Summer is here at last though the temperatures are far lower than they should be this time of the year. As each month opens I like to take a snapshot of what I’m reading, listening to and watching. So what was I up to on June 1, 2015?
I stayed up far too late reading The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson. It’s a fast paced novel set in London in 1727, a time when, if you got into debt you could end up incarcerated in the grim debtor’s prison of the Marshalsea. Such is the fate of Thomas Hawkins, a young rake with a penchant for drinking and gambling. His only option for surviving the fetid environment is to pay the jailers who are intent on squeezing every last penny out of their captives. But then he is offered an alternative lifeline – his freedom in return for unmasking the person responsible for the death of another inmate. What lifts this book well above the run of the mill thriller is its astonishingly atmospheric quality.
It seems Hodgson is looking to capitalise on her success with this novel. She’s just finished a sequel featuring the same character. The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins, published by Hodder and Stoughton moves the action on one year when Tom, condemned as a murderer is once again fighting for his life. I’ve already put this on order at the library.
I’m between audio books at the moment having just finished the superb Room by Emma Donaghue. I’ve been catching up on some podcasts instead including episodes of The Readers in which Simon and Thomas discuss if there are too many books being published. This was a topic that was aired in Front Row, a BBC Radio 4 program, a week or so ago. To my surprise one of the guests, from a big publishing house whose name escapes me now, agreed there was a surfeit of books published in the UK. There are certainly more than I can possibly hope to keep up with but are there really too many full stop? My first thought went to the number that are self published. Yes there are a few examples where a really good book only saw the light of day because of self publishing and word of mouth promotion. But they are the exception – most of the self published books I come across are sheer dross that the world really doesn’t need. Switching to the output of established publishing houses the question became more difficult to answer. My knee jerk reaction was that they could start by cutting down on the number of autobiographies and memoirs supposedly written by C list celebrities. There are always stacks of them on the remainder tables so clearly their fans are not that enamoured of them. Instead of paying them big advances, wouldn’t the money be better spent helping burgeoning authors? If publishing houses reduce their catalogues of new issues, it will be even more difficult for new authors to get a foot on the ladder. And as for books in translation – the number is pitiful enough now but they’d be unlikely to get a look in in the future given the smaller reader base.
Nothing much of note simply because on June 1 I was in a hotel room in Brussels where the options for English language tv were rather limited. The satellite was also playing up so BBC 1 and 2 were unwatchable which left me with the rolling news channels. 15 minutes of BBC Worldwide or CNN and I’ve had enough. They do little more than recycle the same piece of news endlessly. Ok if all you want are the headlines before rushing out of the room in the morning but as a viewing experience they are dire. Oh well, at least I had a good book.