Saturday, 31 December 2011

A quick round up

A Christmas table decoration, made over a week before The Day - it lasted well
To conclude my comments of books read before Christmas, one I really enjoyed and read very quickly was Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson. A first novel and a very readable one at that, the story opens with Major Pettigrew learning of the death of his younger brother. The ramifications of this and the possession of his brother's gun, one of a pair of very expensive shotguns inherited from their father, become almost the widowed Major's reason for living, until he begins to find friendship and a shared interest in literature with Mrs Ali, widow of the village shopkeeper. There are a number of interesting themes in the story; Major Pettigrew's relationships with his brother and sister-in-law, his growing involvement in village life, his blossoming friendship with Jasmina Ali and entanglement in his son Roger's affairs, both social and business. So although a fairly light and gentle read, there is quite a lot of meat in it as well.

Our Book Club read Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita recently, which was re-read for most of us; we are all femmes d'un certain age, after all. Several could remember reading not long after it was first published, and for many it called to mind other books read, such as Azar Nafizi's Reading Lolita in Teheran, Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, and a story from the collection A Little Aloud, which was Joanne Harris's Faith and Hope go Shopping. The themes we discussed were the excuse Humbert Humbert uses for his seduction of Lolita - that he was not her first lover; the convenience of Charlotte Haze's death for Humbert access to Lolita, the eventual murder of Clare Quilty and its awful humour. Other areas for discussion were the age of sexual maturity and consent in different societies and times, Someone pointed out that Lolita was published at a similar time to the Kinsey reports into sexuality in America. One thing that kept us reading the novel was the beautiul and lyrical quality of the writing.

Music and Silence by Rose Tremain was published in 1999, but despite being a fan of historical novels and also of Rose Tremain, I hadn't read this. Although the plot is somewhat rambling- King Christian's search for money to improve the Danish economy in the period 1629 to 1630. We learn of Christian's early life and friendship with Bror Brorson, his hiring of Peter Claire, an English musician, and Christian's wife Kirsten's affair with her German lover Otto. There are several different voices who tell their version of the story, but only Kirsten and Marcus, a young boy, brother to Emilia who is one of Kirsten's women and also beloved of Peter Claire are in the first person. The atmosphere of a Danish winter is beautifully evoked, with descriptions of coldness, fog, mist and frost. Love, sex, marriage, money and music and its importance to different people are all brought together in this woberful read of a book.

I started reading D J Taylor's Derby Day in November, and eventually finished it last night. I'm a fan of D J Taylors writing, having throughly enjoyed his previous Victorian mystery, Kept. Derby Days is about racing in the mid Victorian period. Mr Happerton buys a horse and enters it for the Derby, the great race held at Epsom; he also marries Rebecca Gresham, daughter of a wealthy lawyer and moves into her family home in Belgrave Square. For me, the book is in two parts, the first mainly setting the scene, while the second part has much more action, culminating in the running of the Derby and the cosequences of which horse won it. The caste of characters is well-drawn and intiguing and descriptions of the settings of Belgrave square, Lincolnshire and Epsom are also appealing. The plot is complex but comes to a satisfying ending, making this an excellent read, especially for a dreary wintertime.

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