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Reading

26 September, 2018 at 10:00 pm by belgianwaffle

“Forest Dark” by Nicole Kraus

I loathed this book. The author writes beautifully and she uses this gift to write meaningless, plotless drivel. This book is supremely self-indulgent. It’s possible you might like it better if you’re into Kafka, I’m not. It is, incidentally, mildly interesting about the relationship between American Jews and the the State of Israel. The last line is quite clever. Literally, the last line. Does not repay nearly 300 pages of pain. In summary, I would not recommend this book.

“We’ll Always have Paris” by Emma Beddington

I was a big fan of the blog which preceded this book. The author is very funny. The book is also extremely sad. V good if you have had a lot of French people in your life and are a big francophile. Shows where this kind of thing will lead.

“What Happened” by Hilary Clinton

Meh, it was grand and, in fairness, very readable. I am not entirely sure I am any the wiser really as to why Donald Trump ended up as President of America.

“Greengates” by R.C. Sheriff

Another Persephone book. I found this one very, very sad. A retired couple try to get a new lease of life by moving out to suburbs and even though after many mild vicissitudes the outcome is a happy one, it doesn’t feel very likely to last.

“Histories” by Sam Guglani

Should poets be allowed to write novels? This is another medical book written by a doctor who is also a poet. It’s good but a bit far in on the beautiful writing, no plot end of the spectrum for my liking.

“Autumn” by Ali Smith

I really did not enjoy this. I have no desire to explore the other seasons. It had some good ideas but just did not do it for me.

“Janesville” by Amy Goldstein

I thought that this was interesting. It’s the story of one American manufacturing town and what happened when manufacturing got in to trouble. Well written and insightful.

“The Heart’s Invisible Furies” by John Boyne

This is a good long book and I found it a bit hard to get into at the start and some of the characters annoying and unbelievable. But once I accepted that it was almost more a fable than a novel, I really enjoyed it and was sorry to finish it.

“Manhattan Beach” by Jennifer Egan

I did not enjoy the last Jennifer Egan book I read – “A Visit from the Goon Squad” – but I liked this one. It’s largely set in New York during World War II and it is very atmospheric. Maybe a bit too much research on diving (which is a big feature in this book) but overall I really enjoyed it.

“Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders

I know that this was a huge literary success but I found it quite tiresome. It’s an imagined version of what happened to Abraham Lincoln’s son after he died but before he went onward; the word “imagined” may be superfluous here. I’ve never read “Cré na Cille” but I imagine it was somewhat similar but better if you are a good enough Irish speaker. I was underwhelmed by the Bardo.

“Wide Sargasso Sea” by Jean Rhys

This is a beautifully written and evocative story. It imagines how the mad woman in Mr. Rochester’s attic in “Jane Eyre” ended up there. I loved it but I found it very, very sad. A short book but you’d want to be in the whole of your health to read it.

“Anatomy of a Scandal” by Sarah Vaughan

This is a page turner/court room drama. It does what it says on the tin but I wouldn’t be rushing back for more.

“Dublin in the 1950s and 1960s” by Joseph Brady

If you told me even ten years ago that I would find a 400 page book about the development of the Dublin suburbs fascinating, I would have laughed at you. But, here we are, I was fascinated. Mostly of interest to those living in Dublin, though.

“La Belle Sauvage” by Philip Pullman

I enjoyed this latest fantasy offering for younger readers and it sent me scurrying back to read the original “Northern Lights” trilogy where, sadly, my recollection was confirmed: book 1 is good, book 2 is alright and book 3 is dire. I might try book 2 of this series when it comes out all the same.

“99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret” by Craig Brown

I saw this recommended on the internet. I think you would have to be a lot more interested in Princess Margaret than I am to really enjoy it but it was alright given the limitations of the source material.

“Dr James Barry: A Woman Ahead of her Time” by Michael du Preez and Jeremy Dronfield

This was interesting but a bit worthy. It’s the true story of a woman born in the 18th century who passed herself off as a man and had a long career as an army doctor. She was originally from Cork and a niece of the painter James Barry, so a certain amount of local interest for me.

“The Almost Nearly Perfect People”
by Michael Booth

This is about the Nordics written by an English man married to a Dane. It’s funny and insightful but sometimes it sheds more light on the author and England that it does on the Nordics (class obsessed anyone?). That said, great holiday read, particularly if you are holidaying in Denmark.

“Why Can’t Everything Just Stay the Same?” by Stepfanie Preissner

An autobiographical collection of writings strung into a book – some parts more successfully than others – but an easy read with some very funny writing.

“The Secret Barrister”

This book was published anonymously. I found it very hard going. I had little enough interest in Irish criminal law when I studied it in college and I don’t know why I thought I might be interested in English criminal law and the cuts to legal aid (I mean, I do sympathise but not much). They have an odd system of magistrates which gives them 35,000 judges or equivalents according to the author (can that be right, really?). By way of contrast, we have 165 judges in Ireland. They do seem to have a lot more offences in England (I’m glad we never seem to have got ASBO equivalents). I think there are probably lots of reasons why this should be the case but when I asked Mr. Waffle what he thought the reason might be, he said tartly, “That’s the difference between having a constitution and the Daily Mail.” I know they have an unwritten constitution and all that but there may be something to that. It felt like being back in college so I would have to say, great textbook but poor bed time read.

“Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains” by Catriona McPherson

I really enjoyed this. It’s about a lady detective in the 1930s (Dandy, short for Dandelion) who goes sleuthing in her ladylike way when she tires of life in the manor. Great literature it is not but I will tell you that my heart soared when I discovered that there are already 15 in the series and, I suspect, more to come. I have a couple on order from the library where they are, understandably, popular with the punters.

“Normal People” by Sally Rooney

I came to this with a very strong prejudice against it. The Irish Times loves Sally Rooney and her work and is always pushing her. Annoying. Furthermore, one of the things the Irish Times likes about her is that her novels are about class and Trinity College. Also annoying. However, she is becoming a cultural phenomenon and the Princess had bought and read this book, so it was in the house and I read it too.

Despite myself, I thought this was an excellent book. Generally, I have a very low tolerance threshold for books that are beautifully written but have no plot but I found myself able to overcome that here. I mean lots of things happened but there was no real narrative arc or conclusion; it was more a slice of life. But what a thought provoking and truly excellent piece of writing. It was really good. For example, here is one line: People in Dublin often mention the west of Ireland in this strange tone of voice, as if it’s a foreign country, but one they consider themselves very knowledgeable about. This very neatly sums up something I have always felt myself about Dublin people and Cork or anywhere outside Dublin really; like they own it. The book is full of lines like that that made me stop in my tracks. Very, very good, damn it.

On a side note, I must say that thematically it is profoundly and in almost every way a deeply unsuitable read for a 15 year old. Sigh. She didn’t like it as much as I did either.

Another Downward Point Plotted on the Graph of Aging

25 September, 2018 at 7:47 pm by belgianwaffle

I have started to fall asleep in front of the television in the evening after the children go to bed. Really, is that not the ultimate sign of passing the gateway through to late middle age. Sigh.

Musings for Middle Brows

20 June, 2018 at 8:17 pm by belgianwaffle

I was listening to the podcast of “In Our Time” and they were doing Persepolis. It was really interesting. Though, seriously, how is Persepolis in our time?

I’m reminded of how years ago I was at a pub quiz and the room was there was a group of school inspectors at the next table they left early and my friend said, “They must’ve heard that there was a good play on the radio”. Oh how we laughed. The boot is on the other foot now, of course as I constantly bore my family witless about podcasts I am listening to. I read during the week that Irish people are among the world’s most enthusiastic podcast listeners, so I am clearly aligned to my fellow citizens.

I learnt about Darius and apparently it’s not pronounced like you might think. I was so interested in Darius and Persepolis that I went all out and had a look on the internet for more information. The first search return was the Darius takeaway. How the mighty have fallen.

Before this I knew nothing about Persepolis. I had read the book by Marjane Satrapi and that was pretty much it. My father is fond of saying “Is it not passing brave to be a king/ and ride in triumph through Persepolis.”* Turns out that it definitely is.

*The internet tells me that this is from “Tamburlaine” by Christopher Marlowe. What exactly was the curriculum they were drawing on when teaching Cork schoolboys in the 30s?

We All Know What He Meant

8 March, 2018 at 8:20 pm by belgianwaffle

My religious friend is very associated with the Carmelites, maybe he’s even a lay Carmelite, if there is such a thing (I could google it but I know he will tell me whether I do or not so I am saving energy here) anyhow, he’s very pally with a lot of Carmelites and he heard this great story from a Carmelite nun.

So anyway a Carmelite priest was saying mass for this bunch of Carmelite nuns including this lady in the Carmelite convent. For reasons which are unclear he began to talk about Elizabeth I in his sermon. He got very worked up about her many sins against Ireland and, as his indignation mounted, he said, “Virgin Queen, Virgin Queen? She was no more a virgin than you or I.”

31 Years of Learning

30 November, 2017 at 11:34 pm by belgianwaffle

I was out of school 30 years last summer. Mr. Waffle went to a school dinner earlier in the year and it brought this significant milestone to mind. I thought I would record what I have learnt since leaving school.

1986 – After a certain number of exams; nobody cares any more (reflection caused by my entire family going off on holidays, leaving me to sit the matric while staying at home alone). How to talk to boys (college was mixed; school was not).
1987 – Just because contact hours in university are few, this does not mean that all of the time not in lectures should be spent off enjoying yourself. How to speak Italian. How to touch type. Some law.
1988 – Au pairing is quite exhausting (good lesson there for later if only I had really taken it to heart). More Italian. Slightly more law.
1989 – Why you should get a professional photo of your graduation. Peak Italian. More law.
1990 – Just because you can’t get a job, another degree is not necessarily the ideal solution to your problems. Peak law.
1991 – How to use a dictaphone. How to discover that being a solicitor is not for you.
1992 – Rudimentary Dublin geography. Little did I know how useful that would prove to me later.
1993 – How to ride a moped in Rome. How to share a house with people from lots of different countries. How to make yeast bread with milk.
1994 – How to party. Peak party year. Basic EU bureaucracy.
1995 – How to speak and write good French. Peak French year.
1996 – How to live on air. How to share a house with a house proud man. How to speak very basic Serbo-Croat.
1997 – How to live by the seaside.
1998 – Advanced EU bureaucracy. How to live alone. How to finally cast aside the shackles of a legal career.
1999 – How to meet a husband.
2000 – How to move country when you have possessions. Challenging. How to set up a book club (still going, thanks for asking).
2001 – The importance of booking a good wedding photographer (learnt the hard way). How to organise a wedding in three months. How to get a diploma in Art History.
2002 – How to pretend to own a house in Ranelagh when, sadly, you do not. How to buy a house.
2003 – That your friends will all get married at the same time. How to have a baby in Belgium. How to mind a baby and travel to two weddings in Italy, two weddings in Ireland and one in France with a small baby in tow. How to blog.
2004 – How to job hunt in Belgium. Peak job-hunting.
2005 – How to have twins.
2006 – How to work full time with three children under 3.
2007 – How to live without sleeping. How to travel to America with three children under 5.
2008 – How to move country with many possessions and 3 children. Challenging.
2009 – How to survive with one new business, one income, a paycut, creche fees and a childminder and also, the collapse of the economy. Challenging. How to own a cat as a grown-up.
2010 – How to garden. How to have 3 children in primary school.
2011 – How to change jobs unexpectedly. How to use a smartphone.
2012 – How to househunt in a depressed market. How to deal with mortgage brokers.
2013 – How to move house in Dublin. Less challenging than changing country. How to pass time in hospital with an elderly relative.
2014 – How to have a child in secondary school.
2015 – That you have drifted apart from many of the people you invited to your wedding but you are still friends with your bookclub.
2016 – How to do a different job. That the only new friends it appears you will ever make are the parents of your children’s friends. That no matter how much you pray for them to be discriminating in that regard, your children will not be swayed by your concerns.
2017 – How to cope with cancer in the family. How to mildly regret that some 20 years previously you cast aside the shackles of a legal career. How to appreciate what you’ve got.

And we have come to the end of another NaBloPoMo. Thank you and goodnight.

#MeToo

27 November, 2017 at 9:22 pm by belgianwaffle

We had a good old chat about harassment at my all female bookclub recently. We all brought out the usual horror stories for each other’s delectation – things which would appal us now but which we put up with, almost unthinkingly, when we were in our 20s (although I do remember complaining to my friend D about one particular colleague and her advising me to say, “If you touch me again, you pull back a bloody stump”, so I suppose, I wasn’t quite putting up unthinkingly and, no, I didn’t say anything, just stayed out of his way).

As we moved towards the close of the conversation, I said, “It’s really much better now, I think.” My sapient friend, D (she of the “bloody stump” suggestion), observed, “No, it’s not, it just doesn’t happen to us any more because we’re too old and too senior.” Now that is a depressing thought.

Reading etc.

11 November, 2017 at 8:20 pm by belgianwaffle

“Catholic Mass For Dummies” by John Trigilio, Kenneth Brighenti, Monsignor James Cafone

I was lent this by a friend. A bit dull but I can tell you it’s a miracle the Orthodox and Syno Malabar rite people manage to keep anyone at all. They require extra hours of devotion.

“Outlander”Diana Gabaldon

This is a very popular series of books about a woman who finds herself transported from the 1940s to the 1740s. I thought it was only alright and wouldn’t be rushing back to read the rest of the series. And I quite like time travel but the balance of historical romance to time travel wasn’t quite right for me.

“Olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout

A brilliant writer tells a poignant story (more like a series of short stories really) where this difficult woman with a heart of gold (Olive Kitteridge) features. It’s very good at getting inside someone’s head.

“Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan” by Ruth Gilligan

This is a rather gloomy story about Lithuanian Jews who pitched up in Ireland and their lives and a modern day Dublin girl thinking of converting to Judaism for her English Jewish boyfriend. Didn’t really do it for me; too gloomy.

“The Village” by Marghanita Laski

I enjoyed this paean to the socialist utopia set in a village where class structures are crumbling after the end of World War II.

“My Name is Lucy Barton” by Elizabeth Strout

Another beautifully written book by Elizabeth Strout.

“Open” by Andre Agassi

God, who knew it was so absolutely grim being a professional tennis player? And does your father have to be insane? Interesting insights here.

“Every Good Deed”
by Dorothy Whipple

A book of short stories by the ever-reliable Dorothy Whipple. Great read.

“The Humans” by Matt Haig

I quite enjoyed this book which uses an alien’s perspective to look at human relationships.

“The Possession of Mr Cave” by Matt Haig

I liked “The Humans” so much that I tried more of Mr. Haig. This is, I think, a better book but hair-raising in its description of descent into insanity.

“The Last Family in England” by Matt Haig

A slightly less successful offering by Matt Haig. Maybe better, if you are a big Labrador dog fan.

“The Radleys” by Matt Haig

A family of vampires on the dry- it starts off really well but it spirals out of control a bit at the end.

“Eligible”by Curtis Sittenfeld

A re-imagining of “Pride and Prejudice” by a wonderful contemporary author. One of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in ages.

“The Forever Court” by Dave Rudden

I am, as you know, not at all above children’s literature and I really enjoyed part one of this children’s series. For my money, this volume is not quite as good but enjoyable enough all the same and very well written.

“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card

A bookseller in Dubray books recommended this for Michael and he absolutely loved it as did Daniel. I didn’t think it was bad but I did not go for it to the same extent as they did. It’s a science fiction novel starring a very tough 6 year old.

“H is for Hawk” by Helen Macdonald

This is a story about a woman training a hawk after her father died. It got amazing reviews and I see how it is a wonderfully written book on the theme of loss but I just didn’t particularly enjoy it. Maybe I needed something cheerier.

“The Luckiest Girl in the School” by Angela Brazil
“The Jolliest School of all” by Angela Brazil

I needed something to read. They were free on the Kindle. I don’t think these school stories have really stood the test of time but maybe it is just too late for me to appreciate them.

“Lola Offline” by Nicola Doherty

Great read for teenagers on the perils of social media and finding new friends, Daniel really enjoyed it and was not at all put off by the pink cover.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay” by J. K. Rowling

A bit meh to be honest but I am now committed to reading all of the Harry Potter related works by Rowling. Why? “I dunno” as Ron Weasley would say.

“When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi

This is an absolutely beautiful book written by a brain surgeon who died of cancer in his thirties. Surprisingly uplifting given the theme.

“Le Crime du Comte Neville” by Amélie Nothomb

A recent offering by the extremely prolific Belgian. Extended meditation on the Belgian aristocracy with suicide. More entertaining than it sounds.

“Do No Harm” by Henry Marsh

Series of fascinating almost painfully honest essays by a cranky neurosurgeon. Very enjoyable.

“Commonwealth” by Ann Patchett

A book about the damage authors can do to families and families can do to themselves. I’m a big fan of this kind of family saga and this is very well done.

“The Dry”
by Jane Harper

A detective story set in Australia. Very popular, but not for me.

“The Chalk Artist” by Allegra Goodman

Allegra Goodman is a good writer. Her theme here is electronic games are bad and she doesn’t quite carry it off successfully. Only alright, I thought.

“Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine”
by Gail Honeyman

This is a book about the mental health impact of abuse. It is a great deal funnier and more positive than that makes it sound but it’s also quite creepy and disturbing. It’s probably a bit more optimistic than the reality. Well worth a read.


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