A Film For May: Don’t Look Now

John and Laura are in Venice a city they’ve visited before to try and escape the pain of their young daughters death. One lunchtime they become aware of a couple of elderly women watching them intently. They find out that one of the women has second sight and can see their daughter. As Laura becomes increasingly friendly with the sisters, John becomes increasingly worried.

When a telephone call comes through from their son’s school in England saying that he is ill, Laura takes the first flight to be with him leaving John to follow with the car the next day. But going along the Grand Canal he notices a vaporetto going back to Venice and on board are the elderly sisters and Laura.

He returns to Venice, but Laura is nowhere to be found and John finds himself getting caught up in a train of strange and violent events.

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The House of the Seven Gables

What an odd book this is! It starts with a good story – at the end of the seventeenth century in a New England town, Colonel Pyncheon, a local dignatory decides he wants the land that Matthew Maule has built his cottage on. Met with opposition the Colonel flexes his political muscles and has Maule hanged for witchcraft. But the imposing house he builds on the site is said to carry a curse and bad luck seems to haunt future generations.

At the time of the novel Hepzibah Pyncheon is the custodian and shares the ‘heavy hearted old mansion’ with her lodger Holgrave, a young believer in radical reform . Clifford, her brother arrives home from prison carrying the mark of a person whose youth has been stolen from him and then Phoebe a young distant cousin arrives, as lovely as fresh air and blossom. The possibilities seemed set for a thrilling tale in a gothic setting.

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Ten Books of Summer

I’m so pleased to be joining in with the 20 or 15 or 10 Books of Summer challenge hosted by Cathy at 746books, it’s just the excuse I need to pick up some of the titles that have been looking at me from my TBR pile.

The challenge is to read the chosen titles between June 1st and September 1st and I’m completely buying into the relaxed atmosphere by only signing up to read 10 and thinking that even these could change as the weeks go by.

Looking at the list now The Female Man looks a bit out on a limb, Science Fiction is not usually my thing at all, but there we go. I wouldn’t be surprised if they all turn into British Library Crime Classics anyway!

Frenchman’s Creek

In the court of Charles II, Lady Dona St Columb bored and fed up with her superficial world, is involved in every scandal. Beautiful, careless, insolent and deliberately indifferent she aims to shock. But secretly she’s disgusted with herself and so sets out with her children and their nurse for Navron, the isolated Cornish Estate that belongs to her husband.

Free from her drunken sop of a husband and his grisly friends, she runs barefoot through the grass with flowers in her disheveled ringlets and basks in the peace.

But not for long. She sees a sail on the horizon and hears from Lord Godolphin, a local landowner that there are pirates about, led by an elusive Frenchman.

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Pride and Prejudice

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in
possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’

Lizzy and Jane, Darcy and Bingley, Longbourn and Pemberley – the characters and locations are so seeped into my consciousness they could be real. Mrs Bennet finding husbands for her 5 daughters, Mr. Bingley arriving at Netherfield with his sisters and proud friend, Mr Darcy. Ridiculous Mr Collins who’s to inherit Longbourn and smarmy Wickham, inveigling himself into their affections. I’ve seen so many screen adaptations that I thought I already knew the story and wondered what I would gain from actually reading the book. And maybe for the first 50 or so pages that was true as the characters and locations are put in place and the story really rattles along, by page 39 we already know that Darcy has noticed a ‘pair of fine eyes‘!

But then the book came into its own and I realised how wrong I was. This is very much the story of Elizabeth Bennet (rather than the family and neighbours), who despite the constraints of society is assertive and strident, she holds her own strong opinions and with the added characteristic of insight manages to be herself.

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Death Makes A Prophet

Welworth Garden City is a rarefied little town with a plethora of litter baskets and flowering shrubs, and absolutely no bill-boards or pubs. Among its elite it boasts a high percentage of vegetarians, non-smokers and non-drinkers and is the home of the Children of Osiris, usually referred to as the Cult of Coo or Cooism. Founded by Eustace Mildmann, and originally based on the mythology of Ancient Egypt, it has adapted and modernised to include any number of dogmas, until now in 1947, it finds itself ‘an obliging religion because one could find in it pretty well anything one looked for.’

Eustace the High Prophet is a dreamy, softly spoken widower who lives with his son Terence in the mockest of mock-Tudor mansions on Almond Avenue and Peta Penpeti a man with the manners of ‘a French count’ is Prophet-in-Waiting. There are six High Priests of the Inmost Temple but the force behind the movement and the financial prop is the Hon. Alicia Hagge-Smith who manages to increase the numbers from a select few to several thousand. Banded together by a common faith maybe but one that conceals emerging jealousies, intrigue and hostility.

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A Film for April: Sweet Bean

Based on the novel Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa this 2015 film directed by Naomi Kawase is a slow and gentle story about three people on the margins of society bought together by cooking.

Sentaro (Masatoshi Nagase) is a middle aged man weighed down by his past. He runs a small bakery selling dorayaki to locals, getting up early to make the pancakes. An elderly lady, Tokue (Kirin Kiki), responds to his advertisement for help and after a while he grudgingly accepts her offer, while noticing her crippled hands. She is overjoyed at the prospect of working but horrified by the offensively large plastic bucket of wholesale bean paste he uses for the filling. Carefully she shows him how to make it himself, listening to the beans and watching, watching. Word soon gets around about the new dorayaki recipe and the shop becomes a destination. But when rumours spread that Tokue’s hands have been disfigured by leprosy, Sentaro has to let her go.

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Classics Club Spin #26

The spin has been spun and my number 11 was The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Published in 1851 the back cover blurb says:

In the final years of the seventeenth century in a small town in New England, the venerable Colonel Pyncheon decides to erect a ponderously oak-framed and spacious family mansion. It occupies the spot where Matthew Maule, ‘an obscure man’, had lived in a log hut, until his execution for witchcraft. From the scaffold, Maule points his finger at the presiding Colonel and cries ‘God will give him blood to drink!’ The fate of Colonel Pyncheon exerts a heavy influence on his descendants in the crumbling mansion for the next century and a half.

Crikey, this does sound thrilling! I’ve got until the end of May to read it and on flicking through I see there’s a character called Hepzibah, which is another good sign. And to add to all the good news, I was able to buy my copy in an actual bookshop so it really was cheer up Tuesday!

Classics Club Spin #26

Time for another spin and it’s just the inspiration I need! I don’t have 20 titles still to be read from my original classics club list so I’ve duplicated the few remaining and numbered them 1-20. The numbers will be spun on Sunday, April 18th and whichever number comes out I need to read the corresponding title before May 31st. I’m hoping for Maurice. . .

  1. The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  2. Eugine Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
  3. Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac
  4. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
  5. The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan
  6. Maurice by E.M Forster
  7. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  8. The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan
  9. Eugine Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
  10. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
  11. The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  12. Maurice by E.M Forster
  13. Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac
  14. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  15. The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan
  16. Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac
  17. Maurice by E.M Forster
  18. The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  19. The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan
  20. Maurice by E.M Forster

Seize the Day

New York 1956. Wilhelm Adler a 44 year old living temporarily in the Hotel Gloriana is on his way to breakfast with his father, a permanant resident of the hotel that is home too many elderly retirees. As the elevator sank and sank and the great carpet billowed and the curtains drape like sails, Wilhelm can sense that this is a day like no other. ‘The waters of the earth are going to roll over me.’

Told in the third person by an omniscient narrator and through Wilhem’s own thoughts and flashbacks, Bellow deftly interweaves pathos and humour to track Wilhelm’s fall from a respectable middle management lifestyle. He’s been fired from his job, is separated from his wife and children and is now on the brink of financial disaster, this is his day of reckoning before he drowns in despair.

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