Remember when I was contemplating taking seven or eight books with me on our 14-day cruise? Well I ended up taking TWELVE books along for the ride, reading eleven of them and getting 150 pages into the 12th (Armadale, a 600-page Wilkie Collins). We had such a wonderful, relaxing time. I spent almost no time on the Internet and we watched no TV except for a bit of President Obama’s inauguration. So many warm, breezy, places to read, and all of them with an ocean view.
All of my choices conformed to the TBR Double Dog Dare and five of them are from my Century of Books list.
I wrote these little reviewlets out longhand right after finishing each book. Here they are in the ordrer I read them.
The China Governess by Margery Allingham
This is the kind of mystery I can like. To be sure, it didn’t turn me into a mystery fan, but it did satisfy a need for a little whodunit in my reading. In some ways it reminded of Wilkie Collins, albeit superficially so. Low on descriptions of violence and lots of running around trying to figure out who did what when. And although the police and private detectives are involved, it never felt like one of those stories where a single, brilliant, mind figures everything out. Kind of odd for me to see it that way given that this is apparently one of many Allingham mysteries featuring a private dick named Albert Campion. Part of the reason I may not have noticed the focus on Campion is because there isn’t really a single mystery that needs solving. The China Governess includes a paternity mystery, arson, acts of vandalism, a mysterious death, and an attempted murder. Have any of you read any Allingham? Are there others I should read?
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
This book starred Matt Damon and Gwenyth Paltrow. Since my only knowledge of Highsmith and Ripley is the film verion of TTMR, I couldn’t help but see their images as I read. There is so much that terrifies me about this book. Beyond the violent murders, I am unsettled by following Tom, the murderer so closely. I don’t want to sympathize with a murderer. It is always weird when an author makes you sympathize with the bad guy. You find yourself simultaneously wondering what it would be like to deal with the repercussions of having committed such heinous acts and rooting (routing?) for him to not get caught. It is comforting to know that I will never be in this situation. But still, makes for nailbiting reading.
The Garrick Year by Margaret Drabble
When adultery happens in real life it seems to lead to divorce, or dishes being thrown across the room, or at least days of sobbing followed by years of distrust. But then there are those novels where it is treated as a bit of a parlor game. I can think of just about every Murdoch I have read and more than a few Drabbles that do just that. And so it goes with The Garrick Year. Emma Evans is already bored with her marriage when her actor husband announces that they will be moving from London to Hereford for a year. More boredom, followed by adultery (her husband’s) and near adultery (hers) is followed by resolution in the form of emotional inertia. Despite the way it sounds, I did enjoy reading this novel. Perhaps because I kept expecting a personal transformation (which I love in a book) that never materialized despite Emma being run over by her almost lover. I couldn’t quite tell whether Drabble intended to make a comment on the London-centric, province-phobic nature of her characters, or whether she just wanted to know how much she (Drabble) hates Hereford.
Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster
This one felt a bit like Man in the Dark Auster, rather than Brooklyn Follies Auster. Not much can be said about the book without giving too much away. The central conceit of the book didn’t become clear to me until about halfway through. That isn’t to say I was confused prior to that, but my reading satisfaction did pick up considerably once I figured it out. This is the kind of Auster where dimensions are bent. Not typically something I dig, but Auster always does it really well.
Passing On by Penelope Lively
Helen is 52 years old and living in her childhood home with her 49-year old brother. Given some of Lively’s other works, I was worried that brother and sister were going to be a bit too close if you know what I mean. Thankfully this was not the case. The novel opens with the funeral of their short-suffering but long insufferable mother Dorothy. As with other Lively works, there are deep emotional and psychological issues at play. In some ways it reminded me of an Anita Brookner novel except instead of a sad protagonist, there were two. There was a bit more action than in a Brookner, but the end result seems much the same. (Delightful and depressing.)
The Immoralist by Andre Gide
One part travelogue, one part tuberculosis-logue. Everything fraught with deep meaning. Kind of enjoyable in a way but wold probably benefit fromo a close analysis rather than a casual read.
The 25th Hour by David Benioff
Monty is a 26-year old drug dealer who is about to report to federal prison to serve a 7-year sentence. Along the way we get to know about his life and his friends. Benioff does a good job creating believable, interesting, sometimes funny, and sometimes likable characters. I particularly liked the meek high school teacher who considers his greatest accomplishment to be his skills as a pedestrian–always thinking three steps ahead and knowing how to move most efficiently through the obstacle course of the Manhatten sidewalk. A man after my own heart.
The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers
I had high hopes for this one. British Foreign Office, sailing around northern Europe in 1903, routing out spies. But overall…eh. Too much about jibs and tacking and masts and mainsails. Enough already.
The Blue Sapphire by D. E. Stevenson
A typical non-Buncle D. E. Stevenson romance. This one had a bit of everything to please. Fortunes earned and inherited; likable, selfless servants; a bit of intrigue; a bit of romance; and a pure, high-minded herione who would never knowingly do anything unethical or even unlikable. Loved it. But of course nothing beats Miss Buncle’s Book.
Summer People by Marge Piercy
Like other MP novels, this one is a multigenerational family tale. Unlike most other MP novels, this one focuses on a menage-a-trois. The trouple lives on Cape Cod and consists of composer Dinah, Susan, a fabric designer, and Susan’s husband Willie who is a sculptor and carpenter. I didn’t feel like Piercy was as solid on her research and writing than she usually is. It was one of those situations where I was tempted to fact check some details. But unlike other authors (hello Julia Glass and Felice Picano), Piercy’s missteps are neight so egregious nor so frequent as to mar one’s enjoyment of the book. Published in 1989, Summer People provides an interesting picture of the late 1980s, including a reminder that personal grooming south of the equator was not as anti-hair as it is these days. (P.S.: There’s sex.)
An Old Captivity by Nevil Shute
Typical, wonderful, corny, sexist, Shute. Aeroplanes, adventures, mishaps, romance. He is the boy version of non-Buncle Stevenson.