May 2006


I wasn’t looking forward to this book. I had vague memories of reading it when I was a lot younger and of finding it so unutterably dull I could not even finish it.

(And I was a child into 19th and early 20th century fiction. I read Dickens, Hardy, Austen, Bronte, Woolf and all their ilk. I didn’t find them boring, only D H Lawrence! – so much so that I couldn’t even be bothered to read Lady Chatterley’s Lover when it came my way…)

What with that, and the hideosity of my last two BRP books (191 and 192) I was starting to lose heart, to lose faith in this whole venture.

Imagine my surprise, delight and deep satisfaction then, when I discovered Sons and Lovers to be absolutely the best novel I have read in ages. It was powerful, affecting and wonderful.

Gertrude Morel is a woman who, married to a brute who she loved passionately but now cannot stand, turns all her affections and aspirations to her children, particularly her two oldest sons. William, the elder, is her great pride but his downfall comes in the form of a glib lover who seems to leech his finest qualities out of him. Paul, her third and most faithful child and her second son, remains besotted with her and loyal to her to the end. But he too struggles with lovers. Miriam suffocates him with her tragic soulfulness, and cannot satisfy his zest for life. Clara cannot satisfy his soul. Will he ever find peace or happiness with a woman who is not his mother? Perhaps her love, her need to assert herself through her sons, and to live through them, has damaged them so that they cannot relate properly to other women. Or perhaps it is their overbearing, drunkard father who has scarred them and left them unable to face or even to imagine a happy, natural marriage.

Even from my new feminist viewpoint, the novel was interesting for lots of reasons. I will mention only one: Clara.

Clara enters the story as a scornful, rather superior woman, separated from her rather despicable husband. She is a women’s rights activist and is called by one of the characters a “man-hater”. Yet she is portrayed sympathetically, as a human being, as someone bitterly hurt and miserable. She is not merely a defective woman.

And yet from her relationship with Paul she learns that men are “not the small egoists she had imagined”. She learns to love, and not to hate. She learns that she has learned enough, with her feministing ways, and that what she really needs in the end to make her happy is a committed, successful relationship with a man. She is brought back to conventionality.

So – was her appearance in the novel an opportunity to portray a radical feminist activist sympathetically, as a human being? Or was her ultimate return to the fold of conventional femininity merely a reminder that what women’s rights activists really need is to mend their ways in the loving arms of a good man? As usual, with this novel, it is complicated and I am left feeling that not only am I a bit hazy on answers, I’m not too sure on the questions either.

One to read again, I think. I loved it!

Here’s an Amazon link.
I read a library copy, but no doubt one of my own will find its way onto my bookshelves some day soon.

Or, as it might more properly be titled, The Unbearable Crapness of Self-Indulgent, Pseudo-Intellectual Claptrap. Eek.

This book is not so much a novel as a little piece of showing off for the author.

The characters are so badly drawn that at no stage did any of them seem even human, never mind compelling or real. There is Tomas, a womanising doctor who loses all his position and status after the 1968 Russian invasion of his homeland Czechoslovakia because of a letter to the editor that he had written before the invasion. There is Tereza, the faithful wife tortured by jealousy and weakness. There is Sabina, a paintress and Tomas’ favourite mistress, obsessed by an ideal of betrayal that started with her original and irredeemable betrayal of her father’s values. Franz, with whom Sabina took up after Tomas returned to Prague, leaving her in Zurich, is also a sketch, a university professor who is in love with parades and the Grand March to utopia.

None of them are real people. They are dwarfed in the book by the ego of its Author. He does not just shut up and let the story (story?) happen, the way an author should. He simply must throw in his own opinions about the characters, about the events, about the meaning of life. Especially about the meaning of life. And he makes the thoughts and deeds of all his characters just a way of exemplifying some idea of his own. They are not real, they are puppets. Worse, the strings are showing. It’s like reading Thunderbirds – only without much of a plot.

Ho-hum. At least I will never have to read this again. And when I hear somebody banging on about how this book changed their life, I shall try to smother a derisive snort.

Ugh.

Here’s an Amazon link, if you really want one.
I got my copy free from the library, I’m pleased to say.

This is a lovely book, perfect for those days when you just aren’t getting along.

Small is a small fox who is feeling grim and cross. Large is a large fox who wants Small to know that: I’ll always love you, no matter what.

Small said “I’m a grim and grumpy little Small and nobody loves me at all.”
Oh, Small,” said Large. “Grumpy or not, I’ll always love you, no matter what.”

The text is charming the pictures are engaging, with delightful background touches for the grown-ups. Just beautiful.

Does love wear out?” said Small. “Does it break or bend? Can yuu fix it, stick it, does it mend?”
Oh, help,” said Large, “I’m not that clever, I just know I’ll love you forever.”

Television producer Harry has a beautiful, loving wife Gina who has given up a great deal to be with him and raise their son, Pat. Approaching his 30th birthday, the stupid idiot has a one night stand with a colleague. Gina finds out and packs off immediately with 4-year-old Pat.

From there it all gets a bit strange.

Gina has been feeling “a bit down” about giving up her career for a family and this is, apparently, her motivation for dumping Pat on her aging wannabe rock-star idiot father and flying off to Japan without telling Harry about it. He rescues the boy and (once Gina has returned from her brief visit to Japan and arranged for Harry to take care of Pat for a little while, so she can sort out a new job in Tokyo) he then sets about learning to be a single parent, all the while making clear that he is the victim in this situation.

We learn how hard it is to be a single father. Much harder than being a single mother, because single mothers can band together but nobody is nice to single dads. And mums know how to cook, too, which men find difficult. Especially when they’ve always previously left the menial stuff like that to the brilliant and beautiful wives they tricked into marrying them.

When Pat starts school, Harry learns, in particular, to despise in equal measure both of the parents, who he has never met, of his son’s new best friend. Peggy has a single mother and Harry loathes the unknown father for abandoning her, and has equal contempt for the mother who is never there to pick up her daughter and sends instead a babysitter. He of course is able to get a part-time job in television that pays well enough for him to keep his flashy sportscar, pay the mortgage and still be there in time to pick up the boy.

Gina returns from Japan with a fiance and comes to get Pat. But now, after four years of practically ignoring the boy and leaving it all to her, Harry has realised that he likes being a father and won’t let Gina take their son. Custody battles ensue. Eventually, after his Dad dies of cancer and his Mum tells him “Love means knowing when to let go” Harry realises that it is in Pat’s best interests to stop squabbling over him and let him be with his mother. He makes this heroic sacrifice, realising for the first time that he has been putting his own preferences at the front of everything and that the decent thing is to stop. He wants a cookie for this, I think.

So. meanwhile Harry has met a waitress called Cyd (after Cyd Charisse) and fallen in love with her. When he finds out that by some implausible coincidence she is in fact the much-despised single mother of Peggy, he does not seem at all put out – no more is said of his former contempt. However, Cyd realises that he is the kind of man who will get bored when the romance dies. Wisely, she turns him down. Then, when he makes a corny speech at a wedding (“if you find someone to love, then you should never let them slip away“) she changes her mind. She had him all wrong, and they really will live happily ever after.

Yay.

Now I’ve told you the plot, you won’t need to read it. Certainly you will gain no great insight from the one- and two- dimensional characters. The most we get to know about Pat’s soul, for example, is that his obsession with Star Wars belies a sweet and gentle nature.

This book has everything you need for a trite Hollywood film adaptation. Even the cheesy dashing-to-the-airport-in-hopeless-quest-to-stop-departing-loved-one ending. The thing is replete with cliches, stereotypes and implausible plot development. Even the scenes of Harry’s dad (the macho ex-soldier, with a compassionate nature, an overwhelming soft spot for his grandson, and no other complexities whatever) in hospital dying of cancer left me unmoved.

In short: don’t bother.

Here’s a link to Amazon.
I didn’t waste good money on my copy – I got it at the library.

This is the second Pratchett novel I have blogged in the Big Read Project (the other was Witches Abroad) and it was one I hadn’t read before. This is hardly surprising, since I gave up by Terry Pratchett habit by the middle 1990s, and this book wasn’t published until 2000.

Despite the fact that I hadn’t read it before, much about the book was familiar. I think this is why Pratchett has such devoted followers: all his books are pretty similar, so if you loved one then you will love them all. I’m not sure I could say that I love the Discworld novels any more, but it seems that they are all going to be enjoyable, in a predictable and light kind of way. And if I’ve got to read thirteen of them (yes, thirteen – assuming I counted them right lol), then this is probably just as well.

This particular story is based in the great city of Ankh-Morpork. It features many of our Ankh-Morpork favourites such as Captain Vimes and his watchmen, the Patrician Lord Vetinari and the omnipresent Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler. However, its main focus is on a new (to me) character, William de Worde, who has started up the first newspaper on the Discworld, with a team of dwarf printers, a vampire iconographer who experiments with dark light and tries to stay off the blood, and respectably buxom assistant Sacharissa. He manages to make an enemy of just about everyone in the city – including the comic-but-scary killers Mr Pin and Mr Tulip – before managing to lay his own demons in the climactic confrontation.

Here’s an Amazon link.
I got my copy from the library.

This is a quite remarkable story.

In each chapter we meet a new Viskovitz and, each time, he is a new species: dormouse, snail, mantis, finch… The changes flash past almost rhythmically, like the names of the stations on a long, hypnotic train journey. And this ever-changing Viskovitz frolics through the animal kingdom always seeking after the scintillating, endlessly desirable Ljuba for his mate. Always seeking, and never quite getting that promised ecstasy or, at least, always getting either more or less than he quite bargained for.

I’ve been flicking through it trying to pick out the best one to share but it’s impossible. They’re all so good. Here’s (an extract from) the one about the parrot:

One day I made up my mind and asked her: “Will you marry me?”
“Will you marry me?” she shot back.
“Of course, my love.”
“Of course, my love,” she answered…

What else could anyone want from life?
Some sort of surprise. And so I began seeing another she-parrot. One day I confessed to Ljuba. I said to her, “I have a lover.”
“I have a lover,” she replied.
“My lover is Lara,” I continued.
“My lover is Lara,” she confessed.
What could I say to that? I was dumb as stone. My wife with my lover…

I went to Ljuba and said, “Choose, either me or her.”
“Her,” she answered.
Then I went to Lara and delivered the same ultimatum, “Either me or her!”
“Her!”
“Damn you!” I said.
“Damn you!” she squeaked back…

Read just one, and it looks slightly silly but possibly intriguing and full of allegorical potential. Read the whole book, and the stories start to penetrate and to take on unanticipated meaning.

I’m going to have to read this one again…

This is the fifth and as far as I know final book in the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. It is more of the same – a thoroughly decent, thoroughly loveable woman is Precious Ramotswe, and this is a fifth pleasant ramble through a fifth patch of her life. It makes you smile, although I must confess that I can remember very little of the plot… You’ll just have to read it for yourself if you want to know what happens.

Others in the series:
The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
Tears of the Giraffe
Morality for Beautiful Girls
The Kalahari Typing School for Men

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