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

Reading progress update: I've read 153 out of 525 pages.

Possession - A.S. Byatt

More on the topic of letters. I love Byatt's thoughts on literature and its forms.

"Letters, Roland discovered, are a form of narrative that envisages no outcome, no closure. His time was a time of the dominance of narrative theories. Letters tell no story, because they do not know, from line to line, where they are going. [...]

Letters, finally, exclude not only the reader as co-writer, or predictor, or guesser, but they exclude the reader as reader, they are written, if they are true letters, for a reader."

Spectra Festival of Light

I'm currently trying to warm up from an evening out with friends. We went to the local Spectra Festival which features art installations around the city centre. This year's theme was The Sea, probably because we're a maritime community.

Anyway, it was fun even tho it was freezing. Lots of people attended and there were queues at the main attraction - a church and the surrounding graveyard. 

We are told that another winter storm will hit us over the next few days, so people probably wanted to make the best of the calm weather tonight.


Reading progress update: I've read 17%.

The Hollow - Agatha Christie

This is one of Dame Agatha's stories that is not an easy one to like - most, if not all, of the characters are horrible: self-involved, dismissive, contemptuous, sponging, and utterly, utterly selfish. 

This comes at an expense. 


I have no idea if Dame Agatha meant to write this as an analysis of the effects of bullying - I will need to consult John Curran's Complete Secret Notebooks on this matter - but I love the psychological aspect of this story. It's gripping and - for an Agatha Christie book - deliciously dark.

"Gerda had not been happy at school. At school there had been even less reassurance than elsewhere. Home had been better. But even home had not been very good. For they had all, of course, been quicker and cleverer than she was. Their comments, quick, impatient, not quite unkind, had whistled about her ears like a hailstorm.

‘Oh, do be quick, Gerda.’ ‘Butter-fingers, give it to me!’ ‘Oh don’t let Gerda do it, she’ll be ages.’ ‘Gerda never takes in anything…’

Hadn’t they seen, all of them, that that was the way to make her slower and stupider still? She’d got worse and worse, more clumsy with her fingers, more slow-witted, more inclined to stare vacantly at what was said to her. Until, suddenly, she had reached the point where she had found a way out. Almost accidentally, really, she found her weapon of defence.

She had grown slower still, her puzzled stare had become even blanker."

Reading progress update: I've read 96 out of 525 pages.

Possession - A.S. Byatt

"‘You know, if you read the collected letters of any writer – if you read her biography – you will always get a sense that there’s something missing, something biographers don’t have access to, the real thing, the crucial thing, the thing that really mattered to the poet herself. There are always letters that were destroyed. The letters, usually."


Very true.


Reading progress update: I've read 320 out of 1120 pages.

The Tale of Genji: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) - Royall Tyler, Murasaki Shikibu
To dnf or not to dnf, that is the question.
While bored to tears by Genji's exploits
Keep reading on in aggravation 
Or by abandoned effort find release?
That is all I've got. I need more coffee.
Also, I think I should venture to my next Will's World of the Henrys is next, I think.  

Reading progress update: I've read 358 out of 451 pages.

Unspeakable: The Autobiography - John Bercow

The chapter on "How to be a Good MP" was both insightful into the background of some of the MPs that have represented in the House over the last 20 years and somewhat encouraging for anyone interested in getting involved in active politics. 


What I liked best about it, tho, was that Mr. Bercow - as he has done in most of the book - provides a record of parliamentary goings on.

He criticises some MPs for their failings and blunders, but - more importantly to me, and seemingly spending more time on it -  he praises some MPs for achievements that have made a major impact on people's lives and that would otherwise probably be soon forgotten.


I'll finish the book tonight.

Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 255 pages.

Write On Both Sides Of The Paper - Mary Kelly

I need some distraction from the more demanding reads I have going on at the moment, and this Mary Kelly offering has been calling to me from the shelves - even tho I know nothing about the book. 


Interestingly, I could not find a description of what the book is about on GR or when doing a quick internet search - the book clearly exists but seems to have otherwise grown obscure.


So, this is the first paragraph of what the book jacket has to offer:

"Crime in the night was no concern of William and Hannah. They were daylight people. But chance took William and Hannah to Scotland and made them meet on the morning after a paper mill had been robbed. The mill belonged to the Treece-Allard group, William's employers."

Unfortunately, the rest of the jacket blurb seems to go into details of the plot that follows...and I hate these kinds of spoilers, so I stopped reading.


It sounds kind of similar to the setting of Dead Corse, and I hope it is just as good.

Reading progress update: I've read 253 out of 1120 pages.

The Tale of Genji: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) - Royall Tyler, Murasaki Shikibu

The weekly Genji update:


I have questioned myself nearly every page this week, why I don't just abandon the book. 

I clearly don't like Genji. I'm repulsed by his taking a child bride - yes, she's a few years older than when he first kidnapped her at the age of ten, and yes different times and mores are at play. However, we learn that she has a coming of age ceremony quite some  time after the "wedding". Ugh...


Anyway, I might still dnf this.


What has kept me reading at this point, however, are the rare moments when the book does have lyrical quality

- such as when Genji's wife dies -

(show spoiler)

and that there is an attempt at describing Genji growing as a character. (He's still a prick, tho.) Also, the description of the administrative processes at court and the superstitions and customs are fascinating.

Reading progress update: I've read 320 out of 451 pages.

Unspeakable: The Autobiography - John Bercow

Enough of this for today.

While the book is excellent, revisiting the blow-by-blow of the governmental shambles that led to and immediately followed the Brexit referendum makes for enraging reading, and I am resolved to not lose sleep to this part of the book.

Sunday Soup

Well, I did mention that the chances of a Sunday Soup post were favourable as Storm Ciara passing over inspired me to stay indoors and search for a new soup recipe...and of course read. 



The soup is a sweetcorn chowder which features coconut milk as one of the ingredients - you can find the recipe here. It's delicious and I look forward to having more of it for lunches and dinners later this week. 


I'm loving John Bercow's book and am paying no heed to the critics that are trying to shout him down in the media at present. It's a timely read. 

Reading progress update: I've read 151 out of 451 pages.

Unspeakable: The Autobiography - John Bercow

I've just finished the part where Bercow describes the process of trying to gather votes for the election to the role of Speaker, and if true, then it seems irrefutable evidence that the two major parties in the UK clearly have very different standards by which they hold their members to account. Not only that, but public expectation seems to fall in line with this, too, being far more forgiving to one party's behaviour than the other.

It's ironic, and it's maddening.



Reading progress update: I've read 60%.

Fancy Dress Ball - J. Jefferson Farjeon

This story is decidedly weird.


I'm still not sure what is going on and whether the different stories of the characters we met at the start of the ball will at some point merge into one plot. 

Reading progress update: I've read 17%.

Fancy Dress Ball - J. Jefferson Farjeon

Well, this is an interesting setup: We are introduced in vignettes to several individuals who are all preparing to attend the Chelsea Arts Ball, the titular fancy dress ball. 


I'm not sure yet whether this will be a mystery or a political thriller or dark and atmospheric crime  plot. This story could develop into any of these. 

It's certainly suspenseful.


And as with all of Farjeon's stories I have read, it is very charming.

"How’s the Prime Minister?”

“Very nicely, thank you.”

“Good! And where’s the next war going to break out?”

“Near East, I should say. Cheerful news for your father, anyway.”

Conrad frowned. War meant munitions, and munitions meant business, and business meant motor cars. Might even mean a motor car for himself, Conrad Shannon. A racer! But . . . oh, well, the world was a mad hat, anyway. Conrad decided to talk about the weather.

Instead he found himself saying: “Look here, you don’t mean it, do you?”

“What? War?”

Lankester shrugged his shoulders.

“Probably not. But who knows? War will go on till the world’s temperature cools—and till every man can contemplate his own extinction.”

Conrad stared at the speaker. This wasn’t exactly ballroom talk! But it fascinated him. People didn’t often trouble to talk to him seriously. Out of nowhere he shot the question: “And till father’s munition factory goes bust?”

“No, munitions don’t make war any more than peace conferences stop ’em. It’s all a personal matter—and the moment you and I hear the drum, off we’ll pop to the recruiting office.” He laughed. “But meanwhile, Conrad, we are a Russian dancer and a golden cherub. Where’s Dorothy?”

“Still adoring herself in her mirror,” he answered, “but I admit she’s got a case.”


Reading progress update: I've read 86%.

Murder on the Orient Express - Agatha Christie

Another aspect that I love about this book is that Dame Agatha totally messes with the reader. And yet, she cannot be accused of withholding information or clues that lead to the solution. 

‘Ma foi,’ said M. Bouc with violence. ‘But does everybody on this train tell lies?’

‘That,’ said Poirot, ‘is what we are about to find out.’


Reading progress update: I've read 38%.

Murder on the Orient Express - Agatha Christie

At the last moment he said: ‘You have dropped your handkerchief, Madame.’

Mrs Hubbard looked at the little scrap of cambric he held out to her.

‘That’s not mine, Mr Poirot. I’ve got mine right here.’

‘Pardon. I thought as it had the initial H on it—’

‘Well, now, that’s curious, but it’s certainly not mine. Mine are marked C.M.H., and they’re sensible things—not expensive Paris fallals. What good is a handkerchief like that to anybody’s nose?’

Neither of the three men seemed to have an answer to this question, and Mrs Hubbard sailed out triumphantly.

Mrs Hubbard is such a magnificent - if annoying - character, and Suchet's interpretation of her in the audiobook is absolutely brilliant. It's one of the reasons why I love revisiting this story. 

Reading progress update: I've read 20%.

Murder on the Orient Express - Agatha Christie

MacQueen hesitated.

‘I must get this clear,’ he said. ‘Who exactly are you? And where do you come in?’

‘I represent the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons Lits.’ He paused, then added, ‘I am a detective. My name is Hercule Poirot.’

If he expected an effect he did not get one.

MacQueen said merely, ‘Oh, yes?’ and waited for him to go on.

‘You know the name, perhaps.’

‘Why, it does seem kind of familiar—only I always thought it was a woman’s dressmaker.’

Hercule Poirot looked at him with distaste.

‘It is incredible!’ he said.

‘What’s incredible?’

‘Nothing. Let us advance with the matter in hand.

Oh, poor Hercule. :D



Currently reading

Write On Both Sides Of The Paper by Mary Kelly
Der Weltverbesserer: Sämtliche Erzählungen 1910-18 by Volker Michels, Hermann Hesse
Progress: 102/359pages
The Complete Works (Oxford Shakespeare) by William Shakespeare, John Jowett, Gary Taylor
Progress: 481/1344pages
The Desert and the Sown: The Syrian Adventures of the Female Lawrence of Arabia by Gertrude Bell