Reread Jan 2014Welcome to my first book review post of 2014! I have a good solid reading schedule for my Month of Re-Reading in January, although I’ve already Not Finished one novel (and made a nice space on my bookshelves) and realised I should have added another to the pile. Today we have one leftover from 2013 – I usually like to finish my last book of the year before midnight on 31 December, but I didn’t manage it last year and I didn’t manage it this year, either. Oh well. It’s two works of fiction, anyway, one new to me, one a re-read. After those, news on my first DNF of the year and some newcomers to the TBR shelf …

Thomas Hardy – “Life’s Little Ironies”

(Borrowed from Ali)

I think we’ve only got three more books after this one to go – and the next one is a re-read so will come soon. I’m really glad that I’ve manage to read all of the Hardys, even though I thought I was going to pick and choose initially. I am a bit confused, however, as this book has one of the “Wessex Tales” in it that we’ve already read, while two of its original stories have moved to that volume, so I hope I haven’t missed anything.

Anyway, this is an excellent and very readable collection of short stories, noticeably full of Hardy’s common interests or obsessions – fate, country folk, the countryside, doomed love and family mishaps. For all of this, and even though some were sombre indeed, they are all enjoyable, particularly ‘On the Western Circuit’ and the set of interlinked stories in ‘A Few Crusted Characters’ with their deep irony, horrible fates and linked histories told by a group of travellers in a handy but believeable framework.

Many of the stories felt as if they could be the germ of a longer novel – something I like in a short story, although I know that objectively that’s not seen as a mark of the best in the form, which should stand alone. I feel that they do this, but also fit into the rise and fall and preoccupations of his oeuvre. A nice palate cleanser before the rather darker “Jude the Obscure”, up next in the Hardy readalong …

Jane Smiley – “Moo”

(22 January 1997, bought with a book token given to me by my then boyfriend, I carefully noted in the inside front cover – the day after my birthday!)

I will have to admit right here at the beginning of this review that this book could never live up to my memory of being one of the best books that I’ve ever read. I’m forever recommending it to people, but I don’t know that I’ve ever actually read it from March 1997 (it turns out) to now. When I complete my index to my reading journals, I’ll be able to confirm that.

Anyway, what it is is a perfectly good and readable campus novel, featuring a range of students, professors, administrators, secretaries, campus wives and farming folk in the local community. The shifting viewpoints of this wide range of characters show us every aspect of the campus, university, academic environment, industrial sponsors and local community, including but not limited to grants, rivalries, love affairs, committees, set pieces, financial woes and rows with the funding bodies and government which are very apposite today and, in the centre of the novel and of the campus, an abandoned, old-school, closed department housing a large, white, sentient tenant – a hog, whose inner thoughts are described movingly and believably. (Yes, there is a bit of sad animal stuff, but it’s integral to the plot and not at all gratuitous.)

Interestingly, there are quite a lot of horses in this book, something that is a real theme in Smiley’s writing, and enjoyable. A good re-read in the end, however much I was slightly disappointed initially.

And that March 1997 review?

“Campus life and intrigue in a third-rate US university. V good – reminiscent of Tom Sharpe [hm – it’s far less farcical and dirty]? Characterisation done well, everything tied up at the end, multi-narrative worked. Satisfyingly long – a good, solid read.”

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A Did Not Finish now: I’d picked Wendy Perriam’s “Of Woman Born” off the shelves to see if I still liked this novelist I read an awful lot in the 1990s but not since. Turns out that, although her writing style is similar to Paul Magrs (perhaps a North-East England idiom?), her subject matter seems very rooted in the 1980s, all sex and ascetic religious people and white nighties and taboo-breaking. Ninety-three pages in to six hundred-odd, I was bored, and I both put it aside and took her other books off my shelves to Bookcross (carefully!). This is a positive result: if you’ve been following the progress of my Months of Re-Reading, I do like to read some books / genres to check that I still want to re-read them. If so, good; if not, shelf space!

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Jan 2014 1And now some additions to the shelf. Katharine D’Souza’s “Deeds not Words” is her second novel; I enjoyed her “Park Life“, set in Kings Heath, back in December 2012 (was it really that long ago?). I met Katharine at a book event I went to last month, and just had to pick up this one – unfortunately the first copy was delivered damp and I had to have it replaced, although the process to do this did go more smoothly than I’d feared (I had to buy the print edition from Amazon but was happy to support a local writer even though I am trying not to buy from Amazon these days).

The other two were from my visit to the Kitchen Garden Cafe with Gill this afternoon – the Paul Magrs is last in the Brenda and Effie series and was promised to me when she opened her Not So Secret Santa gift at our BookCrossing Christmas meal. The other is a history of the telegraph in Australia – what’s not to like??

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Currently reading – I’m a little way into Vera Brittain’s “Testament of Youth”, picking my reading time carefully as I know it’s an upsetting and powerful read. For a less fraught time, Simon Elmes’ “Talking for Britain” about the different dialects in the country. What are YOU reading? Are you re-reading along with me?