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Sunday February 28, 2021

Books in February

  • Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo [read by Sean Barrett] BOM-Cockroaches.jpg
    The second of Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series - this time set in Bangkok. Alcoholism still a key feature of Harry's life but he seems to have a motive to stay dry and seems to do so for most of this book. I know these should not be my main thoughts on a book but addictions always worry me - it's just a "thing".
    I listened to quite a lot of it while out walking every day (- lockdown -) and I think I should have given it more proper attention as it's a moderately complicated plot and there are lots of Norwegian and Thai names (I know - sorry... but for me, audio is harder that the written word with names). Anyway, it was excellent, though I need to read a few more to make sure Harry stays safely on the wagon...

  • The Magus by John Fowles [read by Nicholas Boulton] BOM-TheMagus.jpg
    The Magus was published in 1965, but is set in the early 1950s, when Fowles started writing it. For someone of my age, it was almost a cult book. My college tutor was utterly captivated by it, and my sister was similarly fascinated by Fowles (though I think in her case it was mostly The French Lieutenant's Woman).
    I find it hard to review this book because frankly I don't have sufficient writing skills to express my thoughts properly - and so much has been written about it I'm likely to be repeating others (using inferior prose). My tutor said the plot was "like an onion" where you were constantly peeling off more layers as you read. And given the nature of the book, I find it odd to reflect that I have read it at least 3 times in my life, as well as listening to a more recent radio play in 2016. Listening to it read out was a new experience again; it slowed me down, and drew attention to whole episodes I had pretty well forgotten. Partly this was because you (I) are so wrapped up in unravelling the mystery that you (I) mentally skim over anything that is not apparently revealing anything to you (me) towards that end. And here, I remembered a series of theological lectures I attended about 'Myth and Legend', where our Dean said that a truly great book was one you could re-read and it would have something new to reveal to you every time. Now I do not claim that this is a 'great' book in the way the Dean meant it, if for no other reason than Fowles was not very satisfied with it himself. However, it is interesting coming back to it with all those years in between, because it really did seem to have a very different point from the one I took away from it when in my twenties.
    Originally I read about a young male graduate who doesn't really know what he's doing with his life and goes to teach English on a small Greek island, leaving a behind an Australian girl with whom he has been living. From there on he is manipulated emotionally and physically by a mysterious wealthy old man and his accomplices living on the island. They use psychological illusions which become increasingly dark and serious, so that in the end our hero finds it hard to distinguish between fantasy and reality.
    Like many other readers at the time, I thought it was all about his changing, through his experiences, and coming to realise that his original love is "the one", so I was disappointed that there was no specific happy reunion at the end. In fact when asked, Fowles would impishly give different answers to the question "... but what happened in the end..." - and due to the books extreme commercial success, he continued to work on it, publishing a revision with an extended ending to assuage his readership; this new ending still left the question open but those who wanted to could be more optimistic about the love affair rekindling.
    Now I'm no longer in my twenties, I do not see the romance as the main point of the novel. Moreover, the main character is not very likeable, though he is indeed taught some lessons by his experiences. However, one wonders if he is really capable of truly understanding let alone becoming a better human being, and thus I found it less important whether he achieved his final fixation of being reunited with his original love. I read that you cannot help having sympathy for a character when written in the first person, and that this is the difficulty in writing only from that point of view, since he is forced to have a certain degree of intelligence and understanding in order to convey the finer points of the story to the reader - and yet the character himself is written to have no such qualities.
    Finally, as well as (superficially) young women, such as myself, being wrapped up only in the mystery and romance, young men, such as my tutor, were, I believe, wrapped up mostly in the idea of the exquisitely lovely fantasy woman our hero pursues, and were no doubt wholly engaged throughout by the fairly explicit text on love making. [Rather confirmed in a way as my tutor (not in any way shape or form inappropriately...) subsequently suggested I would like the Alexandria Quartet - even gave me his copies I think, which I still possess, unread - though after watching ITV's The Durrells recently it occurred to me that perhaps I should read them.]

  • Dirty Weekend by Helen Zahavi BOM-DirtyWeekend.jpg
    An interesting book from 1991 which is rather graphically violent. Bella ("Brighton Bella" she muses) is refusing to be a victim any more. Instead she morphs into a type of female vigilante.
    The text has a lyrical quality of the same type I observed in Autumn by Ali Smith, (albeit a very different book), where words seem to be satisfying explored with the brain and the tongue. However, mostly - and rather counter to the text - I really enjoyed the setting in Brighton. Here are Bella's thoughts on the West Pier, which many locals might have echoed:
    West Pier is her favourite pier. Her all-time favourite pier. It is first among piers, the pier of piers, a peerless pier. You want to head down to the coast in February. You want to pop down, if you have a moment. You want to see West Pier as it should be seen.
    They've stopped cleaning off the mess the gulls drop, and it stands out white against the grey English sea. It's forlorn and desolate and ravaged, and they want to pull it down. They say it's unsafe. They say it's an eyesore. They say it detracts from the rest of the town.
    Pygmies and philistines.
    It's the town that detracts from the pier.

    [As of now, only a partial metal framework remains.]

  • RedForDanger.jpg Red for Danger
    I experienced the same (patronising) admiration for this suspense thriller from 1954, as I did when listening to the Peter Coke/Marjory Westbury Paul Temple adaptations. As I said then, we - or I - tend to forget that fifties Radio plays were produced with great skill and realism - albeit that the realism is overlaid with slight over dramatisation in keeping with the time (and some actors are better than others). The script is good - but then is is written by Edward J Mason of Dick Barton and The Archers fame - and the conversations come across as very natural, especially considering the (fairly) preposterous plot involving a secret formula for a metal alloy, and foreign spies.
    The hero is a jeweller by trade (although it sounds as though he's a gentleman sleuth who has had other adventures). While attending a birthday party, his hostess (Red) convinces him she is in danger... Cue the music...
    Stars Ysanne Churchman. Anne Cullen, Arnold Peters, Bernard Rebel, Dudley Rolph, Gerik Schelderup, June Spencer and Peter Wilde; written by Edward J Mason, and produced by Philip Garston-Jones.
    Edward J Mason is a name particularly memorable for me as he created a number of panel game shows with producer Tony Shryane, including My Word!, (and My Music), which I used to listen to secretly in bed at night after I was given my own transistor radio (with an earpiece) aged about 10.

Posted by Christina at 6:13 PM. Category: Books of the Month


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