Snapshot December 2015

Another 1st of the month today and once again I forgot to mark the occasion with the traditional saying “pinch, punch, first of the month”. This custom seems centuries old, coming from a time when there was a strong belief in the existence of witches. It was thought that salt would make a witch weak, so the pinch part is pinching of the salt, and the punch part was to banish the witch. The witch would be weak from the salt so the punch was to banish her.

I have my own little tradition to mark today however which is to capture what I’m reading, listening to and watching.


The englishpatientI’ve been riding the Booker Prize wave recently. Last week I finished The Sea The Sea by Iris Murdoch which was so much more enjoyable than I ever expected. Now I’m half way through The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje which was the joint winner of the prize in 1992 (only the second time in the history of the prize that it was split between two novels.)  Set in 1945, it features four damaged people who take refuge in a damaged villa north of Florence as Europe emerges from the war. In an upstairs room lies a horrifically burned man. His name is unknown but his memory is intact and it takes him back to the North African desert and the woman he loved. Every page of this novel is a delightful experience of witnessing a masterful writer at his best. One to savour slowly….


My journey to work has been in the company of a couple of trembling, over excited women over the past few weeks.  Throw in a ruined mansion, an overbearing servant, a blind man and the result is a sensation novel which turns on a secret involving illegitimacy.   Dead Secret was the fourth published novel from the pen of Wilkie Collins. It’s the novel that immediately preceded his acclaimed Woman in White and what a difference between the two works. Where Woman in White is meticulously constructed and has some memorable characters (including the magnificent Count Fosco), Dead Secret is considerably over-written and the secret is very obvious to readers even if the characters themselves are not quick on the uptake. The only enjoyable aspects are the characters of the vicar’s friend (a man so feeble a slight breeze gives him palpitations) and a villainous male servant.


The energetic figure of Simon Scharma is bouncing across the screen in the BookerTalk household as we re-visit his superb series A History of Britain. Schama wrote and presented the episodes himself. His jocular style and very mobile facial expressions don’t appeal to everyone but I enjoy his story-telling, thematic approach. Much more engaging than dusty professors in tweed jackets that used to front BBC programs in decades past or the celeb presenters who turn up frequently now (reading everything to camera since they have no clue about the subject personally).

About BookerTalk

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

Posted on December 1, 2015, in Man Booker Prize and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. I recently read Drood and my interest in Wilkie Collins has increased again, and I want to read some of his lesser known works.

    And as for English Patient, sadly, the book didn’t quite work for me, or maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for it.

  2. It’s been a long while since I read The English Patient. I recall liking it. I wouldn’t mind seeing the History of Britain series — I wonder if it’s available in Canada?

  3. I absolutely HATED the film of The English Patient. Gag!

  4. I loved The English Patient! What did it tie with?

  5. It never fails to amaze me just how varied Collins writing style could be. How could one man write so sublimely in one book and then so ‘trashily’ in the next? I’ve given up on a lot of his work, I have to admit, just because I don’t want the ones I love so much to be tainted by the lesser work.

    • I’ve come to the same resolution – clearly in the ones that pre-date A Woman in White he was still feeling his way. A kind of warm up for the big thing…

  6. That pinch punch thing is interesting, apparently in parts of New England they say “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit” first thing and they’re supposed to have a great month. We didn’t have anything like that where I grew up in the South.

    I loved Ondaatje’s The English Patient, I read the “companion” novel, In the Skin of a Lion, and although it was beautiful it just wasn’t as great.

    • I’ve heard of a variation which is to say White Rabbit (presumably they were seen to be lucky creatures??). I’ll have to look out for In the Skin of a Lion. even if its only 75% as good, it will still be worth reading Geoff

  7. I just started The Sea The Sea two days ago , the first book I have read by Iris Murdoch. I had to put it down because I was reading it too fast. Not only is the story well done and quite hilarious but the writing is excellent and I find I miss out on enjoying her choice of words if I turn the pages too fast. Sometimes a great deal of descriptive detail can be tedious and one is apt to speed read through those parts to get at the narrative. But this is not the case with The Sea…..

    • You are so lucky that this is your first Murdoch. So true that Charles Arrowby is a ridiculous person in many ways – often I found myself muttering ‘unbelievable’ when he pontificates how much all these women are in love with him

  8. Glad to hear you’re enjoying The English Patient. I’m not sure if I will ever get to that one – I’ve seen the movie and I don’t like knowing what’s going to happen. I’m hoping to read ‘In the Skin of a Lion’ soon, though.

  9. Sad to say that I didn’t warm up to The English Patient. I felt that it was too slow and I figured that it was not the type of book that I should have read at that time. Would I give it a second try? With so many books out there, well, maybe not. 🙂

  10. I love Wilkie’s books. Armadale is one of my very favorites.

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