Monday, 26 July 2010

Summer reading

While in France I read R C Sherriff's The Hopkins Manuscript, first published in 1939 and re-published by Persephone Books in 2005. I really enjoyed this somewhat melancholy tale of the moon hitting the earth and the consequences thereof. The build -up to the event is slow but inexorable and the catastrophe itself almost an anticlimax compared to the disasters which follow. The main characters and how they survive and deal with this momentous event, both physically and psychologically are the core of the book as well as the main interest. The whole tale, given that it was first published in 1939, could be an awful warning as to what might happen in the event of the coming war in Europe. Not as to actual events, but as to how human beings might actually behave and think in a crisis. I liked R C Sherriff's style of writing and his descriptions of the variety of human emotions is sensitive and tender. An intriguing read.

Margaret Willes Reading Matters was an absolute must-read for me. A history of book collecting, reading,(mainly private) libraries with book selling and buying thrown in proved an irresistible reading experience. This book is not without flaws, though as the subject is so vast ,how to write a coherent history of such a time span is almost impossible. The author has been around books all her life, as reader, author, publisher, and has obviously done a huge amount of research on the subject. Although arranged chronlogically and mainly covering the private libraries of such people as Bess of Hardwick through to Dennis and Edna Healey, there are various sidetracks followed, such as the booksellers centred around St Paul's churchyard, book clubs through the ages, which are not quite the modern phenomenen we like to think they are. For most people, this would not be the lightest of summer reads, but for a retired librarian it was almost an essential one.

On a slightly lighter note, I read Jhumpa Lahiri's The Interpreter of Maladies and found it touching and subtle. Beautiful observations of human behaviour at certain points in time or at particular events, carefully and quietly described, leaving the reader to come to their own conclusions as to why the behaviour described happened.

An even lighter read was Rachel Johnson's Notting Hell, a wickedly tongue-in-cheek description of life in the exclusive private gardens of Notting Hill, home to milllionaires, super yummy-mummies and celebrity figures. Quite funny, but I thought the name-dropping of shops, restaurents and so-on got a bit tedious. The plot was delicate, how Clare wanted a baby but seemed unable to conceive and Mimi had had three infants soon after her marriage to Ralph, who had inherited his house in the exclusive area from his parents, but not the wherewithal to sustain the lifestyle. The story is told in the first person, alternating between Mimi's and Clare's point of view of events.

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