ELIZABETH SANXAY HOLDING – The Blank Wall (Persephone)

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02 June 2009 – from Ali, who found it in a charity shop in Southwold

When Ali asked if I’d like this duplicate copy of one she owned that she found in a charity shop (why do we only find duplicates? It’s not like either of us has the complete set!!) I had a look on the Persephone website and wondered if it was quite my thing, being in effect a murder mystery. I thought the same when I picked it up to read it.  But as soon as I met the heroine, Lucia, and recognised in her a typical Persephone Lady (often a mother, often a wife, devoted to her family but with a rich inner life of her own – of course!) and then started to get caught up in the fast-moving and wryly funny plot, I was enjoying myself… and all of a sudden it was late at night with absolutely NO ability to put the thing down! I loved this book – I loved the sweet blackmailer, the more and more complex situations, and the completely believable heroine, dealing with murder and mayhem much as one would handle a recalcitrant toddler or an awkward garden party.

Excellent stuff – and thank you again, Ali! (and Persephone for republishing, naturally)

DAVID LODGE – Out of the Shelter

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25 May 2009 – from Julie & Barry when they moved away

Hooray – I haven’t gone off The Novel.  This is a classic Lodge; I’m not sure if I’ve read it before but it stood up to a re-reading if I have.  An early Lodge, before he got into literay theory and displays of brilliance and humour, it takes Timothy, an ordinary boy growing up during WWII in the privations of South London and pops him into post-war American society in Heidelburg, courtesy of his glamourous older sister.  A coming of age novel, we suffer through travelling, social events and Girls with him, seeing everything through his eyes; but it’s also a powerful evocation of an interesting time, with a sensitive hero who has a lot to think about in the Germany he sees around him and in his imagination, as well as the more day to day events.

This is a reissue from 1984 and there’s an interesting appendix by Lodge about the writing, original publishing and reissuing processes.

CHERYL BOVE & ANNE ROWE – Sacred Space, Beloved City : Iris Murdoch’s London

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27 Apr 2009 – Amazon voucher from birthday

This book came to my attention when it passed through my hands at work.  Having had a look inside, and checking the price on Amazon, this seemed like a book I really should own, rather than reading the library copy.  And I had a nice big voucher, so the price didn’t impact too much.  

I’m very glad I bought myself a copy.  London has come up as a theme in our Iris Murdoch A Month challenge, but this really brought home the way the city is woven into almost all of Murdoch’s novels (only the two Irish ones don’t have it as a character, and there still manages to be a reference to The Red And The Green in this book).

The book takes themes for the chapters – Under The Net and the characters’ picaresque wanderings through the city; art galleries and churches; the Post Office Tower; the Thames.  Huge amounts of research inform these sections and after each one there is a delightful walk, again full of detail and knowledge, with a hand-drawn map and beautiful sketches courtesy of Paul Laseau.  I particularly enjoyed the walks as they are mainly based around areas I know myself, so I can imagine them in my mind, and imagine taking myself along one of them next time I’m in London.

The crowning triumph of the book is the London Glossary, which lists every single London location mentioned in the books, with a list of the scenes in which it appears. So you can see Murdoch returning again and again to a favourite location; not just the Peter Pan Statue but Charing Cross Road, Chelsea….

So – a fascinating book. Not too "academic" although literary and psycho-geographical theory make themselves known a few times, readable, and re-readable.

I’m going to see about joining the IM Society, too!

DAVID LITTLEFIELD & SASKIA LEWIS – Architectural Voices

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04 May 2009 – Poundland (!! – really!)

An interesting book, subtitled "Listening to Old Buildings", which meanders through essays, site reports, plans and interviews to give a picture of what various practitioners think old buildings say to us.  A lot of respect for the dignity of the older building and some criticism as well as praise for various re-workings.  Of course, I liked the plans and the atmospheric photographs best!

JIMMY NAIL – A Northern Soul:The Autobiography

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Acquired via BookCrossing 11 May 2009 – from a bag from Molyneux

Now this I *did* enjoy.  Nail wrote this himself and it’s full of character as well as clarity about the mistakes in his life, especially involving alchohol.  There’s touching stuff about his family and friendships, funny anecdotes and great behind the scenes info from his films and TV series.  Very enjoyable and a good read.

A,N. WILSON – Love Unknown

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Acquired via BookCrossing 30 May 2009 – from Julie & Barry’s donation

After the last Did Not Finish, I am now worried I’ve gone off fiction (will have to rethink the holiday reading pile if I have!)

This was an odd little novel about the infidelities and nastinesses of a group of middle-aged, middle-class people, linked by the fact that the three main women shared a flat for a year in the youth.  It’s a bit like a more downmarket Anita Brookner or (Wilson’s friend) Iris Murdoch without the philosophy.  It just felt nasty and waspish and I don’t think I’d have persevered with it if it hadn’t been so short.

The cover is good for BookCrossing Never Judge A Book By Its Cover though, as it has lots of different things on it…

RICHARD YATES – Young Hearts Crying (DNF)

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Acquired via BookCrossing 30 May 2009 – from the bags donated by Julie and Barry

I did not like this book at all. I fell on it and a companion volume with glee when I spotted them, as Yates keeps coming up as a good read in all sorts of places.  I found this a mixture of John Updike (I was put off Updike by reading a large volume of samey short stories on holiday once) and Mary McCarthy’s "The Group"; like both these authors/books, it is set in the marriages of vague bohemians in 1950s New York and upstate New York, and like them, too, I found it hard to interest myself in the characters and their situations.

I made it to p. 180 or so of over 400 and could not face reading any more.

Oh well – not one, but two off the TBR mountain!

Jen, did you want to read this some time?

(July read) NOEL STREATFEILD – Curtain Up

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Acquired via BookCrossing 24 May 2009 – from Gill at the KGC

A charming Streatfeild and nice and long. The three Forbes children end up shipped off to their theatrical Grandmother in London and expected to display the family talent.  A jolly connection with the Fossil Sisters from Ballet Shoes links us in nicely to Madame Fidolia and the stage school, and the three of them learn that they might have some talent and enjoy using it…

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