Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Books, by popular demand

Since you asked! John Boyne's House of Special Purpose is a very interesting read. It is the story of a couple, of a nation, of a revolution. It is a love story, a history lesson, a mystery all rolled into one! If you've been to St Petersburg it is a delight, and if you're thinking about going to St Petersburg it will be an inspiration.

We read it for Book Club last year, and I don't much recall the thread of the discussion, but certainly I remember devouring it. I like books set in two time zones, as this is, and I like characters who recall their own actions and motivations, just as they are working out their destiny. I'm coming back to this with Julian Barnes.

If you want what I remember as synopsis: a retired London librarian looks back on his youth in Mother Russia, before, during and after the Revolution, as he travels in and out of hospital to visit his dying wife. He has worked for the Romanovs at the time of their arrest and confinement. Anastasia? Yes, she features! Rasputin? Him too!
We had book club last Friday night, and it was an interesting one. I've talked about All the Beggars Riding here already, but I have to say that what I appreciate about book club, apart from discovering authors I would never have thought to read, is the mellowing that others' experiences bring to your own conclusions. I found Beggars an occasionally frustrating read, but I came away last week with more of an admiration for what Caldwell tries to do in the reconciling of an unhappy past to the possibility of a less hampered future.
I only mention this because last night I finished The Sense of an Ending. I think I could say that I might actually be depressed today. Caldwell seemed to want to re-address a personal history, turn it around and examine it, to fill in the blanks that remain painful to the child left living in the absence of understanding about her past.  Barnes does the opposite?

Here is a man who has let his understanding of his past settle comfortably about him, fitting in with the ideas he needs to maintain his vision of himself. Like Caldwell's book, Sense of an Ending is in two parts. Beggars has one section floundering in the jagged quest for truth, then a second section where the child's mother has a fictional story woven from the possibilities, and this is supposed to free the child to ride aloft, like a beggar given a fine steed. But Barnes has a first section where we read the very plausible memories of a man whose friend committed suicide at university, but then a second section where the man must piece together jagged fragments of discovery to find a wholly different version of his past.

It is a brilliantly skilful book. It is gently and beautifully narrated, but goodness, I had to read it slowly. It is a story to savour and ponder, because like all good literature, it is not the story of one man, but everyman. Certainly everyone who grows older and might see their ages and stages in all their transitory folly. It is a book about history- your history, my history.
If it's uplifting you'd rather have as a summer read- look no further than Harold Fry! Now, Isabelle and I have differing views on this one- do pop over to the erudite place that is In This Life and scroll back to her post on books a few days ago. I didn't think this was so much Pilgrim's Progress as Canterbury Tales- colourful, story-full characters coming and going, but never taking its eyes off the phenomenon of Harold Fry. There is great sadness in this book, so beware if your time is a fragile one, but what I loved and adored was the celebration of the ordinary, small little lives of ordinary, small little people up and down the country who could yet do great good, make significant differences to the greater cause, with a cup of tea or a roll of duct tape.

On holiday reading- last year I took a bag of books away to Cornwall and touched none of them so much had Cornwall touched me. The advantage of that old Kindle is its ability to whisper down tomes like magic, and I have to say I revelled in reading my way across England. Jamaica Inn and Notes from an Exhibition in Cornwall, Children of the New Forest and On Chesil Beach as we drove past Chesil Beach and the New Forest, A Daughter's Tale as we wandered around Chartwell.

So, recommendations, please? Apart from books on the Pre-Raphaelites, lots and lots of Wordsworth, and the Collected Works of Beatrix Potter- what should I be taking to the Lake District?

ps Pom Pom, I'm thinking of having a Cold Comfort Farm blog reading event- what do you think? Or maybe we should just get together and read it ensemble? You have to be wearing green and marching through the countryside.

1 comment:

Fat Dormouse said...

There is a series of murder mysteries set in the Lakes by Martin Edwards ("The Coffin Trail" is one)
"Swallows and Amazons" - of course!!!
"Cue for Treason" by Geoffrey Trease - a children's book to be sure, but still a great historical read. I loved it as a child (and more recently when I read it to our Yr 5s)
and - I've never read it, but it's been recommended - Melvyn Bragg's "Cumbria trilogy"

I hope you enjoy whatever you read.