The two books I’ve been reading this past week couldn’t be more different. In one corner of the bedside table sits Claire Tomalin’s award winning biography of Samuel Pepys The Unequalled Self. And in the other corner is The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark, an author I’ve known of for years but never got around to reading.
I loved Tomalin’s book – my review is posted here. Much of the information she presents was a revelation for me since all I really knew of Pepys was that he lived through the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London and captured his thoughts for posterity in his diary. I had no idea he was a key figure in government or that he was an avid reader and collector of books while also being somewhat of a rogue. Now I really want to read the diaries themselves.
It’s too early to give any thoughts on Muriel Spark’s novel. It’s set in ‘The May of Teck Club’, a kind of ladies rooming establishment opposite Hyde Park, London, ‘For the Pecuniary Convenience and Social Protection of Ladies of Slender Means below the age of Thirty Years, who are obliged to reside apart from their Families in order to follow an Occupation in London”. It concerns the lives of its residents in the immediate aftermath of VE Day in Europe. So far all that’s happened is that we’ve been introduced to some of the main characters but there isn’t really any sense of a plot as yet.
Both of these texts are diversions from the book I should really be reading – Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. I’ve been reading this now for at least six weeks and the progress is painfully slow. I have about 80 pages left but try as I might I can’t read more than about 5 pages at a stretch. My husband simply can’t understand why I don’t give it up but having slogged my way through more than 500 pages I’m not going to give in now. Besides which, finishing it will mean I have made further progress on my personal challenge to read through all the Man Booker prize winners. I’m determined to finish it before year end so I can begin reading some of the stack that’s built up in the last few weeks. Going into a bookshop to buy gifts for the family was fatal – for every two I bought as presents to give away, I seem to have bought one for myself. Perhaps I should wrap them in Christmas paper and pretend they are a surprise present from a friend??