drawn and it is only Derounian's quick thinking and access to credentials that prove he is attached to the Arab military that save him. Derounian says his biggest danger was producing the wrong documents when challenged as he had pockets full of recommendations and passes from both the Arab side and the Jewish side, he had to remember which pocket held which.

Derounian finishes his book on thoughts of his life in the new dynamic civilisation of America which develops into a panegyric for his adopted homeland. He then picks up a copy of the 'New York Herald Tribune' at Athens airport while waiting for his flight home and reads of disquieting reports of political conflicts, of fear and hysteria and threats to destroy our cherished freedom and ends with:

I stood wondering: had I not already seen two worlds - the East and the West - wracked by dissension, by narrow nationalisms, by selfish interests? Was my country now beginning to travel the same path? Were we - at a time when half the world was engulfed by tyranny - beginning to darken the major beacon of faith in, and hope for the future? These were my thoughts as I left Athens.

I found it an educational experience to look though Derounian's eyes; a first hand experience of events in Arab countries after the second world war. The strong influence of German fascism that was still gripping the Arab world, the hatred fuelled by past events and the poverty that calls for for someone to blame: a whipping boy. The all pervading grip of religious calling and religious propaganda resulting in destruction and war. Derounian proves to be a lively reporter of events and even if you might think he exaggerates his own escapades, there is no doubting his keen observations from his experiences on the front line of the conflict. 4.5 stars.

Gen 28, 11:09am

Very interesting for the direct testimony in those times.

Reminds me of the curiosity of Nazi refugees in Arab countries post-WWII. Numerically far fewer than in, say, Latin America, but still. Boualem Sansal has a novel that touches on one such character in Algeria.

Gen 30, 6:52am

>30 tonikat: Bas -- I am sorry, I think I have recommended that article before, was there a discussion on Mark's thread of the Auden? Did we discuss? (slow down sometimes toni.)

Gen 30, 7:34pm

>48 baswood: terrific review. I’m fascinated. I would find him hard to trust, though.

Modificato: Feb 1, 2:40pm

Iain Banks - Dead Air - 2002
An entertaining novel if you like this sort of thing. I enjoyed the first half of the novel on day one of my reading, but became less enthusiastic on the second day, when the story line became less probable as it wound up and then down to the expected climax. This is not one of Banks science fiction novels but on the whole I still think his target audience was young heterosexual males. I am no longer quite so young. By 2002 Banks had over 18 novels published, about half of which were science fiction, his other novels had fallen into a bit of a rut with his protagonists being thirty something males making their way in a thriving Britain, whilst skating on the edges of the criminal underworld. Fast cars, fast women drugs and alcohol combine to give these novels their edge.

Ken Knott is a radio shock jock probably based on someone like Howard Stern, but Ken Knott is based in London (Scottish ancestry of course as this is Iain Banks) and he is fiercely left wing in his views and rants, which is probably a bit of a novelty. He typically invites controversy and lives on a narrow margin of stepping over an invisible line that could lead to him being fired. Of course he is lead by his prick in relations with women, boasting that relationships never last longer than a year, all well and good until he has an affair with a gangsters wife. Well you can probably guess the rest and you would not be far wrong

In this novel Banks chooses to interrupt the flow of the novel with his protagonist entering into anti establishment rants with anyone who will listen and sometimes with characters who do not want to listen. This gives the novel a lively platform for debate, especially in the first half and also sets the scene for the story to develop in the second part. The reader is in no doubt of Ken Knott's views and knows that it is going to lead him into trouble, but at the end of the day Knott is just as brash as the people with whom he opposes and it is easy to view him as his own worst enemy. I enjoyed Banks depiction of the life of an abrasive disc-jockey even if it skimmed the surface a little, but there are too many other characters that are recognisable stereo-types, however one recognises that this is a fast paced thriller that is written better than most and contains at least one excellent wise-crack:

I’m like the Egyptian fresh-water carp: I’m in denial

An entertaining three stars

Feb 1, 2:48pm

I’m like the Egyptian fresh-water carp: I’m in denial

OK that cracked me up.

Good lefty rants are rare in popular Anglo fiction, I'd put up with some exasperated eye-rolling for that...

Feb 5, 8:08am

Arthur Koestler - The Age of Longing, Arthur Koestler
Published in 1951 this novel by Koestler seems to have been largely forgotten and I find it difficult to understand why this should be so, because it is a cracking good read. Koestler was living in Paris at the time of writing and he imagines the city a few years later as the hub of a struggle between the West and the communist East. In the book he has re-labelled the communists as the Free Commonwealth and since the end of the second world war their power and influence has increased to such an extent that the West fears that Europe will soon be swallowed up in their expansionist policies. At the start of the novel Koestler zooms in on an intellectual soirée celebrating the storming of the Bastille, where Monsieur Anatole holds court. The guest list includes the newly arrived Attaché from the Free Commonwealth (Fedya Nikitin), an American colonel and his daughter Hydie a smattering of french intellectuals including Pontieux (who maybe Jean-Paul Sartre) and would be dissidents from the Commonwealth. During the excitement of the Firework display Hydie accidentally bloodies the Attachés nose and during the confusion and fuss of cleaning jackets, picks up his notebook which seems to contain a list of names.

Koestler takes his readers inside the house and vividly relates the various conversations revealing the tensions between the East and the West and the uncertainties of the french intellectuals. The story will develop with a love affair between Hydie and Fedya and Koestler details the backgrounds of his two protagonists. Fedya comes from an impoverished backward part of Russia, but his father was a hero and martyr of the revolution and so he has been able to work his way up through the party machine to have his first posting in the decadent West. Hydie by contrast comes from a wealthy American family and was educated in a convent, but at 23 years old she has already been married and divorced. Another soirée at the house of monsieur Anatole a couple of months later brings more tension, as it takes place just after the announcement of the death of the Father of the Commonwealth (Stalin): the would be dissidents are wondering which way to jump and the french intellectuals are also on uncertain ground. Meanwhile Fedya and Hydie have entered into a tempestuous love affair and Delattre a French poet surmises that such a relationship can end in one of three ways:

The Taming of the Shrew
Samson and Delilah
or even: Judith and Holofernes.

An atomic bomb explosion deep inside the Commonwealth raises tensions further and the various characters must come to terms with world events that will reshape their lives, or lead to their early deaths. Someone says the morbid longing of our age is the nostalgia for the Absolute, as the anti- clericalism of the Commonwealth threatens to overwhelm catholic France. The Western nations come under much criticism and self criticism as Koestlers witty and cogent dialogue, describes the various nationalities through delightful repartee that does not spare anybody:

Leontiev (a commonwealth dissident) had once read a book called Alice in Wonderland and since that time knew that it was no use trying to argue logically with an Englishman.

Comment to an American - “you are a negro-bating, half civilized nation ruled by bankers and gangs, whereas your opponents have abolished capitalism and at least have some ideas in their heads."

On the Western Press: "You have teachers to educate the children, but you have gangsters take charge of the uneducated masses who are just like children."

The French are characterised as a nation ready to roll over and adapt to a new regime, but some will make a"grand gesture" in the face of the inevitable. The Commonwealth are likened to a giant washing machine which will wash clean all the individuality from the cultures that they forcibly stuff into their mechanism.

Koestler's story is a good one steeped in the atmosphere of Paris, which is desperately trying to become the Gay Paris of the period before the war, but whose intellectual community struggle with their existential existence. The linking device of Monsieur Anatole's soirees create an atmosphere that co-exists with the struggles of the individuals who frequent his salon. The book ends with Monsieur Anatole's funeral cortege and the bewildered characters travel in horse drawn carriages through a Paris where rumours abound of a Commonwealth invasion and the people inside the carriages contemplate their next move. It finishes off the novel in some style.

Koestler captures the thoughts and anxieties of a post war community centred in Paris, but with heightened tension caused by the aggressive expansionism of the Free Commonwealth (Russia) and the puzzle of an atomic explosion deep within Russian territory. The affair between an American woman and a Commonwealth apparatchick never pretends that it will be able to transcend the differences between the cultures and carries all the more authenticity for that reason. The book sometimes finds itself in the genre of science fiction, because Koestler is imagining a situation a few years in the future, but it reads more like an alternate history; a slightly different time line perhaps. Whatever genre one chooses in which to place it, I think it is a clever, thoughtful novel: one that raises many issues still relevant today and with a backdrop of the city of Paris about to stare into the abyss along with Hydie and Fedya's doomed love affair there are enough thrills to make this a five star read. A real gem.

I wonder if Jean-Paul Sartre was amused by this supposed conversation by his fellow countrymen:

"He had a truly pernicious influence on the younger generation. In my eyes he is the symbol of the intellect’s betrayal of the spirit
“He is just a clever imbecile said Julien ‘It wasn’t his fault if people took him seriously. He was more surprised about it than anybody else. The funny side of it is that his wife has always been a real honest to God Commonwealth agent a fact which poor Pontieux/Sartre never guessed - and that she of course is free."

Feb 5, 10:25am

>54 baswood: I’m going to keep an eye out for this. It’s out of print. In the days before COVID-19 I would have headed out to a used bookstore or two. I miss going to bookstores.

Feb 5, 10:58am

>55 gsm235: Yes bookstores are a pleasure in themselves. I am waiting for my jab however before I allow myself to go into browsing mode.

Feb 5, 4:34pm

>54 baswood: I like the sound of this Koestler. Intriguing review.

>55 gsm235: Available on abe books. It's from a Canadian book seller but Abe always sells in US dollars, even within Canada, something I would like to have explained. There is nothing like a bookstore though. My favourite local one just expanded, which can only be good news.

Modificato: Feb 8, 1:44pm

>54 baswood: fun review. For a long time now I’ve wanted to read Koestler’s The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe, which is nonfiction - and I have no idea how readable it is. But I didn’t know much of anything else about him, and I did not know he was a novelist.

ETA - I guess you’re not surprised you have the lone review of The Age of Longing.

Feb 8, 2:36pm

>58 dchaikin:

You may want to skip investigating his life if you mean to read something by him... not that his personality and biography are the only factors to bury him. I've read some of his non-fiction (including The Sleepwalkers) and it's dated and limited--albeit quite readable, in my view. There's no reason why you'd pick him over more recent popularisations of astronomy, for instance.

He was fascinated by science but had a strange relationship with it, which grew weirder with age (or as his journalistic agenda needed more flash). In the end--and this is my assessment based on just a few of his books--I'd say he was the fascistoid type who is attracted to science as a bludgeon of the weak (masculine logic and reason triumphantly "raping" nature) but who would never let science get in the way of his preconceptions and whims, in particular conspiracy theories. And those got wilder as time went on.

Feb 8, 2:49pm

>59 LolaWalser: interesting ... and cool you have read this... and bummer. That books gets cited as a source in some popular fiction. I’m forgetting my main book on that... i’ll come back.

Modificato: Feb 8, 2:56pm

I think I found The Sleepwalker cited in interesting ways in Dava Sobel's A More Perfect Heaven and The Clockwork Universe : Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World by Edward Dolnick‬

Modificato: Feb 8, 3:00pm

>60 dchaikin:

I don't like putting people off books! But my assumption is that you're more interested in the subject matter than Koestler himself?--in which case there must be better books out there. It doesn't surprise that he'd be quoted, he had a vogue in the 1950s-60s. But it's like those books by Bronowski and Asimov etc. of the seventies... popular and perhaps horizon-enlarging at the time, but inadequate now.

The one thing I really liked about The Sleepwalkers was the relentless anti-theism. :) That's not terribly common in Anglo literature of any sort.

ETA: >61 dchaikin: Cool--I don't know those books.

Feb 8, 3:11pm

>62 LolaWalser: Dolnick is fun if you want casual layman’s introduction to the invention of Calculus, or to the (fascinating) life of Leibniz - and, of course, Newton too.

Feb 8, 7:56pm

>58 dchaikin: You might want to try Janus a summing up I seem to have two copies. There are no reviews of this extraordinary book on LT. A love or hate little number I think.

Modificato: Feb 10, 4:36am

Journey with Genius: Recollections and Reflections Concerning the D H Lawrences by Witter Bynner
Published in 1951 Bynner's well balanced account of his meeting and travels with the Lawrences in 1922/3 was bit of a find for me. In my opinion any list of the greatest writers of the 20th century would include D. H. Lawrence; for three novels in particular: The Rainbow Women in Love and Lady Chatterley's Lover, but in addition there is his poetry and his travel writing. My interest in D. H. Lawrence has led me to read a few biographies and selected letters, therefore an account from a contemporary poet and writer whom I had not come across before, piqued my interest.

Witter Bynner was an American poet and translator who was based in Santa Fe New Mexico and the Lawrences had been given his address as somewhere to stay, because of his association with other literary figures and his interest in Lawrence's work. When the Lawrences arrived outside his house there was some kerfuffle, because D. H. in his efforts to get out of the car, trod on the frame of a painting he was carrying, breaking it. He was hot and tired and flew into a temper with Frieda; his wife blaming her for wanting him to carry the picture. This first sight of the Lawrences set a pattern for their stay with Witter and his secretary and lover "Spud" Johnson. However in spite of Lawrences quicksilver temper they became friendly enough, to go together on a trip to Mexico. Witter's book describes their trip, their friendship with both D. H. and Frieda their subsequent communication by letter and finally Frieda's return to New Mexico after D. H.'s death. Witter also with the benefit of knowing Lawrence personally undertakes an evaluation of his work.

The book could be retitled Journey with a Genius behaving badly. D. H. Lawrence at this time was obviously not a well man and his constant restlessness did not make him an ideal travelling companion. Frieda was the rock on which he leant on, but their stormy relationship, which proved to be rock solid was just something friends and acquaintances had to deal with in entertaining them both. It would seem that Witter certainly had problems and their fairly long vacation at Lake Chapala where the Lawrences rented a house was difficult. The Lawrences wanted Witter to share the house with them, but Witter and Johnson wisely decided to keep a little distance by staying in a local hotel. D. H. Lawrence was certainly a presence and Witter sums up his feelings when thinking about him as:

'Little realizing that the goad of Lawrence's presence was good medicine for my complaisance, I continued fondly pitying Frieda and deploring the lack of love in her husband, deeming him full of fine, fussy, inconsistent theories: stubborn-minded, self willed, and as bloodless as a worm.'

D. H. Lawrence was an iconoclast intent on gouging his own path through life, not worrying at all what others thought of him. Frieda kept him in check to a certain extent, but was beginning to take on the role of nurse to her sick husband. Whatever the feelings were between the two couples they remained on good terms and they enjoyed good times at Lake Chapala.

D. H. Lawrence was busily writing his new novel which was eventually published as "The Plumed Serpent" it is set in Mexico and Lawrence used his experiences that he shared with Witter as events in his book. The bullfight so graphically described in the book and the dances of the native Indians are described by Witter though his own eyes and vouch for Lawrence's depictions. Witter saw what Lawrence saw and was a witness to the events in the book, he also became a thinly disguised character in the book which did not please him overmuch. Witter tells of bathing parties in the lake with Frieda taking part, while Lawrence sat under the shade of a tree hunched over his cheap exercise books furiously writing his novel. Their friendship cooled a little, but when Witter got sick it was Lawrence that stepped in to help him.

Following his remembrances and lively description of the vacation, Witter launches into a criticism of The Plumed Serpent a novel which he did not like and then of Lawrences work in general. He proves to be an insightful critic, but like some critics he seems reluctant to separate the man from his work and this was probably even more difficult for Bynner because of his personal knowledge. He sees the author Lawrence and Frieda, or a mixture of the two in many of the characters in the novels and blames them for spouting what he calls Lawrences ideological murk, which he sees as blocking up many of the books. He is a critic who becomes exasperated by Lawrences views on humankind and the meaning of life and the muddled theories expressed through his characters, which even the most stalwart admirers of D. H. Lawrence would be hard pressed to dismiss entirely. Despite the criticism; the admiration for Lawrences ability to evoke a sense of place, his originality and his probing of the human psyche is given plenty of space. Bynner published a review of The Plumed Serpent which Lawrence read, but in accordance with Lawrences attitude to adverse criticism it was like water of a ducks back and would not impair a friendship. There was also Frieda on hand to smooth things over and calm ruffled feathers. Frieda takes equal billing in Bynner's biography and remembrances.

A biography of an author and particularly ones that includes an evaluation of the oeuvre will appeal to those people who have read the books and who have some knowledge of the life and times. Bynner's recollections of a short period in the life of the D. H. Lawrences bridges a gap of some twenty eight years. Bynner says in his preface to the book that when he met Lawrence for the first time he had not found him an engaging or coercing writer, although he does admit to finding him magnetic and admires his individual, vigorous and imaginative use of English. Despite all this and the obvious difficulties of the Lawrences as travelling companions Bynner has produced an engaging and even handed portrait of the couple. A genuine affection for them comes across and the account of their time together in Mexico where Bynner was a witness to much of what Lawrence experienced is invaluable. He brings to life both D. H. Lawrence and Frieda Lawrence at Lake Chapala, a place that Frieda held dear in her own memories. I rate this at 4.5 stars.

Feb 10, 6:21pm

I’m finally caught up on your thread, which is interesting as always. Your Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde review made me chuckle. I think I have a couple of books from A Dance to the Music of Time on my bookshelf, where they will probably stay for a bit longer.

Modificato: Feb 11, 11:14am

Enjoying your pulp fiction forays into 1951--Wasp and Koestler. Hoping you will pick up a few novels by Vera Caspary and Patricia Highsmith as you move further into the '50s.

The best way to read American books from the 1950s is in a drugstore/diner while eating the blue-plate special and drinking coffee out of those thick Buffalo china cups.

The movie "Mary Reilly" is told from the POV of the maid in Jekyll and Hyde. Not great, but interesting in light of your observation that the novella is an exploration of Victorian masculinity.

Feb 11, 2:28pm

>67 nohrt4me2: Jeez I miss diners.

Feb 11, 3:50pm

>68 lisapeet: Not sure what they were like where you are, but but between ages 13 and 16, my best friend Carol and I would walk to the drug store, try on cosmetics and perfume until the beauty consultant scared us out of there, read all the jokes in the greeting cards and postcards, browse the paperback books and MAD magazines, and then get a coke and french fries at the diner counter where we could peruse our reading material. That was pretty much an entire afternoon of fun for about $1.50.

Feb 12, 8:58am

>69 nohrt4me2: Aw, we didn't have one of those. I think the closest thing was Kresge's—kind of a Woolworth's type store—but I didn't hang out there. I suspect it was more about not having a good partner in crime like that, which I would have killed for when I was that age.

My last boyfriend had a few things to recommend him, one of which was his 1970 Chevy Nova. We used to get dolled up on the weekends—bright lipstick and vintage sunglasses for me—and drive out to random New Jersey diners. That was fun.

Feb 12, 1:50pm

>65 baswood: terrific review, inspiring on D H L - despite his flaws. This book itself comes across as a hidden gem in your review.

>62 LolaWalser: >64 baswood: this is an interesting pair of comments. Bas, I’m intrigued.

Feb 12, 4:40pm

...intent on gouging his own path through life What a wonderful description. Great review.

Feb 12, 5:47pm

>71 dchaikin: I mentioned Janus: a summing up because it is one of Koestler's later books and is perhaps an example of what Lola was saying. On the front cover it claims to be The distillation of the intellectual voyages of an unfettered mind. The central premise of the book is a little crazy and so you could substitute the word crazy for unfettered. Koestler seems to be saying that the human brain has developed a biological flaw that at first of all gave it an intelligence to dominate the planet, but this biological flaw is becoming self destructive. We are all doomed.

It is a popular science book with many interesting things to say BUT...........................When I first read it I was intrigued by what he was saying and thought it quite brilliant. I have never re-read it........I dare not.
Janus was a two faced Roman God and it happens I did have two copies at one time.

Feb 12, 7:26pm

>73 baswood: thanks for the further explanation.

Modificato: Feb 15, 12:11pm

Herzog - Saul Bellow
The next book along my shelf was one I had read some time ago. It had kept its place because on a first reading I felt I had not fully come to grips with it. I had found it intellectually challenging, because of the way it is written. It takes the form of a narrative story, interrupted by the thoughts of the protagonist (Herzog), expressed in self penned letters, which questioned the state of the world and his place in it. I remember finding the letters an interruption of the narrative flow that required a different mind-set to fully appreciate them. The letters, or in some cases parts, or fragments of letters are integral to the text, but are made distinctive by being type set in italics. I found the reading experience exactly the same this time around, and was tempted to gloss over parts of the longer letters.

Moses Elkanah Herzog is a forty something jewish male who is undergoing a mid life crisis. He is an academic, currently not employed, living alone in a large remote house in the countryside. He seems to be at war with the world at large and in particular with his ex-second wife Madeleine who has turned him out of their conjugal home and is living with his best friend. He is spending his time thinking of his past and how he has arrived in his current situation. Part of this process, which maybe a healing process, is writing letters to people from his past and also to fellow academics and politicians: the letters remain unsent. Moses would appear to have many things in his favour: although not a rich man, his two brothers are both rich and supportive, he has made his mark in the world of academic publications, he owns the house in the countryside that he has renovated himself; he is fit and in good health and is attractive to the opposite sex. The narrative finds him travelling to see two of his female admirers and also to have time with his young daughter Junie who lives with Madeleine and Gersbach her lover.

Herzog wallows in self pity, perhaps brought on by paranoia, but also by writers block. The most important person in the world; Herzog's world is Herzog himself and he is judgemental on all of the people around him especially the women. He claims that Madeleine finds him over-bearing, infantile, demanding, sardonic and a psychosomatic bully and by his own story there is plenty of evidence of all of this. He repeatedly refers to Madeleine as that bitch and while her actions have given him cause for grievance one wonders how much of this he has brought on himself. In mitigation he fills in the background of the struggles of his poor ancestors and his relationships with friends and other women as well as the state of the world that he finds oppressive. He asses himself at the start of the novel and finds his characteristics: narcissistic, masochistic, anachronistic and his clinical picture is depressive, but there are worse cripples around:

"Satisfied with his own severity, positively enjoying the hardness and factual rigour of his judgement, he lay on his sofa, his arms rising behind him, his legs extended without aim."

Herzog's relationships with women form the central core of the novel. There is much about his marriage to Madeleine for whom he has not a good word, apart from the fact that she is drop dead gorgeous. There is Sono the Japanese lady who he was seeing when he met Madeleine. There is Wanda with whom he had an affair and now there is Ramona. The egotistical Herzog sees relationships with women as a battle of the sexes and carnal relations are apparently the major reasons to get involved. He thinks:

"The man wants to deceive, and then to disengage himself: the woman's strategy is to disarm and detain him."

While one might be hard pressed to accuse Herzog of misogyny, one would certainly say he shows a lack of respect for the women in his life, only asking himself what they can do for him. The fact that they seem to do a lot for him is duly recorded, but they are never allowed to get too close.

Herzog in an attempt to get custody of his daughter Junie visits the Magistrates courts where he sits in the public gallery and witnesses a couple of trials, a small time crook immersed in poverty and then a nineteen year old mother accused of battering her daughter to death because she made too much noise. Leaving the court he visits his family residence and takes a gun from his fathers office with a vague idea of getting even with Madeleine and Gersbach, but following a traffic offence he finds himself in a Chicago police precinct and after his second brush with lives outside of his own, he takes himself back to his house in the Countryside. He settles down again and sets about making the house liveable, he stops writing his letters, he is visited by a concerned brother and Ramona, but underlying a Hollywood ending is that Herzog is still Herzog.

Back to the letters: an integral part of this novel and woven into the narrative with great skill. They are thought provoking, many of them are witty, certainly cheeky and occasionally angry, but they remain a problem for this reader. While they provide a background to Herzog's thoughts by providing context for the early 1960's and the fears of many people such as: increasing violence, annihilation as a result of the atomic age and governments threatening the freedom of the individual, they tend not to have a direct relevance to the story: they tend to intrude. I found the best solution for me was to go back and re-read the longer letters, when I had finished the narrative. They are in themselves something of a tour de force, but they can be a fault line.

Herzog is an original novel, but it is also a novel of its time. It would seem to have an autobiographical feel to it: Herzog is Bellow and while I can sympathise with academic jewish angst and vouch for many of the attitudes of males from the battles between the sexes at the time: I am not jewish, I am not an academic and not all the women in my life have been so stunningly attractive as described in Bellows book, I am therefore still keeping my distance from a novel that does not completely work for me and so 4 stars.

Feb 15, 1:17pm

>75 baswood: Great review! I've had it on my shelf forever, and grew up with it staring at me from my parents' bookshelves—they were urban Jews who came of age mid-20th-century, so I have a feeling this was very much aligned with their experience (either lived experience or just reading experience, either will do for my purposes). I'm interested... maybe this is a backlist title for 2021 for me.

Feb 15, 1:24pm

>75 baswood: like Lisa I’ve had this on the shelf a while, but it’s not from my parents. My non-Jewish poet neighbor gave me a pile of Bellow novels, amongst about 200 other books, about 15 years ago. I’ve been curious since and still plan to read some.

Anyway, your review is terrific and appreciated.

Modificato: Feb 17, 6:29am

Non-Stop (or Starship) - Brian Aldiss
Brian Aldiss a prolific author of mainly science fiction stories, novels and editor of anthologies gets Non-Stop published in 1958 into the Science fiction Masterwork series. Non-Stop is a good title for this science fiction thriller, which hardly pauses for breath as it takes the reader careering round what soon appears to be an abandoned starship. The book starts gently enough with a primitive human society living as a tribe fighting their way through sections of fast growing plant life. It soon becomes apparent that they are living in a giant man made structure and our hero Roy Complain has visions of better things. He is a hunter but his imagination is stirred by the priest of his tribe who wants to break out of the community. They succeed and soon meet other tribes, intelligent rodents, and a race of giants as they battle their way to a tribe known as the forwards, rumoured to have a more advanced civilisation.

Aldiss has created an imaginative scenario, but has no time to embark on much world building, what he does do, works well enough for his story. It doesn't bear too much introspection and the science is of the most basic kind, but it does create an atmosphere and an air of mystery as the reader is hurtled along to a climax that doesn't disappoint. Aldiss writes well enough for this genre as he shifts the book through the gears of a good adventure story. The absence of overt sexism and racism is a relief and I enjoyed the ride 4 stars.

Modificato: Feb 23, 6:46pm

A Dialogue concerning Witches & Witchcrafts - George Gifford in which is played open the devil deceiveth not only the witches but many other, and so leadeth them awry into many great errors.
Gifford was a preacher active in Essex in late Elizabethan period and often in trouble because of his nonconformity; he published a group of writings in which he described the attitudes of the 'common sort.’ This treatise was published in 1593. Its purpose was to prevent men from being seduced by the devil into believing that witches really have the powers that they claim and into consulting those “whom the people call cunning men” in order to obtain charms against witchcraft. He was also concerned that much innocent blood is shed in the search for witches.

Gifford was a puritan and lived in a part of England where witches were deemed to be prevalent. He does not deny the existence of witches and even if he did privately, he knew that belief in witches; their spells and charms were so ingrained in society that it would be pointless to claim otherwise. His Dialogue is a conversation between five people: Samuel, Samuel's wife, Daniel a preacher (who represents Gifford), a schoolmaster and Goodwife R. Daniel meets up with Samuel, and comments that Samuel looks pale. Samuel says he has not felt well lately and a hog and some chickens have mysteriously died and suspects an old woman who has been frowning at him. He has also seen a weasel and an ugly black cat running through his yard. He has been advised to travel to another village and consult some 'cunning' man for a charm to stop further misdemeanours. Daniel suggests they go back to Samuels house to talk about it and there they meet up with the Schoolmaster and Samuel's wife and Goodwife R.

Daniel starts the conversation by saying to Samuel that it is a great sin rising from unbelief, and distrust in God's providence, when men be over pensive in the world and that they should follow his advice. He addresses his remarks to the schoolteacher, but if he was hoping to find a like mind he discovered that he was mistaken. The schoolmaster expresses views similar to Samuels and the result is a lively argument where Daniel makes a case based on his religious belief. He says that men should learn to know God who is all powerful and should not take action against witches or seek the help of 'cunning men or women'. He says that it is the work of the devil who uses the weakness of men and women to fire their imaginations with evil thoughts. The schoolmaster replies that it is said in the bible that witches should be killed and a circular argument develops with interjections from Samuel about the powers of the Devil and Gods ultimate authority in these matters. Daniel is hard pressed to convince the two men who produce many local examples of witchcraft for Daniel to refute. Over 100 pages later and finally the schoolmaster comes around to Daniels point of view, but Samuel then tells of cases that he has witnessed at the local assizes as a jurer. Daniel replies if women are convicted of witchcraft because of here-say then Samuel has blood on his hands. The argument starts all over again. Finally the two men are convinced, but not Goodwife R who states that no scripture men are going to convince her that she must not to seek the help of cunning men and women against witches curses. Goodwife R storms out in a huff leaving the schoolmaster to remark that "she is wilful indeed."

Although the arguments go round in circles and Daniel is extremely repetitive in his arguments the treatise points out many local examples and underlines the deeply held belief in witchcraft. Daniel has an uphill struggle to convince the men and he will never convince Goodwife R. Worth a read and so 3 stars.

Modificato: Feb 21, 9:51am

>79 baswood: Interesting. My ancestors were American Puritans but not very good ones. One of them, George Jacobs, was hanged in 1692 with the Salem "witches" at age 80+ because he went around the Salem public houses drinking and saying loudly that the whole deal was fake news. He had to ascend the scaffold on two canes because of arthritis. Some of the family went to Rhode Island after that and threw in with the Quakers. Others moved to New Hampshire, married into respectability, and kept their mouths shut.

Feb 21, 12:10pm

>80 nohrt4me2: wow - what a story. It would seem that you had to be quite careful in certain times and in certain places not to upset anybody.

Feb 21, 12:58pm

>81 baswood: I don't think anyone actually thought old George would actually hang. But after awhile those trials became less about witches and more about power and authority.

Modificato: Feb 23, 6:40pm

Rain on the Pavements - Roland Camberton
Searching through the lists of publications in the year 1951, I came upon this novel by Roland Camberton and discovered that it had been republished in 2010 by New London Editions an imprint of Five Leaves Publications. The publisher is a small company based in Nottingham, publishing 10-15 books per year with an interest in social history, politics, poetry, Nottingham, London and city scape. I could see why they picked up this out of print novel by Camberton because Rain on the Pavements is set in Hackney; London, it tells a story of life in the London borough between the world wars, of a young man interested in politics, who writes poetry and moves away from his social roots to better himself. A quick search on the internet led me to discover that Roland Camberton was a pseudonym for Henry Cohen, who wrote two novels and quietly disappeared from view after Rain on the Pavements was published.

It is a coming of age novel of the central protagonist David Hirsch who is brought up within a strict Jewish family in the East End of London. Between the wars this area near Whitechapel was home to a large Jewish community and I can imagine that much of the storyline is semi-autobiographical as we follow David through his school years, his studies of the Talmud and his place in the Jewish circle. David through friends and some family members, becomes interested in politics which leads him into the whole gamut of left wing societies, but nothing really sticks. He is more interested in philosophy and poetry and a scholarship takes him to a college, where in his senior years at school he can fully immerse himself in the arts, leaving his jewish roots someway behind him. The early part of the novel describing David's childhood is enlivened by the characters he meets. David himself seems a bit of a cipher, but Yunkel (6 years older than him) takes him on exploratory trips round London and we follow Yunkel's story as a teacher of the Talmud, who becomes a scholar, who can find a position at one of the top religious schools in Poland. The next big influence in David's life is Uncle Harry a more distant relation who owns nothing apart from a set of books and a bicycle; he pedals furiously around the libraries of London getting an education and finally gets a degree after many years of poverty. He writes a novel: titled Failure, that gets published, but does not sell. Then there is the slightly creepy Tony; until David finds a soul mate in Stanley and finds a friend who has similar interests and with whom Davids own character can blossom.

The early part of the novel is dependent on the characters around David for much of its interest, but Camberton does makes them interesting as we follow Davids rather gauche and childish behaviour at school. The novel seems to go through the gears as David's character develops, until he comes into his own, a well rounded young man, wrestling with the problem of whether he should join the International Brigade; fighting a losing battle against Franco's forces in Spain. The novel does suffer a little from too many side stories, it is as though Camberton has created these characters because he could not fit them all into David's character; they feel essential to the novel, but also like add-ons. In my opinion the book comes into its own when David becomes the central pivot for the story, which after all, is his story.

The novel is certainly a social history and a geographical romp around London, at a time when a boy and then a teenager like David could travel around, without too much danger. It captures this epoch where children were largely unaware of the dangers, even when David and Stanley in their late teens explore Soho, searching for the cafe culture, nothing untoward happens to them. They have heard that Soho is a dangerous place, but their nervous exploration and hesitant steps, keep them safe. David witnesses the Cable Street riot from the window of a building in neighbouring Aldgate, recognising older characters from his own social circle.

I can vouch for much of the feel of the East End of London, some of which still remained when I lived there in the 1970's. I lived in Whitechapel with a jewish family at a time when the jewish immigrants were just about clinging onto parts of the East End: the Bangladeshi's had made large inroads into the community at that time. This book is a worthwhile reprint; splendid with its original cover art by John Minton. It had a special interest for me, but I think that other readers might enjoy the atmosphere of a London, now lost, that Camberton creates and the dilemmas facing an intelligent young man who comes of age slightly against the odds. I rate this at 4 stars.

Feb 24, 1:40pm

Such an interesting milieu. I had a glimpse of it recently through a sixties documentary featuring the singer and actress Georgia Brown, who grew up in the East End.

One Pair of Eyes - Georgia Brown - Who are the Cockneys Now BBC 1968

Love those graphic wraparound covers. Very much the 1920s German design.

Feb 24, 7:27pm

>84 LolaWalser: Thank you for that super link. I had not seen that.

Feb 25, 5:32pm

>83 baswood: Rain on the Pavements sounds an interesting read. We went on a historical walking tour around Whitechapel a couple of years ago, and it was fascinating to see how wave after wave of immigration had shaped the area. The tour guide took Charles Booth’s London Poverty Maps from 1889 as a base for his tour, and I was surprised to see how close together were the areas of extreme poverty and relative wealth. The guide also did two other tours with the same premise on different areas of London that we intended to follow up with, but of course ... COVID.

I was also talking about Soho with Mr SandDune the other day as we have been watching the BBC production of ‘Our Friends in the North’ from the late 1990’s, one of the plot lines of which features the sleazier side of Soho. We were both trying to think when it was that Soho stopped being so very sleazy. We both certainly remembered it being very sleazy in the 1980s, and it’s certainly much less so now but we couldn’t work out when the change had taken place. We were probably last there in summer of 2019, possibly at Christmas as well, but I definitely remember being there in the summer as it was the same day as the Pride in London parade.

Feb 25, 6:16pm

>86 SandDune: I am a Londoner, but cannot claim to be a cockney. I lived in London from 1950-1990 and from the age of 16 I got to know central London fairly well and a part of Soho was always sleazy during that time. When I left London, I rarely went back and when I did I felt like a tourist. I have to rely on friends to tell me what it is like now.

Feb 25, 7:46pm

>85 baswood:

You're welcome, glad you liked it. I think it was housefulofpaper in Gothic Literature who posted it first.

Feb 26, 1:24pm

>83 baswood: Jewish London (albeit no longer Jewish in that part, as I understand). I’m intrigued.

Feb 26, 3:28pm

>89 dchaikin: The link at >84 LolaWalser: explains it all very well

Modificato: Feb 28, 2:51pm

Hello! About the Le rivage des Syrtes "buddy read" (appologies if it sounds infantilising - I don't know how to call it), tell me when you're ready to start again. I am really enjoying the classical sentences, but they do take some getting used to. You can tell Gracq was steeped in "littérature classique". His turn of phrase and understatement remind me of Racine.

Modificato: Mar 3, 7:04am

La familia grande - Camille Kouchner
La Liberté for one person can be a prison for another. La "liberté" or freedom that enables a person to do just what he/she wants is one of the main themes of La familia grande, however this autobiography by Camille Kouchner published in January this year is more famous for its sensational revelations of paedophilia and incest, in the top echelons of French society. Camille Kouchner claims that her twin brother was raped and she was the victim of incest when they were both 14 years old. An experience that traumatised her, not only because of the act itself, but also for her culpability in not raising her concerns for her brother's psychological health and well being.

La familia grande is the name given to the extended family and acolytes that centred around the celebrated couple of Olivier Duhamel and Évelyne Pisier. Duhamel is a constitutionalist, professor and more importantly a political adviser, boasting that he was a telephone call away from the President of France in the 1980's. Evelyne Pisier was previously married to Bernard Kouchner, who held ministerial posts in french governments and in her own right was a professor, essayist and political commentator. The extended family included Evelyn's sister Marie-France Pisier; actress and film director and they usually met together for the holiday seasons at the big house at Sanary-sur-mer, on the mediterranean coast. It was during one of these summer holidays that Olivier Duhamel, allegedly committed the sexual offences against the twins, when Evelyne was absent from the company.

The book starts with the funeral of Évelyne which took place in 2017 and the difficulties of the family, which was under stress because of the knowledge of the accusations amongst family members. It is significant because of the role played by Evelyne, her upbringing of the children and her refusal to acknowledge the actions committed by her husband (always referred to as the step-father in the book). Although she had been absent at the time the rape took place she must have known of Duhamel's predilection for paedophilia, because there had previously been a complaint raised by parents of a youngster after one of the summer parties. Evelyne had leapt to her husbands defence claiming it was all an exaggeration. Evelyn's passion for la liberté along with her sisters similar viewpoint created an unhealthy atmosphere for the children in the familial grande, it left them open to a sexual predator like Duhamel: an example is Camille remembering a discussion about her virginity when she was 11 years old. There was also the general laissez faire attitude around the swimming pool where family members would often be naked. In my opinion there needs to be boundaries for very young adolescents in their education on sexual behaviour and the atmosphere at the family gatherings left the children open to being groomed for sex.

Another big issue raised by the book is the power that can be wielded by a person of influence. Duhamel could do exactly as he wished, without fear of repercussion. His friends and colleagues were only too eager to brush any transgressions or perversions under the carpet. The fact that Duhamel enjoyed a position of considerable influence in the political world helped rather than hindered his actions. The book is not overtly a condemnation of high society, but cannot fail to make the impression on readers, that people in privileged positions can and do take advantage, when they see an opportunity.

The effect on Camille's health and mental wellbeing was devastating; she refers to the serpent in her stomach, that would not go away and led to physical sickness. She continued to go on vacation to Sanary, but the memories were very painful and she had to distance herself from the family. Matters came to a head when she and her brother started families of their own and were expected to take their partners and children to Sanary. Camille feared for her children's safety and persuaded her brother, who had been in denial, to come forward with his version of events. Shortly after the revelations Marie-france was found dead at the bottom of her swimming pool, she had been more sympathetic than her sister Evelyne, who would not listen to her children's complaints.

The victims of this whole affair were undoubtedly the children and it never ended for them, they carried with them a feeling of guilt in that they were somehow to blame for what happened and then further guilt for keeping everything a secret. Camille makes this point very well in her book; she loved her mother, she was in some ways proud of her precocious education, but it led her into a danger with which she was not equipped to prevent. She paces her book well; jumping from the past to the present and various stages in between, to express the tension that built up in her life and her relations with the family. One suspects she is a reliable witness.

Her autobiography concerns her life and her families, but the book has much to say about the wider issues of incest and exploitation. While some readers might not have too much sympathy for the angst of very rich people, who can afford doctors, psychologists and even retail therapy to get over their problems, predatory male behaviour is not confined to the super rich and can have life threatening consequences for many people lower down the social ladder, many of whom cannot escape from the exploitation and who are never afforded the opportunity to reveal their secrets. This is a sensational tell-all story, which has shipped shed loads of books and while it might be part of Camille Kouchner's legal portfolio, it has far wider implications for social interaction and behaviour for those that wish to see it.

La brigade de protection des miners has launched an enquiry on behalf of other potential victims and Duhamel has resigned from his position at the Foundation nationale des sciences politiques. This is a topical and thought provoking read and so 4 stars.

Modificato: Mar 5, 4:32am

>91 Dilara86: I have got to page 135 the start of the chapter L'île de Vezzano. I am enjoying the way Gracq ramps up the atmosphere and mystery by relating so many things to the climate and the landscape. Even the events in the book are moving at the pace one would expect for a country that seems to be in a suspended period of 300 years with its relations with Farghestan. The book is reminding me a little of another classic of french literature from 1951 Jean Giorno's Le Hussard sur le Toit where the descriptions of the climate and landscape were as relentless as the plague which was sweeping the land.

As a non native french speaker and only recently a student of the language I am finding it a little difficult at times, but it is worth taking some time over it. I am enjoying Gracq's similes an example p137; where he likens the politics of Orsenna to a large and old tree. We are now waiting for the return of the mysterious Vanessa.

Mar 5, 12:44pm

>92 baswood:

One infuriating thing I noticed about the coverage of this (but I'll try not to go off on a rant--I've flogged the topic of general French attitudes on this etc. elsewhere to death)--is the sheer prevalence of articles about "incest"; "incest" this and that, but nary a use of "sexual abuse". The problem is that "incest" comes with the dimensions of literary and philosophical titillation, which obscure the pathology of the event and the suffering of the victim. "Sexual abuse" is down and dirty abject reality; harping on "incest" borders on -- and often IS -- forbidden-fruit pornographic fantasy.

Modificato: Mar 6, 3:36am

>93 baswood: I am enjoying the way Gracq ramps up the atmosphere and mystery by relating so many things to the climate and the landscape. Even the events in the book are moving at the pace one would expect for a country that seems to be in a suspended period of 300 years with its relations with Farghestan.
So am I! I was very surprised to read about a motor vehicle on page 138 (Éditions José Corti). It jarred with the nineteenth-century image I had in my head.

The book is reminding me a little of another classic of french literature from 1951 Jean Giorno's Le Hussard sur le Toit where the descriptions of the climate and landscape were as relentless as the plague which was sweeping the land.
Another book I've been meaning to read for ages! It reminded me of Buzzati's The Tartar Steppe, which also takes place in a remote outpost, where soldiers have also been waiting for ever for something to happen, but its atmosphere is different - more ironic and absurdist. I checked and The Tartar Steppe was written 10 years before The Opposing Shore, which I would never have guessed.
I should maybe explain why I am reading Gracq. I came to Le rivage des Syrtes via another book - Les jardins statuaires by Jacques Abeille (link to my post and review). Gracq was Abeille's mentor. I loved Les jardins statuaires - the story, the writing style, the melancholy, the soul-searching narrator - and so had to see what the "master" was like. There are definite similarities between the two novels, starting with the almost archaic writing style.

As a non native french speaker and only recently a student of the language I am finding it a little difficult at times, but it is worth taking some time over it. I am enjoying Gracq's similes an example p137; where he likens the politics of Orsenna to a large and old tree. We are now waiting for the return of the mysterious Vanessa.

What is giving you the most trouble? Syntax? Gracq does write some very convoluted sentences... I am enjoying the rythm of his writing. It reads like classical play alexandrines, and the music of it is enough to take me to another place.

Mar 6, 4:06am

>95 Dilara86: I read your review of Les Jardins statuaires and decided that was not a book for me at this time. My problems with reading french at the moment are: I am at a sort of in between stage where many sentences I read now, do not need a translation process in my head, but longer sentences and unfamiliar vocabulary slows me down. Fantasy literature is one of those genres where the reader cannot always believe what he has just read and when that happens its back to the dictionary for me, and the laborious process of a translation of vocabulary. I do find with a new author that the further I get into a book the easier it becomes and that is happening with Gracq.

Yes the motor vehicle was a bit of a shock, I am reading the same edition José Corti.

Mar 7, 1:46pm

>96 baswood: The atmosphere is heavy and ominous. Vanessa and Aldo took a boat to the île de Vezzano, with its calanque and deep gorge. The sexual symbolism is obvious. They climbed to the highest point of the island where they glimpsed a smoking volcano - the Tängri - in faraway Farghestan. Heavy-handed foreshadowing ?

Mar 7, 2:47pm

>94 LolaWalser: Interesting distinction, which I'm inclined to agree with.

Modificato: Mar 7, 3:55pm

>97 Dilara86: Yes L'Ile de Vezzano is a great chapter. The next chapter Noel and Gracq out does himself with some more dense and dark descriptive writing in the middle of which he uses balsamique as an adjective. (page 166). Heavy handed again as he describes the town of Maremma. The general thrust of it seems to be that Orsenna is facing a situation that it doesn't understand. If we assume that Syrtes in the south of the country is like the Southern area of France and that Farghestan is the country on the other side of the mediterranean; is Gracq writing about the political relationship between Paris (Orsenna) and its potential loss of control of the south.

I have lost count of the number of times that he uses the word sommeil It is getting even darker.

Mar 8, 6:13am

>99 baswood: As far as geography is concerned, I was thinking Republic of Venice, with its laguna, gentle decay, patrician rule and Italian-sounding names, not to mention its various outposts near Ottoman-ruled territories.

Symbolically, I can't help but think of the Ligne Maginot, the line of fortifications built along the French/German border to protect France from a German invasion after World War I. Of course, it didn't work. Germany went round it, and invaded France via Belgium during World War II. All the soldiers posted along it had to be moved at short notice to where the German army actually was. I don't think this is where this novel is going however. It is looking like Orsenna is going to attack first. And Vanessa is turning into a stereotypical temptress. She's told Aldo that she is going away with Marino and that the coast will be clear at the forteresse. The unsaid "why don't you take a boat and start a war?" loomed heavy. We know the storm is coming.

The "fuzziness" of the moment reminds me of the run-up to World War I, where tensions were mounting and people lived through months of speculations. Motivations were unclear, but the military upper echelons were spoiling for a fight, as were some of the people, who in the case of France had been nurturing resentment against the Germans since 1870.

Modificato: Mar 10, 2:57am

>100 Dilara86: They're on the boat (Le Redoutable), gazing at Vezzano Island. I haven't read any for a long time, but it's all looking very Jules Vernes-y to me...
Also, Fabrizio and Aldo are behaving like children about to do something that they know is naughty. They're looking at each other from the corner of their eye and gingerly testing the waters, so to speak. Hilarious! I love the fact that this is described in the same elongated, sophisticated, classical prose as the rest. It adds to the humour, I think. And it shows another side to Gracq.

Mar 10, 2:52am

>96 baswood:

I've been there regarding the French language. I can read, but need to look up definitions especially for the vernacular translators. But I can't speak the bloody tongue, and I've tried a lot.

Mar 10, 3:34am

Took me a while to catch up there but great reviews. Herzog stood out to me in particular - you actually quite sold it to me, even though in summary it didn't 100% grab you. I've been hovering around it for some time, but I don't need a title that requires significant concentration at the moment, so I'll come back to it again.

Modificato: Mar 10, 4:05am

>101 Dilara86: I have finished Une Croisière and they are all safely back in L'Amirauté after the excitement of the volcano eruption. L'Envoyé has arrived to talk with Aldo seemingly "off the record". Marino has not reappeared yet. Whatever is happening between Marino and Venessa and the wider political situation it seems that Aldo is a pawn in their game. The childlike behaviour of Fabrizio and Aldo was perfectly in keeping with the way Aldo has appeared so far in the book, he is a very young man. Is he going to grow up I wonder?

The long conversation between Aldo and l'envoyé seems to go round in circles. Aldo is in over his head perhaps or is it all just part of a wider confusion; être dans le désarroi le plus profound.

Just started reading again. Aldo visits Venessa at Maremma and Aldo is beginning to catch on to what is happening - not so childish after all?

Mar 10, 3:57am

>102 Jiraiya: Speaking and reading french are sometimes like two different worlds.

Mar 10, 3:59am

>105 baswood:

Je ne regrette rien.

Mar 11, 2:16am

>104 baswood: I am about to start Dernière inspection. The conversation between l'envoyé and Aldo was awful. I found it really hard to read - I cringed all the way through. So much posturing, ego and disingenuity.

Whatever is happening between Marino and Venessa and the wider political situation it seems that Aldo is a pawn in their game.
Vanessa's surname "Aldobrandi" - where "brandi" means "brandished" - has never been more apt. She has made it clear that he - and she - are just conduits for forces that are bigger than them, or than any other individual. At best, they're midwives to Fate. I think that's a cop out and pretty hypocrytical.

The childlike behaviour of Fabrizio and Aldo was perfectly in keeping with the way Aldo has appeared so far in the book, he is a very young man. Is he going to grow up I wonder?
That's where I am going to make another possibly far-fetched comparison, with the children's classic La guerre des boutons (The War of the Buttons), that takes place in a village where children are divided into two fighting factions, each with their territory, separated by a line which must not be crossed. It was made into a film, famous for its scene where a child complains with the famous worlds "Si j’aurais su, j’aurais pas venu" (you'll notice the non-standard grammar). I feel that Aldo will get his "Si j’aurais su, j’aurais pas venu" moment soon.

Mar 11, 12:02pm

>107 Dilara86: I've just finished Dernière inspection. What did just happen to Marino? I've read the same passage three times, and it's still as nebulous. The book's moral compass is dead, and I hope it's not because Aldo tripped him, then tried to fudge his account. And if there was a third person hiding on the platform, and Marino was shot, I'd like to know who did it. Otherwise, we just have a Deus ex machina getting rid of a character who had no narrative use anymore, and that's just lazy. I don't think Gracq is a lazy writer.
As an aside, I am not in love with the way Vanessa is turning into Lady Macbeth.

Modificato: Mar 11, 7:29pm

Was Marino on the gun emplacement. Was Marino a figment of Aldo's imagination? Is Aldo talking to himself? Has the heavy sleepwalking atmosphere finally got to him?. I am almost certain that I will be non the wiser when I finish the last chapter which will be tomorrow I hope.

The mist, the strange sounds the shadows everywhere, ghost like figures - I just can't keep my eyes open to finish it tonight..............

Mar 13, 2:27am

>109 baswood: I finished it last night. Danielo is quite a character!

Mar 13, 6:08pm

>110 Dilara86: Just finished Le Rivage Des Syrtes and when I recovered from the depressing view of humanity expressed in the real politic terms of the final chapter. I realised how much I had enjoyed the read, although it did test my french to breaking point at times.

Thank you for helping me through the read - I really appreciated your guidance on the themes in the novel which made it easier for me to understand the direction in which the book was heading.

I will write a review when I have thought about it a bit more.

Modificato: Mar 14, 7:38pm

Le Rivage des Syrtes - Julien Gracq
Civilisations rise and inevitably fall, especially if they do not change or at least adapt to new situations: they become at risk to the barbarian outside the gates. Gracq's book retitled in its English translation as The Opposing Shore imagines a country which has been ruled by a coterie of Aristocratic families for generations from its capital Orsenna in the north. It had received a bloody nose in a war with a country from the opposing shore which lies the other side of a sea on its southern border. The war was three hundred years ago and ever since that time Orsenna has strived to have no communication with Farghestan. Gracq's novel looks at the tipping point; the time when pressures arising from this oppositional stalemate forces Orsenna into some kind of reaction. There are rumours of widespread infiltration in the southern border town of Maremma, soothsayers are predicting a catastrophe and Aldo a young aristocrat has been sent to the southern district of Syrtes as L'Observateur at a naval establishment on the coast.

Gracq's novel won the prix Goncourt in 1951. France's most prestigious literary prize for a book that is "the best and most imaginative prose work of the year" and so one can be sure that this novel is something more than a political thriller: in fact thriller would be absolutely the wrong genre with which to label the book: it is a book of mysteries and possibilities. The young Aldo tells his story in the first person: he is on his own voyage of discovery, and anchors the story, because the reader sees him as a reliable witness, coming to terms with the characters around him as the novel proceeds. The novel is full of atmosphere created by the desert like landscape that dominates almost every chapter. Characters appear to be sleepwalking to their fate, but Aldo injects life into the proceedings, he feels the somnambulism, but fights against it. The desert here is one of marshlands and waterways, mudflats, fog and mist, that seeps into the fabric of the story.

Aldo travels down to Syrtes from Orsenna and installs himself in the Amirauté. He shares the fortified base with Captain Marino and his lieutenants: Robert, Fabrizio and Giovanni, who are the crew to the warship: the "Redoubtable" Aldo's duties are to report back to Orsenna, but he becomes fascinated by the history of the war with Farghestan and discovers the map room full of naval charts. At the town of Maremma further along the coast he is seduced by Vanessa the daughter of a rival family of aristocrats based in Orsenna. She lives in a castle outside of the run down town and is hostess to some grand balls, where Aldo meets Belsenza, who is carrying out a spying mission and is becoming nervous of the strange people circulating in the town. Aldo visits the strange overgrow ruins of Sagra and comes across a suspicious character who has a boat docked in one of the hidden waterways. Aldo's fascination with the map room, and his own observations make him burn with curiosity about Farghestan and its people. The suspicion is that they have infiltrated Maremma and Vanessa's role comes under suspicion. Captain Marino travels back to Orsenna leaving the Redoubtable and crew ready for Aldo to take command of the regular coastal patrols and Farghestan is only one days crossing on the other side of the sea. The mystery deepens and Aldo's precipitous action starts a chain of events that will determine the fate of Orsenna.

Gracq's writing is dense and full of smilies and some fairly old fashioned syntax, some of which I believe is alluding to French classically inspired literature of two centuries earlier. I enjoyed the sound of the words in my head even if I had to puzzle out the meaning, which was at times as mysterious and dark as the story. This is certainly a book to linger over and one where once you know how the story ends, would bear re-reading to find out what had been missed along the way. Aldo does find out much of what is happening even if he does not understand it, but characters such as Vanessa and Belsenza remain shrouded in their own secrets. A dose of realpolitick closes out the novel nicely and the reader feels that this is a novel which has substance and integrity and reflects on Europe's position in the world in the early 1950's. A four star read for me at this time, but I suspect I will rate it more highly in the future.

Mar 15, 4:18am

>111 baswood: I enjoyed our "buddy read". It forced me to read more slowly and closely. I'm certain I got more out of it than I would have otherwise.
I've looked at your list, and saw you're planning on reading Les mémoires d'Hadrien, which is a novel I've been meaning to revisit. I hated it when I read it at 14, no doubt because I was too young to appreciate it. I'd like to read it again, a) because I suspect I would actually like it now, and b) to get more out of Le goût de l'immortalité, which was inspired by it. It would be a good contender for another joint read at some point in the future, if you are interested.

Mar 15, 6:21am

>113 Dilara86: I enjoyed the reading experience too. I would be happy to read along with you Les mémoires d'Hadrien and suggest we start at the beginning of April. If that's OK

My next French book is one from last years Rentrée Le Dit Du Mistral by Olivier Mak-Bouchard

Mar 15, 8:15am

Les mémoires d'Hadrien beginning of April would be perfect: it would give me time to find it again on my shelves, or borrow it from the library if it's definitely disappeared.
Le dit du mistral sounds fantastic! I'll be looking forward to your review.

Mar 19, 7:31pm

Arnold Bennett - Clayhanger
Published in 1910 Clayhanger belongs to the previous century in in its themes and subject matter. One could trace its development from the novels of Jane Austen through the Bronte sisters and Thomas Hardy. Published just three years before D. H Lawrence's Sons and Lovers it seems to have little connection to the modernist themes found in Lawrence's work. The influence of Sigmund Freud was not felt by Bennett: his characters do not have sex they get married and have children. Bennett's Clayhanger is set in the Victorian era and has Victorian values: the story starts with Edwin Clayhanger's last day at school in 1872 and finishes some twenty five tears later, as he approaches forty, but the modernist literary period is not even on the horizon. Perhaps this is why Arnold Bennett has been largely overlooked and is missing from many timelines showing the development of British Literature. However Bennett at his best is a very fine writer indeed and his novels get right down amongst the vagaries of the human condition, certainly as it applied to the late Victorians with their traditions, conventions and phobias.

Many of Bennetts novels are set in what has become known as the five towns, the five towns where pottery was king. Bursley the hometown of Edwin Clayhanger is modern day Burslem. It was a hard working industrial town and against the odds Darius Clayhanger; Edwins father had hauled himself up by his bootstraps, to become one of the leading printers in Bursley and a proud owner of a steam printing machine. He ensured his son Edwin had a decent education, but when he left school he expected him to work in the printing shop and learn the business. The novel is told through Edwin's point of view as he struggles against his autocratic father and with his own diffidence. Darius keeps Edwin poor, hardly allowing him any money and Edwin although resentful comes to accept his position. He is a man who lives very much in his own head with few if any contemporary friends, things happen to him rather than him making things happen, but there are rare occasions when he takes command and surprises his family. He realises that he will one day own the business and trains himself in the aspects of the work in which he feels comfortable, and being comfortable rules Edwins existence and it is only when he shakes himself out of the rut that he feels truly alive. The novel follows Edwin's progress; he becomes master of the printing shop when his father succumbs to Alzheimer's disease and inherits it on his death, He falls in love with the mysterious Hilda Lessways, but is jilted, meanwhile the eldest daughter: Janet Orgreave, of his neighbour; a wealthy solicitor waits for Edwin to make a move.

Edwin's character is a very fine creation; he strives to better himself through his reading and his association with the better educated Orgreave family. He has a good heart and is contemptuous of men in his own society, that do not try and better themselves. He is naive and clumsy around women, but is not unattractive, he becomes comfortable with his position as one of the leading business men in Bursley and takes an interest in politics; voting socialist in the National elections more to spite his conservative colleagues as much as his own views on a more equitable society. Arnold Bennett shows his readers the industrial town of Bursley, through Edwin's eyes: the eyes of the son of a self made man, who will never know poverty, but will see it all around him and will be sympathetic when his own life style is not threatened.

Bennetts descriptions of printing works and the tawdry central square of the town is drawn down, as though from a still life. He peoples his tableau with convincing characters and some brilliant scenarios. At the age of 16 Edwin is taken to the large central Hotel and public house by big James his fathers master printer. He hears big James sing as part of a four man choir and sees a female clog dancer, an image that stays with him all his life. He looks after his father unselfishly in his final illness and does not shy away from his duties, witnessing the horror of his death. Edwin's brief romance with Hilda is pent with possibilities and his relationship with Janet is full of warmth and diffidence. The celebrations in the town of a century of chapel going is vividly portrayed as is the sorry state of the striking pottery workers. Bennett captures the atmosphere of a dirty industrial town either celebrating or carrying out the daily grind. Edwin's exertions to create his own little world in his families house, and the characters around him that pull him out of his easy lifestyle are a feature of the novel.

Edwin is surrounded by strong female characters, who are not able to break free from their traditional roles, although Hilda might be the exception. There is nothing in Bennett's writing that hints at social change, but his observations enable the reader to feel the difficulties under which the women must labour to carve out a worthwhile life in the patriarchal society. The grime, the labour, the struggle to keep ones position are all part and parcel of this novel but its central character lends it a warm heart, which never approaches being over sentimental or kitsch. At the end of the novel Edwin is nearly forty, unmarried, comfortable, but still wondering how he can improve himself and perhaps seize upon that one chance that would make him feel more happy and more alive (there are two sequels). This is an excellent novel and one that I thoroughly enjoyed - a five star read.

Mar 20, 3:49pm

>116 baswood: I’ve always enjoyed the Arnold Bennett books that I’ve read hugely (Anna of the Five Towns, Clayhanger, The Old Wives Tale).

Mar 21, 6:01pm

>116 baswood: Arnold Bennett is missing from my reading, except for some poetry in school. You remind me that I should correct this. I was wondering about a sequel as I read to the end of your review, and then you mentioned not one but two. It would have seemed odd to leave him hanging in mid life!

Just found this from The Guardian

Mar 23, 4:29am

>118 SassyLassy: Thank you for the link - it is an excellent article on Bennett. I read many of Bennett's books when I lived in England because there was usually a stack of them at the local Library. Another author who has become unfashionable.

I read Clayhanger because it was the next book on my shelves and re-discovered Bennett.

Mar 23, 11:08am

Bennett is one of my favourite authors. I don't understand why he's not better known!

Modificato: Mar 30, 7:25am

Le Dit Du Mistral - Olivier Mak-Bouchard
Olivier Mak-Bouchard's first novel published last year (2020) treads heavily in the footsteps of Jean Giono and Henri Bosco authors of a previous generation who works were centred on the flora fauna and people of the Provence region of South East France. Mak-Bouchard adds something else to the mix; apart from bringing his story up to date there is also a fascination with legends associated with the area; particularly those surrounding the Mistral wind and the desert like scenario atop of Mount Ventoux.

He tells his story in the first person, but it starts with a legend; a legend of how the four elements shaped the land of Provence, particularly around the Valley of the River Calavon; a dry parched area surrounded by the vegetation of the garrigue: low shrub-lands famous for its herbs that cling to the limestone soils. The area suffers cold winters and hot summers and now increasingly from the bush fires that rage during the driest summer months. The story-teller is an administrator in one of the local schools living in a hamlet outside of town and after a particularly strong Mistral goes outside to inspect the damage. His older neighbour M. Sécaillat is doing the same thing and they notice a drystone wall partially destroyed, the speaker notices some shards of pottery and the two neighbours decide to explore further. They may have uncovered an archeological find, but it is on M Sécaillat's land and he does not want to inform the authorities and have his orchard turned into an archeological dig. The speaker proposes that they do a clandestine dig; he will take a two month sabbatical from work and they will do it properly. The first part of the book describes the excitement of the two neighbours as they uncover a mystery. They do not find any treasure but something perhaps even more valuable: a spring, which seems to be dated from Roman times it has a large limestone base and a relief of a female face from whose open mouth the water trickles.

The speakers sabbatical comes to an end and his wife returns from a business trip to Japan. M. Sécaillat continues with the work and constructs a series of steps down into the cistern which has now filled with tepid water. His wife suffers from Alzheimers, but drinking the iron inflected water from the cistern is improving her condition. The speaker becomes fascinated by the relief of the femme-calcaire in the base of the cistern and bathing in the water starts a series of visions that he cannot shake from his head. Time is running out for the clandestine dig and the authorities have arranged to inspect what they believe to be a small pool (which would attract higher local taxes). The second part of the book tells the story of a falling out between the neighbours M. Sécaillat is frightened of being fined or sent to prison and plans to fill in the cistern, while the speaker cannot resist the pull of the femme-calcaire. The visions are personal to him and he discovers that what he is seeing relates to the landscape and the people around him and he takes himself off on missions, that seem to be at the behest of the femme-calcaire. The missions become associated with legends and stories from the Roman era particularly Hannibal crossing the Alps and lead to the speaker exploring the desolate summit of Mount Ventoux on a desperate search for the source of the Mistral wind.

Mak-Bouchard skilfully weaves elements of magic realism into his story of a contemporary man battling against the sometimes hostile environment in which he lives. The author has a feel for the landscape and an intimate relationship with the characters that inhabit his story. Nothing seems out of place, rural modern french life is well captured and being french the story is interrupted for a detailed description of the Christmas eve revillion where the two neighbour's households sit down to eat their way through the eve to Christmas day. There is also Hussard the cat who prances regally through the two houses calling the neighbours attention to his wants and needs. There is so much to enjoy in this story of Provençal life and the occasional lapse into Provençal argot, is translated into modern french.

I bought my paperback book in my new local bookstore which managed to open for business just in time for the 2020 rentrée. I am not usually attracted by the book cover by this was an exception with its striking design and fold out back and front covers with sketch maps of the area by the author. The design and feel of the book shows some love from the publishing house of Le Tripode. A four star reading experience.

Mar 31, 4:00am

>115 Dilara86: Have you found your copy of Mémoires d'Hadrian. I have the moins cher folio edition. Starting tomorrow?

Mar 31, 4:09am

>122 baswood: It took several goes, but I found it! I'll start in a couple of days: I have to finish We Are Legion (We Are Bob), which I'm reading for book group, first. I'll probably skim it because it's not to my taste at all!

Mar 31, 7:49am

>123 Dilara86: Good luck with We are Legion (we are Bob) - you will soon catch me up.

Apr 4, 5:35pm

Mémoires d'Hadrien

Animula Vagula Blandula The first chapter takes the start of one of Hadrian's poems composed on his deathbed: the first two lines could be translated as Little Soul, you charming little wanderer, my body's guest and partner.
The book takes the form of a letter that Hadrian; emperor of Rome is writing to his chosen successor.
He talks in general terms of the pleasures he has enjoyed, and Yourcenar keeps bringing him back to his deathbed and final illness. It is melancholic and extremely well done. Hadrian wants to be as truthful as he can, to give a picture of a man who might only be remembered by official records. It sets the scene for a sort of autobiography. This is an excellent start to the book as the reader can sympathise with the pain of hopes and regrets which run through Hadrian's mind.

Modificato: Apr 5, 1:33pm

I have the 1988 folio paperback. I've started at the end, with the "carnet de notes" and the postface, initially because I was looking for the latin epigraph's translation, then because I like to be prepared. I agree with what you wrote, but I must say I am finding the few anachronisms (such as Marcus Aurelius's "cahier d'écolier") jarring. It reminds me that this 20th century author is projecting her own thoughts onto Hadrien, which is what authors do, but I like to be able to suspend my disbelief! The style and introspection remind me of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, a novel I loved.
On to Varius Multiplex Multiformis: varié, multiple et changeant.

Apr 6, 6:13am

>126 Dilara86: It is interesting that you are finding a few anachronisms, because I was thinking that Yourcenar had largely avoided them, but in the third chapter Tellus Stabilita I am coming around to your thinking. Hadrien doesn't sound like a 21 century man or even a 20th century man, but he is starting to sound like a Victorian classics scholar, someone like Jacob Burckhardt. In the third chapter he likens Rome to a man showing signs of age who is in need of help and he sees himself as the doctor. He has been suitably horrified when he discovers that his friends in Rome have arranged the murder of the leading men in opposition to his "power grab" and then goes on to talk about improvements that he wanted to make to the situation of the slaves and then of women. Yourcenar saves her best prose to express Hadriens desire to make improvements to the city of Rome, he wants to beautify the city, he wants to make it a shinning beacon to celebrate the arts and to celebrate the peace that he hopes to achieve. (page 148/9). His love of the perfect form expressed in artistic terms leads us gently into the fact that he had a predilection for young men.

Hadrien was an Emporor and there is no getting round the fact that he would have needed to be a ruthless politician to hang onto power for 20 years. I am not getting any of this from the thoughts he is expressing in his letter in this chapter. He is beginning to sound a bit too liberal, but there is plenty more to read.

Apr 7, 3:01am

>127 baswood: Hadrien was an Emperor and there is no getting round the fact that he would have needed to be a ruthless politician to hang onto power for 20 years. I am not getting any of this from the thoughts he is expressing in his letter in this chapter. He is beginning to sound a bit too liberal, but there is plenty more to read.
He was fortunate Criton, Plotine and Attianus were willing to have blood on their hands so that his could stay clean... And he acknowledges it, which I think is to his credit.

Apr 10, 8:36am

>127 baswood: improvements that he wanted to make to the situation of the slaves and then of women
I wanted to know a bit more about this. The lines about women's condition (pp 130-131), and how Hadrien changed the laws to allow them to manage their own money, and outlawed non-consensual marriages, do sound modern(-ish)! Yourcenar might be imagining his thoughts on the matter, but I am guessing that she did not invent the law changes - those must be historically accurate? Only I haven't found anything about them yet...

I am just starting Disciplina Augusta. Antinoüs drowned himself in the Nile, and it looks like he was offering himself as a human sacrifice, to counter the bad luck the fortune teller had predicted for Hadrian. There are so many accounts of sacrifices in this novel: bulls, hawk, slaves, and now Antinoüs!
Of course, we also know that Antinoüs was not happy, and was dreading a future fall from grace, as he had reached 19 and thought he might not appeal to Hadrian's tastes for very long. As the novel is written from the point of view of Hadrian, the ephebe/mature man relationship is seen as perfectly normal and acceptable. What is frowned upon is being smitten - or being in love, as Hadrian says at one point. A man should not be controlled by his emotions... which explains why at the beginning of the novel, when Trajan saw that Hadrian had a close relationship with a young boy, he put a stop to it. Well, now, Hadrian’s mourning for Antinoüs is out of control: he is commissioning poems, statues, temples, and even a city !

Apr 10, 12:10pm

>116 baswood: Just adding my name belatedly to the Bennett fans! The card is another good one, a bit less well-known than the Clayhanger books. Also filmed very nicely in the fifties with Alec Guinness in the lead.
As you probably already know, John Carey’s The intellectuals and the masses has a neat analysis of the reasons for anti-Bennett snobbery.

Apr 10, 12:36pm

I have just finished Memoires d'hadrien and my first thoughts after reading that fine last chapter Patientia is that the book is a magnificent achievement. More later..........................

>129 Dilara86: I googled the city it did not stand the test of time.

Apr 10, 2:31pm

>131 baswood: Good! I must admit I am slightly underwhelmed, but I still have around 50 pages to read. I should finish tomorrow if all goes to plan. I wished I knew more about Ancient Rome, and could compare Hadrien's versions of events with objective historical facts...

Modificato: Apr 10, 5:28pm

Mémoires d'Hadrien - second thoughts.
Published in 1951, but much of the research and some of the writing would have been done in the 1940's.
It is good to keep in mind that it is a letter from Hadrien to his chosen successor (adopted son as was traditional) and was written towards the very end of his life and in fact appears to be not quite finished.
Faced with the bare facts and my fact checking (admittedly on google) did not find any obvious errors, then Yourcenars task was to express the thoughts of this Roman emperor in a way that would make her readers believe that these could be his thoughts. On the whole I think she did this. What I think she also did was to give some idea of what it would have been like to be a Roman emperor. For example the amount of travelling that was involved, the hardships of being on campaign, the ability to order and get things done quickly (building a city is feasible if you have an army of slaves and have absolute authority to act) and the duty of protecting the empire.

She also gives an impression of some of the aspects of the Roman world. The reliance on soothsayers and the taking of male lovers as a matter of course for someone in Hadrien's position. I also liked the way she brings into play the entourage of people (nearly all men) around the emperor.

The interesting things about Hadrien were his flirting with idea of being one of the gods, he never quite believed that he was, but many of his subjects did. Also interesting was his love of all things Greek, his interest in other cultures, his seeking out of places of interest. He was a lover of the arts and seemed at some periods in his life to seek to change some aspects of the Roman world to the classical antecedents of the Greek world. Some of the book is a bit like a travelogue around the known Roman world, which I found fascinating. Towards the end of the book he takes a trip to Baiae on the coast below Naples which I knew about, through my reading of Renaissance literature (A book of poetry by Giovanni Pontano entitled Baiae

I think Yourcenar succeeds in bringing Emperor Hadrien to life. A man who had a clear idea of what he wanted to do and who he was, but also a man in conflict. His clear idea of the duties of an Emperor which was clearly side tracked by his love affair with Antinous and his feelings of guilt about his death. Towards the end of my favourite chapter Patientia the author made me care about her character even if she may have strayed into putting modern thoughts into his head; I am thinking about his foresight of the decline of the Roman Empire and his brief summary of the human condition.

The book is a sort of cross between a Biography including all known facts with aspects of a historical novel, Yourcenar has to piece together the possible thoughts of Hadrien from his poetry and other commentaries, but she does so in a way that is convincing particularly as modern readers may have some "sympa" with him.

>132 Dilara86: I also suffer with a lack of knowledge for example I did not know the history of the Bar Kokhba revolt and have only a vague idea of how the consular system worked and its relationship to the powers of an Emperor.

Apr 10, 5:31pm

>130 thorold: I enjoyed Clayhanger so much I thought briefly about going on a Bennett reading jag. However a quick search revealed no other Bennett novels in my possession.

Apr 12, 4:38am

>131 baswood: >133 baswood: Patientia was my favourite section by far! I would have been happy reading it as a standalone novella.

I also suffer with a lack of knowledge for example I did not know the history of the Bar Kokhba revolt and have only a vague idea of how the consular system worked and its relationship to the powers of an Emperor.
Same here. I also wished I knew more about the classics Hadrian discusses in the novel.

Apr 12, 5:02am

>135 Dilara86: I enjoyed reading Memories d'Hadrien even if my reading in french is probably three times slower than English. I am still thinking about the book, but have written a review (in English.)

My french prof. has suggested I read something more contemporary next time and has suggested something by Olivier Norek and so I have ordered Entre Deux Mondes, Norek from my local bookshop. I have a friend who did some voluntary work in the immigrant camp at Calais and so I will be interested to read a book written on the subject by a policeman.

Modificato: Apr 12, 6:00am

W H Hudson - A Crystal Age
Listed as a proto - science fiction novel; A Crystal Age published in 1887 has all the charm of a Victorian fantasy novel tinged with an echo of erotism that permeates the tale. William Henry Hudson was an Argentinian author, naturalist and Ornithologist who emigrated to London in 1874 and became a British citizen some time later. He was the author of nearly fifty books a mixture of novels, ornithological works and books about the English countryside. He was an acquaintance of George Gissing. His most famous novel was Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest.

Told in the first person Smith; a keen English amateur naturalist exploring rough terrain falls some 40 feet into a deep hollow and loses consciousness. He awakes to find himself in a different country. Exploring he comes across a curious burial party and after witnessing a short service he is invited by a father figure back to the house for refreshment. He discovers a small community living in a large old house who are in tune with their natural surroundings. They know nothing of England or modern civilisation and are easily upset by Smiths rough city ways. Their clothing fits like the skin of a snake in sumptuous colours and Smith falls in love with one of the bright young girls. Their written language is different and Smith finds himself on a steep learning curve if he wants to stay in the community. He makes a contract with the father figure for a years work in exchange for bed and board and a suit of their wonderful attire.

Smith finds a self contained community perfectly in tune with each other and with their natural surroundings, they have an intense relationship with the fauna and flora and of course are vegetarian. Yoletta the girl of his dreams pays some attention to Smith and when he declares his love for her, she says she loves him too as she does all the bright young things in the community. Their relationship develops, but when Smith says he wants to possess her body and soul, she has no understanding of his meaning. Smiths need for physical love is something beyond the groups comprehension:

Ah, no! that was a vain dream, I could not be deceived by it; for who can say to the demon of passion in him, thus far shalt thou go and no further?

Some time later Smith learns that it is a matriarchal society and there is a Mother figure whom he has not met. The community have been deeply offended that Smith has not asked for an audience with Chastel. This has only been because of his ignorance and when he meets Chastel a sick woman he must undertake a whole new learning experience.

Hudson's main character is the natural world, the beauty of the countryside the gentleness of the communities existence, there seems no clouds on their horizon and the idyllic surroundings are almost worshipped by the group. It seems to be almost a fairy land, but there is a twist to the tale and Hudson cleverly builds up his story to a satisfying conclusion. I enjoyed the atmosphere created by the author, slow moving at first, but the mystery and the wonder expressed in the natural world held my interest. Of its kind this story has its own little notes of pleasure and so a four star read.

Apr 12, 5:59am

Mémoires d'Hadrien - Marguerite Yourcenar
Published in 1951 after more than 26 years in conception Yourcenar's book is a tour de force. It takes the form of imagining that Roman Emperor Hadrien (Hadrian) 76AD - 138AD had written a letter to his chosen successor giving him the benefit of his experiences of over 20 years in power. It therefore takes the form of an autobiography as it included his rise to power and his thoughts on the state of the Empire. It could be compared to the memoirs of a contemporary politician, especially as Yourcenar tries to put into words the thoughts of the Emperor. It is a sympathetic portrait, but not a panegyric, but the reader does see events from Hadrians point of view.

Hadrian towards the end of his reign campaigned against a Jewish rebellion in what is known as the Bar Kokhba revolt. He was approaching 60 and the the tribulations of living in an army encampment during a long siege had an effect on his health and by the time he got back to Rome he was an ill man. He started writing his letter and nearly finished it on his death bed: his last words are 'Tâchons d'entrer dans la mort les yeux ouverts...........' His letter tells us the story of his life in chronological sequence, starting with his early upbringing in the Roman Province of Spain, the death of his parents and his schooling in Rome. His tutor had considerable political influence and the intelligent and able Hadrian found himself conscripted into the entourage of the Emperor Trajan. He campaigned with Trajan and numbered among his chosen acolytes, forming a lasting friendship with Plotine; Trajans influential wife. When Trajan died campaigning till the last, he had not got round to publicly naming Hadrian as his successor and there was a sort of palace coup back in Rome to ensure the enemies of Hadrian were summarily despatched. Trajan had looked forward to coming back to Rome as a conquering hero, but Hadrian typically refused all honoured titles on his triumphant entry into the city.

Hadrian was a different animal to Trajan who was a man who had lived to conquer the known world. Hadrian saw the advantages of consolidation, of drawing back to defensible borders and negotiating peace with the barbarians. He wanted to celebrate the glory and the artistic achievements of the Roman world and make some improvements. He had become disgusted by the atrocities committed by both sides in the wars and wanted to achieve a lasting peace. He was secure in his position as Emperor and sought to make changes: changes that we might think progressive, for example improving the financial position of women and putting an end to some of the atrocities committed against the slaves. Writing about these to his chosen successor with his thoughts on progress for the Empire was of course an attempt at laying down a blueprint for the future.

The letter is much more than a guide to his successor because Hadrian clearly wanted to give his side to the story of his life. He was passionate about the classical civilisation of Greece, the fount of all knowledge and artistic creation; he seems to have wanted to make Rome more like Greece particularly Athenian Greece. During his 20 years as Emperor he spent eight of those outside Rome, he loved to travel mixing business with pleasure fascinated by ancient Greece and ancient Egypt. In Greece he met and fell in love with Antinous a fourteen year old Greek boy who became his lover and constant companion for six years. This was perfectly acceptable in Roman times and Yourcenar has Hadrian writing candidly about the love of his life. Antinous committed suicide when he was 20 and the idyllic relationship was over, but Hadrian never got over it. He made statues, he had the body mummified in the Egyptian tradition and even built a city in his honour. Hadrian wonders what part he played in Antinous suicide, because the pair had sought the wisdom of a soothsayer and the prognostication had not been good; so did Antinous sacrifice himself for Hadrian? did he fear that Hadrian was losing interest in him? What is clear is that Hadrian saw himself as protector of the Roman Empire and his love affair with Antinous and ancient Greece was proving a distraction, even if he could not admit to that himself. Hadrian unflinchingly sets this all out in his letter as a mixture of golden memories and some regrets. He is proud of some of his achievements and is in conflict about others. In the final short chapter on his death bed he thinks about the past and the human condition, it is a touching portrait.

Yourcenar put off writing her book until she felt mature enough to do justice to her subject. There are a series of extracts from her notebooks included at the end of the book containing information pertinent to her methods of working and notes on her research. She took pains to make the book as historically accurate as possible. Of course she did not know Hadrians thought process, but this is the art of the novelist to convince her readers that he could have thought along these lines. In my opinion she does an excellent job of creating the milieu of Rome and the empire, at the beginning of the second century; in some parts it feels like a travelogue around an ancient civilisation, however it is the characterisation of Hadrian that is the crowning achievement. We have evidence that Hadrian was a lover of the arts and a poet himself and there are other commentaries about him. Yourcenar has taken the opening line from one of his poems written at the end of his life: Animula, vagula, blandula as the title of her first chapter; her translation of the poem is:

Little soul, gentle and drifting, guest and companion of my body, now you will dwell below in pallid places, stark and bare; there you will abandon your play of yore. But one moment still, let us gaze together on these familiar shores, on these objects which doubtless we shall not see again… Let us try, if we can, to enter into death with open eyes…

A moving portrait of a grand homme and an excellent book and one in which for the most part Yourcenar avoids the trap of putting 20th century contemporary thoughts into the head of a Roman Emperor. A five star read.

Apr 12, 6:02am

>137 baswood: Interesting! I didn't know anything about Hudson — I vaguely had him pigeon-holed as a nature-writer, and I've read some of his stuff about the English countryside. I see I've still got one of his books of countryside essays on the shelf, I should probably re-read it at some point...

Apr 14, 2:07am

>136 baswood: Looking forward to your review of Entre deux mondes. I've just finished Un garçon comme vous et moi, Ivan Jablonka's childhood memoirs/pop social history/study of the social construction of (his) masculinity. It's very readable. I am now starting Seins et œufs by Japanese author Mieko Kawakami.

Apr 14, 9:49am

That Yourcenar is one of my "lifetime" favourites so I hardly dared follow here in case it got panned... glad to see it impressed. I don't think anyone can tell how much of Hadrian she got "right" but she certainly created a remarkable character. Although, it would be worth analysing whether she projected much of what appeals most in him from a successor of his, Marcus Aurelius. Working on Hadrian instead was likely due to his homosexual passion as much as anything else.

Apr 14, 9:55am

>138 baswood: First your thread, then endorsements from others on your thread, and now appearing in notes from a friend - a book I didn't know - but with these recommendations I will have to read it.

I really like the way you have developed the discussion of it.

Apr 14, 5:43pm

I've had it on my shelves for ages, with huge accolades from several friends, and I really enjoyed the discussion around it... maybe this is Hadrien's year for me.

Apr 14, 10:36pm

>129 Dilara86: I wonder if he noted some of these laws in the Irish and some other celts? They were very enlightened in their laws regarding women.

Apr 14, 10:43pm

>137 baswood: Green Mansions is a favorite of my youth. I re-read it from time to time.

Apr 15, 1:42pm

>142 SassyLassy: We were able to co-ordinate our reading so that we could share thoughts as we read through the book and so that seemed to work well.

>145 sallypursell: Green Mansions is free at Protect Gutenberg and so I will read it soon.

>141 LolaWalser: There was no danger that I wasn't going to like it

Modificato: Apr 18, 6:47pm

Shakespeare's Poems (The Arden Shakespeare)
What to do if you are a playwright and the theatres are closed because of the plague. Well if you fancy yourself as a bit of a poet then you can stay at home and write some poetry. This is what Shakespeare did and in 1593 he published Venus and Adonis and in 1594 The Rape of Lucrece. They were the first items published under his own name. He was already a writer and actor of note in the theatre, but had not published any of his early plays and would not do so himself in his lifetime. Venus and Adonis was an immediate hit and soon went through seven re-prints. The more sombre Rape of Lucrece was not quite so popular, but there were still a number of re-prints. Perhaps he asked himself "what sells:" well there were plenty of poets and sonneteers rushing into print after the success of Philip Sidney's Astrophil and Stella and sex (I mean love poetry) sells better than most. So Shakespeare made his name as a poet and maybe a poet of erotic verse.

Venus and Adonis (1190 lines) and The Rape of Lucrece (1855) are both long narrative poems and as far as we know Shakespeare never attempted anything similar, apart from his sonnet collection (not included in this book). The reading public and even Shakespeare himself may have thought that he was first and foremost a poet and his place in literature would be judged on his poems. Venus and Adonis is a retelling and an augmentation of a story by the Latin Poet Ovid, but Shakespeare gives it a twist in that he makes the character of Adonis; beautiful although he is; a sullen young adolescent who is not interested in love. Goddess Venus does all she knows to tempt him to have sex, but the young lad is only interested in hunting. Shakespeare's poem is one of seduction, but like the playwright he is, we see both sides of the story. Here is an example of Venus hot love for Adonis:

And having felt the sweetness of the spoil,
With blindfold fury she begins to forage;
Her face doth reek and smoke, her blood doth boil,
And careless lust stirs up a desperate courage,
Planting oblivion, beating reason back,
Forgetting shame’s pure blush and honour’s wrack.

Hot, faint, and weary, with her hard embracing,
Like a wild bird being tam’d with too much handling,
Or as the fleet-foot roe that’s tir’d with chasing,
Or like the froward infant still’d with dandling:
He now obeys, and now no more resisteth,
While she takes all she can, not all she listeth.

The poem takes the form of six line stanzas with a rhyming scheme mostly in iambic pentameters. It is never dull and was said to be popular with young men, especially with Venus the goddess of love featuring in the title of the poem. The poem is a delight from start to finish and the immediacy of the action makes it an exciting read.

The Rape of Lucrece dramatises an episode from Roman History. It is a poem of seven line stanzas again in iambic pentameters and a rhyming scheme. Tarquin heir apparent to the throne becomes stirred up with lust, when he hears his friend Collatine boasting of his beautiful and chaste wife. Tarquin arranges things so that he can slip away from the army camp ahead of a general release, so that he can stay in Collatine's house with Lucrece. She welcomes him as an honoured guest, but will not be seduced. Later that night Tarquin forces his way into her room and rapes her, afterwards he slinks away and Lucrece is left with the devastation of being violated. She sends an urgent message to her husband to return home as soon as he can and after telling the household of what has taken place she stabs herself to death. Collatine vows to destroy the Tarquin kings of Rome. This is a tragic story and Shakespeare gives all due weight to the events.

The poem can be read as an allegory of passive suffering under a tyrant leading to his overthrow when he abuses his power, however that does not seem to be Shakespeare's intention because the horror of the rape and then the suicide is at the heart of this poem. Shakespeare tells the first part of the story from Tarquin's point of view. His brief struggles with his conscience, his worries about the consequences of the rape that he is going to commit and then the lust that takes hold of him. Here is Tarquin in Lucrece's bedroom:

As the grim lion fawneth o'er his prey,
Sharp hunger by the conquest satisfied,
So o'er this sleeping soul doth Tarquin stay,
His rage of lust by grazing qualified;
Slack'd, not suppress'd; for standing by her side,
His eye, which late this mutiny restrains,
Unto a greater uproar tempts his veins:

And they, like straggling slaves for pillage fighting,
Obdurate vassals fell exploits effecting,
In bloody death and ravishment delighting,
Nor children's tears nor mothers' groans respecting,
Swell in their pride, the onset still expecting:
Anon his beating heart, alarum striking,
Gives the hot charge and bids them do their liking.

In spite of all his threats she does not consent and after the rape she is mortified. The point of view then changes to Lucrece as she wrestles with how to deal with her violation. Should she kill herself? she cannot pretend that nothing has happened, can she get revenge? Shakespeare uses many verses to describe her thoughts as she wrestles with her situation and finally when she takes action it makes for the tragedy:

Here with a sigh, as if her heart would break,
She throws forth Tarquin's name: 'He, he,' she says,
But more than 'he' her poor tongue could not speak;
Till after many accents and delays,
Untimely breathings, sick and short assays,
She utters this, 'He, he, fair lords, 'tis he,
That guides this hand to give this wound to me.'

Even here she sheathed in her harmless breast
A harmful knife, that thence her soul unsheathed:
That blow did bail it from the deep unrest
Of that polluted prison where it breathed:
Her contrite sighs unto the clouds bequeathed
Her winged sprite, and through her wounds doth fly
Life's lasting date from cancell'd destiny.

Two poems that deal with sexual aggression and while one is more light and frothy, the other is sombre and tragic. Both poems demonstrate Shakespeare's powers as a poet; in telling a narrative and plunging the reader into the heart of the situation described. In Venus and Adonis there are some vivid hunting scenes and animals of the woodland feature prominently. In The Rape of Lucrece a painting of the trojan war is used to demonstrate the anguish of Lucrece. There are some brilliant stanzas and while Shakespeare's contemporaries fooled around with pretty verses he made some real drama. There are some other poems and bits and pieces, but the discussion in the introduction is mainly concerned as to whether or not they are by Shakespeare. There is very little else to detain the reader, but these two great poems are enough and so 5 stars.

Apr 19, 2:14pm

>147 baswood: I have wondered about these, and your review is the first thing i’ve read about them in detail. A wonderful introduction. Thank you.

>138 baswood: terrific on Hadrian

I enjoyed catching up here.

Apr 19, 2:34pm

Lewis Padgett - Tomorrow and Tomorrow
Lewis Padgett was the joint pseudonym of the science fiction authors and spouses Henry Kuttner and C L Moore taken from their mothers maiden names. As Lewis Padgett they wrote nearly 50 novels from 1941-53. Pulp fiction it maybe but if Tomorrow and Tomorrow published in 1951 is an example then it is still worth a quick read.

The novel starts well with Joseph Breden worried about dozing off at work and then failing the psychological test if anyone reports him. He works in a nuclear reactor as a senior technician and he cannot afford for the reactor to get to critical mass. He has recently been having weird dreams where he does just that. Playing chess with the other senior technician on duty he wonders whether he should confide in her, but he is frightened of losing his job. We learn that this is an alternate time line because after the second world war many countries tested atomic bombs and the devastation frightened the world into forming something called the GPC which controls all atomic weapons. A hundred years later and the GPC control nearly everything and the population of the world suffers restrictions. Any scientific research is discouraged and development has atrophied. Any dissent is investigated and quashed, but the atomic bomb testing has created a number of mutants some of whom have survived. When Joseph Breden finally seeks help, he discovers that he has been hypnotised by a dissident group who have harnessed the powers of a mutant brain that can see the future and who believe that not having an atomic third world war, will see mankind atrophy and die. An interesting idea...................

After an interesting beginning the story gallops quickly towards the finishing post, with mutants, alternative time lines and alternative worlds. The story just about remains coherent, but it hurries too quickly towards the end. For the genre it is reasonably well written and any racism or sexism is difficult to spot. There is a sort of sequel "The Fairy Chessmen" which I have downloaded to my kindle 3.5 stars.

Apr 19, 5:11pm

>147 baswood:

Big fan of Venus and Adonis. One thing I don't understand is why and how centuries of erotic poetry and general appreciation of sex abutted in the repressions of the 19th century.

Modificato: Apr 20, 7:23pm

>149 baswood: I read 'The Fairy Chessmen" today which is another story featuring mutants, alternate time lines to a background of total war. Again the scenario is earth sometime after the second world war when nations have coalesced into two warring factions and people fight the war from underground cities. A time traveller brings with him from the future an equation based on an infinite number of variables that can alter reality, but which side will he give it to and why? It is not quite as good as the novella it has been paired with: "Tomorrow and Tomorrow" as the science becomes farcically fictional.

Henry Kuttner and C L Moore seem to have trouble with their misanthropy and misogyny:

“A guy named Nash. You never heard of him. The thing is, I’m part misogynist, Ben. If somebody wants me to like him, he’s got to prove he’s worth liking. Few people do.”

Oh well, unintentional humour is always good 2.5 stars

Modificato: Apr 25, 4:23pm

The Bishop of Hell & Other Stories - Marjorie Bowen
Marjorie Bowen was the pen name of Margaret Gabrielle Vere Long (1885-1952) a British author who wrote historical romances, supernatural horror stories, popular history and biography. This collection of short stories gathered together in 2006 finds her writing in the supernatural horror story genre and is subtitled 'Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural"

There are twelve short stories and eleven of them are set in the past: 18th or 17th century and so we are in a world of horse and carriages, sparsely populated landscape and big old houses. Certainly gothic in feel and at the heart of many of the stories are bitter sweet romances and a woman wronged. They are well written and strong on mystery, most feature an unexplained ghostly presence and the female characters tend to be strong and forceful. There is nothing startlingly original in the tales, but the atmosphere and carefully paced telling of the stories works well enough, along with an evocation of the past that gives them a slight other worldly feel. A nice bedtime collection that while not freezing the blood, might stimulate some spooky dreams.

Majorie Bowen was a prolific writer and while she remains firmly in the pulp tradition these examples of her work show a care and a craft that makes them a worthwhile read. The quality throughout is good and so 3.5 stars.

Apr 25, 12:58pm

>151 baswood:

Hmm, I'd sooner suppose intentional humour or somebody else's lapse...

>152 baswood:

Bowen was one of the women authors I recommended for the NYRB, I compared her to John Collier

Modificato: Maggio 4, 12:05pm

Fires on the plain - Shohei Ooka
An extraordinary novel: a first person account of a conscripted Japanese soldier's fight for survival on a Philippine Island during the latter part of the second world war. It is a gruesome story told in that matter of fact way that seems to be the hallmark of English translations of Japanese literature, but also a keenly observed narrative of the natural world and the thoughts of an individual half crazed with hunger.

Originally published in 1951 this anti-war novel by Shohei Ooka drew on his own experiences as a conscripted soldier in the Imperial Japanese Army fighting on the Philippine islands. He survived the rout of his battalion by the American forces and witnessed the destruction of the vast majority of the men with whom he served. He was one of the lucky ones who became a prisoner of war and was eventually repatriated. Towards the end of the novel his protagonist: private Tamura reflects on his experiences as he tries to make some sense of the horrors of war and why he has been spared:

'People seem unable to admit this principle of chance. Our spirits are not strong enough to stand the idea of life being a mere succession of chances - the idea that is of infinity. Each of us in his individual existence, which is contained between the chance of his birth and the chance of his death, identifies those few incidents that have arisen through what he styles his "will" and the thing that emerges consistently from this he calls his "character" or again his "life". Thus we contrive to comfort ourselves: there is, no other way for us to think.'

During his sojourn on the Island when Tamura is lurching from one desperate situation to another he sees through the jungle a christian church, the sign of the cross beckons him down into a village. His search for salvation through a dimly remembered religion is brutally shattered by his own actions: a chance meeting destroys any hope that he will be saved.

The novel opens with private Tamura being slapped in the face by his squadron leader. He has just been released from a field hospital where he has spent three days suffering from consumption. The squadron leader deems him unfit to fight and therefore not worth sharing the limited food available, he is effectively cast out of the army and told to wait outside the hospital in the hope that he can be re-admitted. He is given six potatoes and joins a group of soldiers who are in a similar position camping around the hospital waiting to die. Chance enters the equation when an American war plane bombs and strafes the hospital, Tamura who is lucky enough to be able to walk, takes to the hillside jungle and forges his own path through the island, looking back down on the carnage below.

Tamura starts on a journey through the lush tropical island eating anything he can find to ward off starvation, despite or because of his light headiness he finds solace in the natural surroundings, the beauty of the natural world, as long as he can avoid the machinery of war and other people. He journeys through the hill country and reaches a flat cultivated plain area where he sees the bonfires. They become a mystery as to why they are lit, are they primitive smoke signals set off by the hostile indigenous population, or are they just part of the normal farming calendar. Tamura becomes fascinated by the columns of smoke: their form and intensity, their place in the natural world. Half starved he finds a hillside deserted cabin, with an abandoned potato crop, he stays, wondering what to do with himself. He is shaken from his reverie by four Japanese soldiers, led by an uncompromising corporal and feels it is his duty to follow them as they search for a way to get off the island. Tamura is soon back with the desperate column of defeated Japanese soldiers who are dying on their feet of hunger and their wounds. A desperate attempt to reach a rallying point is repulsed and individuals are reduced to cannibalism as all order breaks down.

The novel is a vivid description of the horrors of war and the desperate quest for survival. Tamura is not a young man having been conscripted late on into the army, but nothing of his previous experiences equips him to deal with the complete breakdown of civilised life that he encounters on the island. He wrestles with his own actions, how does he preserve his humanity, would he be better off dead? The beauty of the natural world is contrasted by the bestiality of human actions during wartime and Tamura's own slipping into semi delirium as a result of hunger fatigue and his illness.

From my point of view Tamura's thoughts and actions are those of a man from a different culture, certainly a different time and a man who might be more used to life in the raw and the vicissitudes of army life in wartime, but the author still manages to make his situation and his thoughts universal. The setting of the action on a tropical island where the beauty of the surroundings seems to intrude on the carnage of dead corpses makes for an authentic atmosphere. We are not spared the horror of putrefying bodies or the overwhelming stench of death, which permeate the novel, but wonder like Tamura wonders about the fires on the plains how humanity could be dealt such a savage blow. Would we in these circumstances remain sane? A five star read.

Apr 28, 7:53am

>154 baswood: wonderful review and the quote hits home here.

Modificato: Apr 28, 5:48pm

Christ's Tears Over Jerusalem - Thomas Nashe
Thomas Nashe (1567-1601) was an Elizabethan playwright poet and satirist, but made his name as a pamphleteer. Christ's Tears over Jerusalem was printed in 1593 and established Nashe as an important voice in the world of Elizabethan pamphleteers. He had already made his mark in the religious pamphlet war surrounding the Martin Marprelate controversy and was engaged in a bitter rivalry with Gabriel Harvey. In a note to the readers of this pamphlet he says he wished to bury the Hatchet with Harvey, but with Nashe one is never too sure; where he wants to bury his hatchet (maybe in the back of Gabriel Harvey).

Christ's tears over Jerusalem takes up the first half of this pamphlet. Nashe imagines that Christ is looking down on Jerusalem with tears in his eyes knowing that he will be crucified by the Jews. Quoting extensively from the bible and putting some of the stories and parables in his own words Nashe as Christ berates the Jews for their treatment of him and of each other. His basic message is that the Jews brought their banishment from the city on themselves. Nashe's language is colourful in the extreme here is an example:

'Jerusalem, ever after thy bloody hecatomb or burial, the sun (rising & setting) shall enrobe himself in scarlet, and the maiden moon (in the ascension of her perfection) shall have her crimson cheeks (as they would burst) round balled out with blood. Those ruddy investurings and scarlet habiliments from the cloud-climbing slaughter-stack of thy dead carcasses shall they exhalingly quintessence, to the end thou may’st not only be culpable of gorging the earth, but of goring the heavens with blood, and in witness against thee, wear them they shall to the world’s end as the liveries of thy waning.'

After venting his spleen against Jerusalem and its inhabitants Nashe turns his attention to London and I found this second part far more interesting. He says:

'As great a desolation as Jerusalem hath London deserved.'

He then releases a torrent of invective against the sins of the people of London in the Elizabethan era. His invective is mainly turned towards the rich, but Jews, women and some of the idle ministers and pastors are also singled out. The sins of London he deals with in turn: Ambition and pride, avarice, usury, vainglory, atheism, discontent, contention, disdain, delicacy, gluttony, luxury, sloth and security. He ends all this with a reference to the plague (1593 was a plague year in London):

'Comfort us, Lord; we mourn, our bread is mingled with ashes, and our drink with tears. With so many funerals are we oppressed, that we have no leisure to weep for our sins for howling for our sons and daughters. O, hear the voice of our howling; withdraw thy hand from us, & we will draw near unto thee.'

At the start of the pamphlet following the usual dedication there is a note to the reader which ends with:

'Farewell all those that wish me well; others wish I more wit to.'

The language is so colourful, so over the top, that one wonders just how seriously we should be taking these words of Thomas Nashe. I read a modern spelling edition on the oxford-shakespeare website. 3 stars.

Apr 29, 7:08am

>156 baswood: enjoyed this post, b.

Apr 29, 9:03am

Fabulous review of Fires on the Plain, Barry!

Apr 30, 5:20pm

>154 baswood: Wow - great review. Onto the list it goes.

Apr 30, 11:30pm

>154 baswood: Impressive review. Onto my list, too.

Maggio 2, 8:30am

Fires on the Plain is quite possibly my favorite Japanese book ever. I'm happy to see how well you responded to it. More people should read it and it's wonderful to see others have added it to their wishlist due to your wonderful review.

Modificato: Maggio 2, 9:12am

John Steinbeck - The Log from the Sea of Cortez
A journal of a six weeks expedition to the Gulf of California to collect samples for Ed Ricketts Marine biology laboratory in Cannery Row would be a more precise description of a book, whose history of its coming into being is as fascinating as the book itself. Steinbeck's book published in 1951 was an adaption from an earlier book published in 1941 that he co-authored with Ed Ricketts. The earlier book Sea of Cortez: A leisurely journal of Travel and Research: consisted of two parts: a journal of the trip and a species catalogue. The species catalogue was Ricketts own work and he also wrote the journal that forms the basis for the first part: Steinbeck edited and added to it: a more writerly prose and of course his name in order to sell the book. The Log from the Sea of Cortez then is Steinbeck's edition of Ricketts journal (Steinbeck did not keep his own journal) minus Ricketts species catalogue, but with an added potted biography/eulogy to Ricketts his close friend. Ed Ricketts died in a car accident in 1948.

The book reads today primarily as a travelogue to a lonely part of the planet as it existed at a time when America was gearing itself up for a war, which would follow the Japanese attack on Pearl harbour later in 1941. It was an expedition with a purpose to collect marine samples; animal and plant life. Much of the journal is a log of the collecting done at various points along the littoral of the Gulf of California. It describes the landscape, the animals found, the few people met, the poor Mexican towns visited, but most of the time it is a story of tidal pools and rock faces and the difficulties and dangers of prising away animals from their natural habitat. This would all be of limited interest if it was a scientific expedition, but it was not that. There was only one scientist Ed Ricketts, there was an interested amateur Steinbeck and the other four party members were the boats captain and navigator and two working seamen and an engineer from Monterey. This makes six people, the fact that there were eight people on the expedition; two women (Steinbeck wife and the captains wife) who were written out of the journal is another story. The log is written in the first person plural and the 'we' are; Ricketts and Steinbeck. It was a ramshackle show in anybody's language, but carried out with enthusiasm and intent by semi professionals who drank as much beer as they collected samples. The interest lies in their working relationships, their thoughts and ideas of getting away from the stress of their normal daily lives and doing something different. Nothing bad happens, there are no disasters and Ed Ricketts managed to piece together a species catalogue that identified over fifty new species and so a substantial amount of science was done.

Perhaps many of us would like to have gone on such a good time, working expedition with this interesting bunch of characters. There was much talk of bloke-ish escapades mixed together with some philosophising about the meaning of life. Ricketts and Steinbeck were much affected by the marine life they witnessed, there is a famous sentence from the book:

'It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again'

The wonder and the myriad life that they witnessed reinforced their ideas of "is" thinking a non-teleological approach to explaining the mysteries of life. The idea that everything is part of one whole and to gain knowledge one must take into account everything appertaining to the issue in question. The normal cause and effect explanation is not enough. Taking into account everything means mysticism, hearsay, legends, observation, external conditions and probably how much beer you have drunk. It all leads to a fascinating if convoluted chapter of the book that expounds these ideas. Ricketts had published his ideas previously in philosophical pamphlets and this trip obviously encouraged his and Steinbeck's thinking. If the reader is not able to follow all of these ideas, what does come through is an enthusiasm and a wonder for natural life as well as a yearning for a more simple life.

The descriptions of the animal and plant life have the benefit of a scientific eye (Ricketts) enhanced by the descriptive writing of a professional author who was already famous after the publication of Grapes Of Wrath. The knockabout story of the two seaman Sparky and Tiny and an outboard motor that never worked together with six weeks of sunshine and cruising through a little explored part of the world makes an intoxicating mix. I found myself googling the names of the islands and beaches where the cruiser anchored marvelling, at the desolate landscapes and thinking about the clear waters and shuddering at the thought of tearing ones hands collecting spiny urchins from the sharp rocks. The book is very "is" in placing the reader alongside the crew of an expedition that sounds refreshing at a time when we can only dream of doing something similar.

Nothing is perfect and there are lingering doubts about the validity of the whole thing. How much of this was down to exploitation because Ricketts wanted to restock his marine biology lab? that Steinbeck wanted subject matter for a new book and to escape the publicity from his last publication. Why were the women written out of the story, certainly Steinbeck's marriage was going through a difficult period and the couple broke up after this trip, but why all this need for male machismo. The story behind the book and the trip itself will never be fully told and what we have in front of us, is a fascinating account of an expedition that oozes with the marine life that occupied most of the crew most of the time. They somehow made it work and Steinbeck's money financed the expedition and his name helped the sale of the book. Ed Ricketts is the character "Doc" in Cannery Row and John Steinbeck is himself and so anyone with an interest in these two characters should enjoy the book. I did and so 4 stars.

Modificato: Maggio 3, 2:38pm

>154 baswood: Interesting review, for a book that seem interesting as well.
The photo you posted at the beginning is powerful. Where is it and who is it from?

ETA: I might add it to my wishlist as well, but I can see I am not the only one!

Modificato: Maggio 3, 6:01pm

>163 raton-liseur:

The Island that Private Tamura was on was Leyte and the photograph shows the larger than life size bronze statues of general MacArthurs landing party in the memorial park

Maggio 5, 3:16am

>165 raton-liseur: Those men, raising from the sea, with their fierce look... It looks like a powerfull sea-related myth.

The second photo is more fun, with the guy in short pants and cap. An interesting contrast...

I'll definitely have to look up for this book (not that easy to find in French, but there is an available edition). Thanks for the info and for pointing me (us) to this book!

Modificato: Maggio 20, 4:47pm

The Children's Book - A S Byatt
A tremendously ambitious novel that charts the lives of five interconnected families and friends from 1895: the late Victorian period to George V and the end of the first world war. The families are made up of many artistic, creative characters who in the main have enough money to indulge their talents or provide support for other artists: certainly families that would find it natural to send their children to a public school and university. They are by and large progressive in their politics with members indulging themselves in Fabian circles and the suffragette movement. Their left of centre social views and sexual mores pushes against the boundaries of late Victorian Society. The central character at the start of the book is Olive Wellwood and her four children (more are to follow) married to a successful Banker. She makes her own living writing children's books based on her own children characters and story telling

It is ambitious because we follow the character development of more than thirty people as well as a contextual history of the life and times through which they lived. I do not think that I have read a novel (just over 600 pages) that manages this so well. The overall theme is that of a bildungsroman of all these children and charts their loss of innocence. The central idea of children living their lives in a sort of story book innocence is developed together with an evolution of a more sinister political situation, that will lead to the horrors of the first world war. Olive's influence over her family becomes less evident as the children grow and her stories cease to be relevant as the world situation impinges on the families. This theme is brilliantly developed by Byatt. The bildungsroman is most evident through the female characters. Largely, they grow and develop while their male counterparts either cannot cope or become stunted or disarranged. The adult male characters are largely predatory and they continue to be so, despite their belief in their own worth and progress: the male children fare a little better

Nothing but praise then for a book that achieves much that it sets out to do and yet I could not really warm to the reading experience. Personally I had some issues: It is too long, the contextual details become so dense that the reader can lose sight of the story. The attempt to manage the development of so many characters, all at the same time becomes exhausting. The family members are necessarily relegated to bit parts, they are walk on players at the many gatherings; they are moved about on a sort of chessboard by the omnipresent author: for example at a New Forest holiday camp; no less than eighteen characters arrive in small groups, all in the space of one breathless paragraph. The reader has met all of these people before, because the author has given them individual stories and we have some knowledge of their characters and their family connections, but they tend to clutter up the storyline, it is as though Byatt cannot bring herself to leave anybody out. (three quarters of the way through the novel when a typically large group of characters were gathering round the firing up of a kiln I would have been happy to see it exploding carrying away many of them with it). I felt also that the novel curiously; either has no centre or if it does, that centre is continually shifting: too much is attempted, it is too busy, perhaps it needed several volumes for Byatt to do justice to her vision.

I admire Byatt's achievement and certainly parts of the novel really did grab me and then I wondered why I had not enjoyed other parts so much. I have come to the conclusion that I liked the individual episodes where Byatt focused on one character or a small group of characters and developed her story line in more detail. There are many examples of these: Tom Wellwood's experience at a public school, Dorothy Wellwood's search for her father in Germany and Imogen's romance with Prosper Cain. It was the bringing of all these stories together that I found forced. I found the mini history lesson of the suffragette movement and the lead up to the start of the first world war evocative. Much to admire, but for me not so much to enjoy and so 3.5 stars.

Maggio 15, 12:00pm

>166 baswood:
I liked The Children's Book far more than you did. It was a 5 star read for me because I found it incredibly evocative and visual. I understand your criticisms, and it sounds like the type of book that I'd avoid normally. I think I had in inkling of that, and saved it for a time when I could get lost in it's complex and long winded world. I'd probably have shared your opinion if I tried to read it during my normal and busy life.

Maggio 15, 12:27pm

>166 baswood: I've heard such mixed reviews of it, but I still want to read it—the plot and descriptions hit a lot of good notes for me. It's sitting on my shelf, bought at a library sale years ago, so... someday.

Maggio 15, 3:20pm

>166 baswood:

This sounds similar to how I felt about Possession. I found a lot of positives to it, a lot to admire, as you say, but I still ended up resolved I neither liked nor would read Byatt again. (But that said, someone pushed Angels & insects on me--I feel some residual guilt about that--might have to give it a go. At least it's not another doorstopper.)

Maggio 15, 6:30pm

>162 baswood: >166 baswood: two excellent reviews. I haven’t read Byatt, but I have wanted to for a while and your review doesn’t discourage me.

Maggio 15, 6:59pm

>167 Nickelini: >168 lisapeet: It certainly took me quite a time to read - it was my main book for nearly two weeks.
>169 LolaWalser: Angels & Insects was a more satisfying and enjoyable read for me

Maggio 16, 1:05pm

>166 baswood: Oh I really loved The Children's Book - interesting that it didn't fully grab you. This is probably up there as one of my top reads of the last 5 years.

Maggio 17, 5:20pm

James Blish - A Case of Conscience
This was the next book in my chronological reading of the SF Masterwork series and it took me by surprise. A few years ago I had read Blish's Cities in Flight series which had been aimed squarely at the youth pulp market, however the more thoughtful A Case of Conscience (1958) with its slow moving first part would have tested the resolve of many of those teen readers. Blish is not a writer to let science get in the way of his ideas and as this book moves along the science gets left behind. The two parts to the novel make for an uneven read, especially as the faster moving second section is in danger of leaving his readers scrambling to keep up, but it is satisfactorily if unsurprisingly resolved by the end.

In the first part four specialists are working on an inhabited planet with the task of deciding whether it can be opened up for human contact. Father Ruiz-Sanchez; one of the four is a biologist, but also a Jesuit priest and the arguments as to the suitability of the planet Lithia is told very much from his point of view. The giant race of Lithians are bipedal reptile like creatures with great intelligence and their society is everything that a Christian might wish to see: a veritable Utopia with no crime, no conflict, no ignorance and no wants, a world built on peace, logic and understanding of the natural world the only problem is: a complete absence of anything resembling a God. The planet also has an abundance of materials needed to fashion atomic bombs. The four specialists were not able to reach a conclusion with Father Ruiz-Sanchez convinced that the planet is the Devil's work. As the team are leaving the planet Ruiz-Sanchez is given a fertilised egg by one of the Lithians. The second part of the novel tells the story of the birth and development of the Lithian back on earth.

The mystery of the Lithian society and the arguments between the specialists and the challenge to the faith of Father Ruiz-Sanchez are well set out in the first part, along with an atmospheric description of the rain soaked planet. Blish manages to hold the readers interest: rehearsing his arguments that hold both mystery and wonder even if the Jesuit's thought processes can take some surprising turns. While the first part is thoughtful and assumes some knowledge of literature and religion, the second part hardly stops to take a breath. Somehow Blish makes it all work and I can see why his book has its admirers in the science fiction genre. 3.5 stars.

Maggio 17, 6:13pm

>166 baswood: I liked the individual episodes where Byatt focused on one character or a small group of characters and developed her story line in more detail.
That's a really interesting distinction that hadn't occurred to me when I read the book, but I think you have it exactly. This is a book that I really did like though, and I suspect it will be one I will reread down the line, when I think it will be just as rewarding.

>169 LolaWalser: Angels and Insects is one you might like.

>162 baswood: Had no idea about this book, but it does look really interesting.

Maggio 17, 6:25pm

Free - Free - 1969
Nice Enough to Eat - Various Artists (Island label sampler) 1969
Back to British late sixties rock music and Nice Enough to Eat was just the best sampler Lp ever released - I ended up buying all of the records that were sampled - just look at the lineup - Nice enough to eat and as cheap as chips.

1. Fairport Convention – Cajun Woman
2. Mott The Hoople – At The Crossroads
3. Spooky Tooth – Better By You, Better Than Me
4. Jethro Tull – We Used To Know
5. Free – Woman
6. Heavy Jelly – I Keep Singing That Same Old Song
7. Blodwyn Pig – Sing Me A Song That I Know
8. Traffic – Forty Thousand Headmen
9. Nick Drake – Time Has Told Me
10. King Crimson – 21st Century Schizoid Man
11. Quintessence – Gungamai
12. Dr. Strangely Strange – Strangely Strange But Oddly

Woman by Free came from their second LP which is my favourite by the group and I recently bought the enhanced CD version which has nine extra tracks from that 1969 session. There are two new songs to the original release which are forgettable, but the other seven track which are all alternative versions are well worth a listen. Andy Fraser was one of the very best rock vocalists and his thoughtful powerful singing on these tracks is at its best. The songs all feature some tuneful guitar work by Paul Kossoff before he went off the rails. Perfectly worked blues based rock songs which may be short on quantity, but have quality in abundance. 5 stars.

Maggio 21, 3:50am

After reading about Norman Mailer on it's time to 'fess up. I have four books by Mailer on my shelves all unread and so which one to chose to read?

An American Dream
The Naked and the Dead
The Executioners song
Advertisements for Myself

Maggio 21, 3:51am

After reading about Norman Mailer on it's time to 'fess up. I have five books by Mailer on my shelves all unread and so which one to chose to read?

An American Dream
The Naked and the Dead
The Executioners song
Advertisements for Myself
Ancient Leavings

Maggio 21, 8:47am

Are you asking us? If so, I'd like to know what you think of The Executioner's Song. I haven't read any Norman Mailer, but this title is the one I'm most interested in.

Maggio 21, 8:55am

Maggio 21, 10:35am

>177 baswood: Great link to Lola's thread - I would never have found her otherwise.

As to Mailer, probably start at the beginning with The Naked and the Dead. Mailer wrote so much in so many fields, and his writing changed over the years. Armies of the Night would give you an idea of his political writing, and The Executioner's Song is non fiction written with the power of a novel. I suspect of all the books of his that I've read, I liked Harlot's Ghost best.

Here is Mailer's townhouse for sale after his death:

Maggio 21, 3:22pm

>177 baswood:

Read them alllll lol

"Ancient leavings" seems to go to a wrong touchstone...

For many years I had it in my mind that I ought to read The naked and the dead, but I must say that after reading The prisoner of sex and listening to Mailer speak and interact with people, I have zero interest in his work.

Maggio 21, 11:43pm

>173 baswood: I remember enjoying this book a lot when I read it about three or four years ago. I had started reading the Hugo winners and a select number of the alternates, but I eventually got bogged down by the difficulty of finding one of the books. Now I can't remember which one it was. I was shooting to own them all, and if I tried again I might find that book in a library.

Maggio 21, 11:54pm

I, too, would start with The Naked and the Dead

Maggio 22, 8:00am

The only Mailer-related book I have on my shelves at the moment is his ex-wife Norris Church's memoir, A Ticket to the Circus, which I picked up at a library sale many moons ago. I think I may start my Mailer reading... there.

Maggio 22, 11:27am

On the Mailer topic, I do think The Naked and the Dead is a very good war novel, but it's been a long time since I read it. I have a lot of affection for Armies of the Night, but, again, I read it long ago and the topic and times described are my own "coming of age" era. Honestly, I think The Executioner's Song is a brilliant book, though I have it on my list as among the most depressing books I've ever read.

Maggio 22, 12:22pm

Thanks for all the comments on Norman Mailer - I am encouraged............
Questa conversazione è stata continuata da Baswood's books - well - part 2.