My Month of Re-Reading is drawing to a close, although I hope to fit in another Georgette Heyer (or two!) before the end of tomorrow. I’ll do a round-up post right at the end, but I have done really well, I think, only missing one out and not finishing one (which is allowed, as I’m reading along with Matthew and neither has he!), and adding in an extra one plus a whole load of Pyms.
So, a pair of books for which I cannot find any link, save they are re-reads and were bought within two or three years of each other …
Joanna Trollope – “The Choir”
(30 December 1993)
Her first novel, and perhaps she chose to consciously ape her distant relative, Anthony, in setting this in a Cathedral Close. We meet a variety of characters, all connected to the Cathedral and its boys’ choir in one way or another, from the school headmaster to the old school left-wing city councillor who happens to have a grandson in the group. As money tightens and passions run high, splits appear in all sorts of likely and unlikely places. Will anyone be able to save the day? Will broken relationships be repaired? Does anyone actually want them to be?
What’s interesting about this book, looking back from a perspective of having read almost all of her contemporary novels, is that this doesn’t really feel like a first novel. It just feels like a Joanna Trollope novel. All of her stylistic quirks are there: people start padding around almost immediately, and “They all,” she thought as she wrote her review, “split their utterances in a weird way” (I once wrote a whole review in her style – deary me!). She has women who are not good wives, women who have Agas, children, hapless men … all as in all of her books. It’s quite an achievement to have such a homogenous whole and very comforting to her fans.
I picked this one up for re-reading precisely because I wanted to check whether I should keep these. And I still don’t know. It’s not like the “quest” books, where a re-read of a Dave Gorman has reminded me how fun those are – I really am torn. I’ve had these and my Mary Wesleys (in a similar edition) for 20 years. But with pressure on the bookshelves and these not exactly invisible on the charity shop and library bookshelves, do I NEED to keep them? I don’t even have the later ones, even though I’ve read them: I didn’t need to keep those! The jury is still out!
Magnus Magnusson – “Iceland Saga”
(1991 – I would have bought this when I was in the middle of my degree course, as my subsidiary subject (worth 20% of my whole degree!) was in Old Icelandic)
This was a real treat to read. I love Iceland, I loved some aspects of studying Old Icelandic and did get a love of the sagas from doing so even if the endless translation was a little wearing. I like reading books about Iceland (and have done during other Months of Re-Reading) and I do hope to go there one day.
This book does nothing to prevent that happening. It’s sensible, literary, literate, well-written and enjoyable, with interesting asides and a style that is reminiscent in many places of the sagas it discusses. It provides a view of the geographical structure of Iceland, its place names, topographical features, archaeology and existing towns and homesteads, always weaving them in to the sagas and other writings that still live so vividly in the culture of the island until the modern day, with most of the sagas happening in recognisable locations that can be visited today. He takes historical themes such as the settlement of Iceland and the coming of Christianity, deals with important personalities like Snorri Sturluson, and tells the stories of some of the main sagas.
The book’s strength lies in the combination of a supremely knowledgeable author and a very good editor. Mentions of historical characters in one place are tied back to other chapters in which they appear. People who pop up more than one story or saga are cross-referenced so you know where they fit in. This is masterful work and I wonder if that quality would be found in a book published today. Some lovely photos and a good index complete a marvellous book which was a real joy in the reading.
Best of all, perhaps, at the beginning of each chapter was a little bit in Old Icelandic with its translation underneath. Covering up the translations, I managed to make out more of the Icelandic than I thought I would – obviously I’ve not forgotten as much as I feared. This bodes well for brushing it up if I ever go to Iceland myself (Old Icelandic and Modern Icelandic are closer than Shakespearean and Modern English, as they didn’t have a Great Vowel Shift (ouch!) like we did, and the vocabulary has been carefully controlled).
My last books will probably both be Georgette Heyers, or at least one. I’m off to read it now, having started it in the gym, on the exercise bike. I’m so enjoying my Month of Re-Reading, but my thoughts are now jumping ahead to All Virago All August …