BrokenTune

Reviews & Rants - Blogging about books, authors, and generally 

The Burma Spring

The Burma Spring: Aung San Suu Kyi and the New Struggle for the Soul of a Nation - Rena Pederson

DNF @ 20%

 

This book isn't for me. 

 

I've read 20% and two things are clear to me:

 

1. This is a biography by an admirer of Aung San Suu Kyi's who seems to have fallen into the trap of lining up one sugar-coated cliche after another; and 

 

2. There has been little critical analysis of the subject so far, and skimming through the rest of the book, there doesn't seem to be much later on either.

 

It may be that the books publication preceded much of the more recent criticism of Aung San Suu Kyi with respect to her condoning violence against a muslim minority in Myanmar/Burma, but the tone of the book is a little too enthusiastic for me.

 

Saying that, Pederson does give a good historical account of Aung San Suu Kyi's life and her involvement in politics.

#Follow a Newbie (or any blog with few followers....really)

Reblogged from BrokenTune :

Hi,

 

I'm just sharing this again as there seem to have been a number of new members to the BookLikes community.

 

Because it isn't easy to find people / blogs to follow and interact with on BookLikes, some BLikers set up a few open discussion groups some time ago where people can drop in say hello or tell others about new blogs they have found. 

 

The Groups are located in :

 

Find New Booklikes Blogs To Follow

 

There has been quite a bit of activity there recently, so I thought it would be worth letting people know.

 

Happy reading!

 

BT

 

OHMSS: Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 259 pages.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Ian Fleming

I am a tiny bit excited. 

 

This is the book in the Bond series that I have been looking forward to the most, and now finally, we have reached the stage in the Buddy Read where this book is next.

 

In celebration of finally getting to read On Her Majesty's Secret Services, I have cleared my currently reading shelf, which in itself is a first!

 

I hope the book lives up to my expectations. No, sorry, let me rephrase in view of my previous Bond experience...

 

I hope the book is not crap. I hope the book is not crap. Please book, DO NOT BE CRAP.

 

Treffpunkt im Unendlichen

Treffpunkt im Unendlichen. - Klaus Mann

The more of Klaus Mann's work I read, the more of a fan I become. 

 

It took me a while to read Treffpunkt im Unendlichen not because I the book wasn't good, but because I needed to get rid of some other distractions to spend time sinking into the book. Luckily, I have finally had that lazy Sunday that enabled me to do that. 

 

There is not much of a plot to the book. It is the story of a group of young friends who start their own lives and careers in the late 1920s / early 1930s Berlin and all the entanglements that this brings - Treffpunkt im Unendlichen is as much an account of the Lost Generation as Fitzgerald's stories, tho I by far prefer Mann's. 

In contrast to Fitzgerald, Mann does not hold back on the descriptions of the full range of emotional sensations, not does he spare the details of the seedier side of life - prostitution, drug abuse, suicide, cruelty. Not that his books are dwelling on these themes, but they are present. Where Fitzgerald always caused me to revel in the descriptions of the age but wanting to slap his whiny characters, Mann's characters are much less self-absorbed and create a sense of community on the page that makes it easy to join in, even if this community is dysfunctional.

The dysfunction and doom do not come across as dramatic devices, either. Rather the fates of Mann's characters are mere observations of what happened to people around him, chronicles of the forgotten, the lost of the Lost Generation. There is some realism in this book that surpasses the descriptions of bright city lights, cosmopolitanism, parties, cabarets. There is a sense of foreboding. There is a sense of uncertainty. Most of all there is a sense of how differently people are affected by the ever-changing demands of the world around them, and how at the end of the day each person has to find a way to cope that works for them, because community can be marred by unreliability.  

 

I loved it. 

 

P.S. If people were upset by Mann's depiction of Gustaf Gruendgens in his celebrated work Mephisto, they clearly haven't read this one. The character of Gregor seems to be a blueprint of the character that Henrik Hoefgen in Mephisto was going to be. 

 

P.P.S. I deliberately do not make comparisons to Hemingway. Hemingway's characters (and maybe the man himself) had the emotional range and empathy of a block of wood. In my view, he's just pretty overrated. 

 

P.P.S. I don't know if Treffpunkt im Unendlichen was ever translated other than into Danish (when it was published in 1932), but the title is an interesting choice - I would translate it as "meeting point in infinity", although I have seen people describe it as "rendesvous in eternity". Part of the point of the characters experience is that they long to find someone that they can be one with, but it is not clear whether this is possible or whether are forever existing as separate entities living in parallel with others. But there is some hope that these parallels will cross or "meet" at some point.

 

Interestingly, this seems to be a point that Carson McCullers seems to take up in her work, too. (McCullers knew Mann, and his sister, and their friends.) It was interesting to see the parallels (ha!) between both writers, but of course I could not say whether McCullers drew any inspiration from Mann's work (even tho she was decidedly close to a mutual friend).

 

 

(Erika Mann, Klaus Mann, Pamela Wedekind, Gustav Grundgens - all of whom are reflected in Mann's characters) 

Mrs. McGinty's Dead

Mrs. McGinty's Dead - Agatha Christie

‘I should, perhaps, madame, tell you a little more about myself. I am Hercule Poirot.’

The revelation left Mrs Summerhayes unmoved.

‘What a lovely name,’ she said kindly. ‘Greek, isn’t it?’

Now this is a Poirot novel that strays from the script a bit. It's fascinating but there seem to be three parts to this novel and the crime/mystery part is the weakest one. Yet, I really liked the book because first and foremost, Christie made me laugh out loud quite a few times. 

 

Eh bien, let's start with the weakest part - the crime/mystery:

 

So, Mrs. McGinty is found dead and her lodger has been arrested, is standing trial, and will probably be sentenced to hang, but ... Superintendent Spence is having doubts and is consulting an old acquaintance to have a look at the case.

‘I don’t know what you’ll go there as,’ continued Spence doubtfully as he eyed Poirot. ‘You might be some kind of an opera singer. Voice broken down. Got to rest. That might do.’

‘I shall go,’ said Hercule Poirot, speaking with accents of royal blood, ‘as myself.’

Spence received this pronouncement with pursed lips. ‘D’you think that’s advisable?’

From there on, the typical sleuthing adventure ensues, except that there are a lot - and I do mean way too many - characters that are part of the investigation, a few red herrings, Ariadne Oliver - whose involvement in the book has less to do with the plot (I'll get to that later) -, and an ending that seems to have been rather far-fetched. 

 

In fact, by the time the mystery was resolved, I had kinda lost interest in the whodunit part and really enjoyed the characters interacting with each other. 

 

This book is really not about the mystery, which, in my opinion, was rather sub-par. No rather, the book seems to have been a self-reverential celebration of all things Poirot. And this may or may not be to readers tastes. I quite liked it in this case.

 

We have a lot of details about Poirot himself:

In his early days, he had seen plenty of crude brutality. It had been more the rule than the exception. He found it fatiguing, and unintelligent.

---

My work has enslaved me just as their work enslaves them. When the hour of leisure arrives, they have nothing with which to fill their leisure.

We have a couple of tips of the hat to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which was published 25(!) years before Mrs. McGintys Dead, when Poirot discussed gardening with Spence: 

Me, once I decided to live in the country and grow vegetable marrows. It did not succeed. I have not the temperament.’

In many of the details that describe Poirot in this book, Christie seems to take a retrospective stance, It serves as a celebration of his previous adventures, but I also could not help feeling that Christie took the opportunity to have some fun herself and poke her famous character at every opportunity. Not only, does she send Poirot to the country - and we all know how much Poirot hates the country -

It’s not really a Guest House, just a rather decrepit country house where the young couple who own it take in paying guests. I don’t think,’ said Spence dubiously, ‘that it’s very comfortable.’

Hercule Poirot closed his eyes in agony. ‘If I suffer, I suffer,’ he said. ‘It has to be.’

And Christie makes sure of it his suffering. This was one of my favourite parts and I am sure anyone who has ever been exasperated by Poirot's eccentricities would chuckle about the following scene of Poirot taking up lodgings at a country inn:

The room was large, and had a faded Morris wall-paper. Steel engravings of unpleasant subjects hung crookedly on the walls with one or two good oil paintings. The chair-covers were both faded and dirty, the carpet had holes in it and had never been of a pleasant design. A good deal of miscellaneous bric-à-brac was scattered haphazard here and there. Tables rocked dangerously owing to absence of castors. One window was open, and no power on earth could, apparently, shut it again. The door, temporarily shut, was not likely to remain so. The latch did not hold, and with every gust of wind it burst open and whirling gusts of cold wind eddied round the room.

 

‘I suffer,’ said Hercule Poirot to himself in acute self-pity. ‘Yes, I suffer.’

 

The door burst open and the wind and Mrs Summerhayes came in together. She looked round the room, shouted ‘What?’ to someone in the distance and went out again.

Mrs Summerhayes had red hair and an attractively freckled face and was usually in a distracted state of putting things down, or else looking for them.

Hercule Poirot sprang to his feet and shut the door.

A moment or two later it opened again and Mrs Summerhayes reappeared. This time she was carrying a large enamel basin and a knife.

 

A man’s voice from some way away called out: ‘Maureen, that cat’s been sick again. What shall I do?’

Mrs Summerhayes called: ‘I’m coming, darling. Hold everything.’ She dropped the basin and the knife and went out again.

Poirot got up again and shut the door. He said: ‘Decidedly, I suffer.’

As I said I really enjoyed this part of the story but I did keep wondering why Christie took to treating Poirot in such a way. Was it to celebrate him or was she falling out with him as a character that had become so famous that he had a life of his own - just as Arthur Conan Doyle fell out with Holmes?

 

Which brings me to the third part - Ariadne Oliver. Ariadne is basically Christie's way of injecting a fictionalised version of herself into the Poirot stories, and in this one Ariadne enters the scene - nearly knocking Poirot over with her car - and spends a lot of time agonising over how her own fictional creation - Sven Hjerson - is being changed inappropriately by theatre and film producers. 

Robin continued blithely: ‘What I feel is, here’s that wonderful young man, parachuted down—’

Mrs Oliver interrupted: ‘He’s sixty.’

‘Oh no!’

‘He is.’

‘I don’t see him like that. Thirty-five— not a day older.’

‘But I’ve been writing books about him for thirty years, and he was at least thirty-five in the first one.’

‘But, darling, if he’s sixty, you can’t have the tension between him and the girl— what’s her name? Ingrid. I mean, it would make him just a nasty old man!’

‘It certainly would.’

‘So you see, he must be thirty-five,’ said Robin triumphantly.

‘Then he can’t be Sven Hjerson. Just make him a Norwegian young man who’s in the Resistance Movement.’

‘But darling Ariadne, the whole point of the play is Sven Hjerson. You’ve got an enormous public who simply adore Sven Hjerson, and who’ll flock to see Sven Hjerson. He’s box office, darling!’

Yeah, I can see Christie having exactly this sort of conversation with agents and producers about Poirot and Marple, and I can see Christie using this particular book as a dig at people trying to exploit her characters. And given the resolution of the plot, what a dig this is!!! If only it had deterred her estate to employ Charles Osborne to adapt her plays as novels!

 

So, while the mystery plot is rather mediocre, the context this novel provides for Poirot as a character that has developed a public persona outside of the books is just marvelous.

 

 

Two Serious Ladies

Two Serious Ladies - Jane Bowles

 

She was suffering as much as she had ever suffered before, because she was going to do what she wanted to do. But it would not make her happy. She did not have the courage to stop from doing what she wanted to do. She knew that it would not make her happy, because only the dreams of crazy people come true. She thought that she was only interested in duplicating a dream, but in doing so she necessarily became the complete victim of a nightmare.

Well, that was a rambling gallop through the litany of first world problems faced by the bored if ever there was one.

 

Did this book have shock value when it was first published?

 

This nearly ended up being the first DNF of 2017, and part of me wish it had been. 

In the Shadow of Islam & The Oblivion Seekers

In the Shadow of Islam - Isabelle Eberhardt The Oblivion Seekers (Peter Owen Modern Classics) - Isabelle Eberhardt

In the Shadow of Islam & The Oblivion Seekers are both collections of writing by another lady travel writer that I have encountered - Isabelle Eberhard. 

 

Never heard of her? I had not either, but a quick look at her biography ensures that I will look at a more in-depth biography about her.

"ISABELLE EBERHARDT (1877–1904) was born in Geneva, the illegitimate daughter of a former Russian Orthodox priest and a part-Russian, part-German aristocratic mother. Her father was an anarchist and nihilist who was to convert to Islam, and his daughter’s life was to take similar dramatic turns before her tragically early death at the age of twenty-seven. Increasingly isolated from her family and her inheritance, she was plagued by emotional and financial problems, but she had a fierce will. From an early age she dressed as a man for the greater freedom this allowed, and she developed a literary talent and a gift for languages, including Arabic. Like her father Eberhardt became drawn to Islam. She converted while in Algeria with her mother. After her mother’s death she cut all ties with her family, called herself Si Mahmoud Essadi and travelled throughout North Africa. She became involved with Qadiriyya Sufi order, married an Algerian soldier, worked as a war reporter, helped the poor and needy and fought against the injustices of French colonial rule. She was also the victim of an assassination attempt but later successfully pleaded for the life of the man who attacked her. She openly rejected conventional European morality of the time, preferring to choose her own path, and drank alcohol, smoked marijuana and had numerous affairs. She died in a flash flood in Aïn Séfra, Algeria, in 1904."

 

Eberhardt, Isabelle. In The Shadow of Islam (Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 25-32). Peter Owen Publishers. Kindle Edition. 

In both collectoins, In the Shadow of Islam & The Oblivion Seekers, Eberhardt describes life in norther Africa, Algeria to be precise, from the point of someone actually living with the people at around 1900. She doesn't cling to any European perspectives she may hold and gives a voice to the people she encounters, their believes, their customs, their reasoning. She describes tribal rivalries, domestic issues, love, slavery, hardship, wealth - all of which seems to have its place in her settings. The stories are not  connected and aren't really stories either. Rather they are vignettes of observations or conversations mixed with stories. 

 

Because Eberhardt does not give the account from the perspective of a European traveller, but of someone who is searching for her own self, she does not judge. or at least, she pretends not to judge.

 

The stories truly are interesting. However, her writing is - lyrical as it is - does at times come across as too stylised to be a true account of her observations. Some poetic licence was no doubt at play.

 

When looking at both collections separately, In the Shadow of Islam is a better book. It contains one or two stories that are also in The Oblivion Seekers but I found the translation of the stories in In the Shadow of Islam to have a much better flow.

 

In a way this is surprising because The Oblivion Seekers has gathered more praise on account of the translation by Paul Bowles, which in my opinion is not warranted. I found Bowles' translation hard to read. 

 

In the Shadow of Islam - 3.5*

The Oblivion Seekers - 2.5*

 

 

 

‘I don’t care if I dress as a workman, but to wear ill-fitting, cheap and ridiculous women’s clothes, no, never...’

 

-- Isabelle Eberhardt

The Woman in White

The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

At the ripe age of sixty, I make this unparalleled confession. Youths! I invoke your sympathy. Maidens! I claim your tears. 

So finally, finally I got around to reading the classic that is The Woman in White. Many thanks to Murder by Death for being my reading buddy. It certainly helped me to sustain momentum at the end.

 

About the book, I am so glad I read it. I didn't love it, but I fully acknowledge that it is a remarkable book and, its time, must have caused quite a stir. 

I loved the narration from several points of view - basically, every character got their say at one point. Even a grave stone got a paragraph to tell part of the story!

 

I loved the plot and the twists - but I won't go into them because, erm, spoilers and such - even tho I already had a good idea of where the plot was going to go.

 

I loved that there was such a mix of characters. From the courageous, to the devious, to the whiny, to the downright pathetic. And no, the "hero" of the piece was not necessarily the best character.

 

In fact, Walter Hartwright was such an annoying, whiny, lovesick puppy for the first part of the book that I felt some great relief when another character took over the narration.

Luckily, Walter improved later in the book. (Although, he remained a condescending git.) 

 

The second main character, Laura, was no better. If there was a quote to describe her, this would be my pick:

"I am so useless— I am such a burden on both of you," she answered, with a weary, hopeless sigh. "You work and get money, Walter, and Marian helps you. Why is there nothing I can do? You will end in liking Marian better than you like me— you will, because I am so helpless! Oh, don't, don't, don't treat me like a child!"

Luckily, Laura is absent for much of the book because.....ahaha....it's a mystery.

 

Btw, Murder by Death and I had the same edition of the book - a 1967/8 faux leather Heron Books (London) edition from the Literary Heritage Collection, and I have to say this was a fabulous way to read this book - because....pictures:

 

 

 

 

No, my favourite character of this book was Marian Halcombe, whom Walter (the main character) describes as follows on their first encounter:

The easy elegance of every movement of her limbs and body as soon as she began to advance from the far end of the room, set me in a flutter of expectation to see her face clearly. She left the window— and I said to myself, The lady is dark. She moved forward a few steps— and I said to myself, The lady is young.

She approached nearer— and I said to myself (with a sense of surprise which words fail me to express), The lady is ugly!

Never was the old conventional maxim, that Nature cannot err, more flatly contradicted— never was the fair promise of a lovely figure more strangely and startlingly belied by the face and head that crowned it. The lady's complexion was almost swarthy, and the dark down on her upper lip was almost a moustache.

She had a large, firm, masculine mouth and jaw; prominent, piercing, resolute brown eyes; and thick, coal-black hair, growing unusually low down on her forehead. Her expression— bright, frank, and intelligent— appeared, while she was silent, to be altogether wanting in those feminine attractions of gentleness and pliability, without which the beauty of the handsomest woman alive is beauty incomplete.

Well, as I said, Walter was a bit of a git. However, this is one of the examples in the book that shows how Collins set out his narratives and that he did to include humor, even if it was kinda shallow. 

 

Some of us rush through life, and some of us saunter through life. Mrs. Vesey SAT through life.

All of this was very well. Good writing, a well laid out plot, a romantic element, experimental writing (for its time), fascinating characters, ...

So, why did The Woman in White not sweep me off my feet?

 

I guess the simple answer to this is that the story dragged. A LOT. I'm at a loss to see why we needed to read the Third Epoch, other than this having being printed as a serial originally and Collins obviously kept the story going for a paycheck.

 

Had he cut some of the overly detailed explanations at the end I would have enjoyed this much, much more. Alas, he didn't. Just could not come to the point, which reminded me of all the things that were so annoying about Walter in the beginning of the book - it took him ages to come to a conclusion about his feelings that were just so obvious:

I loved her. Ah! how well I know all the sadness and all the mockery that is contained in those three words. I can sigh over my mournful confession with the tenderest woman who reads it and pities me. I can laugh at it as bitterly as the hardest man who tosses it from him in contempt. I loved her! Feel for me, or despise me, I confess it with the same immovable resolution to own the truth.

 

No shit, Sherlock.

 

Metropolis

Metropolis - Eddie Vega, Thea von Harbou

Dieses Buch ist kein Gegenwartsbild. Dieses Buch ist kein Zukunftsbild. Dieses Buch spielt nirgendwo. Dieses Buch dient keiner Tendenz, keiner Klasse, keiner Partei. Dieses Buch ist ein Geschehen, das sich um eine Erkenntnis rankt: Mittler zwischen Hirn und Händen muß das Herz sein. —Thea von Harbou

This book is not of today. This book is not of the future. It tells of no place. It serves no cause, class or party. This book is a story which grows on the understanding that: "The mediator between brain and muscle must be the Heart." —Thea von Harbou

Inspired by Troy's posts on all things Metropolis, I finally managed to watch the film and read the book by Fritz Lang's wife Thea von Harbou. Unlike some of her other novels, Metropolis actually did not start as a script but was published 1925, before the film was made. 

 

It is of course nearly impossible to read the book without being reminded of the imagery of the film. Even tho I had not seen the film before I read the book, the images from the film have permeated western culture so much that I would wager that only few people have not been exposed to them - be it through music videos, films, design...

 

 

Back to the book. I really enjoyed it. It was not perfect. It had some issues, but they were not able to spoil the story or the imagination, or the language. 

I cannot put my finger on it but this was a book where I had to read out passages aloud because the writing was so dramatic that I had to hear it. (Btw, I read the German original and cannot speak for the English - or any other - translation on this.)

 

With other books, the overly dramatic writing would have caused me to dislike the book, but for Metropolis - whose story and imagery (even in the book) is based on the constant struggle between extremes (like the "head" v "hand", the "above" v "below", "man" v "machine", etc.) - it worked. 

 

The second aspect I really enjoyed was the use of different pieces of mythology that are woven into the story. We get medieval chivalry, biblical, references, Hindu mythology (there are references to deities like Ganesha), Norse mythology - one of the characters who set off the plot is "Hel"! (bodes well, doesn't it?) - Greek mythology, and so much more. While the message is rather general, the symbolism is so strong in this one that it felt like a puzzle at times, which was highly entertaining.

 

There are some aspects, however, which were challenging in the book, which the film (and I cannot praise the film high enough) overcame: At times the book drags, and there are some scenes that don't really make sense (like what was up with Josaphat and the plane???). As a result, some parts of the book take a bit work (yes, actual work) to get through them to get to the somewhat vague message that is already given to us on page one. 

Also, there is this one dream scene in the book that is so obscure that it made little sense without the visual aid of the film, even though the text does not withhold any information about the significance of the scene. It just really works better in the film, but this is why von Harbou was better known for her screenwriting than for her novels. 

"The crown rested on the head of a woman. And the woman was sitting upon a scarlet-coloured beast, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet and decked with gold, precious stones and pearls. She had in her hand a golden cup. On the crowned brow of the woman there stood, mysteriously written: Babylon."

"Like a deity, she grew up and radiated. Death and the seven Deadly Sins bowed low before her."

"And the woman who bore the name Babylon had the features of Maria, whom I loved… "

"The woman arose. She touched the cross-arched vault of the lofty cathedral with her crown. She seized the hem of her cloak and opened it. And spread out her cloak with both hands… Then one saw that the golden cloak was embroidered with the images of manifold demons. Beings with women's bodies and snakes' heads— beings half bull, half angel— devils adorned with crowns, human faced lions."

In the film, this translated into one of the scenes I loved best for its expressionist features, when the danse macabre ensues within the club reserved for the elite of Metropolis, when the re-imagined Hel (in a manner of a stylised dance) unleashes her evil onto onlookers...

 

Dancing Lady anyone?

 

A Tag! A Tag! (Reading Habits Tag)

Many thanks to Spooky's House of Books for creating the first fun tag of 2017 and to Booklikes for highlighting it. 

 

So, while there seems to be some speed to the website, here's mine...

 

1: Do you have a certain place in your home for reading:

Yes, two really: a comfortable armchair and my bedroom.

 

2: Bookmark or random piece of paper? 

Probably more piece of paper. I like paper bookmarks but I usually use train tickets, boarding passes, admission tickets, etc. That way they serve as both reminders of past adventures and "rest stops" for new adventures (even if they are bookish ones).

 

3:Can you  just stop reading or do you have to stop read after a chapter / certain number of pages:

I prefer a stopping point that is natural in the book. This may be a chapter ending or a part in the narrative that just seems to work. I can stop anywhere if pressed, tho. 

 

4:Do you eat or drink while read:

I usually stick to drinks rather than food.

Tea, coffee, water usually. How chocolate if the story or reading environment lends itself to it. 

Some books, however, require wine (or even hard liquor) ... These have, thankfully, been rare, tho. 

 

5: multitasking: music or TV while reading: 

Music sometimes. It can enhance the atmosphere of the book. I once read Ishiguro's When We Were Orphans while listening to a radio programme on the BBC that was all about music of the '40s. It was perfect. 

 

6:one book at a time or several at once:

I might try to stick to one book at a time, but that rarely happens. I need to be able to switch between different books to serve different moods.

 

7: reading at home or everywhere:

Anywhere.

 

8: reading out loud or silently in your head:

Silently unless it is poetry or written in such a way that needs to be red aloud.  

 

9:Do you read ahead or even skip pages:

Never in books I enjoy. reading ahead or skimming (never skipping) usually only happens when I don't enjoy the book at all. 

 

10:Barking the spine or keeping it like new:

Depends on the book. If it is a treasured edition or book that I borrowed from someone, then I will take care to keep it like new. 

 

11:Do you write in your books: 

Sometimes, but only when I am moved to mark important parts. It is always a struggle to justify writing in the book, tho, which is why I love, love, love the highlight and comment function on my kindle.

I must admit, I really enjoy reading the notes of previous readers in secondhand books, tho.

The Spy Who Loved Me

The Spy Who Loved Me - Ian Fleming

I WAS RUNNING away. I was running away from England, from my childhood, from the winter, from a sequence of untidy, unattractive love-affairs, from the few sticks of furniture and jumble of overworn clothes that my London life had collected around me; and I was running away from drabness, fustiness, snobbery, the claustrophobia of close horizons and from my inability, although I am quite an attractive rat, to make headway in the rat-race. In fact, I was running away from almost everything except the law.

That is not a bad start for a book, is it? It's intriguing. It tells of a backstory that is about to be revealed, and it foreshadows whatever else is going to happen whilst the character is on the run. 

 

To be honest, when I started the book, I was really looking forward to reading this. Not just because it was the beginning of another fun buddy read, but also because I had not read The Spy Who Loved Me before. I knew the film, of course, but the film, I was advised, bears no resemblance to the book. Not even close. So, after a few decent Bond stories that followed the abysmally bad From Russia With Love, I thought Fleming had maybe found his template. That maybe From Russia With Love was him scraping the bottom of the barrel, and that surely ANY other book had to be better.

 

Well, I was wrong. I was so wrong. 

 

Also, when reviewing that hot mess that is From Russia With Love, I did mention that it would have been helpful if Fleming had provided a bit more insight into the internal monologue of the books female lead. Yes, I bemoaned that Fleming did not write any part from the female perspective. 

 

Well, folks, it goes to show that I should be careful what I wish for because Fleming did exactly that in The Spy Who Loved Me, and it does not work. What Fleming gives us is Viv, a young Canadian whom we again learn very little about other than she's been in some seriously messed up relationships. Yes, Fleming defines her through the relationships she's been in, mostly being taken advantage of.

What doesn't work about this is that Viv's own account is just dripping with Fleming's misogyny. At one point, he has her describe an abortion as follows:

It was as mentally distressing but as physically painless as I had expected, and three days later I was back in my hotel.

That is all Fleming has Viv say about it. Doesn't sound convincing, does it. 

 

Fleming tries to sell her history as a tough backstory and which is supposed to set Viv up for a resolution to stop being a push-over, be more confident, and not be groped at every turn.

Well, that was the end of that! From now on I would take and not give. The world had shown me its teeth. I would show mine. I had been wet behind the ears. Now I was dry. I stuck my chin out like a good little Canadian (well, a fairly good little Canadian!), and having learnt to take it, decided for a change to dish it out.

So, Viv ends up "on the run" in rural New York, stuck in a short-term motel job, where again she first falls prey to the husband of the owner and then ends up being held for five hours by two thugs who beat her up and threaten her with rape every five minutes. And for a large chunk of the book, this is all the plot there is. Until Bond turns up and saves the day, upon which Bond claims Viv as his reward. 

 

Let's recap: Viv had just undergone severe beatings, rape and death threats, and the one thing on Bond's mind is to have sex with her.

 

The idiotic thing - well, another one, is that Viv, who previously had resolved to escape from abusive relationships, feels she had to go along with Bond's request.

But I knew in my heart that I had to. He would go on alone and I would have to, too. No woman had ever held this man. None ever would. He was a solitary, a man who walked alone and kept his heart to himself. He would hate involvement. I sighed. All right. I would play it that way. I would let him go. I wouldn’t cry when he did. Not even afterwards. Wasn’t I the girl who had decided to operate without a heart? Silly idiot! Silly, infatuated goose! This was a fine time to maunder like a girl in a woman’s magazine! I shook my head angrily and went into the bedroom and got on with what I had to do.

WTF??? Why???

 

This is the point in the book when I no longer asked myself if Fleming lost his mind, but whether he had one in the first place. 

And as if this wasn't sick enough, it actually got worse:

I think I know why I gave myself so completely to this man, how I was capable of it with someone I had met only six hours before. Apart from the excitement of his looks, his authority, his maleness, he had come from nowhere, like the prince in the fairy tales, and he had saved me from the dragon. But for him, I would now be dead, after suffering God knows what before. He could have changed the wheel on his car and gone off, or, when danger came, he could have saved his own skin. But he had fought for my life as if it had been his own. And then, when the dragon was dead, he had taken me as his reward. In a few hours, I knew, he would be gone – without protestations of love, without apologies or excuses. And that would be the end of that – gone, finished. All women love semi-rape. They love to be taken. It was his sweet brutality against my bruised body that had made his act of love so piercingly wonderful.

Seriously, what utter bullshit! I have not felt so nauseated and enraged by a book since

From Russia With Love. I had hoped Fleming got his act together in the books that followed, but clearly he was a leopard that could not change his spots, which is a shame because the premise of the book was great. It is just that a misogynist dumbass writing from a point of view he has no interest in understanding or even exploring will inevitably end up with a book full of misogynist dumbassery.

 

Avoid at all costs.

The Crime Writer

The Crime Writer - Jill Dawson

As some of you may know, I've been reading more books by and about Patricia Highsmith over the past year, so when The Crime Writer crossed my path - Thank you, Tigus! - I had to give it a try.

 

In the book, Jill Dawson uses Patricia Highsmith as the lead character. Dawson thoroughly researched Highsmith's life and work, which - from what I gather - makes for a believable character in the book, although of course we will never know as Highsmith herself was a bit of a recluse (by her own choice) and a bit of a mystery. All this adds to the credibility of Dawson's imagined character of Pat.

 

As for the story, it describes Pat withdrawing to the English countryside, trying to work away from the distractions of her fans and her family.

During her stay, she seemed to be pursued by a stalker and by a journalist, whose motives are not clear. Is she being investigated? Is her clandestine relationship with a married woman being put at risk of discovery? Are all of these things connected? 

 

In time, Pat is entangled in a web of intrigue and concealment. 

 

It's an engaging enough plot, and my only criticisms are these: 

 

1. Part of the plot strongly reminded me of Sarah Waters The Paying Guests, which I actually enjoyed but it did take away some of the plot development.

 

2. Although this is a fictional account, some of the plot hinges on actual facts in Highsmith's own life, and as such I could not help but notice a couple of anachronisms. The most, to me, irritating of which is in connection with Highsmith's book The Price of Salt (later re-published as Carol). Highsmith published the book under a pseudonym, and it was not widely known (according to Andrew Wilson's biography Beautiful Shadow) until much later than when The Crime Writer is set. Accoding to Wilson's biography, which is largely based on Highsmith's own diaries and records, Highsmith was not aware that anyone (other than her immediate family and her publisher) knew she had written The Price of Salt until the 70s after a neighbour of her mother's tried to discuss the book with her. Officially, Highsmith only acknowledged the book at the time of its re-publication in 1990. So, the developments in Dawson's story which involved The Price of Salt  threw me a little.

 

All in all, however, The Crime Writer was an enjoyable way to re-imagine one of the most puzzling and contradictory writers I like to ponder about.

The Spy Who Loved Me: Reading progress update: I've read 49 out of 164 pages.

The Spy Who Loved Me - Ian Fleming

I'm currently googling where I can find some brain bleach at this time of night and whether they deliver!

I have a feeling this is going to be as horrible as From Russia With Love.

Gads min. If this weren't a buddy read again, I'd bail.

Crow: From the Life and the Songs of the Crow

Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow - Ted Hughes

Hey Crow,

 

With all your self-obsessed aloofness,

your lack of empathy and whimsy,

you're a misrepresentation of all crows.

 

Yours,

Pigeon

 

 

Ah, well, it was only a matter of time before I crossed paths with Ted Hughes' work. Let's just say that just because something is clever, and Hughes' work is CLEVER, it doesn't mean it captures my heart? That is not its aim. Imagination? Definitely not. Interest? No, not that either.

 

Well, maybe with one exception:


Crow’s Account of the Battle

The cartridges were banging off, as planned,
The fingers were keeping things going
According to excitement and orders.
The unhurt eyes were full of deadliness.
The bullets pursued their courses
Through clods of stone, earth, and skin,
Through intestines pocket-books, brains, hair, teeth
According to Universal laws
And mouths cried "Mamma"
From sudden traps of calculus,
Theorems wrenched men in two,
Shock-severed eyes watched blood
Squandering as from a drain-pipe
Into the blanks between the stars.
Faces slammed down into clay
As for the making of a life-mask
Knew that even on the sun's surface
They could not be learning more or more to the point
Reality was giving it's lesson,
Its mishmash of scripture and physics,
With here, brains in hands, for example,
And there, legs in a treetop.
There was no escape except into death.
And still it went on--it outlasted
Many prayers, many a proved watch
Many bodies in excellent trim,
Till the explosives ran out
And sheer weariness supervened
And what was left looked round at what was left.

Thunderball

Thunderball - Ian Fleming

"This is a silly plan. This is the sort of melodramatic nonsense people write about in thrillers."

....and that criticism straight out of the mouth of the "bond girl" in this installment is probably one of my favourite lines in the series so far. Whoever said they were all shallow?!

 

In fact, Domino is another kick-ass leading lady, who first stumps Bond with her driving skills - yeah, between Domino, Ms. Galore, and  Tilly Masterton, Bond may have a thing for women drivers -, calls him out on bullshit, engages with him on her own terms, and finally saves his hide.

 

Of course, Bond is still Bond, and the sexist, chauvinist comments are there (in abundance) throughout the book, but one wouldn't set out to read a Bond novel without a bucket of salt at hand, and this one is nowhere near as horrible as other Bond novels. However, the story is still a bit tepid - bad guys steal nuclear war heads and threaten the world. I'm sure this was thrilling stuff in 1961 when the book was written, but it has worn off a bit since. And if it weren't  for the "nerdy" tid bits like M's opinions about processed food, the technical details about the Polaris missiles, and the descriptions in the book of everything that surrounds the plot - i.e. the development of characters, the depiction of fight scenes, the dialogues, the sea life are just great - the book would be utterly forgettable.

 

I mean, I must have watched Thunderball about a gazillion times since I was a kid and I still couldn't say what the film was about. It took reading the book twice - most recently as part of the Bond Buddy Read with Troy - to take in that Fleming describes SPECTRE as a well-functioning corporation, to recognise that he set up Blofeld as this puppeteer that pulls the strings behind the scenes rather than engaging with Bond one on one (even tho this will come later in the series).

 

What was interesting on this latest read was how ridiculous the whole premise of the threat of nuclear missiles being stolen is in the context of the ongoing Cold War at the time the book is set. The unquestioned premise of Bond being on the side of right, stepping in to return the missiles to one of the sides rather than to allow a profit-oriented organisation to hold the world at ransom, shows why Bond novels are first and foremost adventure stories. Fleming does not question whether Bond's missions have a moral justification. Or whether there are any doubts about the point of propagating that the nuclear arms race kept the world at peace.

 

Unfortunately, we don't get to know in the Bond novels whether Fleming believed this. We only get the boys own adventure story. 

Dame Agatha - Reading List Update

Update - Jan. 2017: 28 of 66 books read. Looking forward to more.

 

Update - Jun. 2016: A few more of the reads and re-reads taken off the list.

 

Update - Dec. 2015: I'll repost this every now and then to keep track of titles and reviews.

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I have read most of Dame Agatha's books in my teens (though mostly in translation) but as am in the process of a re-read, I need a list to keep me right. 

 


Year
published
Title Detectives
1920 The Mysterious Affair at Styles Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings, Inspector Japp
1922 The Secret Adversary Tommy and Tuppence
1923 The Murder on the Links Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings, Monsieur Giraud
1924 The Man in the Brown Suit Colonel Race
Anne Beddingfeld
1925 The Secret of Chimneys Superintendent Battle
Anthony Cade
1926 The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Hercule Poirot
Inspector Raglan
1927 The Big Four Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings, Inspector Japp
1928 The Mystery of the Blue Train Hercule Poirot
1929 The Seven Dials Mystery Superintendent Battle
Eileen "Bundle" Brent
1930 The Murder at the Vicarage Miss Marple
Inspector Slack
1931 The Sittaford Mystery
also Murder at Hazelmoor
Emily Trefusis
Inspector Narracott
1932 Peril at End House Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings, Inspector Japp
1933 Lord Edgware Dies
also Thirteen at Dinner
Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings, Inspector Japp
1934 Murder on the Orient Express
also Murder in the Calais Coach
Hercule Poirot
1934 Why Didn't They Ask Evans?
also The Boomerang Clue
Bobby Jones
Frankie Derwent
1935 Three Act Tragedy
also Murder in Three Acts
Hercule Poirot
Mr. Satterthwaite
1935 Death in the Clouds
also Death in the Air
Hercule Poirot
Inspector Japp
1936 The A.B.C. Murders
also The Alphabet Murders
Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp
1936 Murder in Mesopotamia Hercule Poirot
Captain Maitland, Dr. Reilly
1936 Cards on the Table Hercule Poirot
Colonel Race, Superintendent Battle, Ariadne Oliver
1937 Dumb Witness
also Poirot Loses a Client/Mystery at Littlegreen House
Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings
1937 Death on the Nile Hercule Poirot
Colonel Race
1938 Appointment with Death Hercule Poirot
1938 Hercule Poirot's Christmas
also Murder for Christmas/A Holiday for Murder
Hercule Poirot
1939 Murder is Easy
also Easy to Kill
Superintendent Battle
Luke Fitzwilliam
1939 And Then There Were None

Sir Thomas Legge
Inspector Maine
1940 Sad Cypress Hercule Poirot
1940 One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
also An Overdose of Death/The Patriotic Murders
Hercule Poirot
Chief Inspector Japp
1941 Evil Under the Sun Hercule Poirot
Colonel Weston, Inspector Colgate
1941 N or M? Tommy and Tuppence
1942 The Body in the Library Miss Marple
Inspector Slack
1942 Five Little Pigs
also Murder in Retrospect
Hercule Poirot
1942 The Moving Finger
also The Case of the Moving Finger
Miss Marple
1944 Towards Zero
also Come and Be Hanged
Superintendent Battle
Inspector James Leach
1944 Death Comes as the End Hori
1945 Sparkling Cyanide
also Remembered Death
Colonel Race
Chief Inspector Kemp
1946 The Hollow
also Murder After Hours
Hercule Poirot
Inspector Grange
1948 Taken at the Flood
also There is a Tide...
Hercule Poirot
Superintendent Spence
1949 Crooked House Charles Hayward
Chief Inspector Taverner
1950 A Murder is Announced Miss Marple
Chief Inspector Craddock
1951 They Came to Baghdad Victoria Jones
1952 Mrs McGinty's Dead
also Blood Will Tell
Hercule Poirot
Ariadne Oliver, Superintendent Spence
1952 They Do It with Mirrors
also Murder with Mirrors
Miss Marple
Inspector Curry
1953 After the Funeral
also Funerals are Fatal
Hercule Poirot
Inspector Morton, Mr. Goby
1953 A Pocket Full of Rye Miss Marple
1954 Destination Unknown
also So Many Steps to Death
Mr. Jessop, Captain Leblanc
1955 Hickory Dickory Dock
also Hickory Dickory Death
Hercule Poirot
Inspector Sharpe
1956 Dead Man's Folly Hercule Poirot
Ariadne Oliver
1957 4.50 from Paddington
also What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!/Murder She Said
Miss Marple
Chief Inspector Craddock, Lucy Eyelesbarrow
1958 Ordeal by Innocence Arthur Calgary
Superintendent Huish
1959 Cat Among the Pigeons Hercule Poirot
Inspector Kelsey, Adam Goodman
1961 The Pale Horse Inspector Lejeune
Ariadne Oliver, Mark Easterbrook
1962 The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side
also The Mirror Crack'd
Miss Marple
Chief Inspector Craddock
1963 The Clocks Hercule Poirot
Det. Inspector Hardcastle, Colin Lamb
1964 A Caribbean Mystery Miss Marple
1965 At Bertram's Hotel Miss Marple
Chief Inspector Fred "Father" Davy
1966 Third Girl Hercule Poirot
Ariadne Oliver, Chief Inspector Neele, Mr. Goby
1967 Endless Night Sergeant Keene
1968 By the Pricking of My Thumbs Tommy and Tuppence
1969 Hallowe'en Party Hercule Poirot
Ariadne Oliver, Superintendent Spence
1970 Passenger to Frankfurt Stafford Nye
1971 Nemesis Miss Marple
1972 Elephants Can Remember Hercule Poirot
Ariadne Oliver
1973 Postern of Fate
Last novel Christie wrote
Tommy and Tuppence
1975 Curtain
Poirot's last case, written 36 years earlier.
Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings
1976 Sleeping Murder
Miss Marple's last case, written 36 years earlier
Miss Marple

 

 

 

Stats:

Read: 29/66

 

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