Wednesday, 12 June 2013
Books, by popular demand
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!
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.
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.