writereaderly

writing of readerly reviews of writings

Month: July, 2012

Review: Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”

Brought to the screen with our Audrey as will-o’-the-wisp “Miss Holiday Golightly, Traveller”. Capote’s Holly is a little sharper, a little less naïve than Ms Hepburn’s, and the novella’s a casual yet well-crafted little piece (also accompanied by three good stories). Of Capote’s other works, I’ve only read In Cold Blood (truly excellent), and the pair have easily convinced me to seek more of his finely honed writing. This one was a pleasure.

Where it came from: MM’s Bookshelf
Time & manner of reading: One bed-read on a lazy Sunday afternoon
Where it went to: Home
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to: Anyone and no-one in particular
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; The Reivers by William Faulkner (I’ve been doing a good job at ignoring them, haven’t I?)

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Review: Rose Tremain’s “Restoration”

Robert Merivel, physician and ladies’ man, is a buffoon who flies the frivolous heights of Charles II’s Court before crashing into the sea of Bedlam and subsequently being restored to humanity. It’s a good novel, as Tremain’s always are, but I must admit that I found the abundant frills and furbelows of the first part quite irritating – despite my understanding that they were the textual counterpart of the hero’s personality. The second part, however, was perfectly weighted. Overall this was as well wrought as Tremain’s other contributions to Brit Lit, plus it’s comforting to be reminded that there are bigger dickheads in the world than you could ever attempt to be. Restoration may yet come to us all. Recommended.

Where it came from: Opshop
Time & manner of reading: Various bed- and bit-reads over a few days, devoured in the last morning-read
Where it went to: CP
Reminds me of: The recent loony-bin novels on my pile, e.g., Norwegian Wood and The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
Who I’d recommend it to: A general recommendation should also do this one
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; The Reivers by William Faulkner

Review: Voltaire’s “Candide”

A worthy classic from 1759, my hearties. Naïve (not to say gormless) Candide loves the beautiful and improbably named Cunegonde, but her family does not love him. He is cast from the Baron of Thunder-ten-Tronkh’s castle in Westphalia into a life involving Bulgarian military service, torture in an auto-da-fé in Lisbon, flight (by ship) to Buenos Ayres, three murders, treks through the Paraguayan jungle to find El Dorado, being fleeced of his red “sheep” (llamas?) and their rich burdens in Surinam, literary vampirism in Paris, association with royalty in Venice, and buying a farm outside of Constantinople to live with those he loves and no longer loves, all while contemplating the Great Question: do we live in the best of all possible worlds? As KAM said, this a tiny novel (87pp) where every action-packed chapter could be a novel in itself, and thank goodness Cervantes didn’t have a go at it. An enjoyable read, I especially liked the Latin American sections, and I can but agree with the dictum that we should focus on cultivating our gardens.

Where it came from: KAM’s Bookshelf
Time & manner of reading: A few reads during the day, with interest
Where it went to: Home
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to: A general recommendation should do
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; The Reivers by William Faulkner

Review: Helene Hanff’s “84 Charing Cross Road” & “The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street”

I needed a book to remind me of what I love, and this was the one to do it. Helene Hanff was a New York writer who began ordering antiquarian books from a bookshop in London; the first book of this double edition is the collected correspondence of 20 years between Helene and the staff and friends of Marks & Co. Booksellers (particularly Frank Doel, the chief buyer). HH’s letters are full of zesty NY slang, and the comparison with the restrained, dry British wit of her pen pals is most entertaining. While the first book is a hymn to bibliophilic relationships, the sequel is a love letter to London: the publication of 84 Charing Cross Road was HH’s ticket there, and this rapturous memoir ensued from her literary and social forays. A simply fabulous double-whammy, laugh-out-loud funny, charming, a testament by and for book worshippers. I can’t express either my delight or my praise enough, just read it.

Where it came from: DC’s Bookshelf
Time & manner of reading: Bookended bed-reads, with great delight and some almost tears
Where it went to: Home via MM, I think
Reminds me of: That Guernsey epistolary novel – now overshadowed by this real, even wittier correspondence
Who I’d recommend it to: Booklovers losing hope in the face of the digital onslaught
Also reading:
The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; The Reivers by William Faulkner

Review: Jane Austen’s “Persuasion”

One might say this was a gentle rendering of the return of hope to a frozen heart. The beauty of this book doesn’t lie in the happily-ever-after plot (Anne Elliott’s rejected love Frederick Wentworth returns after eight years, and behold, they’re still in love), but in the delicate expression of Anne’s opening to long-lost possibility. Jane Austen’s last novel, it is considerably more sedate and introspective than her bouncier first writings. It was a pleasure to read, although it took me a while to sink into an Austen that was not P&P or its alter-ego P&P&Zombies (known and loved inside out). What I found really striking was the limited opportunities courting swains and damsels had for conversation and self-revelation: Anne makes her entire judgement that she is still beloved based on an analysis of 20 minutes of conversation at a crowded concert. The language of implication (still far from innuendo), the sophisticated understanding of interlocutors and their emotional situations, both require great subtlety of communication and intent. Amazing. And how few those opportunities were, and how quickly people made choices for life-long “matches”! Online dating could stand to learn a few lessons, but never fear, ladies, there’s still hope for you if you’re single at the advanced age of 27. Worthy and recommended.

Where it came from: Opshop
Time & manner of reading: Waiting, bed and hitching reads over a day, with curiosity and attention
Where it went to: Undecided
Reminds me of: The luxury of modern openness
Who I’d recommend it to: Any ageing ladies in need of romantic hope 😉
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; The Reivers by William Faulkner

Review: Dodie Smith’s “I Capture the Castle”

Lent with high praise by MM, I hereby declare that her claims were not exaggerated. This was an excellent novel, absorbing, wry, beautifully written, and with a core that’s a lot more sophisticated than it looks. Cassandra lives in greater-than-genteel poverty in a mouldering castle with her family. The new owners arrive unexpectedly, romances ensure, dreams are woven and wither, hope prevails. Narrated entirely through Cassandra’s successive journals, the first half of the novel is a quirky but largely standard rags-to-riches romance. Once Midsummer’s come and gone, however, and love is being misplaced hither and thither, both Cassandra and her world become complex and nuanced and far from saccharine. I wasn’t altogether convinced by our heroine’s Great Love (one kiss did all that?!), but the scene with the wirelesses is wrenching and the multiple heartbreaks are all too messily plausible. Why does the most worthless individual always get what she wants? Great book. Read it.

Where it came from: MM’s Bookshelf
Time & manner of reading: One engrossed bed-read
Where it went to: Home
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to: Just about anyone: it’s light and passionate at the same time, a rare mix
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; The Reivers by William Faulkner

Review: Mary Fallon’s “Working Hot”

Fallon has created an entirely po-mo (post-modern) novel – she uses terms like “de(con)struct” and “con/text” without locating tongue in cheek aforethought – which roves through monologue, academic commentary, libretto, poetry, and that certain je ne sais quoi that I think comprises wankery. An angry dissection of Toto Caelo’s relationships with women who done her wrong, with many a (true and depressing) bone cast to remind us of shite things men have said/done, it was alternately quite interesting and thoroughly tedious. Overall I could call it intriguing, and I’m glad it exists to balance out a world where man-books like Moby Dick are thought the be-all and end-all of “universal” literature – I can’t, however, say that I enjoyed it much. That seems to be the definition of taking one’s (feminist) medicine. Post-modernist writing seems as try-hard and self-congratulatory as I remember it from first year uni. Only for the devoted.

Where it came from: CH’s Bookshelf
Time & manner of reading: One dabble and a concerted train-read
Where it went to: Home
Reminds me of: Feminism at uni!!
Who I’d recommend it to: Anyone who needs a recap of ’90s feminism
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; The Reivers by William Faulkner