The Literary Giveaway Blog Hop – the winners are …

Firstly, thank you to everyone who visited my blog during the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop. I was overwhelmed by the number of new visitors.  A special thank you goes to those who chose to subscribe to my blog too.  To everyone else, I made no conditions of following or subscribing, but I do hope that some of you come back again – it’s lovely to make new blogging friends and you’re welcome here any time.

Now without further ado, I know you all want to know ‘Who won the books?’  I employed the services of my ten year old daughter to pick the names from the hat, and they are going to:

Ghost Light – Dinda

Adverbs – Sena

Crome Yellow – Jessica Martinez

Well done – I’ll be emailing you to get your postal addresses.  Commiserations to the other hundred plus who didn’t win this time, and thanks for visiting again.

How to live alone and get by, Brookner style…

July 16, which will be Anita Brookner’s 83rd birthday, has been renamed International Anita Brookner Day by Thomas at My Porch and Simon at Savidge Reads.  To celebrate this author, they have set up the IABD Website with a competition to win AB books for those submitting reviews by July 16.  Naturally, I decided to join in the fun, especially as I haven’t read a book by her for some years. The book I chose to read from my TBR piles was …

The Rules of Engagement by Anita Brookner

This, her 22nd novel published in 2003, is typical Brookner with all her trademark features.  The story is about two women who meet at school but stay in touch throughout their lives.  Two girls, both called Elizabeth meet at school.  They’re both only children, Elizabeth’s parents divorced, Betsy’s died and she then lived with her aunt.  Betsy is the pretty one, and when they both spend some time in Paris, it’s Betsy that falls passionately in love; Elizabeth uses her time there coming to terms with being on her own.

Later back in England, Elizabeth marries Digby, a widower many years her senior. Theirs is a comfortable marriage – no surprises, no passion, no children either. Elizabeth is happy with this, but then she embarks on an affair with one of Digby’s friends – this relationship is one of convenience, physical needs are satisfied, but Elizabeth gradually begins to fall for Edmund.  Then Betsy comes back into her life, and things are gradually turned upside down – and Betsy’s life will continue to impact on her oldest friend’s for years to come.

If you didn’t know the book I was describing was by Brookner, from the description above, you might guess it was by Joanna Trollope say with some complicated entanglements amongst the middle classes.  But it’s not. Through the voice of Elizabeth, Brookner tells the story of an ordinary woman disappointed with life and love, ultimately content with her own company, but somehow deep down wishing she’d had the wide-eyed innocence of her friend to take her down another path.  Elizabeth meditates at length on her life, relationships and friendships, decisions taken, and things not done to keep life unruffled.

This is where I had a problem with this book.  In reality nothing much does happen – at least not to Elizabeth. It all happens to Betsy, but Elizabeth is telling the story, so we don’t know the half of it. Instead, we’re subjected to Elizabeth’s introspection about life, the universe and everything.  Characters’ actions were described in intricate detail in this book, however I felt I never really got under Elizabeth’s skin, despite having over 250 pages to get to know her.  I wish I’d been able to write more enthusiastically about this novel, for I have enjoyed the others I have read, but I feel that The Rules of Engagement is one for Brookner completists, first time readers should probably start elsewhere.  (6.5/10)

* * * * *
I bought my book.  To explore on Amazon UK (via my affiliate link), click below:
The Rules of Engagement by Anita Brookner.

The Dark Tower Readalong #2

The Dark Tower: Drawing of the Three Bk. 2 by Stephen King

It’s month 2 of the Dark Tower Readalong hosted by Teresa and Jenny at Shelf Love.  If you want to catch up with the first book, click to my review here, as I won’t re-explain what happened before.

Book 2 starts exactly where we left Roland, the last Gunslinger.  On a faraway beach, about to head north.  It doesn’t take long for Roland to encounter a new form of danger in the form of a ‘Lobstrosity’ –  a mutant black scuttling creature with the sharpest jaws imaginable – and before you know it one of them has bitten off two of Roland’s fingers.  Apart from turning him into a one-handed gunslinger, the ensuing infection will also put his life in peril.

The injured man continues up the beach, looking for the signs that the Man in Black had predicted for his quest. He reaches a strange door standing on the beach, which opens into another world. It’s our world, in the 1980s; Roland is seeing it through the mind of a junkie on an airplane who has 2 kilos taped around his chest, and the stewardess is beginning to rumble him.  Thus we meet the first of Roland’s future companions; Eddie.  Roland offers Eddie a way to get out of his situation in one piece – by going through the portal and leaving the drugs in Roland’s world, and they go on to sort out the other end of the drugs deal – which goes sour and ends with Eddie taking the one-way ticket back to Roland’s world.

In the first novel, there was a lot of ambiguity about whether Roland’s world was a post-apocalyptic view of our own, or an alternate.  With the nasty creatures and the portals, Book 2 begins to make the case for it being a parallel world much clearer.

The pair continue up the beach until another door.  This one opens into the mind of a schizophrenic black cripple.  Odetta/Detta had a brick dropped on her head when she was a child, then later was pushed in front of a train and lost her legs.  Eddie falls for the beautiful and understanding Odetta, but her nasty alter-ego Detta has other plans and doesn’t want to be part of Roland and Eddie’s quest. The three of them will encounter one more door – and one more potential candidate for the team, Jack Mort – who turns out to be not the man for them, but to explain more would give too much away. The last third pulls many links from the two books so far together, and Roland will have to use the last portal to great effect to complete his team to continue the quest.

This second novel is the team-building one, getting the band of pilgrims together who will carry on the quest to get to the Dark Tower – we still have no idea what the tower is or why Roland has to go there.  The feel of this book is far from the first, which was inspired by spaghetti westerns.  The incursions into our world bring familiarity and King obviously relishes the territory of Eddie’s story in particular.

Eddie is a fully-formed character, particularly as he brings some humour to an otherwise rather serious saga. Eddie is also young and full of conflicting emotions, apart from being an ‘I can give it up any time’ type of junkie; he and the older and wiser gunslinger spark off each other, but gradually come to realise they work well together.

Parts of Odetta/Detta are arguably as well-described, however it is Detta, the antithesis of her gentle opposite side that gets the lion’s share of the centre section of the novel.  Detta is foul-mouthed, totally bigoted, and believes that all men are rapists; she is also cunning and causes no end of trouble to the others.  I can’t say anything positive about Detta at all, but King again obviously had fun playing at reversing stereotypes with her.

Roland proves himself to be a true man of steel and continues to grow in stature – there is much still to find out about the enigmatic gunslinger.  With Eddie at his side, as Robin to his Batman, I am looking forward to the next installment of The Dark Tower.  That said, I didn’t enjoy this book as a whole as much as the first. I did enjoy Eddie’s story, but the trek up the beach between portals became a little tedious. To be honest, I don’t think the lobstrosities, who get a lot of pages in total, added much to the story either – they were McGuffins – a plot device to enable survival on the beach.  (7.5/10)

The page count has also started to increase – Book 2 at 455 pages was nearly double the length of book 1; book 3 is nearly half as long again – I’d better get reading soon for next month!

* * * * *

To explore on Amazon UK (via affilliate link), click below:
The Dark Tower: Drawing of the Three Bk. 2

The Literary Blog-Hop – and Giveaway

”GiveThis weekend, it’s the second Literary Blog-Hop run by Judith at Leeswaammes.   The aims are to help people discover more great blogs, and spread a lot of book-love by running giveaways.  The list of participating blogs, of which there are 73, is below. There are loads I’ve never seen before, plus a few familiar friends – so if you have time do visit some new blogs and join in their giveaways too…

But before you do that – here’s my giveaway…

I found three books in my piles of which I had two copies – all new too!  How could I have managed to acquire the same book twice three times?  The books are all as new, and the titles on offer are:

  • Ghost Light by Joseph O’Connor – Set in Dublin in 1907, it’s a novel of theatre life featuring the Irish playwright John Synge. I’ve read good things about this book, but have yet to read it myself.
  • Adverbs by Daniel Handler – who is the author of the Lemony Snicket books. This novel for grown-ups is similarly quirky, actually very quirky, but I liked it a lot. See my review here.
  • Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley. This was his first novel, published in 1921. Set at a house-party in the country – a classic.  This edition has a introduction by Malcolm Bradbury.
Just leave a comment saying which book you would like to be in the draw for.  I will send worldwide (surface outside Europe).  Oh, and if you want to own up to any books you’ve managed to buy twice without realising, do let me know I’m not alone.  The giveaway closes at the end of June 29th.



List of all the Participants:

  1. Leeswammes (Int)
  2. The Book Whisperer (Int)
  3. Kristi Loves Books (Int)
  4. Teadevotee (Int)
  5. Bookworm with a View (Int)
  6. Bibliosue (Int)
  7. Sarah Reads Too Much (Int)
  8. write meg! (USA)
  9. My Love Affair With Books (Int)
  10. Seaside Book Nook (Int)
  11. Uniflame Creates (Int)
  12. Always Cooking Up Something (Int)
  13. Book Journey (Int)
  14. ThirtyCreativeStudio (Int)
  15. Col Reads (Int)
  16. The Book Diva’s Reads (Int)
  17. The Scarlet Letter (USA)
  18. The Parrish Lantern (Int)
  19. Lizzy’s Literary Life (Int)
  20. Read, Write & Live (Int)
  21. Book’d Out (Int)
  22. The Readers’ Suite (Int)
  23. I Am A Reader, Not A Writer (USA)
  24. Ephemeral Digest (Int)
  25. Miel et lait (Int)
  26. Bibliophile By the Sea (Int)
  27. Polychrome Interest (Int)
  28. Book World In My Head (Int)
  29. In Spring it is the Dawn (Int)
  30. everybookhasasoul (Int)
  31. Nishita’s Rants and Raves (Int)
  32. Fresh Ink Books (Int)
  33. Teach with Picture Books (USA)
  34. How to Teach a Novel (USA)
  35. The Blue Bookcase (Int)
  36. Gaskella (Int)
  37. Reflections from the Hinterland (USA)
  38. chasing bawa (Int)
  39. 51stories (Int)
  40. No Page Left Behind (USA)
  1. Silver’s Reviews (USA)
  2. Nose in a book (Int)
  3. Lit in the Last Frontier (Int)
  4. The Book Club Blog (Int)
  5. Under My Apple Tree (Int)
  6. Caribousmom (USA)
  7. breienineking (Netherlands)
  8. Let’s Go on a Picnic! (Int)
  9. Rikki’s Teleidoscope (Int)
  10. De Boekblogger (Netherlands)
  11. Knitting and Sundries (Int)
  12. Elle Lit (USA)
  13. Indie Reader Houston (Int)
  14. The Book Stop (Int)
  15. Eliza Does Very Little (Int)
  16. Joy’s Book Blog (Int)
  17. Lit Endeavors (USA)
  18. Roof Beam Reader (Int)
  19. The House of the Seven Tails (Int)
  20. Tony’s Reading List (Int)
  21. Sabrina @ Thinking About Loud! (Int)
  22. Rebecca Reads (Int)
  23. Kinna Reads (Int)
  24. In One Eye, Out the Other (USA)
  25. Books in the City (Int)
  26. Lucybird’s Book Blog (Europe)
  27. Book Clutter (USA)
  28. Exurbanis (Int)
  29. Lu’s Raves and Rants (USA & Canada)
  30. Sam Still Reading (Int)
  31. Dolce Bellezza (Int)
  32. Lena Sledge’s Blog…Books, Reviews and Interviews (Int)
  33. a Thousand Books with Quotes (Int)

Never mind the quality, feel the width – doesn’t feel quite right for this tome!

Whilst I’m in the middle of getting this month’s volumes in two readalongs finished, (Stephen King’s Dark Tower books at Shelf Love and Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake at Farm Lane Books since you ask), I’ve a little poser for you today.

Let me introduce an old book to you…

Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens. I do love the sub-title ‘A tale of the Riots of ‘Eighty’.

This edition isn’t dated – but a sticker on the inside cover tells me that my Mum bought it for 4/- in a secondhand book shop in Streatham, which places it as 1950s at latest, and it’s probably considerably older.

The binding is deep red leather with blocked gold on the spine and it has marbled-effect endpapers. It’s in the ‘Oxford India Paper Dickens’ series, and is complete with 76 illustrations.

Lastly, onto the dimensions of said tome, which are not large – 110 x 175 mm (just a tad smaller than a standard small paperback), and just 18mm thick including the covers.

So my question to you is … from the information above:

How many pages do you think this volume holds between its covers?

I’ll append the answer tomorrow!

… and here it is…

786 pages (including the illustrations, and all blanks and frontispieces etc), so you were all very close with your estimates!

What surprised me is that although that’s an awful lot of pages to cram into about 16mm, it’s nice quality.  Thin for sure, and you can just see the shadow of the text through the paper, but it’s by no means like tissue – being smooth and very white.

What I didn’t mention before, is that I haven’t actually read this book – but as this edition will take up half the shelf space of a modern paperback, I’ll probably hang on to this one!

A Wartime Romance

The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons

In the same way that we all rejoiced when the TV powers that be gave us Downton Abbey and resurrected Upstairs Downstairs, not to mention the Oscar-winning success of The King’s Speech, we should also be delighted that Natasha Solomons has given us a WWII equivalent in novel form.

The Novel in the Viola has much in common with all those mentioned above. It is cosy – there’s nothing wrong with that; but it’s not sentimental with it. This novel has a cast of brilliantly drawn characters, most of which you’ll come to love within pages of meeting.  It also has a real sense of its place in time, starting in 1938, just before war breaks out, which gives a sense of urgency behind the narrative.  The sense of place is also palpable – a big old country house in a large estate, by the south coast; Tyneford is as much the star as any of the characters.

The story is deceptively simple.  Elise Landau arrives at Tyneford to become a parlourmaid in 1938 to the Rivers family. Mr Rivers is a widower, his son Kit is up at university. Elise, who comes from a well-to-do family in Vienna, is Jewish; giving up her genteel life in Austria and travelling to England to enter service is one of the only ways of getting out of the country after the Anschluss. At first it is hard for her to become a servant, especially when she has to act as ladies maid to two sisters guests at Kit’s 21st birthday party…

Diana sat down at the vanity table, gazed into the mirror and rolled her eyes.
‘Lordy! I am such a mess. Can you fix hair – what-was-your-name?’
‘Elise. And I can try if you like.’
I picked up a brush and a couple of pins and reached out for a stray blond curl. She slapped my hand away.
‘Stop it. You’ll only make it worse.’
I bit my lip with the effort of not answering back.
Juno sank down on the window seat. ‘This weather is awful. Why he’s having the party now, Christ only knows. He could have waited till June or July and some decent chance of sun. This place is absolutely horrid in winter.’
Diana fluffed her curls. ‘The countryside is a hobby, not a place where one actually lives.’
I chewed my tongue. Had i ever been like this? I hoped not, though Hilde would have spanked me if I’d tried. Diana looked at me in the mirror.
‘So Ellis, you are a German Jewess?’
‘Austrian.’
‘Oh yes. Same thing,’ she snapped, impatient.
‘I am from Vienna.’
‘The Viennese are very fashionable.’ She turned to her sister. ‘I heard that Jecca Dunworthy was waited on by a Viennese Countess when she stayed with the Pitt-Smyth’s in Bath.’
I said nothing and picked blond strands from the hairbrush. Diana reapplied her lipstick.

I haven’t mentioned Kit properly yet. He makes friends with Elise, he helps with her English lessons, and of course you hope that they’ll end up together – they are obviously attracted to each other from the outset.  There are many obstacles in the way of a relationship between these star-crossed lovers, not least the war. Their romance is truly fairytale stuff, but ultimately more interesting is the relationship between Elise and Kit’s father. They strike up a friendship after he finds out that Elise’s father is the famous novelist Julian Landau – Mr Rivers has all his novels.

One of this novel’s great strengths is how it shows what happened in big households when war came, as one by one the younger servants leave to join up, and the family’s sons go off to be officers. The older butler and housekeeper try to keep standards up, but it becomes too much, and there is a certain amount of bringing together upstairs and downstairs which works in this household, and Mr Rivers mucks in on the farm, and with the fishermen happily, preferring to be busy.

I found this novel to be utterly charming, with lovely touches of humour alongside the bittersweet romance. Underlying it all was the fact that the war changes everything, and that it really was the end of an era. The characters were wonderful – Elise starts off as the slightly spoilt, wide-eyed innocent, and grows into an assured young woman page by page. Oh, and in case you’re wondering (and as it’s mentioned near the beginning, it’s not really spoiling), there is a novel in the viola – I won’t explain more!

I really hope this novel has been snapped up for a screen adaptation – it would be perfect in the Sunday drama slot. I really wish they hadn’t put a fluffy cover on the paperback though (above right), as it makes it seem like any old romance, and this book is much more than that.  (9.5/10)

My copy came courtesy of Amazon Vine, but I’m off to dig out my own copy of Solomons’ debut novel now – Mr Rosenblum’s List.  Read another post about The Novel in the Viola, and an interview with the author over at Savidge Reads.

* * * * *

To explore further on Amazon UK (affiliate links), click below:
The Novel in the Viola and Mr. Rosenblum’s List: Or Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman by Natasha Solomons:
Downton Abbey – Series 1 [DVD]
Upstairs Downstairs [DVD]
The King’s Speech [DVD]

Paranoid housewife? It’s another Sophie Hannah psychocrime novel…

Lasting Damage by Sophie Hannah

For anyone who likes the occasional bit of property porn, looking at property websites and TV programmes to see how the other half live, the premise of Lasting Damage, Hannah’s sixth psychochiller would be the perfect nightmare. Imagine starting up a virtual tour of a big house and seeing a dead body in a pool of blood in the lounge…

Well this is what happens to Connie Bowskill one night when she can’t sleep, but by the time she drags husband Kit out of bed to see it, the tour has started again and the body is gone.  Was she just imagining it? Connie who is a rather neurotic and paranoid housewife can’t let it go, she contacts the police, hoping to speak to DC Simon Waterhouse, whom she’s encountered before.  Only problem is that Simon is on his honeymoon – he finally married his on-off girlfriend Charlie Zailer, a former cop. But luckily Simon’s colleague takes her seriously enough to contact the police in the city where the house and ‘body’ were.

I’m not even going to attempt to try to explain any more of the plot than that. As you might guess, there’s an awful lot more to the story – Connie knows suspects something – it involves her husband and houses in Cambridge – they nearly moved there once. It’s also enough to get Simon and Charlie back early from their honeymoon.  The plot gets phenomenally twisted and very complex, and although the book was unputdownable, I needed breaks to even begin to assimilate what was happening – only for it to all be turned on its head again when I dived back in!

In Connie and Kit, Hannah has created marvelously complicated characters.  Connie, the small town girl who works for the family firm, swept off her feet by the Cambridge graduate who promises her a different life, but finds she can’t cut the ties to her manipulative family.  Kit has dreams, but appears to have settled for second best in a chocolate box cottage, seemingly content with their routine. Connie, who starts off as neurotic, gets more and more paranoid as things unfold. Kit you’re never sure of – sometimes you believe him, others you just can’t – no wonder Connie loses her trust in her soulmate.

As always in Hannah’s novels, the Spilling constabulary are in the background; taking us out of the claustrophobic nightmare that is Connie’s life, into the other one that is Simon and Charlie’s relationship! But you can’t let that get in the way of a good murder, and once Simon, an extraordinarily intuitive detective, is on the case, his new wife has to take a back seat. But it’s the Cambridge police that made me giggle half way through, when Connie quotes a phrase from a poem, only for the detective opposite to reply with the full verse from A E Housman. “Only in Cambridge would the cops quote poetry at you.”  

I’ve read Sophie’s first three novels and loved all of them, especially Hurting Distance and The Point of Rescue (reviewed here). I jumped reading books 4 & 5 because I wanted to read this one so badly after she told me about it at an author event I attended last summer. In retrospect I wished I hadn’t opted to read out of order, as I shall now have to go back and find out how Simon and Charlie finally got together properly. Also a character returns from her first novel Little Face, which although not vital to the story, may perplex some readers.

Hannah’s writing is very involving – you feel you’re right inside the minds of her lead characters and can sense the creeping paranoia that envelopes them. You get desperate to find out what happens, truly concerned for them, yet glad it’s not happening to you of course – that little vicarious thrill that keeps you reading books of this ilk – she does it very well indeed.

If I had to describe this novel in one word, I’d call it ‘Twisted’, so twisted that it was sometimes almost too clever, but I never did know what was coming next – it was always a shock!  I will read any novels that Sophie Hannah writes, but this one, whilst good, was not quite up to her best for me – 7.3/10.

* * * * *
To explore further on Amazon UK (affiliate links), click below:
Lasting Damage
The Point of Rescue

Book Group Report – the spirit of Sir Humphrey lives on …

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

All those who made it to our book group last week, enjoyed this book.  There were different degrees of love ranging from a good read to fantastic, but no-one really had a bad word to say about it.  Shame, as one of our cadre who couldn’t make it that evening, didn’t get on with it at all and that would have made for more exciting banter. I was in the camp who loved it.

This is the story of Alfred (Fred) Jones, a middle-aged scientist working for the government fisheries agency, and his experiences in a project to bring – yes – salmon fishing to the Yemen.  An idealist Shiekh wants to do the best kind of fishing there is in the mountain wadis of his home country. He has the money to make it happen, the UK government is initially happy to supply expertise to see if the project is feasible.  Fred is assigned, thinks the whole idea is absurd, and ends up being sacked, whereupon he gets employed by the Sheikh’s agents and begins to see the light – mainly thanks to his new colleague, the lovely Harriet Chetwode-Talbot.  Meanwhile, Fred’s home life is not good.  His wife Mary works for an international bank, and is going places – without Fred, but he’s seemingly stuck in this sterile marriage…

The rest of the evening was a bit of a frost, but when we went to bed, I think Mary must have felt a little guilty about the way she had changed her plans. Suffice to say, my new Marks & Spencer pyjamas were not required for the early part of the night! A relatively rare event in our marriage of late.

Afterwards Mary said, ‘There now, darling, that should keep you going for a bit,’ and turned on her side and seemed to go to sleep. For a moment I felt a bit like a dog that has just been given a biscuit, but then drowsiness swept across me and I began to doze.

You can understand why when offered a bit of adventure, that Fred will take it. The whole scheme escalates, as they begin to work out how to make it work – will it ultimately be a triumph or a disaster?

This novel worked for us on several levels. Firstly, there was the satire on bureaucracy – with the civil servants all toadying up, and passing the blame down, the governmental food chain of which Fred is near the bottom. This immediately reminds one of the wonderful TV comedy, Yes Minister with the sublimely manipulative Sir Humphrey Appleby completely controlling his Minister; but also to the antics of real spin doctors in recent times.

Then on another level, it’s about following your dream. The Shiekh has a simple one: he wants his people to be able to fish salmon. He realises that his ‘grand projet’ is idealist, but he has faith, he believes it can happen -even if it puts his life in danger from opposing factions within his region.  But dreams can also be shattered. Harriet’s fiance is a soldier, fighting in Iraq, and here the story veres away from comedy into something quite dark.

What I haven’t mentioned yet is the format of the novel. It combines two similar but differing forms into one seamless whole.  The main body of the text, certainly during the first half of the novel is written in letters – varying from e-mails to interdepartmental memos, and including the occasional press release or bit of reportage. Then Fred’s diaries are introduced, and these gradually overtake the comedy of the epistles, with their more meditative and serious tone, which makes the farce of the inevitable ending a real shock.

The characters are great.  Fred starts off as a typical boffin, but grows in stature throughout the book; Harriet begins as an immensely capable young woman who gets to reveal her vulnerable side; the Sheikh is lovely and mysterious; and Mary – she sacrifices life for work, but she is so unsympathetic, so you can’t feel sorry for her for long.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, loving both the format and characters giving it 9/10, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Torday’s novels. Hopefully we’ll catch up with the opinions of those who weren’t quite so sure about it next month, when we’ll also be discussing The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.

* * * * *

To explore on Amazon UK via my affiliate link, click below:

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Is this a case of middle-aged disappointment?

Now my daughter is ten, she tends to read books to herself, but occasionally at bedtime I still read to her when there’s a book she requests.  We’ve had great fun revisiting some of her toddler books – I kept a pile of our favourites – you know the ones – The Gruffalo, Kipper, The very hungry caterpillar, etc. Recently she requested that I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to her, as she tried to read it by herself, but just ‘didn’t get it’.  So we’ve read a chapter at a time over the past few weeks, when she was in the mood to be read to.

As a child, I read both Alice books again and again – although I much preferred Through the Looking Glass as it has a) Jabberwocky, b) Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and most importantly, c) knitting sheep. But back to Alice the first, I was delighted that I could read Alice again, this time with funny voices…

So we started:  Alice saw the White Rabbit and fell down the hole – fine.  She drank and ate and changed size several times, cried a river and scared a little mouse with tales of her cat Dinah – still fine.  But by the mouse’s lecture on Will the Conqueror and the Dodo’s Caucus Race, it was starting to already get a bit mad for my daughter, who’s much more used to ‘wimpy’ or ‘dorky’ diaries of modern school children set in the real world.  By the time we got halfway at the pig and pepper, if it hadn’t been for the Cheshire Cat, I really would have lost her attention.  We kept on reading right to the end, but I think Juliet was just enjoying being read to, rather than understanding what was going on. I tried to explain that each chapter was really a separate adventure with different creatures that would come together at the end, but that seemed to confuse her more.

What about my experience on this re-reading.  The largest part of the story is in dialogue – whether it be Alice talking to herself, or the characters talking to at each other. Having to concentrate on consistency in my voices reading all these terribly convoluted conversations with their often circular arguments, it struck me that not only were they all talking at each other nearly all the time, but they were not listening to each other either, Alice included.  She was fine on her own with her philosophies, but she was as bad as all the others the rest of the time – what a chatterbox!  Again it was up to the Cheshire Cat to save the day.

Four decades on, the result was that I found the book a bit of a disappointment. I can only conclude that it is possibly a story best read by oneself rather than aloud; to have the space and time to re-view the scenes as you go if needed.  It certainly wasn’t the fantasy that I had loved so much as a child.  It was completely bonkers, full of maddening and argumentative characters – most of whom had few redeeming features, and had a heroine who was a proper little madam.

Rather than reading Alice in Wonderland again, I would however like to read Martin Gardner’s book The Annotated Alice which has everything you ever wanted to know about the book explained. As for Juliet and I, we are going to persevere and read Through the Looking Glass together, but I might re-read it to myself first!

Have you ever re-read a favourite book from years before and been disappointed?

* * * * *

To explore Alice on Amazon UK, click below:
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition

Page 60

One of the tests of whether a book might be for you or not is to open it up a few chapters in and read a page.  It could be a page at random, or it could be page 60 which is the page I know Simon T always chooses, and since he told me this, I’ve found myself gravitating towards that particular page too when browsing.

Sorting out a pile of my late Mum’s books this afternoon I came across an old Penguin copy of The Age of Reason by Jean-Paul Sartre (trans Eric Sutton).  Most of the page was perfectly readable and I think I could get on with the book, but this little section was mighty perplexing.

To set the scene, Ivich, a female student is discussing her exams with Mathieu…

‘Anyway, I know what you’re thinking.’
‘Then why ask? You don’t need to be very clever to guess: I was thinking of the examination.’
‘You’re afraid of being ploughed, is that it?’
‘Of course I’m afraid of being ploughed. Or rather – no, I’m not afraid, I know I’m ploughed.’
Mathieu again sensed the savour of catastrophe in his mouth: ‘If she is ploughed, I shan’t see her again.’ She would certainly be ploughed: that was plain enough.
‘I won’t go back to Laon,’ said Ivich desperately. ‘If I go back to Laon after having been ploughed, I’ll never get away again. They told me it was my last chance.’

So, reading this page 60 on it’s own, would you think that being ploughed is failing one’s exams, or a euphenism for something else!

* * * * *

To see for yourself at Amazon UK, click below:
The Age of Reason (Penguin Modern Classics)