Death in Spring

death in Spring
Mercè Rodoreda is a new writer for me and this was a completely new type of read. Born in Barcelona in 1908, Rodoreda wrote a number of novels and short stories in Catalan in the early 1930’s. In 1935 she began working for the Catalan Ministry of Information, but was forced into exile on Franco’s victory, first in France and then Switzerland. She returned to Catalonia in the 60’s, Death in Spring was published posthumously in 1986, which adds to its sense of mystery and otherness.

I say all this because knowing a bit about her background seemed to matter very much when trying to understand this strange book. Narrated by a nameless 14 year old boy, the drama is set in a nameless village, a village ‘born from the earth’s terrible unrest’, in no set period in history. But while it feels realistic, in that we recognise her world, Rodoreda’s gentle language lulls us into the brutal customs which are followed without question. Continue reading “Death in Spring”

Doctor Zhivago

dr.zhivago

This wasn’t at all what I expected. I thought I was going to read a sweeping love story set against a backdrop of snow.

Instead I found the history of Russia in the first half of the 20th century, world wars, revolution, civil war and the political terror of the 1930’s told through the eyes of a doctor and poet.

But it was the plain, almost dispassionate style that surprised me the most. Writing in 1957 Pasternak describes the civil war vividly, but without sentiment. A sense of catastrophe and upheaval is always present, the characters come thick and fast, which gives a sense of the chaos and disorder but somehow Yuri Zhivago is detached, as if he’s watching events through a window and never really taking part. Continue reading “Doctor Zhivago”

Reading Finnegans Wake

finnegans wakeEaster 2017 and my reading chums and I finished Ulysses, we absolutely loved it and quickly read (and went to see) Hamlet to explore the father/son motif, read Dubliners so we could spend more time with the characters and went to Dublin to celebrate Bloomsday.  We read Portrait of the Artist to get more of Stephen Dedalus, we even went on a course and gave (very short) presentations on different aspects of the book.  We were in awe of his intelligence, his sparkling language – how could we get more Joyce?
Let’s read Finnegans Wake we said!

The first week, armed with Oxford Classic editions and our guide A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (Joseph Campbell) we had a really fun time annotating our copies with the chapter headings that Mr key to FWCampbell provided “to serve as a handrail for the reader groping (their) way along unfamiliar galleries'” and wondered how we were going to read it.

“It is a strange book, a compound of fable, symphony, and nightmare – a monstrous enigma beckoning imperiously from the shadowy pits of sleep.” (Joseph Campbell).  It’s a vast dream, crowded with characters where all time occurs simultaneously. A revolving stage of mythological heroes, remotest antiquity and popular culture. Continue reading “Reading Finnegans Wake”

Farewell Leicester Square

farewell leicester sq

Quite by chance the book I read for my TBR challenge and the film I watched for my TBW challenge shared a subject – cinema. Farewell Leicester Square, written by Betty Miller in 1935 and Cinema Paradiso directed by Giuseppe Tornatore in 1988, are both about young boys growing up in the early days of cinema and desperate to be a part of it. They both leave their home towns, only to return years later, as successful directors, when they hear about the death of a loved one. So I thought they could share a post!

cinema paradiso 2 Continue reading “Farewell Leicester Square”

The Village in the Jungle

village in the jungleIn October 1904 at the age of 24 Leonard Woolf set sail for Ceylon as a cadet with the Ceylon Civil Service.  He had with him a wire-haired fox terrier and 90 large, beautifully printed volumes of Voltaire.

He came back to England seven years later with Ceylon in his heart and bones and a growing disillusionment, misgiving and distrust of the British Colonial System.

‘The jungle and the people who lived in the Sinhalese jungle villages fascinated, almost obsessed, me in Ceylon.  They continued to obsess me in London, in Putney or Bloomsbury, and in Cambridge.” (Growing: An Autobiography 1880-1911. ) Continue reading “The Village in the Jungle”

At Swim Two Boys

at-swim-two-boys-jamie-oneill-paperback

“Heads that bobbed like floating gulls and gulls that floating bobbed like heads. Two heads. At swim, two boys.”

Jim Mack and Doyler Doyle are the two boys, who in 1915 make a pact that in a years time, they’ll swim out across Dublin bay to Muglins Rock and raise the flag, claiming the rock for Ireland and themselves.

Above on my perch I sit and watch. Alone one man.”

Anthony MacMurrough is the man, recently arrived in Ireland at the invitation of his Aunt Eva after serving two years hard labour in an English prison for gross indecency. Part of an old Irish family he gets caught up in his aunts battle for Irish Independence and becomes a part of the boys’ lives.

This is a real epic. The poor, the dispossessed, the middle-class, the Anglo-Irish aristocracy are all seen against a country in political upheaval.  The dream of liberation for Ireland from the English is mirrored in the boys’  search for personal freedom as their love for each other grows. It’s a story about swimming, Irish history and romance and I found myself completely immersed in the lives of the small cast of characters and the life of Dublin, as they head towards the Easter Rising of 1916. Continue reading “At Swim Two Boys”

July Round Up

I read two books for my TBR challenge in July that, although completely different, seem to both be about identity. Ishmael’s Oranges by Claire Hajaj is set in England and Palestine and Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years, set in the US.

Ishmael's OrangesIshmael’s Oranges is the reason I signed up for the TBR challenge.  I bought it because I loved the title and the cover, but for some reason it’s just sat on a pile unread for years. I’m glad to say it was worth the wait.

The book opens in 1948 when Salim Al-Ishmaeli is 7 years old and growing up in Jaffa, Palestine.   Judit Gold is born in 1948 in Sunderland, England into a Jewish family.  The story is split into time frames and follows their lives and Arab and Jewish heritage until 1988. Continue reading “July Round Up”

June Round-Up

I was so busy over June with one thing and another that this poor blog was completely neglected, and I now find myself with a list to review and anxiety building.  So I’m going to cheat and put everything into one post although that does mean that none of the titles will get the attention they deserve.  But first (because it has a literary theme) the highlight of June was a weekend in Dublin on the 16th for the Bloomsday festival!  This was my first time in Dublin and it really was wonderful. Lots of people in costume, readings on doorsteps (No.7 Eccles Street!) and brilliant performances – especially from The Abbey Theatre,  but best of all was just Dublin. It literally bought Ulysses to life – the rhythm of the streets, the chatter and music coming from everywhere felt so familiar!

But enough about fun, what did I read? Continue reading “June Round-Up”

A Voice Through A Cloud

a voice through a cloud“I heard a voice through a great cloud of agony and sickness” so begins this unputdownable memoir of Denton Welch.  Born in 1915, he’s at art school in London when in 1935 he decides to cycle to his uncle’s vicarage in Surrey.  On the way he is hit by a car severely damaging his spine and kidneys. Written in 1948 this memoir recalls the accident and his convalescence.

When his world is reduced to his bed, visiting hours and hospital staff his observations of the daily routine are funny, tragic and acutely observed.  The brusque and efficient nurses are always ready with a “don’t be silly now” or “we don’t want to make a fuss” comment.  His bitterness towards them is told with searing honesty: “I longed to be able to get up, hit Scott, smash the chair to pieces and walk out forever; but I was helpless and in his hands – he could play with me as he liked. The thought was so bitter that it seemed to degrade me in my own eyes. My face stiffened into a dead mask.” Continue reading “A Voice Through A Cloud”

The Way We Live Now

The Way We Live NowMarie Melmotte wants to marry the beautiful Sir Felix Carbury but Mr. Melmotte wants his daughter to marry Lord Nidderdale. Ruby Ruggles wants to marry Sir Felix Carbury too but she is betrothed to John Crumb. Roger Carbury wants to marry his cousin Hetta but she wants to marry his friend Paul Montague but Paul Montague is already engaged to Mrs Winifred Hurtle. But where is Mr. Hurtle? Is he dead or is he alive and living in San Francisco?

But amongst all the romantic shenanigans, this big, fun satirical novel has a dark heart. Written in 1873, Anthony Trollope had arrived back in London after 18 months in Australia and was appalled at the greed and dishonesty that financial scandals had exposed. He says in his autobiography:
“If dishonesty can live in gorgeous palaces with pictures on all its walls. and gems all in its cupboards, with marble and ivory in all its corners, and can give Apician dinners, and get into parliament, and deal in millions, then dishonesty is not disgraceful, and the man dishonest after such a fashion is not a low scoundrel.”  Continue reading “The Way We Live Now”