“The Water Beetle” by Nancy Mitford
I’ve been reading/re-reading Nancy Mitford novels although, annoyingly, both Love in a Cold Climate and The Pursuit of Love have, unaccountably, disappeared from the shelves. I quite enjoyed this series of essays, though I have now had three versions (Decca, Deborah and Nancy) of the sisters’ story of how their Nanny said to Diana on her wedding day (when she complained something was torn), “Who’ll be looking at you?” And really, one version would probably have been enough. These essays are very readable but a bit forgettable. One of them features “Eire”. Her views are as might be expected.
“The Blessing” by Nancy Mitford
It has to be said that a strong element of sameness runs through the work of Miss Mitford. I wouldn’t read three or four in a row, if I were you. That said, I enjoyed this story of an eight year old boy who tries to keep his parents’ marriage on the rocks as new potential partners woo him to get to his parents. Last time I read it, I didn’t have an eight year old of my own at home.
“Pilules Bleus” by Frederik Peeters [New Year’s Resolution]
This “graphic memoir” [term dug up from trawling the internet] describes the relationship between the author and his girlfriend and her young son. His girlfriend and her son are HIV positive and the book focuses on how this affects their lives together. For me, the part about the small boy was particularly touching. I wasn’t convinced, however, that this memoir worked well in graphic format. Easy read though and thought provoking.
“The Summer Without Men” by Siri Hustvedt
I love Siri Hustvedt, I love the way she thinks and the way she writes and I did enjoy this book. However, it is packaged as a novel and it’s not really a novel. She would have done better, I think, to have bitten the bullet and turned it into a series of prose pieces and short stories. Only for hardcore fans, I feel.
I met my friend R while I was reading this and showed it to him. R is always recommending books to me that I really find tough, tough going. R, recoiled in horror, “I hate her,” he said with unusual vehemence. You might like to know that following years of recommendations both ways, the only book we both liked was “Havoc in its Third Year” by Ronan Bennett. You may wish to rush out and buy it as it clearly has immensely wide appeal.
“The Bonesetter’s Daughter” by Amy Tan [New Year’s Resolution]
This is a bit forgettable and the heroine is very annoying. There is a framing device – a 20th century American daughter and you become engaged by her concerns – and then she disappears for 100s of pages. Very annoying indeed. But you know, lots about upheavals in 20th century China, if that’s your thing.
“Broderies” by Marjane Satrapi [New Year’s Resolution]
Another French graphic novel. I preferred this one. The author is Iranian and this is a series of stories told by nine Iranian women to each other. The stories are all about sex but the effect is, generally, not salacious but more about the relationship between the women in the group.
“Chance Witness” by Matthew Parris [New Year’s Resolution]
This is a book by a very odd man. Mostly, the book is about his life in politics under Margaret Thatcher and his views on this are interesting. But what I found more interesting was how awkward a person he still seemed to feel in his late 40s. Constantly tormented by guilt about all kinds of things especially whether he had stood up for gay rights sufficiently. It makes him tortured but interesting, I suppose.
His description of the interview he had with Mrs. Thatcher when resigning as an MP [she was not pleased – he was causing a by-election] is hilarious – he feels honour bound to tell her he’s gay and he thinks that lots of gay men are natural conservatives and perhaps the party might be friendlier. Her response? “There, dear,” she breathed. That must have been very hard to say.”
And I’m also going to include his best anecdote which arose in the context of his laudable efforts as an MP to stop prostitution being an imprisonable offence for women.
‘Are you the prostitutes from Birmingham?’
It had been idiotic to put the question like that – I realized this the moment I said it. But there seemed little doubt they were. Before daring to make such an inquiry in the Central Lobby of the House of Commons I had hung close by to listen in, and all these women had strong Birmingham accents. They were overdressed, mutton dressed as lamb, and more than a few appeared to have hit the lipstick with a vengeance. They had to be of doubtful virtue.
There was an awful pause. They were temporarily too affronted to reply. ‘No,’ said their leader. ‘We’re a Catholic women’s group and we’ve come to lobby for the rights of the unborn child.’
“Old School” Tobias Wolff [New Year’s Resolution]
I think Tobias Wolff is a great writer. This is a story about a smart boys’ school in America in the early 60s. All the boys are obsessed with writing and with Hemmingway. There are some small tragedies and these are beautifully resolved.