Book Reviews

Snapshot August 2015

PimmsAs the first day of a new month arrives it’s time to take a quick snapshot of what I’m listening to and reading.


I’m about a third of the way into Old Goriot by Honoré de Balzac which is part of his novel sequence La Comédie humaine. It’s a book that’s been on my TBR shelf for about four years so the TBR Challenge run by Adam at RoofBeamReader was the perfect catalyst to get  it down off the shelf. Now I’ve started I don’t really understand why I’ve held back for so long. Set in Paris in 1819, Old Goriot follows the intertwined lives of three characters who live in a down at heel boarding house in an undesirable part of the city. Goriot is an elderly retired trader in vermicelli who is so devoted to his daughters he descends into penury just so they don’t go without. Other inhabitants include a mysterious agitator called Vautrin; and Eugène de Rastignac, a naive law student intent on getting established in the higher reaches of society. I love the way Balzac describes the depressing, gloomy nature of the boarding house, its miserable environs which have ” a suggestion of a jail” and its wretched food.


On my journey to work I’ve been engrossed by a true-life story of a friendship conducted via email between a  British mother and an Iraqi teacher. Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad by Bee Rowlatt and May Witwit traces the stages of a friendship which began in 2005 when Bee (a journalist on the BBC World Service) interviewed May (a lecturer in English literature at Baghdad university) for a feature piece. Their lives as so different; one woman is trapped in the bloodbath of Baghdad while the other bakes cakes for the school’s parents’ association; but their friendship grows. Together they hatch a plan to get May and her husband Ali away from the dangers of Iraq. As in all good human drama stories, it’s a plan that doesn’t go smoothly. This is a book that exists only because of that plan (its publication was designed to fund a PhD position in London for May). As a written text I’m sure it would be a fascinating read but it works so much better in audio format where the letters are read by an actress Sian Thomas. She captures so well each woman’s speech patterns and accidents so you feel they are really talking to each other across the miles.




What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

12 thoughts on “Snapshot August 2015

  • Oh that Jane Austen related book sounds wonderful! And I don’t think it’s a thin connection 🙂 I’ll probably check it out as I’m just as fascinated by those who are connected to Austen (even the most tangentially) as I am about Austen herself.

    • I feel emboldened to enter the fray of Austen in August now!

  • Your listening to Talking About Reading Jane Austen in Baghdad would fit in perfectly with Austen in August at Roof Beam Reader should you choose to participate.

    • It has only a very thin connection to Austen but maybe it would still qualify for Austen in August

  • Love the sound of what you are listening to thanks for sharing

  • I haven’t read this one. I read many of the classics during my youth living in an isolated place in a home with “books by the yard”.

    I recently read “Bird Box” and was excited at first as I saw it to an allegory to the terror that appears prevalent in our society. This terror makes us blind (blindfolded) to reality and logic. However, all the reviews see it as a straight post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel. I recently also read “30 Seconds After” which is more the latter type.

    Can’t understand how people don’t read now days. Amazing what they are missing.


  • I’ve never read Balzac, but the book you’re reading sounds great. I will have to put Balzac on my classics list.

    • i’ve never read him previously either, I somehow had the feeling his books were rather ponderous (no idea how I got that impression) but that’s completely wrong

  • I loved Old Goriot, so I’m not surprised that you’re enjoying it.

  • I have my radio alarm tuned to the World Service from 6am weekdays and find it a much nicer way of waking up that the confrontational stance of John Humphies. However I haven’t heard of Bee or this story (From Our Own Correspondent is another excellent series of 5 minute stories from BBC people on the ground) so good to hear it expanded out and presented in a dramatisation……

    • I wonder if she is still with the World Service – the book represents three years up to 2009 so she could have moved on. I’ve given up on John Humphreys too.


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