Friday, 14 March 2008

Two caravans and Wendy Cope

On Friday morning my Book Club discussed Marina Lewycka's Two Caravans. There were some mixed opinions, particularly over the last few pages as to exactly what happened to Vulk and Lena. on the whole most of us found it an interesting read. I did wonder where it was heading at the description of Emmanuel's birthday feast - the details of the food that was prepared, the festive atmosphere that the workers managed to create despite their dire living conditions, all seemed to be saying that all was well with their little world. However that illusion soon disappeared and was replaced by a much more frightening reality, which continued throughout the rest if the novel. The set pieces based on the different locations, from the strawberry fields, a chicken shed, a restaurant, Dover, and an old peoples hope , reached by way of a hippy-type protest camp, that the various characters found themselves in seemed a good way of moving the story forward. The writing is neither tragic nor particularly serious; there are lots of lighter moments, sometimes at the expense of the characters when they misunderstand what is happening, because they don't speak English adequately or because they are too trusting of others motives. I loved this book, despite it's tragedies and uncertainties, because it seemed to me to be describing life as it is lived by some people.
Wendy Cope was at Southampton Art Gallery last night, giving a reading of her poems. She was excellent entertainment and the audience was very appreciative. Full marks to staff at Southampton's Central Library for organising it.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

A literary day

Monday a somewhat literary day, with Reading Group and a discussion on Philip Pullman's northern Lights, which the group found interesting, intriguing, a good original idea, quite hard-hitting considering its intended audience. Most of us would continue with the series and read the other two titles in it. Some of the group ( there are several teachers or ex-teachers found it praiseworthy and enjoyed it a second time. Followed swiftly by an evening of readings by local writers at the Nuffield Studio. The writers were a mixed collection of poets, playwrights, fiction and non-fiction writers, so it made for quite an interesting session. Some have been published already, but not necessarily for the format in which they presented their work at the event. At last Southampton is getting a literary life of its own. One read a delightful memoir of his grandfather and the Isle of Wight railway in the days of steam, which brought back memories of going to Sandown Grammar School from Ryde on those very same steam trains, along with two-hundred-odd other school children, boys at one end of the train, girls at the other - we weren't supposed to share carriages. The carriages had no compartments or corridors, either. A occasional cow on the line meant about a third of the school would be late, so we didn't have to make individual excuses.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

This week has been quite busy, although not on the reading front. However, I have managed to finish Philip Pullman's Northern Lights, the first book in the trilogy His Dark Materials. Ostensibly a children's book, I enjoyed it up to a point. The main character Lyra I found interesting and sympathetic,the events in the story made one want to read on to find out what happened, the other characters were of interest, but...there still seems to me to be something not quite satisfying about reading a book written for children when an adult. The slight simplification of emotions felt by the adults in the story, perhaps, or the particular use of language.

On Saturday afternoon I attended a talk by Louis de Bernieres in Winchester, and visited the new Winchester Discovery Centre for a quick look round. Some of the ideas used there I used in the Shirley Library in Southampton 3 years ago; however the extension of the building is very successful and links into the older part very well. The refurbished building is much lighter and brighter than its former incarnation., which was very dingy. The Louis de Bernieres talk was both very informative and also very amusing and well worth the trip. It is satisfying to see a writer who one first came across years ago and thinking at the time that he had some interesting stories to tell and an individual way of telling them and seeing one's expectations come to fruition, as it were. I haven't yet got hold of his latest story, The Partisan Girl, but his talk has made me want to. I certainly enjoyed his last book, Birds Without Wings more than Captain Corelli's Mandolin, and I really liked that too.

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