“Henry and Cato” round-up and “The Sea, The Sea” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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I was pleased to have read and reviewed “Henry and Cato” on time again, mid-month, and we’ve had a nice lively discussion with some dissent as to whether we liked it more, less or just the same than other readings of this book and other books in the oeuvre. I love all the different aspects that people pick out.

Jo has done her usual careful and thoughtful Goodreads review – I think she’s the only person reading all the books through but for the first time, and it’s fascinating to read her progress. There’s a great review on Buried in Print and I agree with the comment on letters! Do pop your comments on the review post even if you’re coming to this a bit late – I’d love this project to live on and be something people decide to undertake in the future!

Peter Rivenberg has a hardback Viking American first edition with a mysterious mythological scene, presumably of Persephone going into the underworld (is that Colette’s fate?):

The Sea, The Sea

On to “The Sea, The Sea” and a real treat: I suspect I have read this one more than three times already and, as the Booker winner, it’s one I recommend to IM newbies. My husband read and really enjoyed it.

I have the requisite three copies (not long and I will only have two of some of them!), a Chatto and Windus first edition, a Triad Granada paperback reprinted in 1987 (making me 15, about when I did read it first) and the new Vintage classic:

I do love the first edition cover and look at the back cover!

On to the blurbs, and the first edition gets it right:

then the Triad Granada reworks this, including removing some commas …

(I love the quotes from the Spectator, the New Statesman and … Vogue!)

and the Vintage one gives up a bit:

By the way, in my opinion this book has one of the best final paragraphs in literature.

Are you going to be reading or re-reading “The Sea, The Sea” along with me? Are you catching up with the others or have you given up? What’s your favourite so far? Your least favourite? Do you have a photo to share of you reading one of the books, or where you read it?


You will find a page listing all of these blog posts here, updated as I go along.

Sedate lady running 22-28 April 2019 #amrunning #running

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A varied week this week with not so much running (just can’t fit it in; one long one to come next weekend, honest!) and a bit of officiating and supporting.

Monday – Karen from running club is a big Strava art fan and to celebrate our London marathon folk and wish them on their way, she devised an Easter Bunny route for people to do. As most of the people were a bit speedier than me, I arranged to meet three friends a bit early, and we popped round the route starting 15 minutes before the others. They never did catch us (waiting for each other to regroup and taking photos) so we were able to photograph them and cheer them coming up the final hill. I was a clever bunny (haha) and asked Trudie to take a pic of me powering up the hill; as I didn’t know when she was taking it, I had to run the whole way!

Proof I ran up the hill (by Trudie). This isn’t the whole of the hill; we’ve already come up some of it. The end of both running club summer routes.

You will remember Claire, who I’ve done a lot of long runs and recovery runs with this year – she was there and here she is, followed by Karen and Anna, powering up the hill!

Claire on the hill

And we did it, even without Karen to guide us, and even managed something of an eye, which was quite tricky!

Strava art Easter Bunny!

0.6 miles, 11:12 mins per mile / 5.1 miles, 13:50 mins per mile / 0.6 miles 11:25 mins per mile

Wednesday – Went for an early run with Jenny. I called this varied efforts, as I attempted to run with interval sprints up to meet her, some of it up a hill, which was quite sapping, then we had a lovely run/walk round for a couple of miles and then I ran home, trying to maintain a higher speed and cadence for a sort of tempo session. I enjoyed the bit in the middle best!

I was pleased to get my cadence up over 170 (I know the ideal is over 180, I just don’t think my legs go that fast) and it did feel good to push myself a bit.

Pace and cadence I was pleased with

and I was chuffed with my first mile (11:09, downhill on average) and last mile (11:19, uphill on average) and last 0.3 (10:34 average pace).

“Only happy when I’m running” t-shirt: not entirely true. I liked the colour coordination, though.

Jenny and I then reconvened at Easy Dave yoga – I was really struggling and nearly gave up, then at the end, Jenny said she had really stiff legs, too, so it was the running, not entirely me. Phew!

5.3 miles, 12:30 mins per mile

Thursday – I was a bit anxious about my first outdoor track and field event of the season – it was the first Midlands Veterans’ League (South division) match of the season and, as I did for the final last year, I was subbing in as Sparkhill Harriers’ contributed official, freeing up one of their athletes to compete and getting me experience and practice. Would I have forgotten all I learned last year? We were running the high jump, so had two sessions with two competitions in each: women’s 35 and 50 and men’s 40 and 50. You can go down an age group but not up, so we had over 40s competing in the 35s etc but it all shook itself out in the end. I do like doing high jump and with only three of us, I got to do calling up, marking the score sheet and (under supervision) working out who’d won (this can get complicated in high jump!). Good fun and very good-humoured and matey. I even got a cuppa and a biscuit in our break!

High jump about to be prepared for competition

The rain pretty well held off and I’ve never been to Stourport-on-Severn before: a really nice facility there. Well done to Sparkhill and also my friend Chris from club who was competing for Midlands Masters (made up of folk like us who belong to a first club that doesn’t do track and field) in the triple jump etc (rather him than me!).

Friday – One of our ladies was feeling a bit low about her (lack of) running and asked if anyone could accompany her to see if she could do 5k continuously. And she did! Hooray! With running up to the park and back again I was pleased to get to 5.1 miles and I bust a gut to race to get the 5 done in 60 mins, which I did. Pleased to be up to 16.7 for the week so far with parkrun to go.

5.1 miles, 12 mins per mile

Saturday – On Friday I set off down to my best friend, Emma’s, house to spend some time with her and also support friends at the London Marathon (more clubmates than I realised were doing it, plus folk from other clubs). Emma runs for her fitness but had never run with other people, but I persuaded her to give parkrun a try. We visited Ally Pally (Alexandra Palace in North London) and had a very enjoyable time – a warm welcome from the run director and volunteers. As predicted, Em saw someone she recognised, I ran into someone from club (hello, Andy!) and I met someone who knows my friend Dave Johnson (everyone knows Dave, especially if there’s a Yorkshire connection). Emma didn’t not enjoy it, which was great – she zoomed off ahead and did really well, especially as there were varied surfaces to run on (good practice for me!).

Liz and Emma, wrapped up warm, pre-parkrun (sorry my new camera seems to blur us!)

I was of course interested in the arrangements: they’d turned their old tabards into bunting for the funnel (see background above), had little yellow flags to act as pointers, and asked runners to sort their barcodes into a box!

Barcode pre-sorting!

It was a challenging course and I was pleased that I walked up and down the hard hills less on the second lap, and got a sprint in at the end (Andy came round to run me in, which was lovely!):

Ally Pally parkrun details

3.1 miles, 12:14 mins per mile

Sunday – Time to support the London Marathon. We got down to Westferry by 10 and got in position at Mile 14.5. After seeing some of the wheelchairs, the para athletes and the elite women, the helicopters circled again, the official vehicles sped by (I got a glimpse of Graham, who trained me in Endurance and who I was working with on Thursday) and there were the elite men including Mo Farah (so I cried). I managed to spot my friend Shaun doing his second marathon in a few weeks (getting a 2:50 after his 2:43 in Paris!) and a few of our lads, plus Bournville folk, lots of other Midlands club runners, the only Swifts runner in official kit in the race, Ceri who is an ex-Kings Heathen now running in Norwich, Sarah who I did the 18 miler with and then Claire (who you will remember from other pics in here and above) and her sister Rachel:

Claire and Rachel over half way!

Claire refuelled from the bag she’d given me in the week in Birmingham, we had some pics, then off they went …

Off they go!

Emma and I nipped down to Canary Wharf to use the loos and then I came back and waited at Mile 20.5 – I saw Sarah again and then Claire and Rachel, still going strong, more refuelling and off they went again. I waited a while, shouting everyone’s name I could see and wishing them well – though I missed a clubmate pacing the 6 hour time.

Not unhappy with my mileage this week, given that I had to fit it in during the week. One more long one this coming weekend before prepping for the marathon, I think …

Miles this week: 19.8 Miles this year: 378.2.

weekly-run-down-final-300x300The Weekly Run Down is run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Kim’s weekly wrap is here and Deborah’s is here.

Book review – May Mackie – “Cobwebs and Cream Teas” plus comp winners and lovely incomings #amreading #BookConfessions

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Sometimes you need a palate-cleanser of an easy book amidst a sequence of more challenging ones, and dotted through my TBR you can find just those. This was an easy win, as it was one of my most recent acquisitions, spotted on my wishlist by Gill and appearing for my birthday. Only a short review as it’s a little book, but then I will share the new books that have come in this last week or so. Oops!

First an update on my Anja Snellman “Continents” competition. I put the names in alphabetical order and without them knowing that, asked the publisher to give me three random numbers (yes, they are giving away THREE print copies). Well done to Jillybeans, Kaggsy and Tredynas Days. The generous publisher has also offered e-copies to all participants, so you will have had an email from me with details of how to claim your prize by now.

Mary Mackie – “Cobwebs and Cream Teas”

(21 January 2019)

A slight volume, just the thing among heavier books, devoured and enjoyed quickly. Mary’s husband gets a job as houseman (general handyman and maintenance/cleaning coordinator, also deputising for the administrator) at a National Trust property, and they move into the flat that goes with it. We’re taken through a year in their lives, explaining the cleaning, preparing, displaying and closing routines with the addition of funny, stressful and occasionally sublime incidents. The author is a writer which allows her to get drawn into helping in the house but also means it’s well-written with some nice descriptive passages and the ability to set a scene. Chris is endlessly inventive, even inventing a new way to dust decorative plaster ceilings (only allowed once checked by the NT). Attractive drawings add to this edition.

Books in

When we were at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery on Friday, Matthew noticed this on their display. A joint production of Birmingham University’s Cadbury Research Library and the BMAG, “The Birmingham Qur’an Manuscript” tells the story of the uncovering of a page of script from the Qur’an which PhD researcher Alba Fedeli matched with other leaves scattered in libraries across the world. There was something of a fuss about the dating of the page, whereas what was more interesting was the artefact as a palimpsest, with varied readings included and over-written. I have been lucky enough to work with Alba in my job, helping polish articles and documents (she speaks approximately 1 million languages) and so I had to snap it up. There are lovely reproductions of the actual pages, plus input from various people including a librarian and conservator I know! Really a pamphlet more than a book, but it had to be purchased!

My clever and practical friend Sian found these two books from my wishlist around birthday time and kept them in reserve in case the book she wanted to give me didn’t arrive. She had Matthew take them off my wishlist just in case, and now she’s read them herself, she’s passed them to me, anyway – hooray! (When I met her for a coffee, I gave her “Girls to the Front” which she’d given me for Christmas but I knew she’d enjoy.

Tim Parks’ “Where I’m Reading From” is according to the back “lively and provocative” – it’s pieces about what readers want from books and apparently how to look at literature in a new light. Kim Gordon’s memoir, “Girl in a Band” covers her time as a founding member of Sonic Youth and a lot more and has had a lot of positive talk.

Then I went to Shirley to meet my friend Linda for a coffee, I was a bit early and I popped into the charity shops. Sarah Vaughan’s “The Art of Baking Blind” is set in a baking competition – I enjoyed the Strictly novel I read years ago and this looks to be the Bake-Off equivalent. One of those light palate-cleansers I mentioned above; Linda’s already read and enjoyed it. Margot Lee Shetterley’s “Hidden Figures” was a good find – we watched the film about black woman “computers” at NASA in the first days of space flight at the weekend, talked about reading the book, and there it was! And Cathy Kelly’s “The House on Willow Street”, although from 2012, is one I haven’t spotted before: I like her reliably well-written stories of, usually, three or four women and their lives and issues. This one’s set by the sea instead of Dublin and looks fun.


Has anyone read any of these? I’m looking forward to getting to some of them reasonably soon, as I continue to read my TBR in my new way (oldest, newest, Kindle book). I’m currently reading “Invisible Women” for Shiny New Books and hope to have that reviewed for them soon, and will then start another NetGalley on the Kindle as I’m travelling to London to support the marathon this coming weekend.

Book review – Nancy Campbell – “The Library of Ice” #NetGalley @simonschusterUK @nancycampbelle #TheLibraryofIce

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A great read from NetGalley: I do get round to these eventually as they lie hidden on my Kindle!

A fascinating book about the author’s own fascination with northern, cold places. She starts off as an artist in residence in Greenland, living and working in a museum and ending up trying some painting because she discovers that while painters, sculptors, etc., are asked to leave their work there, writers are asked to take it away! In fact she seems to return to Greenland more than anywhere else, popping back, catching up with people, etc. I love her love of language: she leafs through a dictionary and discusses Greenlandic words almost from the start, and later on talks about the Icelandic neologisms, trying hard to keep their language pure (fartolva for a migrating computer = laptop is a favourite of mine).

She spends time in various libraries and artist-in-residence locations, living quite a nomadic life although she’s seeking to settle by the end of the book. These are interesting places in themselves, adding a lot of depth and background to the narrative.

Of course she goes to Iceland and its glaciers, and that was a stand-out chapter for me, seeing familiar and not so familiar places through her eyes. She also spends time with a composer who records ice melting and creates compositions from it, among other people from reindeer herders to dog sledders trying to adapt to modern tourism. She’s lyrical on the ice cores scientists create (once they planted flag poles; now they bore through the ice for samples) and there’s much more to it than environmental concern, although that’s there, too, as it should be.

An original and unusual read which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Thank you to the publisher, Simon & Schuster, for making it available and selecting me to receive a copy in return for an honest review.

Next time: Book Confessions! Oh no! Or … hooray!

Sedate lady running 15-21 April 2019 #amrunning #running

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So, I took advice from a) Marcia at The Healthy Slice and b) several people who reiterated and told me to listen to her, on my comments last week, and dialled down my expectations of my general fitness and my plan to run another 20+ mile run this weekend. I also took my own advice and worked hard on bedtimes and getting enough sleep. I do feel these were good choices to make. Better to feel slightly undertrained going into my races than overtrained and overtired, right?

I will admit to already  looking forward to post-races, so July 15. Is that bad? Does it say I should go with my gut feeling and run not race? Hm. Will consider that after the summer. I know I also have a summer of outdoor track and field season to work on and I’m really excited about that, but a bit nervous and DETERMINED to keep up my resting!

Anyway, what I did this week … Look out for wobbly yoga pictures …

Monday – recovery run time from my 22 miler on Sunday. I felt very, very creaky. I’d been wearing my bright pink compression socks in the morning and decided I wanted to keep them on to run in. So I did, and then I had to wear these fetching brown-with-a-pink-stripe capris, which led me to keep up the pink theme with top AND buff. Cari knows I also like to be aggressively mismatched, so this was a bold look for me.

Aggressively matched in pink

Aggressively matched today

I met up with the ever-patient Mary Ellen, who was quite fatigued after a weekend residential for the course she’s doing, and staggered round 3.1 miles very close to home! It was quite sunny so I put this down to hot training for my summer races!

3.1 miles, 12:58 mins per mile.

Wednesday – I missed yoga as I signed up too late and was on the waiting list (they were doing one instead of two classes again) and then I had an urgent job I didn’t think I was going to finish. So once I had finished the job I put on one of my 401 Runner Ben tshirts (OK, it’s quite snug so it makes me hold my core in!) and met up with Sonya for a nice spin.

Wearing my I Ran With Ben tshirt with pride

Wearing my I Ran with Ben tshirt with pride

I was a bit tired and we had a good chat about better sleep hygiene. There were some lovely flowers out

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and when I got home I did a little bit of yoga and took Proof Of Yoga pics …

Oopsie! You can see my new Saucony Omni ISO SS19 trainers here. Plea for help: when I first put them on my right ankle (which likes to bend in) protests for about a mile then feels OK. No lasting pain or soreness afterwards. This is back to a stability shoe which I love, is this just my ankle getting used to sitting correctly after being in a) ancient shoes, b) my unstable Hurricanes?

5.2 miles, 12:32 mins per mile

Friday – No yoga again! I saw some family and it clashed with yoga. Oh no!

Saturday – You didn’t think two weeks were going to go by without me volunteering in some way, did you? I was back at parkrun, marshalling at a nice complicated junction, having fun calling out to friends from club and parkrun in general. Had a lovely cuppa and chat with Chris and Rich, who I haven’t seen for ages, as well as chats with Andy and other lovely parkrun friends. Great to be back at my 124th volunteering stint, and I walked the 2 miles there and back.

Sunday – Cut-down Long Run Day and it was pretty warm (in the 20s, apparently (very high 60s) so good hot training. I did one loop with Jenny first and had a good catch-up, then met Mary Ellen and we went out on the canals a different way, taking the Stratford Canal out towards Stratford, getting as far as Dickens Heath. No gritty urban photos for my readers who think all my runs are lovely as it was in the main lovely (the only suburban bit was on the way down and back again when I was hot!).

Canal boats moored on a canal; blue skies

Love the boat reflections and how lovely to have a house that backs onto the canal!

You can see from the towpath here that it wasn’t tarmacked but a traily kind of surface with loose stones. We had quite a lot of this, plus then earth tracks with uneven surfaces and the odd embedded brick.

We were very excited to come across the Shirley Drawbridge. Yes, I’ve brought you the ford, and the aqueduct, and now a drawbridge.

Drawbridge down, cars able to go across

Drawbridge down, cars able to go across

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Up she goes! All done by electronic gubbins now

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Fully raised – still quite tricky to get through

The most British sign in the world: "Do not nudge the bridge".

The most British sign in the world: “Do not nudge the bridge”.

We reached our turnaround point when Mary Ellen’s watch said 5 miles, and took the required photo:

Liz and Mary Ellen on the canal in the sun

Liz and Mary Ellen in the sun

We went back and got off the canal behind the Rugby Club and common, which is where I’ve run with Claire a few times and during the Canal Canter: unfortunately we missed the way onto the common and had to stick to the roads after a bit of forest paths. But a great run and I felt good training for my hot summer races and also the trail aspect of my ultra.

I wore the Saucony Omnis again and had the same issue but no sore ankles afterwards, which I had going longer than 10 miles in the Hurricanes …

13.1 miles, 13:22 mins per mile

I was pleased with the week although low on yoga. Next week will be a low mileage one. I have an Easter Bunny Strava Art run to do with clubmates to wish our London Marathon runners good luck for the weekend tomorrow, then I’ll be going down to London to support the marathon, hopefully doing some parkrun tourism with my best friend on the Saturday and supporting Claire and her sister Rachel, Sarah who I did my 18 miles with, Maria my fellow Mental Health Champion, and all manner of lovely friends from various clubs in the London Marathon. Good luck to everyone who’s going to be there!

Miles this week: 21.3 Miles this year: 358.4.

weekly-run-down-final-300x300The Weekly Run Down is run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Kim’s weekly wrap is here and Deborah’s is here.

Book review – Iris Murdoch – “Henry and Cato” #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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“Henry and Cato” is the later book I remember least, even though I have to have read it at least four times now. I always remember there’s the dodgy character of Beautiful Joe and a rather sulky inheritor, but the details had once again escaped me. Once I’d re-read it, I wasn’t entirely sure what to think. Is it actually a thriller? Does it work as a thriller? Does it work better than “The Nice and the Good” which is the other one with thriller elements? I’ll try to unpick my thoughts and many, many post-it notes, and look forward to hearing everyone else’s reactions.

If you’re doing the readalong or even selected books along with me, or of course some time afterwards, do share how you’re getting on and which have been your favourites so far.

Iris Murdoch – “Henry and Cato”

(08 January 2018)

We open so memorably (OK, I will admit to always recalling this scene when crossing Hungerford Bridge myself, but never quite remembering which book it’s out of) with someone called Cato dropping a gun into the Thames, in a bit of a state. And of course in a lovely echo and doubling, he’s popping back over the bridge with something else bulky in his coat in the closing moments of the book. In between he goes through an ordeal which he survives but doesn’t feel he acquitted himself well in – his father certainly doesn’t think so, but did he?

We are then introduced to Henry, a bit spoilt, a rubbish academic, coming back to the UK to claim his inheritance after his loathed brother has died. He considers his mother, then we cut to her and faithful retainer Lucius, and Cato’s father John, disappointed in his unacademic daughter, all concurrently – which I think is a masterful stroke that shows IM’s confidence and technical ability as a novelist (something I’m not entirely certain the book shows off all the way through). IM gets into her element describing Laxlinden Hall – has she had a lovely big house to dwell on quite so happily since “The Bell”? Henry will decide what to do and bend everyone to his will before curiously giving up. Cato will stick to his principles until he suddenly doesn’t. Everything will be changed but still somehow the same, and two people will die, only one violently. Oh, and there’s a faithless priest in an abandoned house in an East London wasteland, which we’ve definitely had before, haven’t we.

We have the usual Murdochian themes and echoes of other books. Themes-wise, we find out very early on that Henry is writing a book on an artist, John Forbes intends to write one on Quakerism, and Lucius is also writing a book, which is getting shorter and more personal as he approaches the end of his life. The theme of ageing women comes in again, with Gerda coming in for a hard time, Lucius wondering if she dyes her hair, and noticing, “Of course she was faded and her features were less fine” (p. 10) (that “of course” is harsh, isn’t it?). Women’s lots are discussed – John Forbes has always “fought for women’s liberation” but sees women as having an “invincible stupidity” which somewhat undermines that (p. 20). Stephanie is described right from the start in fairly disgusting/disgusted terms, with her moustache and her greasy nose, her fat and her unflattering clothes, and her ageing is pinned down cruelly, too:

How strangely and mysteriously evident was the ageing of the body. A weariness in the breasts, in the buttocks, a certain coarsening and staleness of the flesh, proclaim the years as much as lines and wrinkles can. (p. 166)

Siblings abound, of course, and they either complement or are wildly contrasted – “really Sandy was just a big calm relaxed man, unlike dark manic Henry” (p. 16). We climb over a wall with Henry, notably at the start of the book but then also over the gate between Laxlinden and the Forbes estate. And of course we also find ourselves looking at people standing outside windows (Henry, seen by Gerda), looking through windows (on Henry’s first arrival, peering at his mother), trailing across gardens (Henry seems to be forever running off down the terraces) and indeed following people, with Henry following Colette through the bamboo (as one does; and she comes back, which is unusual: does this signify that she’s more his equal?). Colette is the one with the hair, apart from Henry’s dark curls and Joe’s weird blond bob: she even has straight and flat bits of hair that frame her face, although they’re not metallic like some people’s. She looks like her hair has been cut when Henry visits her after her injury (although it hasn’t been: she has remained whole (see below)). Gerda also stands with her “pale, broad face thrust forward” (p. 109) which is a common Murdochian way to arrange oneself.

There are flashes of humour in this odd book with its large themes. When Henry thinks of his brother being dead, he is said to have “flexed his toes with joy” (p. 3) The descriptions of Lucius’ creeping age, “a kind of itching ache was crawling about his body, making it impossible for him to find comfort in any position” (p. 10) shouldn’t be funny but is in light of his fussiness, and he’s a creature of arrogance who we laugh at – and also produces that dreadful poetry that so upsets Gerda in a very funny scene where she’s found it in his room: “Clump, clump. The old girl” (p. 201). The sentence, “He had lived on talk and curiosity and drink and the misfortunes of his friends” seems perfect. There’s also the lovely detail of the different kinds of holy men, with Cato finding Father Thomas dull and Father Thomas thinking he’s a “frivolous amateur”:

Of course, Cato and Father Thomas, being decent sincere men of God, recognized their prejudices as prejudices. But this did not stop them from quietly feuding. (p. 34)

I really giggled at the description of Henry, having met Stephanie for the first time: “As he began to calm down he bought himself four very expensive shirts” (p. 104) and he also has a very odd scene playing with hats.

We have one of our mysterious figures who moves the plot along in certain ways (near the end in her case) in Rhoda, whose speech is unintelligible to everyone except for Gerda (was she given to her like Biscuit was to Lady Kitty). She doesn’t run her errands for her, but a mystery hinges on her. What an odd character. Along with the mystery, fate leans and breathes heavily over the action as often seems to happen (c.f. all the portents in “Sacred and Profane”: “[Henry] felt panic, terror, a kind of nebulous horror as if he were a man destined by dark forces to commit a murder for which he had no will and of which he had no understanding” (p. 59) – although of course he doesn’t, and this is probably something about accepting contingency which I’m trying to grasp to understand myself.

Seeing and attention, which IM is obviously famous for talking about and which slip into the novels more and more as time passes, are prominent here. Beautiful Joe says early on, “You’re the only one who can really see me at all” (p. 38). Gerda mentions that Henry cannot see his future wife (Stephanie) when she’s met her and observed them. Gerda herself is described as having “attended carefully to Stephanie” (p. 315) and reaches an understanding with her (in the literal and figurative senses, it turns out).

There’s a very odd quirk in the language – did anyone else notice this? We have “adjective Henry” all over the place, as well as bird-headed Rhoda and philistine Sandy: changeling Henry, much-travelled Henry, etc., etc.

The portrait of Gerda’s grief is very moving, as she tries to hold herself together and not make a fuss. I didn’t much notice her as a character originally but I feel she’s very brave, actually. An almost feminist point gets made about a certain kind of woman at a certain point in time and society:

I suppose that women … learn pretty early on that they’ve got to be alone and bear things alone, even when they’re in the bosom of their family. (p. 196)

Who is the saint and who the enchanter? Henry seems to enchant Stephanie but then she’s looking for an owner to create (“You needed me and you invented me” (p. 264)) and he wants to keep her submissive rather than being created as an enchanter figure. They enchant each other, “So it turned out that in an upside-down way, he was her captive, not she his” (p. 165) but then Henry also admits that, having been bullied, maybe he was looking for someone to bully (certainly thus not doing the absorbing of pain that IM espouses).

Cato tries to be a hero and maybe even though he commits a crime in truth, it’s more like when Tallis drives the assailant away in the Chinese restaurant in “A Fairly Honourable Defeat”, as he’s doing it to protect someone weaker. He also has a revelation when imprisoned, but his this the kind that is had in “The Unicorn” or a lasting one? He also finds he has to “hold onto myself” – is this the opposite of unselfing? Father Brendan has too fancy and well-arranged an apartment to be a saint (Cato lives in a smelly state). Or is it Colette, who restores order and knows her own mind, but is fearless in protecting her brother? She has her own trial and comes through wounded but stronger, and gets what she always wanted. Is that the reward of a saint, though or something else? She certainly doesn’t pass pain on, as she knows about the lack of accomplices but doesn’t tell Cato. She tries to even love her enemies, saying of Joe, “you must try to love people even when it’s hard or awfully odd” (p. 286)She’s also used by Henry to give himself courage, “the thought of her wholeness and her courage entered into him like a spear, like a hard line of pure non-Henry in the midst of the humiliating jelly of his personal terror” (p. 260). And I’m glad that her father sees her as “the heroic one” in the end, although he’s too hard on Cato, perhaps. Could Gerda be seen to be a saint, absorbing her own suffering (although she does impose it on Lucius, doesn’t she?). She does have some netsuke, always a good indication of Good, although she happily parts with them (in a Buddhist way?).  In the end, maybe it’s Colette and Cato’s dead mother who was the saint, described as such by her children:

She was the sort of saint that no one notices or sees, she was almost invisible. (p. 335)

In a nod to “A Severed Head”, Henry, Bella and Russ have discussed Henry’s affair with Bella with their analyst. John Forbes buying Oak Meadow echoes Monty wanting to buy his end of the garden in “Sacred and Profane”. The mention of John’s engagement with Quakerism reminds me of N and his community in “The Philosopher’s Pupil”. Surely it’s a hat-tip to “The Black Prince” when Henry randomly sends Russ a postcard of the Post Office Tower? Cato mentions the underground warrens underneath government offices that play such a part in “The Nice and the Good”.

I’ve not even mentioned the religious aspects: I found them interesting and the network of religious sponsors and mentors fascinating. I loved how Father Brendan described priesthood as being like a marriage, long-term and needing to be worked on after the first excitement of love. But I’ve written a lot and if you’ve got this far, I salute you!


Please either place your review in the comments, discuss mine or others’, or post a link to your review if you’ve posted it on your own blog, Goodreads, etc. I’d love to know how you’ve got on with this book and if you read it having read others of Murdoch’s novels or this was a reread, I’d love to hear your specific thoughts on those aspects, as well as if it’s your first one!

If you’re catching up or looking at the project as a whole, do take a look at the project page, where I list all the blog posts so far.

Sedate lady running 08-14 April 2019 #amrunning #running

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Not such a long one today although I’d appreciate comments on my training plan as I reach the last (ish) stages. But first my exercise week.

Tuesday – I didn’t do a recovery run on Monday as had only run 12 miles on Sunday as my rest weekend, so was able to do our last winter club run of the season – “Feck Hill”. I started off with Mary Ellen and enjoyed speaking bad Spanish to her (I’m learning Spanish but haven’t got very far yet!) and then teamed up with another Liz, who I ran with on her first run with club. I ran up clutching my friend Maria’s new Run and Talk / Mental Health Champion t-shirt and wore mine, too (I’m glad we ordered the women’s Large! I’m also glad it has the Mind charity logo on the sleeve, my second to have that after my RED January one).

Mental Health Champion!

Ran there, round and back in one go and it was still pretty light when I got home!

Still light!

5.4 miles, 12:29 mins per mile

Wednesday – our two yoga classes on a Weds and Fri have been combined into one class each day so we had a mixed levels class with Dave. A balance we only do in the 10am class had some people squeaking and there were lots more (optional) transitions between poses, but a good class. I then got changed and ran with Ruth. We met up near my house and did 2.5 miles of jeffing (walk 30 sec, run 1 min) then when Ruth finished and left me to get back home, I decided to swap it around and sprint 30 sec, run 1 min, which I did by counting paces but it was fun and did work (and I got reverse splits on my mile times.3.1 miles, 12:27 mins per mile

Friday – A combined Claire yoga class that was quite hard and I couldn’t bring myself to go up into a shoulder stand. I have been doing my physio exercises regularly and could hold my legs straight up while lying on the floor and back bends a  bit more effectively.

Saturday – Met up with one of my cousins and his family in Herefordshire and had a lovely c 5 mile walk around an arboretum

Sunday – Long run day. Run up to meet Jenny, seeing Tara’s other half Matt on the way (and telling him how far I was going, which was handy as that convinced me to do it) and we ran a loop then I made it to the park for the next stage with 4.5 miles under my belt. Then met up with Ruth and Tara – Ruth was doing yet another half marathon distance, this time a virtual race as she’d missed her last one through illness. We went out and back along the bus 11 outer circle route, jeffing 30 sec walk, 1 min run, and made it to Bearwood before coming back – here’s a pretty photo of another clock:

Bearwood Clock

and here’s a photo proving Ruth got to Bearwood because the sign says so: we actually ran past the sign and up the road.

I know a lot of readers like the pretty stuff I post but this industrial/commercial/residential mix from the 1910s, 1930s and 1970s is very representative of the areas we run in, too. Tara said goodbye and popped on the bus after 10 miles and Ruth and I got back to the park for her 13.1 yay! And THEN I met Fay who had heroically come to meet me and run with me even though she’d done an Easter Egg 5k in the morning!! and we did a flattish route around the place before I said goodbye to her in the park and ran home a slightly wiggly way for another 4.5ish miles.

I found this hard. I know why. I have NOT been going to bed early enough. I worked really hard on Thursday to give me time to go and visit a friend who has just had an operation, worked really hard on Friday to get something finished so I didn’t have to get up early on Monday to do it, and out all day Saturday (that wasn’t too bad but still not an early enough night). I REALLY have to work on this. Anyway, I was really pleased with my pace – still within 6 hour marathon limits!

22 miles / 13:36 mins per mile

Hayulp! Hayulp! Am I even doing this right?

So that was a long one even though my marathon isn’t until the end of May. But I am aiming to do another long one next weekend, then have a rest week, then another long one before I taper a bit for the marathon, then 2 weeks of taper, 2 weekends of back-to-back runs (with a 10 mile trail run in the mix) then tapering for the ultra. This feels sensible for me so I’m accustomed to going long, the mara will be “just another training run”, I am not overstraining myself in the week or rest weeks, and the 31 mile ultra is a natural progression. But I’d love comments on how sensible this is, given I’ve invented it for myself (this is my 4th marathon and I enjoy running long).

Miles this week: 30.5 Miles this year: 337.

weekly-run-down-final-300x300The Weekly Run Down is run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Kim’s weekly wrap is here and Deborah’s is here.

Book review – Sara Marcus – “Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution” #amreading

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A bit of a late review here as I’m over half-way through my next two books (“Henry and Cato” and “The Library of Ice” – about 60% of the way through both!) but a great read that my lovely friend Sian gave me for my birthday in 2018 – she always gets it spot-on with booky presents and in fact I’m going to be lending this back to her now! This one came under my “oldest on the TBR” category and I can confirm I’m enjoying dotting back and forth between new acquisitions and old favourites from the front left!

Sara Marcus – “Girls to the Front”

(21 January 2018)

Undermining the subtitle, the author makes it quite clear in a number of places that this is A history of the Riot Grrrl movement rather than THE history, although it’s as meticulously researched and referenced as any work of academic history. I came to Riot Grrrl a bit late (in the late 80s and early 90s I was more of a goth then a grebo when I couldn’t be bothered with all the hair and makeup, being briefly vaguely trendy when I was into the Madchester stuff and sliding back into dark and noisy obscure stuff and twee pop with a side serving of Erasure and The Men They Couldn’t Hang) and although I was already a strong feminist, I was more aware of the music side. So this was a revelation to me and a great read that made me wish I could rewind a few decades.

So it was much more than a music genre, starting in a DIY movement which was about art and music and feminism, about teenage girls joining forces against a society that was trying to shape them and an art scene that was seemingly for the boys. These teenage girls were encouraged to talk about their experiences, raise their consciousnesses and find safety in numbers, thrillingly getting to know about each other through secret signs drawn on their arms in marker pen or shrinky-dink pendants. As well as sharing stories and organising chapters, they were encouraged to form their own bands.

Marcus introduces her own experiences in the introduction then goes on to chart the movement from its beginnings to its fading. She carefully uses women and girls’ own words, including texts and images from zines either reproduced or typed out in courier font – a nice touch. She explains how Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill became the movement’s de facto leader because she saw the need for it and “knew that feminism could save lives,” but never wanted to be a leader and moved back from that position, how the next short generation took it on, how the local then mainstream media examined and distorted it, and how the movement reacted, charting dozens of lives and experiences as they interwove and somehow keeping track of them all.

The twin centres of Olympia and Washington DC are documented as well as smaller mid-West chapters (and the reaction to Riot Grrrl in the UK, briefly), and the book discusses who wasn’t Riot Grrrl (Courtney Love, famously, apparently) and why, and where all those cute hairslides came from (reclaiming lost childhoods). The differences between this movement and 1970s and early 90s adult feminism are drawn out interestingly – there are fewer position papers and resolutions, more forums, zines and, to an extent, group voices, although a hegemony does arise over media interviews and the like. There are also different views on the fractured and fractious issue of sex work. It also addresses what we’d call intersectionality and the role and part-exclusion of working class women and women of colour in the movement.

Marcus ends by exhorting readers to “tell your own stories. Tell what I left out” wherever they are and whatever position they’re in, being carefully inclusive, and following the DIY ethic to the end. there’s then a useful round-up of what many of the women featured did next, although it’s worth bearing in mind this was published in 2010.

A great and fascinating read with much to learn about and some familiar stuff.

Shiny Linkiness and book review – Elizabeth Emens – “The Art of Life Admin” @ShinyNewBooks @ElizFEmens

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This was the last book I read in March: I left my review at the end of the month sitting in the Shiny New Books publishing queue and here it is, published today.

Elizabeth Emens’ “The Art of Life Admin: How to do less, do it better, and live more” takes as its topic the office-type admin you have to do AROUND chores (so choosing a new dishwasher but not loading it; arranging play dates but not overseeing them), how people face them, and the different styles people have around life admin and how we can learn from these styles. It’s well-researched and referenced and has a list of handy hints at the end to save the admin of marking them up and noting them down: a nice touch.

Oh, and it made me Say Something to my husband!

Read more.

Thank you to the publisher Penguin / Viking for sending me a review copy in exchange for an honest review in Shiny.

Book review – Jennifer Niven – “Holding up the Universe” @jenniferniven #amreading

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A foray into YA today, an age group I’m not averse to, although I’m not keen on vampires and the like and keep it to the more real-life stuff. In the case of this book, I came to it via the prosopagnosia group I’m in, because one of the two central characters has proso (or face-blindness) just like me (read about my experiences with it here on my professional blog). I have to admit to a little trepidation, because would she get it right? Reader, she did: very, very right. And it was a good read it in its own right, too.

Jennifer Niven – “Holding up the Universe”

(13 March 2019)

A marvellous YA novel with its central characters a fat girl (who used to be America’s Fattest Teen, and has lost enough weight to be able to run and buy clothes at the mall but no more with no plans to lose more) and a boy with the best-described (OK, only) case of prosopagnosia I’ve seen in fiction.

Libby is going back to high school after a couple of years of hiding away and home-schooling, and Jack’s trying to keep an eye on his younger brothers, especially Dusty, who’s just started carrying a handbag around, although this is tricky when he has to constantly recalibrate who they are (he has it worse than me, knowing someone is his mum because it’s a woman in his house and he can extrapolate from there). Libby’s weight loss doesn’t win her a boyfriend, as some more conventional narratives would have it: working on herself and going back to school with her head held high give her friends, and if it’s a choice between losing weight and losing one of her dreams, well, you trust the author on this one. She’s her own authentic self, even when that brings her into the public eye – although the first spotlight on her is not exactly her fault.

The two teens meet when Jack does something disrespectful to Libby but with good motives, to prevent he from having someone more malevolent target her in a new craze (there is no animal cruelty (in fact the elderly cat makes it through to the end) or hazing, as some reviews have mentioned a shocking incident: it is shocking, but not gratuitous). They reach an understanding and start to fall in love with one another, in a nicely believable, supportive and respectful way (sometimes this seems a bit twee in YA books but then the young adults I know are pretty respectful and open-minded, so …).

But the best bits are the bits describing prosopagnosia. Niven has done her research (and thanks those who helped her) and it shows, but is put in naturally. There’s such a good explanation that I will try to remember and use myself:

“So you can see my face, but you can’t remember it.”

“Something like that. It’s not like faces are a blank. I see eyes, noses, mouths. I just can’t associated them with specific people. Not like how you, as in Libby, can take a mental snapshot of someone and store it away in your mind for next time. I take a snapshot, and it immediately goes in the trash. If it takes you one or two meetings to be able to remember someone, it can take me a hundred. Or never. It’s kind of like amnesia or like trying to tell everyone apart by their hands.”

She glances down at her hands and then at mind. “So when you turn away and then you turn back, you’re not sure who I am?”

“Intellectually, I get that it’s you. But i don’t believe it, if that makes sense. I have to convince myself all over again.” (p. 145)

Like the rest of us, he uses signifiers, the way someone walks, the shape of their nose, the colour of their hair, the sound of their voice, to identify them.

And then look at what happens when Jack is asked to hand out test results to the class:

The class is looking at me as I look at them. There are four kids who are definite IDs. Three, I’m fairly sure I don’t know and am not supposed to know (but I’m not completely, totally sure). Eight are in the gray zone, better known as the danger zone. (p. 43)

It even has one scene where, panicked, Jack only sees blurred disks rather than faces with features – this has happened to me very rarely and is very uncomfortable. Libby gets it and announces to Jack who she is when she comes up to him (hooray for friends who do this!) and when he finally “comes out” about it, some friends laugh, some get it wrong, “I heard you went blind,” and some research it and arm themselves with the facts – pretty representative of real life, where it’s always better to tell people, I’ve found.

Libby is comfortable with who she is: “Why should what I weigh affect other people?” she asks (p. 310) but she’s worked hard on herself to get here and shows that’s something people can do. And she’s a powerful force for good in Jack’s life, but also seen as attractive in her own right. A good read and one I will be telling the proso groups all about!


Do feel free it you want to ask me anything about prosopagnosia in the comments!

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