A little bit of everything

Portrait of Evelyn Waugh by Henry Lamb
Portrait of Evelyn Waugh by Henry Lamb

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.

MinotaurMinotaur 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.

17 thoughts on “A little bit of everything

  1. heavenali November 18, 2015 / 2:56 am

    I was underwhelmed by The Heart goes Last I didn’t think it went anywhere.
    Last year I read the whole of Dance to the Music of Time so good! This year it’s been The Forsyte Saga Chronicles.


    • Thomas November 19, 2015 / 7:52 am

      I felt like Atwood rushed the ending and made everything turn out much nicer than I expected from the first part of the book. She gave us a pat ending which she doesn’t really do.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. MarinaSofia November 18, 2015 / 3:03 am

    Minotaur was a strange, intriguing little book, wasn’t it? I’m still not quite sure what to think about it, but I certainly remember it.


    • Thomas November 19, 2015 / 7:54 am

      I was fully aware when I was writing the blurb for Minotaur that I wasn’t coming close to doing it justice. It really is an intriguing book. And it didn’t bother my usual need for linearity, in fact I kind of reveled in the shifting perspective.


  3. lakesidemusing November 18, 2015 / 8:13 am

    A Dance to the Music of Time is narrated by Simon Vance? That may give me the push I need to get started, too. I wonder how many years the first volume has been on my shelf…


    • Thomas November 19, 2015 / 7:59 am

      He really is a great narrator. Like you, I have owned this longer than I can remember and I am not sure I wouldn’t have been able to crack the seal if Simon’s narration hadn’t helped me on my way.


  4. Geoff W November 18, 2015 / 10:00 am

    My thoughts on Atwood exactly. I was concerned I hyped it a bit too much because it was Atwood, but I thoroughly enjoyed the crassness of it compared to some of her higher brow!


    • Thomas November 19, 2015 / 7:59 am

      It made me wonder about people in their 70s (like Atwood) spending that much time thinking about sex.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Geoff W November 19, 2015 / 8:54 am

        Ha! You’d be surprised at the number of research studies about it. I have a friend who studies gerontology and the need for (safe) sex education when it comes to STDs in those communities!


  5. Karen K. November 18, 2015 / 10:11 am

    I have both the complete Waugh stories and the first volume of A Dance to the Music of Time on my TBR shelves, so I’m really encouraged by the favorable reviews. I can only imagine how many discs are in the audio version! Simon Vance is a great narrator so I’ll have to see if I can get my hands on a copy.


    • Thomas November 19, 2015 / 8:01 am

      I think if you start the Waugh stories with the the Mr. Lovejoy story, you will quickly understand the possibilities.


  6. Ruthiella November 18, 2015 / 8:51 pm

    I really loved A Dance to the Music of Time. Maybe better than Brideshead…dunno, it has been a long time since I read Brideshead Revisited and I only read ADTTMOT a couple of years ago.

    I think the wartime trilogy in the series starting with The Valley of the Bones are possibly my favorites, but mostly because I found the last one so moving. I also loved Any Human Heart and I think you are right to recognize echoes of ADTTMOT in that novel.


    • Thomas November 19, 2015 / 8:04 am

      I loved the school days in the first book. I just finished book two this morning and didn’t find it all that interesting. It just seemed like a whole volume on the narrator and Widmerpool trying to get laid–albeit in a very opaque, proper English way. For a little bit I thought I might give up. But now I am ready for book three.

      And you have me very curious to read the war trilogy. I’m guessing that starts with book four?


      • Ruthiella November 24, 2015 / 6:14 pm

        The war time trilogy starts with book 7 actually. So you have a ways to go. The second trilogy is about his 20s and 30s when Nick and his friends begin to grow up, get jobs. marry, etc.


  7. Liz Dexter December 8, 2015 / 8:38 am

    Yay for Dance! I read it along with my husband a few years ago (re-read in my case) and he absolutely LOVED the narrator of the audio book, it made it for him.


  8. Cal December 28, 2015 / 7:58 am

    I thought I had read everything by Beverly Nichols but had never heard of the one you mention, so back to the library for Calvin to find it. His garden books (all dozen of them) are among my favorite British-themed reading memories. So glad he wrote so many! (Not all of them equally excellent, but certainly worth reading.)


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