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WWWednesday 22 August 2018

The weeks certainly go fast don’t they? I can’t believe Wednesday has come around again so its time for another WWWednesday post. WWWednesday is hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words  and involves answering just three questions

 

What are you currently reading: The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

I’m reading The Line of Beauty because it won the Booker Prize in 2004. I’m down to the last four in my project to read all the winners. I’ve found Hollinghurst’s book a bit of a struggle to the extent that I debated more than once whether to give up on the novel.  Consequently it has taken me weeks to get to within the last 100 pages. To be fair it improved in the second half but it will never get on my list of favourite Booker winners.

Bloomsbury describe it as “a sweeping novel about class, sex, and money during four extraordinary years of change and tragedy.” The years of change is a reference to the fact the book is set during the ‘reign’ of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister. There’s a tremendous amount of sex in this book – the central character is either thinking about it or engaged in the act – which would disturb many readers I suspect. My biggest beef about the book is that it was just boring for a large part of the time.

 

What did you recently finish reading:  Beartown by Fredrick Backman

This was the selection for one of my book clubs this month. The contrast with Line of Beauty could not be greater. Beartown is set in a small Swedish town that’s seen better days. The locals are crazy about ice hockey and pinning their hopes that their highly talented junior hockey team win national honours, a success that can herald an economic revival for their community. All is going great until suddenly a terrible incident changes everything, setting one part of the community directly at odds with another. There

Enjoyable to read though I think I know as much as I need to about ice hockey for now.

 

 

What will you be reading next? 

This is usually a difficult question for me since I don’t like to plan too far in advance. But I have to this week because I’m off on holiday at the weekend and so will need to decide what comes with me in my luggage.

There is one title that will definitely be making the trip to Germany.

 

Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love was selected for me as a result of the Classics Club spin and which, the ‘rules’ say I need to read by August 31.

Another possible companion is the book I bought today.  Lullaby by Leila Slimani is next month’s book club. The Guardian newspaper tells me that “This tense, deftly written novel about a perfect nanny’s transition into a monster will take your breath away.”  I’m hesitating though because it’s not a very long novel.

On the e-reader I have the latest novel by Andrew Miller, author of Pure, which I thought was an outstanding novel.  Now We Shall Be Entirely Free, begins on a winter’s night in 1809 when a naval captain fresh from a campaign against Napolean’s forces, is carried unconscious into a house. He is traumatised by what he witnessed in that campaign. Miller is superb at re-creating the past so I’m looking forward to reading this.

 

So that’s how the reading horizon looks for me. What’s on your horizon this month?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pure by Andrew Miller – Review

Pure by Andrew Miller is set in Paris in 1785. Jean-Baptiste Baratte, a young, ambitious engineer, arrives at the palace of Versailles hoping to get a Ministerial commission that will help him make a mark on the world. He “dreams of building utopias where the church and its superstitions will be replaced by schools run by men like himself.” Instead, the task he is handed is not one of construction but of demolition.

In the  Rue de Saint Innocents stands the oldest cemetery in Paris. More than 50,000 victims of bubonic plague were reputedly buried here in one day. The  subterranean wall separating the living from the dead has collapsed and the bones and decaying flesh have released a miasma which fouls the air,  taints the food and even the breath of those who live within its shadow.

It takes a year for Barratte and his team of miners to open the graves and clear away the past. It’s a job which almost costs Baratte his life as the cemetery becomes a kind of hell of burning fires and walls of bones and skulls. Few of those involved in the enterprise emerge unscathed physically or mentally. When they began they imagined they were engaged in a noble cause, building the foundations of a better future in which their endeavours would be marked for posterity.

“They will name squares after us ……..the men who purified Paris,” declares the foreman of works. But as the graves are emptied and the cemetery’s wild flowers wither, so the vitality drains out of the workers. Tobacco, alcohol, weekly visits by prostitutes – nothing can distract the team of miners from the sense of loss. ‘I had some good in me once’ one observes bleakly.

Baratte too undergoes a transformation. The naïve young man is easy prey when he first arrives in the city. It takes little to persuade him to exchange his sensible brown suit for one of pistachio green silk or to join a group of drunken vandals who move about the city under cover of night painting obscenities about Queen Marie Antoinette. But it is not long before he finds he cannot sleep without a sedative and his ideals and belief in the power of reason are destroyed.

The cleansing of the cemetery is an extended metaphor for the cleansing that we as readers know these citizens will experience shortly, although on a significantly bigger scale. Andrew Miller provides plenty of symbolic references to the French Revolution, including naming one of characters Dr Guillotin and including dialogue that can easily be read on two levels. Take this example, from Baratte’s first meeting with the Ministerial aide,  who gives him his commission:

It is poisoning the city. Left long enough, it may poison not just local shopkeepers but the king himself. The king and his ministers.

Yes, my lord.

It is to be removed.

Removed?

Destroyed. Church and cemetery. The place is to be made sweet again. Use fire, use brimstone. Use whatever you need to get rid of it.

Pure is Andrew Miller’s sixth novel and it won him the 2011 Costa Book of the Year award. The judges praised it as a “structurally and stylistically flawless historical novel.”  Miller deftly avoids some of the biggest failings I see in many historical novels – the author’s tendency to want to drown readers in period detail and factual information and then to make their characters speak in a kind of cod ‘period language’.

Not so for Miller. He’s clearly done his research but only uses it to bring the characters and location alive through snatches of information about clothes, food and daily domestic life . His descriptions of the stench that pervades the neighbourhood were so powerful I could almost smell it on the page I had in my hands.  (rather like my feeling on reading the Paris scenes early on in Patrick Sushkind’s Perfume).

In all, for me Pure was a gripping read.

Sunday Salon: Am I a threat to literature?

This is the week when I learned that my ramblings on this blog pose a threat to literature. Peter Stothard, editor of the Times Literary Supplement, considers people like me are undermining the status of literary criticism.

Sitting in my study, happily tapping away at the keyboard, I never dreamt I was wielding so much influence. I thought I was just sharing my own personal experience and love of reading with other similarly interested people. Stothard however believes the rise of blogs is bad for readers:

…. as much as one would like to think that many bloggers opinions are as good as others. It just ain’t so. People will be encouraged to buy and read books that are no good, the good will be overwhelmed, and we’ll be worse off.

He seems to miss the point that many bloggers don’t set them selves up to be anything other than enthusiasts. We don’t claim to have special knowledge or expertise beyond that of being the target audience for people who write and publish books. Is Stothard suggesting that readers shouldn’t share their reactions with others – so would he like to see the end of book clubs and reading circles also?  And maybe he would be happy if we stopped talking about it to work colleagues and friends over lunch? Isn’t he forgetting the fact that many books (Fifty Shades of Grey, Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter to name just a few) became best sellers based on word of mouth recommendations?

Here is the report on Stothard’s comments: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/the-bionic-book-worm-8168123.html .

And now for other news….

End of another week and I am still behind with posting reviews on some books I’ve read recently.  I did finally get to review a novel I read while on holiday – Shadow of the Wind.  But I’ve yet to post my comments on Bring up the Bodies which I finished about six weeks ago let alone Pure by Andrew Miller which I read last week and Northern Lights which I also finished. I’m also still behind on reading for the Classics Club- am only half way through North and South even though I am enjoying it so far. Better luck next week maybe.

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