Wednesday, May 29, 2013

{misc.} bookish travels

I've just had a lovely week off work, visiting Sydney. I managed quite a few bookish things - a fruitful trawl of a couple of second-hand bookshops...

 

Look! Two Persephones -- Cicely Hamilton's William, An Englishman; Monica Dickens' Mariana. Such a great find - second-hand they are as rare as hens' teeth in Australia. The others are: a Virago edition of Charlotte Mew's collected poetry and prose; Beryl Bainbridge's The Dressmaker; Marguerite Duras' The Lover; and Lisa Lang's Utopian Man (the fictionalised story of the founder of Melbourne's Cole's Book Arcade – reviewed by reading matters and anzlitlovers).

Some new book window-shopping (and buying)...

 

Here we see Anne Summers' The Misogyny Factor (for a taste of this take-down of misogyny in Australian public life, see her extraordinary talk (NSFW!) here. Also Lily Brett's Lola Bensky (which I wanted to read after enjoying travellinpenguin's review), and Murder on the Home Front by Molly Lefebure, based on her work as secretary to a forensic pathologist in London in World War Two.

A kind friend, knowing my love of vintage Australiana, gave me this wonderful old book - Possum by Mary Grant Bruce - about a sickly city family who embrace the health-filled delights of the bush:

 

I went to a couple of events at Sydney Writers' Festival. How's that for the view from one venue?

 

I managed to get along to three 'conversations' (a friendly format, I think): on Bohemian Sydney: Dancing with Empty Pockets with Tony Moore (author of a new book on bohemianism in Australia) and Elizabeth Farrelly; What the Classics Teach Us with Robert Greene, David Brooks, Richard Gill and Alastair Blanshard; and Fantastical Tales, with Sulari Gentill, Kate Forsyth, K.B. Hoyle and Judith Ridge. An eclectic mix, but all quite fascinating. Two of the three were free, too – a nice way to allow everyone access to some really good discussions.

 

I visited a couple of exhibitions, including Dressing Sydney at the Sydney Jewish Museum (about the origins of many familiar Australian fashion and design labels) and - my absolute favourite - the Lego Colosseum at the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney.

 

I ate a lot of cake, visiting both Black Star Pastry and Bourke Street Bakery:

   

And found a bottle of orgeat syrup, which I'm sure all Regency fans will recognise as a suitable Georgette Heyer-ish drink for ladies. I suspect Regency ladies did not drink it like this, however - the 'Japanese Cocktail' (brandy, orgeat, bitters, fresh lime. Amazing…):

   

I also gave a seminar paper at the university (terrifying but happily well received by a very kindly audience).

 
Sydney University, looking very handsome.

Of course, despite all of these bookish pursuits, I only finished one book - on the plane home! – the amusing tale of how a clever conman latches on to an unscrupulous millionaire and teaches him some lessons in humility (and frustration): An African Millionaire: Episodes in the Life of the Illustrious Colonel Clay by Grant Allen (who wrote one of my favourite reads this year, Miss Cayley's Adventures, also free at project gutenberg).

Finally, in the minus column, my laptop has died after a rapid and painful decline, so I have a backlog of about 30 million blog posts I want to comment on but can't until the replacement arrives. On the plus side, no one seems to have noticed that I'm writing this at work… Talk soon!

Monday, May 13, 2013

{review} taylor, ferguson, carter; crime, fairytale, WTF?

I'm not sure what happened to the first half of May. Gone in a flash... I thought I'd do a 3-in-1 review today, as at the snail-like pace I'm reviewing at the moment, who knows when I'd ever write them up properly. 

Andrew Taylor Waiting for the End of the World (1984)

This is the second in the William Dougal series. I had high hopes that it would reach the heights of the exquisite and excellent no. 1 (Caroline Minuscule: my review), and while I found it an enjoyable read, I thought it lacked something of the attractive amorality of its predecessor. Dougal's pursuit of "uncomplicated hedonism" is once again compromised by his Nemesis-cum-mentor Hanbury, who blackmails him into spying on an Apocalypse-survival cult-leader who wants to make inroads into the UK doomsday market. This is a simple description which in no way can do justice to Taylor's ability to make hilarious chaos from the seemingly simple - and soon Dougal finds himself in well over his head. Taylor's writing is witty and dry, and I would definitely add the next one in the series to my TBR. Note: the age of mobile phones has really destroyed forever little scenes like this one:
The telephone began to emit a continuous whine. Dougal put down the receiver. There were six people waiting outside now; the first in the queue, a Hell's Angel with I LOVE E II R tattooed on his naked chest, was kicking red paint from the kiosk with an immense jackboot. Dougal emerged and held the door open for him. The Angel unexpectedly said: 'Fanks, mate.'

 


Ruby Ferguson Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary (1937)

I read Ruby Ferguson's charming pony-mad 'Jill' books as a child as they were among my mother's favourite books from her childhood. This is an absolutely charming book for grown-ups or, rather, "a fairy tale for grown-ups": a Persephone, and what a gorgeous one. A group of tourists tour a rundown stately home in Scotland. Through flashbacks and memories supplied by the caretaker, Mrs Memmary, the tragic story of the last occupant of 'Keepfield' is revealed in a chronological narrative of Lady Rose's privileged but emotionally austere childhood, her schooldays, presentation to Queen Victoria, dutiful marriage, inheritance of her family's title, then a unexpected opportunity for love and happiness - and a tremendous sacrifice. Ferguson creates a magical atmosphere, but one that simultaneously presents us with the possibility that this will be the fairytale without the happy ending. I was so sad when this story was finished: not just because it was a sad tale, but also because I did not want the story to end. Highly recommended!
"Take my advice," said the Duchess, "and stop the girl from reading novels. Girls of eighteen have no business to read love scenes in print; it puts false ideas into their heads. Operas at Covent Garden are bad enough, heaven knows, with persons actually romantically embracing each other on the stage. But I hastened to impress on Rose and Hermione Southwood that it all happened hundreds of years ago, and that in any case it is extremely doubtful whether Dido and Aeneas actually existed. I myself will lock Tennyson in my bureau; and if you see Rose reading any other poetry I do implore you, Margaret, for your own sake, to substitute something wholesome. A young girl needs to read nothing but her Bible; and only carefully selected portions of that!"

 


"There was once a young man named Desiderio who set out upon a journey and very soon lost himself completely." I think this book has decided me, finally, that I don't enjoy dystopian fiction and magical realism. I do, however, really like Angela Carter's writing (with Nights at the Circus being my favourite). This one is set in a post-war world, a little Metropolis-like in places. The narrator-hero, Desiderio, must overcome the evil Doctor Hoffman, who "was waging a massive campaign against human reason itself" with mass hallucinogenic mirages to which the narrator is seemingly immune. ("The only form of transport the Minister permitted in the city was the bicycle, since it can only be ridden by that constant effort of will which precludes the imagination.") 

The book explores, on one level, what it is to be a hero - "I became a hero only because I survived". The redeeming feature of this tale was, for me, Carter's beautiful writing, lush descriptions, and quite astonishingly imaginative scene-settings - it is completely possible to become word-drunk on her writing. Carter also weaves in echoes from other texts (for instance, Don Quixote and the picaresque tradition; ethnographic and travel writing; witch-trials; the Odyssey; and many more) which create a further unsettledness for the reader who may well bring a certain set of expectations along with these other texts. It is sometimes overwhelmingly postmodern. This was not an easy book, as it deliberately breaks narrative rules, occasionally baffles with theory, and was, in general, far too surreal for my enjoyment. But, to be fair, it was also a lush and gorgeous exploration of a "subtly hostile", rampantly foliaged, dystopian landscape where "everything it is possible to imagine can also exist".
And the very birds of the air seemed possessed by devils. Some grew to the size and acquired the temperament of winged jaguars. Fanged sparrows plucked out the eyes of little children. Snarling flocks of starlings swooped down upon some starving wretch picking over a mess of dreams and refuse in a gutter and tore what remained of his flesh from his bones. The pigeons lolloped from illusory pediment to window-ledge like volatile, feathered madmen, chattering vile rhymes and laughing in hoarse, throaty voices, or perched upon chimney stacks shouting quotations from Hegel. But often, in actual mid-air, the birds would forget the techniques and mechanics of the very act of flight and then they fell down, so that every morning dead birds lay in drifts on the pavements like autumn leaves or brown, wind-blown snow.

So? In sum, one absolutely loved, one reasonable sequel, and one Oh My Eyes My Eyes! Too Weird! (birds quoting Hegel is my new nightmare...).

{READ IN 2017}

  • MARCH
  • 23.
  • 22.
  • 21.
  • 20. The Murder on the Enriqueta - Molly Thynne
  • 19. The Nowhere Man - Gregg Hurwitz
  • 18. He Dies and Makes No Sign - Molly Thynne
  • FEBRUARY
  • 17. Death in the Dentist's Chair - Molly Thynne
  • 16. The Crime at the 'Noah's Ark' - Molly Thynne
  • 15. Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh
  • 14. Night School - Lee Child
  • 13. The Dancing Bear - Frances Faviell
  • 12. The Reluctant Cannibals - Ian Flitcroft
  • 11. Fear Stalks the Village - Ethel Lina White
  • 10. The Plot - Irving Wallace
  • JANUARY
  • 9. Understood Betsy - Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  • 8. Give the Devil his Due - Sulari Gentill
  • 7. A Murder Unmentioned - Sulari Gentill
  • 6. Dead Until Dark - Charlaine Harris
  • 5. Gentlemen Formerly Dressed - Sulari Gentill
  • 4. While She Sleeps - Ethel Lina White
  • 3. A Chelsea Concerto - Frances Faviell
  • 2. Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul - H. G. Wells
  • 1. Heft - Liz Moore

{READ IN 2016}

  • (K = Kindle; rr = re-read)
  • DECEMBER
  • 92. Richardson's First Case - Basil Thomson [K]
  • 91. The Alington Inheritance - Patricia Wentworth [K; rr]
  • 90. Orphan X - Gregg Hurwitz [K]
  • 89. The House of Godwinsson [Bobby Owen 24] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 88. Music Tells All [Bobby Owen 24] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 87. Helen Passes By [Bobby Owen 23] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • NOVEMBER
  • 86. It Might Lead Anywhere [Bobby Owen 22] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 85. There's a Reason for Everything [Bobby Owen 21] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 84. Secrets Can't Be Kept [Bobby Owen 20] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • OCTOBER
  • 83. Night's Cloak [Bobby Owen 19] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 82. The Conqueror Inn [Bobby Owen 18] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 81. The Diabolic Candelabra [Bobby Owen 17] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 80. The Dark Garden [Bobby Owen 16] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • SEPTEMBER
  • 79. Picture Miss Seeton - Heron Carvic [K]
  • 78. Down Under (Benbow Smith 4) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 77. Walk with Care (Benbow Smith 3) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 76. Danger Calling (Benbow Smith 2) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 75. Fool Errant (Benbow Smith 1) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 74. The Annam Jewel - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 73. Mr Zero - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 72. Will o' the Wisp - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 71. Red Shadow - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 70. Pursuit of a Parcel (Lamb 3) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 69. Who Pays the Piper (Lamb 2) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 68. The Blind Side (Lamb 1) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 67. Outrageous Fortune - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 66. The Amazing Chance - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 65. Red Stefan - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • AUGUST
  • 64. The Coldstone - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 63. Anne Belinda - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 62. The Black Cabinet - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 61. Hue & Cry - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 60. The Skin Collector - Jeffery Deaver [K]
  • 59. The Kill Room - Jeffery Deaver [K]
  • 58. Nothing Venture - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 57. Kingdom Lost - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 56. Beggar's Choice - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 55. Hole and Corner - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 54. Touch and Go - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 53. The Red Lacquer Case - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 52. Run! - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 51. Fear by Night - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • JULY
  • 50. The Dower House Mystery - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 49. The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 48. Weekend with Death - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 47. Blindfold - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 46. Silence in Court - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 45. Acts of the Assassins - Richard Beard [K]
  • JUNE
  • 44. Hack - Kieran Crowley [K]
  • 43. The Portable Veblen - Elizabeth McKenzie [K]
  • 42. The Spirit Murder Mystery - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • MAY
  • 41. The Ginger Cat Mystery - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • 40. The Pleasure Cruise Mystery - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • 39. The Polo Ground Murder - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • APRIL
  • 38. The Outsider - Jason Dean [K]
  • 37. The Hunter's Oath - Jason Dean [K]
  • 36. Missing or Murdered - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • 35. The Beetle - Richard Marsh [K]
  • MARCH
  • 34. A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell 1) - Deanna Raybourn [K]
  • 33. The Chimera Vector - Nathan M. Farrugia [K]
  • 32. An Infamous Army - Georgette Heyer [K]
  • 31. Mr Bazalgette's Agent - Leonard Merrick
  • 30. Don't Tell - Karen Rose [K]
  • 29. Say Goodbye - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 28. Gone - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 27. The Killing Hour - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 26. The Next Accident - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 25. The Third Victim - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • FEBRUARY
  • 24. The Perfect Husband - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 23. Find Her - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 22. Fear Nothing - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 21. Catch Me - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 20. Love You More - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 19. Live to Tell - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 18. The Neighbour - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 17. Hide - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 16. Alone - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 15. The Humans - Matt Haig [K]
  • 14. Utopian Man - Lisa Lang
  • 13. Love Insurance - Earl Derr Biggers [K]
  • JANUARY
  • 12. The Ignition Effect - Viv Ronnebeck [K]
  • 11. My Brilliant Career - Miles Franklin [K]
  • 10. Dangerous & Unseemly - K. B. Owen [K]
  • 9. In Bitter Chill - Sarah Ward [K[
  • 8. Half a Crown - Jo Walton [K]
  • 7. Ha'penny - Jo Walton [K]
  • 6. Hilda Wade: A Woman with Tenacity of Purpose - Grant Allen [K]
  • 5. The Case of William Smith - Patricia Wentworth [K; rr]
  • 4. Blue Murder - Harriet Rutland [K]
  • 3. Bleeding Hooks - Harriet Rutland [K]
  • 2. Knock, Murderer, Knock! - Harriet Rutland [K]
  • 1. Ten Star Clues [Bobby Owen 15] - E. R. Punshon [K]