Monday, 30 November 2009

After my long absence

I can hardly believe that it is a whole month since I had time to post anything here! It wasn't intended to be such a long absence, I have just been constantly busy, though I didn't quite realise for how long. The house is in terminal chaos, the chicken run needs mending, I have barely even thought about Christmas and a Devon/London trip looms. This evening, though, I have just sent a piece of typesetting off to the publishers and I have an hour when it's not worth starting something new - how nice.

I have managed a little reading in the course of the month - there have been a few godsends which have kept me going in the middle of the night, when my brain wouldn't stop, so I did put in a very quick visit to the library mid-month (well, I had to go in because they had some books for me). Susan Hill's Howards End is on the Landing was a huge pleasure, describing her year of "reading from home", which I considered emulating, since the house of full of books whch no-one is reading, and the TBR piles threaten to take over. However, in the past I have spent quite long periods relying on what was to hand so I decided to wait until it was a forced choice. Susan Hill was good company while I read her book - I didn't always agree with her choices (at the end of the book she includes a list of 40 books she couldn't do without), but her reasons were cogent, and I enjoyed the arguments which took place in my head. Lovely cover, too. I followed up with the third of her Serrailler novels, The Risk of Darkness - rather than a series of standalone books on unrelated crimes, her books should be read in order (and for once, I am doing so). They started out very well, and are getting better. Serrailler is a convincingly fallible hero, attractive but flawed.

At the opposite end of the crime spectrum were Alexander McCall Smith's The Careful Use of Compliments and Catriona MacPherson's The Burry Man's Day. I thought I had read former, but happily I got it out of the library anyway (it would be a soothing re-read, I reasoned) and was delighted to find that it was new to me. I am not at all sure I agreed with Isabel's actions when her job as Editor of The Review of Applied Ethics was threatened, but I certainly sympathised with them. Then I settled down to the second Dandy Gilver mystery full of eager anticipation, and I wasn't disappointed - I love the setting, Scotland in the 1920s, and Dandy's mix of aristocratic arrogance, sound common sense and a sense of humour, much as if Nancy Mitford had taken to detective stories. They are great fun - I'm about to embark on the third.

The last Angela Thirkell, Threescore and Ten, was a bit of a curate's egg - the first half of the story, written when she was old and ill, lags distinctly, the "divagations" for which she was famous being not so much digressions as quagmires. She left it unfinished on her death, and her friend C.A. Lejeune took over and completed it at a much brisker pace.

I knew of Sarah Quigley as a poet, so when her name caught my eye on the library shelf my interest was piqued. Shot tells the story of Lena Domanski, a comedian from San Francisco, whose world disintegrates when she is accidentally shot. Her body recovers but her sense of self is fragmented and she no longer wishes to earn her living by being funny; her interest in in loss, both her own and that of other people. Eventually she sets off to Alaska with a camera, and finds both tragedy and fulfillment. Finally, A Bit of Earth by Rebecca Smith is another story of loss: a botany lecturer loses his wife in an accident and is left alone with their small son, to muddle along in a state of abstraction and distress. Young Felix Misselthwaite (nice Secret Garden reference), isolated and unhappy, is saved by his love of the university's neglected botanic garden, where he finds friends animal and human. These two books are about loss and fragmentation, approaching personal disasters from very different angles, but they are also about the redemptive power of the human spirit. I recommend both.


  1. Nice to see you back again! Sounds like you've had some excellent books. :)

  2. Thank you especially for those last few recommendations. I have lost my husband less than 4 weeks ago - totally unexpected, he was not ill, he was only 41, and he died just like that.
    It will still take time to get my head round the fact that I am now, indeed, a widow.
    The books you mentioned sound like they could help a bit on my way back to normal life and into the new chapter that has begun for me without Steve.

  3. How very nice to read your words again. I am always captured by the reviews you write. They are perfect.

  4. Hello!

    I would like to get my hands on the Susan Hill book. I am a fan of her crime series and yes, they do need to be read in order, and I agree that they get better. Or perhaps I still think the first is my favorite. Whichever way, I have already preordered the 5th installment and cannot wait!

  5. I've just started the Isabel Dalhousie series. I wasn't sure if they would be for me but I enjoyed the first one rather a lot and now have book two on my library pile. She's certainly an unusual main character to base a series on but McCall Smith has got it spot on again. I can't think of another male author who writes women as well as he does, apart from possibly Terry Pratchett who also portrays women as they really are, rather than a constant stream of glamour-pusses.

  6. I've just read the first Serailler book, and really enjoyed it. I'm off to hunt for the next three! Yours is the second review of Susan Hill's Books on the Landing, so I'm going to see if it's out here yet. Then there's the MacPherson book series which looks very interesting! It's good to have you back, I've missed you!