Books I am currently reading

Books I recently read

 A Different Drummer by William Melvin Kenney

It disarms you. Follow it to the end

The Empty Family by Colm Tóibín

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

The book of strange new things by Michel Faber

My Struggle: A Death in the family by Karl Ove Knausgaard

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

The principal character in this novel features prominently in “Life after Life” (see below)

I am currently binge reading Kate Atkinson and this is no disappointment.

In the same way David Mitchell manages to lace the same characters across disparate novels – Kate Atkinson does it here, too.

Adds a dimension of literary sleuthery!

Life after Life by Kate Atkinson

In some ways this novel reminded me of David Mitchell novels. It plays with time and the same character set in different locations.

This novel, however, is less ‘magical’. A touch of “Groundhog Day” set amid a suggestion of Infinite/Multiple Universe theory.

I will simply say that I loved it. Characterisation and the story lines are extremely well observed.

Since it is in this list it is clearly recommended. I would say that the genre is one I enjoy and would find it very difficult to choose between David Mitchell and Kate Atkinson.

Atkinson may win it – but by a tiny edge.

Slade House by David Mitchell

A bite-sized novel from David Mitchell which really should only be read after reading “The Bone Clocks”.

Dr Iris Marinus-Fenby is becoming David Mitchell’s version of an Agatha Christie detective. A Miss Marple for Atemporals.

I loved it but I love all David Mitchell novels.

I highly recommend reading “The Bone Clocks” and “The 1000 Autumns of Jacob de Zoet” first.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

Dorrigo Evans’ story includes life as a POW trying to complete the Burmese railway during WW II, a love story which is tragic and a study into human character.

It is not a short book and yet, curiously, it has areas I wish could have been fleshed out more. There is a lot of description – some extremely well observed – which accounts for some wonderful imagery. Some of it is very graphic but it never descends to being lurid or cheap.

A very good book and I can see why it took the Booker Prize last year.

The South by Colm Toibin

thesouthKatherine escapes her unhappy life in Ireland by fleeing to Spain.

The plot is predictable. The scale feels small although it crosses Europe and the Troubles. It is intimate. The characters are not particularly lovable.

It might sound as though I disliked this book and yet I thoroughly enjoyed it. The writing is beautifully crafted and very easy to sink into.

A surprise pleasure. Maybe it appeals to the part of me wishing to escape Scotland for the cold, Pyrenean mountains!

Playing the Human Game by Alfred Brendel

Playing the Human Game by ALfred Brendel - Front coverAlfred Brendel is a great and acclaimed pianist. A giant of a pianist. His interpretations of Beethoven are exquisite.

So I was curious when I saw this book of poems sitting on a shelf. Surely not the same Alfred Brendel?

Yes, it is.

They are curious but beautiful and very creative. They dwell, often, on the description of devils and angels in our world – as though they were active, visible participants. That may sound silly but they are sometimes frightening, sometimes humorous and very often very moving. I cannot do the poems justice.

They are translated in collaboration with Richard Stoker. They have done a fantastic job. The poetry is intriguing and engrossing.

With colour prints throughout to match the poems – drawn from Alfred’s large collection of art – each poem is printed in the original German on the left and the English construct and translation opposite, on the right.

Beautifully put together, printed and bound. It is a real wee treasure and one I am very happy to have found.

Poetry Notebook by Clive James

Strong, critical opinions – clearly passionate – all disguised as a discussion with a wise friend over a pint. Recommended.

On Ezra Pound, he writes:  “For a while I tried to believe it myself, until I realized – too gradually, alas – that the key requirement of admiring him was to be insufficiently receptive to anyone else.”

He continues, inferring of Ezra Pound’s legacy with his ‘Cantos’: “in the way that a heap of rubble gradually becomes part of the landscape.”

Clive James is still writing his own poetry. This recent poem is reflective:

Japanese Maple

The Establishment – and how they get away with it by Owen James

Title says it all. Read it and digest.

Chavs by Owen James

Recommended by a friend and a good, angry look at social attitudes in Britain.

I, Claudius by Robert Graves

Needs little introduction. I read this years ago and did not appreciate. I am thoroughly enjoying it now.

East Fortune by James Runcie

A gentle, absorbing journey into the life of a family in the midst of change. Fictionally based near to me – which added some interest!

Easy read and enjoyable.

The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker

First class writing. Recommended.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

A classic “haunting” short novel.

Books I would recommend, wholeheartedly:

Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene

A modern view of the Famous Don. I love reading Graham Greene and this is one of my favourites. Set in Spain at the end of the Franco era when communists are still viewed as target practice. Charming and ultimately moving. A story of faith and friendship. Light reading.

Travels With My Aunt by  Graham Greene

A retired bank manager discovers passion and spontaniety when he meets up with his elderly “Aunt”. Her love of men, life and travel transform his routine lifestyle as they search for the elusive Mr Visconti. I first read this in my early teens and it remains a firm favourite. An easy read and beautiful story telling.

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by  Laurie Lee

The middle child of the Laurie Lee autobiographical trilogy. Most schools used to introduce pupils to Laurie Lee by using Cider with Rosie as a set book. This phase sees Laurie reach early manhood and his madcap journey on foot to London and then onto Spain via a ferry to Vigo. Literally travelling on the eve of the outbreak of the civil war – he encounters a Spain which was unchanged by two centuries of history.

I love Spain and books on Spain. This is a great book for creating a view of the pre Franco era which led to the war. Not a document of fact but evocative and clearly relevant given the artisan interest so frequently associated with the conflict. I am always envious of the poetic writing used to capture a lost youth which imbues this book.

South from Granada by Gerald Brenan

This book has been my absolute favourite book for so many years that I doubt any other could ever knock it from the top spot.

As a young “man” this book profoundly moved me. I felt haunted by the ghosts of the people in the pages. I fell in love with a romantic notion of Spain. Of Andalucia, particularly.

Years later, I visited the house and the village. I don’t think my companions had any idea how emotional and important it was for me. It was not what was described in the book. It never could have been. In spite of the quiet, fairly modern town which stood there I was transported back – recalling the people and the events I remembered so fondly.

Even now – simply writing about it – I can sense those ghosts and I am filled up with many powerful, second-hand memories.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Not a bad movie. A much more powerful experience as a book.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusac

Death tells the story from the German perspective of childhood in the second world war. A very moving book from an author considered a chidren’s author. Not “The boy in striped pyjamas” – I found this a far more moving read.

Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford

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