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The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

In the summer of 1956, Stevens, the ageing butler of Darlington Hall, embarks on a leisurely holiday that will take him deep into the English countryside and into his past.

A contemporary classic, The Remains of the Day is Kazuo Ishiguro’s beautiful and haunting evocation of life between the wars in a Great English House.

For some reason I never got around to reviewing this book the first time but I loved it and reading these words again, it was just as enjoyable with all its understated, unreliable reminiscences. It’s about time Eowyn Ivey had some company (after four years) of being the only other author beginning with ‘I’ that I have thus far reviewed.

The blurb doesn’t really seem to give much away to the inquisitive peruser but it in fact describes the plot succinctly enough.  The reader is treated to a story of past times, and a present that is quickly changing in many aspects.  Class erosion, and the forebodings at the possible onset of a(nother) world war are both integral to protagonist Stevens’ life, and are explored with the personal.  Namely the degrees of relationship we allow ourselves with people we spend the most time with.

Stevens himself is an extremely engaging narrator, a measured voice of self-reflection. He is a man of introspection with an analytical mind, whilst being a totally unreliable narrator, contradicting his remembrances and; one gets the impression, avoiding the thoughts too troubling to confront.  A lot is left unsaid or, at best left ambiguous which just adds to the study of his character.

There is such a wonderful evocation of Englishness here, and of the national character, both the good and the bad.  The book works as a meditation on the identity of the personal, and of where the English fit in on a continental and world scale.  With the class structure slowly corroding, the changing of political thought and the reader’s hindsight into the future events of World War II, make this all the more poignant.  Stevens’ vulnerabilities are a neat mirroring of his country’s.

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Posted by on 25/06/2018 in Fiction

 

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Basil – Wilkie Collins

In Basil’s secret and unconsummated marriage to the linen-draper’s sexually precocious daughter, and the shocking betrayal, insanity, and death that follow, Collins reveals the bustling, commercial London of the nineteenth century wreaking its vengeance on a still powerful aristocratic world.

This was a random purchase, based on the name of the author, that and it wasn’t either The Woman in White or The Moonstone – neither of which I have yet read – which always come up whenever the author’s name is mentioned.  It also reminded me of (when the currency was converted) picking up those classics for 99p, last century.

Basil is a tale of class, snobbery, obsession, prejudice, passion, deceit and vengeance.  In its day it was a highly scandalous novel, today, sadly, there is nothing disgraceful about it in the slightest. There is, however,an odd choice made by the titular Basil, fairly early on and feels for that reason, a tad forced as a plot device.

I didn’t really care about any of the characters – I tried my best, honest –  but as there is little to endear most of them anyway, it is, for me, a moot point.  Only Basil’s sister and Mother-in-Law escaped my devastating lack of sympathy.  I did enjoy following the trajectories (mostly miserable) of all the characters though, despite some stereotyping and illogical leaps.

There was on exception to my general apathy or downright dislike to the characters and that was Mannion, his demeanour and mysterious countenance really add something tonally darker into the book and contributed much to my enjoyment of the story and its eventual direction. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 22/06/2018 in Classics, Fiction

 

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Mountains of the Mind – Robert Macfarlane

Why do so many feel compelled to risk their lives climbing mountains? During the climbing season, one person a day dies in the Alps, and more people die climbing in this season in Scotland than they do on the roads. Mountains of the Mind is a fascinating investigation into our emotional and imaginative responses to mountains and how these have changed over the last few centuries. It is rich with literary and historical references and punctuated by beautifully written descriptions of the author’s own climbing experiences. There are chapters on glaciers, geology, the pursuit of fear, the desire to explore the unknown and the desire to get to the summit, and the book ends with a gripping account of Mallory’s attempt on Everest. Mountains of the Mind is a brilliant synthesis of climbing memoir and cultural history.

This book is much more than a simple history of mountaineering, it’s a venture into the psychological history of Westerners (mainly the British) and how mountains ( European for the most part, with a dash of Himalayas) have imprinted themselves on our consciousness, changed our attitudes, and inspired great feats.

…and it is a physical as well as a cerebral horror, for to acknowledge that the hard rock of a mountain is vulnerable to the attrition of time is of necessity to reflect on the appalling transience of the human body.

The book starts off with the author describing how, in childhood, he discovered climbing through reading books. This beginning is written in such a wonderfully literary way and engages straight away and which carries on throughout this engrossing chronicle.  MacFarlane’s enthusiasm is infectious from the off, each page is crammed full of interesting facts and anecdotes. It’s a true love letter to the mountains but also a warning over the obsessions that come with it.

Like so many writers including Mark Twain, Percy Bysshe Shelly, Bryon, Dr Johnson, Keats, Ruskin, Coleridge, and Tennyson; whose lyrical observations have inspired millions, the reader’s imagination is inflamed by the talk of crevasses with snow that fell several centuries ago, perfectly preserved bodies, ice caverns, strange creatures and so on.  It’s easy to visualise the look, age, and height of these natural edifi, and feel the author’s deep love and sober respect for the mountains, through his words. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 24/04/2018 in History, Travel

 

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The Code of the Woosters – P.G. Wodehouse

Sorry if this is not up to the usual standard, we arrived back from a hiking trip at 4am yesterday morning and this was written then. Posts and awesome photos will soon follow.

When Bertie Wooster goes to Totleigh Towers to pour oil on the troubled waters of a lovers’ breach between Madeline Bassett and Gussie Fink-Nottle, he isn’t expecting to see Aunt Dahlia there – nor to be instructed by her to steal some silver. But purloining the antique cow creamer from under the baleful nose of Sir Watkyn Bassett is the least of Bertie’s tasks. He has to restore true love to both Madeline and Gussie and to the Revd ‘Stinker’ Pinker and Stiffy Byng – and confound the insane ambitions of would-be Dictator Roderick Spode and his Black Shorts. It’s a situation that only Jeeves can unravel. Writing at the very height of his powers, in The Code of the Woosters, P.G. Wodehouse delivers what might be the most delightfully funny book ever committed to paper.

It’s been a long time since I last picked up one of Wodehouse’s books and within a few pages, it reinforced the idea that it was a terribly long overdue decision that needed putting right.  Coming across the word hornswoggle was the icing on the cake.

It was a silver cow, but when I say ‘cow’, don’t go running away with the idea of some decent, self-respecting cudster such as you may observe loading grass into itself in the nearest meadow.  This was a sinister, learing, Underworld sort of animal, the kind that would spit out of the side of its mouth for two pence.

Wodehouse’s uniquely written style is just brilliant, the language is the best part of the book, which is saying a lot as the book is an exceedingly witty study in comedy.  This offsets the characters, who don’t have much depth but that is fine as it is all about the elaborate  plotting.  The phrasing of each sentence is a delight, and raised many a smile with the whimsical nature with which it presents itself.  Perhaps it is a bit stereotypical of Englishness but that is also one of the novel’s many charms.

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The Holiday – Stevie Smith

Celia works at the Ministry in the post-war England of 1949 and lives in a London suburb with her beloved Aunt. Witty, fragile, quixotic, Celia is preoccupied with love — for her friends, her colleagues, her relations, and especially for her adored cousin Casmilus, with whom she goes on holiday to visit Uncle Heber, the vicar. Here they talk endlessly, argue, eat, tell stories, love and hate — moments of wild humour alternating with waves of melancholy as Celia ponders obsessively on the inevitable pain of love.

Alarm bells were ringing fairly early on with this one, it was all to do with the dreadful, disjointed, uninteresting conversation at a dinner party. A lack of speech marks didn’t help the book’s case either.

Getting over that hurdle early on, the book opened out into an assorted collection of meditations on the experiences of love and politics and the past, before becoming mildly irritating towards the end.  This is a book that will probably polarise opinions of all who read it.

There is little to add to the above blurb in terms of storyline, you are getting precisely what you read there.  It all rests on the quality of said writing and that is where this reader would have preferred more balance, what Smith says is much more interesting than the way She has written down.  Whilst the whimsical structure and thought processes of Celia and co. work well enough, it is the writing itself that troubled me.

There is plenty of repetition of certain words, whether in the same sentence or throughout a conversation, it’s distracting to be told four times within a page that the same character is saying something maliciously, for example.  Whether this writing is an intentional choice or through lack of a decent editor, I don’t know but it soon becomes tiresome.  There is a richness to our language and often I was mentally inserting my own words to avoid the repetitiveness.

It all feels very English, the countryside setting in summer is delightful and I enjoyed being there.  The novel possess a dreamy melancholia for the past (relationships and ways of life); as well as the uncertain future – to the backdrop of the Indian independence, and the waning of the British Empire – for the characters as well as the country. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 18/03/2017 in Fiction

 

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I Remember Sunnyside: The Rise and Fall of a Magical Era – Mike Filey

sunnysideupFirst published in 1982, I Remember Sunnyside is a mine of golden memories, bringing back to life an earlier Toronto, only hints of which remain today.

Like the city itself, Sunnyside was an ever-changing landscape from its heady opening days in the early 1920s to its final sad demolition in the 1950s. The book captures the spirit of the best of times a magical era which can only be recaptured in memory and photographs. It also presents the reality of a newer Toronto where change, although necessary, is sometimes regrettable.

In a bid to further inspire me to words, Resa recommended this book  which had already grabbed my imagination before it even arrived and although it didn’t pull me in quite as much as I had convinced myself it would, it was nonetheless still a quirky, interesting, immersive and speedy read.

Mostly my pre-reading thoughts were inspired by such literary mainstays as Joseph Heller’s thoughts on Coney Island, Stephen King’s Joyland as well as, to a lesser extent the feeling of exploring Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. Films such as The Lost Boys and The Warriors played a part with their atmospheres as well.

Establishing a fundamentally, albeit mostly American idea of what to expect, I feel the fond imagery of these amusement parks is established in the romantic landscape these days as something of a golden age. It is hard to imagine people speaking so eloquently today about their experiences at Alton Towers or Disneyland as this:

…as I thought of the days of Sunnyside when all things seemed possible and the late afternoon sun lit up the summits of the rollercoaster and you felt you were somehow at the source of things, a warm and tattered tent of life, convinced that something wonderful was going to happen within the next few minutes…

It’s a fond feeling of nostalgia to those who lived it and a love transmitted down to those readers who never got to experience such times and instead got the sanitised parks of later years.  It’s an evocative adventure to put ourselves back there, a place of charm and excitement, it makes me think of those long ago nostalgic days of rides and shows sadly gone in this modern age of queueing for hours to get 30 seconds of ‘thrill’. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 28/09/2016 in History, Memoir, Photography

 

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The Whisper

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The Whisper

A rustle, displacing anticipatory silence
Words barely made out, hinting at enticing possibilities
The gentle breeze of impassioned words, sighed
Coated with sweet passionate pledges

The gentle purr of promises
Seductive susurration
Raising goosebumps
Tempestuous images flow

A sweet and swirling murmur
Conjuring intimate images, crashing through the mind
The frenzied beating of a heart in ecstatic turmoil
The aural effect setting aflame desires

Silence settles, ripples subside,
The calm before the eager storm…

~~~

*Have no clue to the source of this photo just came up on a pinterest, sorry.

 
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Posted by on 20/04/2016 in My Writings, Poetry

 

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