I’m so behind on making notes on books that I have read this year. I was going to try and blurb them all in one long post but I was making slow progress so I thought it might be better to throw a bunch of them up there right now and try to get to the rest in one or two more posts.
Mr. Loveday’s Little Outing and Other Sad Stories by Evelyn Waugh
I so enjoyed these quirky, rather dark and twisted short stories. So much so I had to go out and buy all of his collected stories. Not sure if they will all have this kind of twisted point of view but I hope so.
Minotaur by Benjamin Tammuz
An Israeli secret agent sees a beautiful young woman on his 41st birthday and falls in love with her a first sight. He feels she is the person he has been expecting his whole life. He starts up a correspondence with her–but she never finds out who he is. Part Two moves on to a teenager who falls in love with the same girl and then a spoiler happens. Part Three is another man who meets her later in life and falls in love with her. And then Part Four goes back to man number one, but we get his story from childhood and from a rather different perspective. So many things were unconventional, and quirky, and disturbing, and quite sad and beautiful in a way. There were so many things about this story and unconventional narrative style that might have annoyed me, but it didn’t, not even slightly. Kind of made like it even more.
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
As much as I love, love, love Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, it was fun to read something from her that wasn’t from that sequence. The Heart Goes Last is still dystopian, but a different kid of dystopia. Also, not the best Atwood, but hey, it’s still an Atwood.
A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
Beyond the Black Stump by Nevil Shute
Alice was a re-read, this time on audio, but Beyond the Black Stump was a totally new Shute for me. And as far as I can recollect, it is the first Shute I have come across that deals with the USA. Much of Shute’s writing in the 1950s and later not so subtly points out how great things are in Australia (usually at the expense of Britain) but I wasn’t expecting how much Shute seemed to love America. It is slightly possible that he was being somewhat satirical, but given his abstemious, good-two-shoes outlook, I’m not sure Shute was capable of satire. So if I take his writing about the U.S. at face value, he definitely saw it as the promised land–especially the frontier west. Paragraphs are devoted to how hardworking Americans are and how it was a land of opportunity and appliances and gigantic, beautiful cars. Written in 1956, you can imagine the post-war boom that Shute was admiring. In the end he seems still to prefer Australia but not too much at the expense of the U.S. Clearly not the socialist wasteland of the UK that Shute was trying to escape. In a nutshell, a young American geologist is sent to a sheep station in western Australia to look for oil. A few orange juices later he’s taking the rancher’s daughter back to the U.S. As with all Shute novels, there is plenty of engineering talk and every single plane type flown in is mentioned by name.
A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear
I was in the mood for a little cozy crime and this audiobook was on sale. Set just prior to WWII, Maisie Dobbs, still smarting from the loss of her husband and fetus decides to get off the boat in Gibraltar rather than face family and friends back in England. I enjoyed the first half of the book if for no other reason because I liked all the mundane details Winspear includes. Lots of bowls of soup being sent up to her boarding house room. But ultimately it just got kind of boring. Could stand losing about 50 pages.
The Burnt-out Case by Graham Greene
People run hot and cold on Graham Greene, but I am beginning to think he could do now wrong. A famous architect tries to escape himself by moving to a leper colony in the Congo run by some Roman Catholic priests. Greene is often talked about for being a Catholic author, and I can see how that comes through, but I never get the feeling that he is in any way preaching. At least for the Greene’s I have read, his characters struggle with religion more than embrace it. If I didn’t know better, I would think Greene was casting a critical eye that direction. He may be, I’m not sure. I mention it here to dispel a notion that you have to be interested in such things to get along with Greene’s more Catholic output. It wasn’t my favorite Greene but it was still a fantastic, touching book.
Evensong by Beverly Nichols
Poor girl goes to live with her aging opera start aunt. I liked a lot about this lighthearted novel but found it kind of tedious about half way through. Nichols is probably best for his garden writing.
A Question of Upbringing by Anthony Powell
I have finally started the sequence of twelve novels that Anthony Powell published between 1951 and 1975 that make up a four-volume “book” collectively known as A Dance to the Music of Time, and count for just ONE of the Modern Library’s list of Top 100 novels of the 20th century. That’s over 3,000 pages that count for only one of those hundred. Although I have heard good things about ADTTMOT over the years and have owned it for almost as long, I have somehow never been able to crack it open. But then I noticed that there was an audio version read by Simon Vance one of my favorite narrators, and thought this might be a way to get myself into it. Worked like a charm. Once the audio version had me hooked I was able to dive right in to the written version. The first novel, as the title alludes, is all about the school days and young adulthood of Jenkins and his school chums. So far it is a bit of a cross between Evelyn Waugh and William Boyd’s A Human Heart (also narrated by Simon Vance). I think this may turn out to be an enjoyable 3,000 pages.