The Iliad

The Bible was meant to be my last review for my first classics club challenge, but despite reading it in 2020 and having a beautiful notebook full of notes, it’s still sitting staring at me because I just don’t know what to do with it. So instead its place is being taken by our latest buddy read, The Iliad, and deservedly so because it was brilliant..

Sing, goddess, the anger of Achilles, Peleus’ son,
the accursed anger which brought the Achaeans countless agonies. . .

First a brief summery of the plot and an apology for the length of this post, it’s an indulgence!. The poem is set sometime towards the end of the Trojan War and begins with a priest of Apollo coming to King Agamemnon to plead for the return of his daughter Chryseis, who Agamemnon has taken as a slave. When Agamemnon refuses, Apollo is outraged and sends a plague that devastates the Greek camp. Eventually Agamemnon agrees to let the girl go but demands recompense for his loss – namely, Briseis, the slave of Achilles; who’s anger is so great that he simply decides that he will not fight. He returns to his quarters with his soul mate Patroclus and stays there. Leaving the Greeks without their greatest weapon.

The Trojan’s storm the Greek’s gates and wall and in the face of imminent defeat Agamemnon agrees to return Briseis, but no! Achilles has been so affronted that he still refuses to fight. Wily Odysseus is sent with all his skills of diplomacy but nothing. Seeing the dead and injured piling up Patroclus makes a plan to save the day and it’s agreed that he will go out in Achilles chariot, wearing Achilles armour – it would be enough for the Trojans to think that Achilles is back in the game for them to retreat. But the plan fails and it’s the death of Patroclus at the hands of Hector that gets Achilles back in the fight. Determined to avenge him by killing Hector, his behaviour is so extreme that even his men turn from him unable to bear his treatment of Hector’s body as he lashes it to his chariot and drags it around the burial-mound of Patroclus. The poem ends with Achilles and Priam, Hector’s father, sharing a meal and agreeing for Hector’s body to be returned for burial.

It’s a story about the destructive power of beauty, of politics, war, gods and mortals, revenge, jealousy, failure of leadership, love and death. It’s bloody and gory but also funny and human and exciting. And what I loved the most was the storytelling.

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Unfinished Portrait

This months motive for the ReadChristie23 challenge is Betrayal and the book chosen, Unfinished Portrait, is Agatha Christie writing as Mary Westmacott, which was a first for me.

Larraby, a successful portrait painter notices a young women sitting on a bench looking troubled and pensive. As he starts speaking to her he realises how grave her situation is and determines to look after her. As she starts on her story he decides that he’s going to try and paint a portrait of her in words and his portrait becomes this book. He writes in the first person as Celia would have told him the highs and lows of her life, but he pops in with his own interpretation of her behaviour every now and then. It starts when she’s a very young child and continues until their meeting.

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A Film For May: Om Shanti Om

Wow, this is positively operatic – love, loss, jealousy, revenge, betrayal and murder, all played out with glistening six packs, millions of costume changes and more fans blowing luscious locks of hair than you’ve ever seen. It’s funny, emotional, dramatic and uplifting.

In the 1970’s, Om Prakash Makhija (Shah Rukh Khan) is an aspiring actor in love with Shantipriya (Deepika Padukone) a glittering film star. But when he dies he’s immediately reincarnated to the present day (2007) as rich Hindi film star Om Kapoor, known as OK; cue lots of fun at the expense of pop videos and film makers! But then he has a moment of self discovery – can he uncover the mystery of his death? Can he find Shanti, the only women he loves?, will he know his mother and best friend?

Directed by Farah Khan, Om Shanti Om ( Peace be With You) has a full blown plot that includes an elaborate plan to make a film and set a trap for the murderer but luckily it’s all sewn up at the end in a massive musical finale, in case we missed any of the threads. It’s long, over 2 and a half hours, but it’s almost a film in two halves so you could have a natural interval – it’s brilliant entertainment and can be rented on YouTube. You’ll be humming the tunes for days!

10 Books of Summer

Brilliant, it’s nearly June and that means time for Cathy at 746 Books and her 20 Books of Summer Challenge. There’s the option to read 10, 15 or 20 books and apart from that there are no rules, just to enjoy a summer of reading. A highlight of my list last year was Colm Tóibín’s novel The South, set in Barcelona, so he had to be included this year and a friend of my neighbour has had her first book published – The Bangalore Detective Club – so that’s a must; but apart from that it’s a random selection that feels sort of summery (well, maybe not Achilles) and all look like good reads. Here’s my list:

A Florence Diary by Diana Athill
The Bangalore Detectives Club by Harini Nagendra
Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim
Thank You Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
Latchkey Ladies by Marjorie Grant
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Norah Webster by Colm Tóibín
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Evil Under The Sun by Agatha Christie
Love in Bloomsbury by Frances Partridge

I do feel quietly confident about finishing the reading, but when Cathy mentioned the panicked last minute reviewing I’m sure she’s looking at me!

Swann’s Way

When I was putting together a list of classics to read Proust was an obvious choice. I knew nothing about In Search of Lost Times, except of course for the madeleine’s; but I wasn’t deterred when I found it was in 7 volumes, since I had 5 years to read them and so spent a lovely few hours choosing which set of covers I would collect.

I started reading Volume 1, Swann’s Way and was delighted by it. The narrator goes back to his childhood as he remembers life at his grandparents house in Combray, Normandy. Anecdotes about the family, their friends and neighbours are all bathed in dappled sunshine while his meandering mind wanders off in tangents returning to the original anecdote 10 or so pages later. His marvellous grandmother, striding about in the wind and rain saying ‘At last one can breathe,’ his aunts and mother and Swann, their frequent guest ‘abounding in leisure, fragrant with the scent of the great chestnut-tree, of baskets of raspberries and of a sprig of tarragon.’ I was enthralled and couldn’t have been more pleased with myself unless I had been reading in French.

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Sparkling Cyanide

Beautiful, vivacious Rosemary Barton is enjoying a glass of champagne at her birthday celebrations when she’s seen slumped across the table, not drunk but dead. Poison is the method chosen for April’s ReadChristie challenge, and Rosemary’s ‘blue cyanosed face’ points towards death by cyanide.

The novel opens a year later with the six people who were at the party reflecting on Rosemary and in particular on that horrible night. George Barton, her kind but dull husband; her sister Iris Marle who lived with Rosemary and George (and their widowed aunt, Lucilla Drake); Ruth Lessing, George’s indispensable secretary; Anthony Browne, a friend of Rosemary’s; Stephen Farringdon, an up and coming member of parliament and Alexandra, his proud professional wife.

The cause of death has been recorded as suicide, but this doesn’t seem possible for someone as happily alive as Rosemary. George has his doubts which seem to be confirmed when some anonymous notes arrive claiming she was murdered. But how could she have been, there’s no evidence that anyone around the table put the cyanide in her glass and any way who would have wanted to kill her?

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A Film For April: 3 Women

Quirky, odd, obscure, sinister and creepy; it’s 1977 in the Californian Desert when Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek) an awkward teenager from Texas starts working in a day spa. She attaches herself to Millie Lammoreaux (Shelly Duval), a fellow attendant at the spa and becomes her room mate. So far so straightforward, wrapped in a bright colourful quirkiness.

Millie chatters all the time – about recipes from magazines, dates she’s going to go on, men who want to date her, plans for the apartment – she’s relentlessly up beat and flirtatious. But then we realise that no one is paying any attention to her, in fact she’s largely ignored by everyone and the would be social butterfly is completely oblivious. Only Pinky hangs on her every word. She takes Pinky to a bar run by a has-been cowboy called Edgar Hart (Robert Fortier) and his artist wife Willie (Janice Rule). Her paintings are of strange mythological figures and their images recur throughout the film. An oddness joins the more conventional quirkiness.

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Bats In The Belfry

Another corker from E.C.R. Lorac, this time in the shadowy back streets of London where a body is found entombed in the wall of the Belfry, a gloomy house occupied by a sculptor – plaster of paris has never been so sinister.

The plot revolves around Bruce Attleton, a once successful author now suffering with writers block and his wife Sybilla, a glittering actress. The opening scene introduces the central characters in the story, as they gather in the Attleton’s drawing room following the funeral of Bruce’s young cousin Anthony Fell. As the whisky flows the conversation turns to the macabre and they discuss how best to dispose of a body, a conversation they’ll reflect on when Bruce goes missing. . .

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Murder is Easy

For the ReadChristie2023 challenge, March was a month with a motive – Anger. I chose to read Murder is Easy because it’s completely new to me and I will say it was a good choice. A bit creepy, a bit of romance, suspense and humour in the quiet village of Wychwood-under-Ashe.

Luke Fitzwilliam is back in England from the Mayang Straits where he’s been working as a policeman. Sharing his first class railway carriage to London is an elderly lady. Lavinia Pinkerton chatters away telling him how unsettled she is by recent deaths in her village, she believes there’s a murderer about and is on her way to Scotland Yard because she suspects nice Dr Humbleby will be next. Luke humours her because she reminds him of his aunt but is inclined to dismiss her as dotty until a couple of days later he notices in the newspaper that not only is Dr. Humbleby dead but Miss Pinkerton was killed in a hit and run outside Scotland Yard.

Luckily Luke has a friend who’s cousin lives in Wychwood-under-Ashe and it’s arranged that Luke can go and stay with her, undercover as a cousin, writing a book on ancient folklore as he investigates.

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A Film For March: What’s Up Doc

What a perfect film for Spring, just bursting with joy and viv! Absent minded professor, Dr Howard Bannister (Ryan O’Neal) has travelled to San Francisco with his uptight fiancee Eunice (Madeline Kahn), for a musicologists conference where he hopes to get a research grant for his work on igneous rocks. Rocks he keeps in his plaid case, as the opening credits tell us:

‘Once upon a time, there was a plaid overnight case. . . ‘

or possibly 4 identical ones, all belonging to guests staying at the Hotel Bristol. Howard’s is full of igneous rocks, Mrs van Hoskins, a wealthy socialite, uses hers for jewels, ‘Mr. Smith’ has some secret government papers in his and the fourth belongs to Judy (Barbra Streisand), a university drop out who’s case is full of clothes and a dictionary. But Mr. Smith is being followed by Mr. Jones (trying to retrieve the documents); a bunch of thieves are after Mrs Van Hoskins’ jewels; and Judy, who is instantly smitten with Howard, follows him everywhere as she tries to insert herself into his life.

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