The 39 Steps

39 steps 7There are three great things here, the first is that I’ve finally read this book (and thoroughly enjoyed it), the second is that I’ve read it in June (when it’s set) and the third is that I’m actually writing a review almost as soon as I’ve finished!

So it’s May and Richard Hannay is in London from South Africa and is bored to tears, he gives himself one more day to find excitement before he gives in and heads back home.

Luck is on his side, waiting for him on his doorstep is a man he’s never seen before but who has been watching him and needs his help.  Scudder, an American, tells Hannay a remarkable story about a conspiracy to assassinate the Greek Premier at a Foreign Office tea party on the 15th of June, he knows too much and is being watched. He stays for a couple of days, reading and smoking and filling Hannay in on more details – about a man with a lisp, another who can hood his eyes like a hawk and Black Stone. But on the 23rd of May Hannay returns to his flat and finds him ‘skewered to the floor’ with a long knife through his heart.  He finds Scudder’s black notebook of evidence and determines to finish the game. Continue reading “The 39 Steps”

Wives and Daughters

wives and daughters‘To begin with the old rigmarole of childhood. In a country there was a shire, and in that shire there was a town, and in that town there was a house, and in that house there was a room, and in that room there was a bed, and in that bed there lay a little girl; wide awake and longing to get up’

The little girl is Molly Gibson and this opening paragraph introduces a book that uses sparkling humour to dissect the deliciously gossipy neighbours of Hollingford, a small town in the middle of England. A small town which sits in deference to Lord and Lady Cumnor of The Towers, in spite of their only arriving in the reign of Queen Anne; when there have been Hamley’s at Hamley Hall since the Romans. So Squire Hamley is keen to tell us!

Written in 1866, we’re told by the narrator that the story begins some 45 years earlier so that with lots of asides about the fashion and manners of the day, there’s a lovely cosy conspiratorial tone.  Continue reading “Wives and Daughters”

Cider With Rosie

cider with rosie

If reading could make you fat then this is the book to do it, every paragraph is so dense and luscious in its descriptions, we’re as enveloped in a world of marmalade colours as the baby Laurie in his mother’s arms.

Written in 1959 Laurie Lee is remembering his childhood in the Slad Valley in Gloucestershire, where in June 1918 at the age of 3 he is set down by the carriers cart at a cottage on a steep bank above a lake; there are frogs in the cellar, rooks in the chimneys and mushrooms on the ceiling.

One of 8 children he lives with his three older sisters all ‘wrapped in a perpetual bloom’, his three brothers, younger sister and their mother in a chaotic, giggling flurry of activity, while their absent father ‘in his pince-nez up on the wall looked down like a ‘scandalized god’.

‘When the kettle boiled and the toast was made, we gathered and had our tea. we grabbed and dodged and passed and snatched, and packed our mouths like pelicans.’ Continue reading “Cider With Rosie”

The Grapes Of Wrath

grapes of wrathFebruary was a hairy time for our family but always with me was The Grapes of Wrath which quite by chance turned out to be the perfect read because it could be read in snatches whenever I got the chance and because ultimately it’s about family and the human spirit. I bought a new copy but it now looks as dogeared as I felt!

Chronicling the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930’s, the Joad family, along with thousands of other tenant farmers are pushed out of their homes in Oklahoma when the land owners find that ‘one man on a tractor can take the place of twelve or fourteen families’, and head to California where there’s always work and it never gets cold and you can reach out anywhere and pick an orange and live in a little white dream house. A hope that keeps them alive. Continue reading “The Grapes Of Wrath”

A Film For May:Cleo From 5 to 7

Icleo from 5-7t’s  5 o’clock in the afternoon in Paris in 1962 and Cléo (Corinne Marchand),a beautiful young singer is waiting for the results of her biopsy, which she is to collect from the hospital at 7 o’clock.

Beginning with a tarot reading that shows the ominous cards in full colour before turning to black and white, the time span is split into chapters counting down the minutes as she goes to a café, rehearses with her band, meets a friend. She is a superficial young women who revels in her beauty, skipping lightly through life, she believes herself to be more alive than others because of it. And yet, in the time that is traditionally meant for lovers to meet, she is having to face her mortality and she’s scared.

Produced and directed by Agnès Varda the Parisian streetscapes were refreshingly real, people walking along look directly at the camera in curiosity and overheard fragments of conversation form a wonderful collage of city life as Cléo walks, takes a bus, a taxi or two. At one point she meets a friend, Dorothée, (Dorothée Blanck) who’s modelling for a  sculpture class. cleo from 5 to 7 Cléo asks her why she isn’t embarrassed about being naked, she says she would be worried the students would see a flaw.  Dorothée says she isn’t embarrassed at all she’s happy with her body not proud of it. I loved that subtle scene that showed the vulnerability of Cleo.

I don’t want to give anything away about the ending, obviously it’s not a thriller, but it was lovely to watch unknowing.  This is 90 highly recommended minutes viewing.

A Film For April: Our Little Sister

our little sisterSachi (Haruka Ayase), Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) and Chika (Kaho) are sisters in their twenties, living together in their family home in the sea side town of Kamakura. Left by their father fifteen years earlier and by their mother a year later, the girls’ are a tight knit, happy group who, although they had a grandmother, have ostensibly bought themselves up.

When they hear about the death of their father they agree to go to his funeral and meet for the first time their fourteen year old half sister Suzu (Suzu Hirose). They easily form a bond and since she is now orphaned they ask her to come and live with them. Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, this is a beautifully delicate look at the lives of the four young women. Continue reading “A Film For April: Our Little Sister”

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman

lonely postman
What an odd book this is!

Bilodo is a 27 year old postman in Montreal. He delivers the mail, eats at a local restaurant, practices calligraphy and plays computer games everyday. But he has a secret. Before delivering personal letters he takes them home, steams them open, reads, photocopies and files before resealing the original and delivering. To him all these lives he vicariously lives through ‘form a kind of soap opera with multiple plots’, much more exciting than his own dull life. And this is how he comes across the correspondence between Ségolène, a teacher in Guadeloupe and Gaston Grandpré, a Montreal local. Bilodo is completely smitten, Ségolène’s letters contain one page on which is written in delicate penmanship a single poem. He even gets to see (and photocopy) a photograph of her.  Which could seem quite creepy really, except that it isn’t.

Maybe that’s because it’s about loneliness and identity and poetry and snail mail? Anyway, Bilodo loves the simple beauty of the words and style of the poems but doesn’t know what they are until he notices an article in a newspaper one day ‘The Saturday Haiku’ – and with that knowledge he begins to practice

On the clothes line in the yard
the washing freezes
and sparrows shiver

and the haiku, calligraphy and research in the library take over his life.   But this is not just a book of romantic whimsy, Bilodo is teased relentlessly by his work mates for his writing and for being an outsider and I found his determination and self belief really inspiring. 

As events begin to unfold so Bilodo’s life starts to detach from reality.  He finds himself in a position to rent Gaston’s apartment and (to add to his crimes) impersonate him. This means he can write to Ségolène directly and does so with aplomb – their haiku exchange quickly becomes furious and passionate (now they’re using express mail) until the unthinkable happens and she suggests they meet. . .

It’s around this point that Enso, the Zen circle of enlightenment is introduced and theDenis Theriault novel (which is only 100 or so pages) takes a turn that I really didn’t see coming. I like stories where everyone has both feet planted firmly on the ground, so I’m afraid I began to lose a bit of interest here and found the ending a bit disappointing which is a shame because I was enjoying the slightly crazy nature of this book while learning a lot about the art of haiku.

However, the sequel is called The Postman’s Fiancée, I can’t think how the story is going to get there but I’m looking forward to reading it and catching up with these characters.

 

The Heart’s Invisible Furies

hearts furiesI love the idea of taking part in the challenges that crop up but never seem to get my timing right. I read this for the Reading Ireland challenge in March but as usual find myself a few weeks behind, still, it got me to pick this up from the pile on the box at the end of my bed and I’m glad I did because it was really good!

In 1945 16 year old Catherine Goggin is thrown out of her village in West Cork one Sunday morning during mass while her family watch from the second pew. She takes the late afternoon bus to Dublin, and meets Seán MacIntyre and Jack Smoot. The three share a dingy flat together while Catherine makes plans for her future. She entrusts the baby to ‘a little hunchbacked Redemptorist nun’ to find a family with whom he’ll have a better life, and so begins Cyril’s story as he tries to negotiate life and find out who he is. Continue reading “The Heart’s Invisible Furies”

A Month in the Country

 

a month in the country
Now an old man, Tom Birkin, looks back at the idyllic summer of 1920 when he was hired to uncover a medieval mural on a wall in the village church of Oxgodby in Yorkshire, England.  Arriving in the pouring rain, ‘nerves shot to pieces, wife gone, dead broke’ he admires the ancient church that’s to be his home but when the rain clears and the blackbirds begin to sing he relishes the tranquility of the countryside around him ‘letting summer soak into me – the smell of summer and summer sounds.’ and determines to live simply and be happy.

From the top of his ladder in the bell-tower he can see Charles Moon an archaeologist, living in a bell tent in the meadow, digging for a medieval grave. The two become friends and Tom is soon accepted by the locals including the Ellerbeck family and their Chapel community, the troubled vicar in whose church he’s working and his beautiful wife Alice. It’s a time of rabbit-and-potato pie for dinner and seed cake, greengage pie and ‘scalding tea in a can’ at 4 o’clock. The slow sultriness of a hot summer day pervades every page, emotions are heightened and time seems to stand still:

‘The butterfly flew into the air once more. For a moment it seemed that it might settle on the rose in her hat, but it veered off and away into the meadow. The sound of bees foraging from flower to flower seemed to deepen the stillness.’ Continue reading “A Month in the Country”

A Film for March: Paris, Texas

Paris, TexasWinner of the Palme d’Or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, this is a simple story about family ties, love and redemption directed by Wim Wenders and written by Sam Shepard.

Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) mysteriously wanders out of the desert and is found unconscious by a German Doctor who calls the only number in his pocket.  Having been missing for four years, his brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) is amazed when he comes to collect him and drives him from Texas to his home in Los Angeles, which he shares with his French wife Anne (Aurore Clément). On the road we find out that Travis’  eight year old son Hunter has been living with them after Jane, his mother (Nastassja Kinski) also disappeared. What has happened to Travis and where is Jane? Continue reading “A Film for March: Paris, Texas”