Me: You know that Thursday is November 1.
Me: You know what that means, don’t you?
Him: Oh God, 30 days of writer’s block.
Me: You know that Thursday is November 1.
Me: You know what that means, don’t you?
Him: Oh God, 30 days of writer’s block.
“Skulduggery Pleasant: Kingdom of the Wicked” by Derek Landy
More tales of the skeleton detective and his teenage sidekick. You either like this kind of thing, or you don’t. My only regret is that it was an impulse buy in Tesco. I thought that I should wait until I got to a proper bookshop, but I didn’t. I got my comeuppance as I paid €14.50 and it was only €9.99 in Eason’s. And furthermore, herself grabbed it when I came in the door so I might as well have waited.
“Biggles: The Camels are Coming” by Captain W.E. Johns
I saw it in the library. I remembered seeing at home for years a volume entitled “Biggles Flies to Work” but I never read it and I thought, when I saw Biggles in the library, that it was time. It wasn’t really. However appealing Biggles may be to the 13 year old boy, he holds no attractions for the 43 year old woman. Pity but there it is.
“An Unsung Hero” by Michael Smith
This is the story of Tom Crean, a Kerryman who served under both Shackleton and Scott in Antarctica. I read a couple of books about the early exploration of Antarctica in my 20s but haven’t really been back since. The writing in this book is not beautiful; it is alright at best but the story is absolutely terrific.
The author has written in detail about the experiences of Crean who ran away from Kerry at 15 to join the Navy and worked his way, slowly, upwards. Most books on Antarctica focus, understandably, on Scott and the party who went to the Pole. This book focuses on the men who went back. It is packed full of the most extraordinary adventures. Crean was a hero and very phlegmatic to boot. Inevitably information on men, as opposed to officers, is thin on the ground but the author has pulled together every reference to Crean he could find to create a picture of a heroic, tough, self-deprecating man. It’s a really enjoyable read. Thanks to Google maps, I was able to have a good look around some of the terrain he covered and it is utterly breathtaking that they survived at all. If you’re interested in Antarctic exploration (and who isn’t?) then I really recommend this book. I see that he died in the same hospital where I was born. That’s probably the closest I will get to Antarctic exploration.
“Sept Jours Pour Une Eternité” by Marc Levy
Ah now, this is dire. I read it in French and my only comfort is that it’s good for my French. And it took me a long, long time. It’s deathly. God and the Devil send their best agents to fight over San Francisco and the two meet and fall in love. Really, do you need to know anything more? The author clearly has his eye on the film rights.
“The Mystery of Mercy Close” by Marian Keyes
The author’s well publicised bouts of depression inform this book. It is the most depressing example of chick lit you are likely to read. The author saves her skills for writing lovingly of suicide and the romance is, frankly, unconvincing. The love interest is really only there because he has to be. Not one of her best offerings but still a page turner.
We went to see “The Last Summer” at the Gate. Oh the disappointment. As my mother-in-law said it was like amateur dramatics. Certainly as a tale of what was happening in 70s Dublin it was infinitely inferior to “The Boys of Foley Street“. Nobody was harrowed.
We ran into a glamorous friend of Mr. Waffle’s and went for a drink after the show. We were chatting about houses. I remembered that the last time I had seen her (about a year ago) she had been talking about how she had got her drawing room painted in various shades of red and that really it looked like a womb. This was fresh in my mind as I asked, “How is your womb?” Obviously, the conversation from last year wasn’t as fresh in her mind as in mine. She looked at me as though I was slightly insane. There was a nasty lull in the conversation. “Fine, thank you,” she said, a trifle coldly, I thought as I rushed to clarify. Oh dear, oh dear. [This woman was last mentioned in this blog here - under Saturday. Great to see that my levels of embarrassment are consistent with those of June 7, 2004.]
That’s what my husband said to me in tones of mild bitterness earlier this evening. We went to see “The Boys of Foley Street” in the Dublin Theatre Festival. It was very hard to get tickets. This difficulty was explained when the tickets arrived with an explanatory note that there were only four audience members for each show. I was unnerved. Mr. Waffle said acidly, “I bet there’s going to be audience participation.” He was right.
Then I got this email:
Thank you for your recent booking of tickets to The Boys of Foley Street as part of Dublin Theatre Festival.
I am getting in touch with you now to let you know that since you made the booking we have learned that the production contains scenes of sexual violence. As this is a new piece and constantly evolving, we were not aware of this at the time of your booking. We want our audiences to enjoy every Festival show they attend and we felt it was important to update you so that you would have all the information available on the production.
We advise that The Boys of Foley Street is not suitable for patrons under 16 years of age, and that the production contains material that some may find disturbing.
Should you have any queries or concerns on the content of this material I would be happy to discuss these further with you.
Box Office Manager
Dublin Theatre Festival
I have to say that my enthusiasm levels hit record lows. As Mr. Waffle and I trudged through the rain to the venue, I feared the worst. We were led to a car across the road and told to sit in. This documentary was playing on the radio. An alarming looking tramp with a bottle of cider under his arm came and knocked at the car window. Actor or local? Hard to tell but I suppose that this was part of the attraction. I rolled down the car window cautiously. He began to ramble but he seemed more likely to be an actor.
Then we were driven around this very depressed part of the city to a housing estate like this only not as pleasant. There were some locals drinking in a huddle in the corner (not actors) and we went into one of the flats where, alas, we were separated. The actors (lots of them) acted very dysfunctional lives just for you – all by yourself. It was really cleverly done, though intimidating. That was kind of the point, I suppose. I did find myself looking at the actors’ teeth showing fine orthodontic work and saying mentally, these people are not really alarming, violent, alcoholics. No they’re not.
I used the same technique in a back alley while a drug dealer was beaten up and I was holding the IRA man’s coat. [I subsequently found a picture of the actor on the internet drinking prosecco with his friends. My conscience is clear] Mr. Waffle was in a shed sitting in an old car while a dead body slid up and down the roof. Frankly, I wouldn’t have minded having him to hand as that would have stopped the actor playing the alarming tramp giving me a kiss (peck on the cheek, but still) because I was his girlfriend. We finished up in a meeting room where pushers were being denounced having been brought there by Macker the reassuring IRA man. When he left, we noticed that our pictures were on the walls. Possibly because we were on “the list”.
Still and all, highly recommended; there are no dull bits.
“The Beginner’s Goodbye” by Anne Tyler
Anne Tyler writes beautifully and I have really enjoyed all of her previous books. This was a lovely read, if a little slight. It’s about a man whose wife dies and how he gets over it. It reminds me a little of Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” though it is not as good a book. It is a much more enjoyable book though with a happy ending.
“Memoirs d’une Jeune Fille Rangée” by Simone de Beauvoir [New Year's Resolution]
Simone de Beauvoir remembers a lot about her childhood. A little two much, if you ask me. 120 (densely printed pages) in, she was still under ten. I felt it would be good for me to read this in French. I wasn’t so sure by the time I’d finished. Though I do now know what a hobereau is. Your best guess in the comments, please. Googling will disqualify. One clue, the author’s aunt married a “hobereau”.
So, when she was under ten, i.e. before 1918 she didn’t really notice that there was any lack of equality between the sexes. She seems to have been deliberately obtuse. She seems much more interested in the question of where her family fitted in the social structure. It’s a bit complicated but I think, in summary, they felt that they were at the top but they weren’t really and they didn’t have a great deal of money compared to everyone else. Though, of course, they still had servants. I do love the bit where she describes her guardian angel who is devoted to her service, just like Louise, her nanny.
She was a voracious reader and her mother used to pin together pages which were unsuitable for the young Simone’s eyes. The Princess, when I told her this, was incredulous, as I was myself a bit. However, Simone did tell this story that the priest preparing them for first communion told her, which may explain her obedience. He told them that a young girl, with indifferent parents, was allowed to read everything including, gasp, improper books. The girl came to the priest in some distress but he was too late to save her so she committed suicide. It’s hard to see where Simone would have come across a more inappropriate story for young ears, frankly. It was quite odd to see her waxing lyrical about “Little Women” and identifying with Jo. Hands up if you knew Simone de Beauvoir was a passionate fan of Louisa Alcott as a child.
She is very good on the intensity of girls who are best friends in their early teens. Her description of her friendship with Zaza rings very true. I bet Zaza and her family were less than entirely delighted by this book, though. Do you want everyone to know that your father had to propose several times to your mother before he was accepted and then only with great reluctance?
She starts off a very devoted daughter and her father’s favourite but she becomes disillusioned with him. At one point she is reading about voting being restricted to those who pay more than a certain amount in taxes. She is outraged by this. Her father’s response is to smile and say that as a nation is the sum of its goods, it is to be expected that those who own them should administer them.
“Papa sourit. Il m’expliqua qu’une nation, c’est un ensemble de biens; à ceux qui les détiennent revient normalement le soin de les administrer.”
She sees the hypocrisy of this as her father has become poorer and poorer as his career failed. Did he think he should be deprived of his rights?
We spend a good 100 pages when she starts in the Sorbonne inside Simone’s head. She may be one of the great French intellectuals of the 20th century experiencing existentialist angst or she may be a cranky teenager. It’s a bit hard to tell. Things definitely start to look up once she starts hitting the bars though. She is still living at home and her mother thinks she’s off at some club to help the poor in Belleville but in fact she has found alcohol and she likes it. The gin-fizz is her drink of choice. She does the oddest things to get attention. Herself and her sister arrive in bars separately and then pretend to fight – pulling hair and slapping. Why would you do that? Frankly, given what she gets up to, her parents seem to have been entirely justified in keeping her on a tight rein.
I did not expect to get my first sniff of Sartre only at page 383. Was it for this etc? We learn a lot more about her other friends and Zaza is a constant presence. SPOILER ALERT – stop now, if you think you will ever read this. Zaza dies in the end and suddenly you realise that really the book was all about her and it seems like quite a lovely tribute to their friendship.
Another friend who gets quite a bit of coverage towards the end is Stépha and her lover Fernando. As I was reading this book in France, I was also reading the death notices daily in Le Monde (look, we all have to have a hobby) and I was quite touched to see this one: “Mon ami, Tito Gerassi ne parlera plus de ses parents, Fernando, le peintre, parti se battre avec les républicans espagnols, Stepha, venue d’Ukraine, Berlin les années 20, amie de Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, un intime.”
“The Temptations of Saint Anthony” by Flaubert translated by Lafcadio Hearn [New Year's Resolution]
When I came across the following sentence in the introduction to this book, I nearly gave up there and then:
“But works like the Temptation were far less common, in their appeal also to a kind of voluptuousness of the life of the mind, a … self-indulgence within a seemingly infinite library, where meaning is at the heart of the book but understanding is challenged on every page. In the twentieth centrury we had to wait for writers like James Joyce and Samuel Beckett to give us something similar.”
Please note that this is the easier of the two introductions. The other, by Michel Foucault, is a harder read although he did say one thing that I found, much to my surprise, to be true – “The visible sequence of scenes is extremely simple…” And, actually, it is. In fact, it’s a much easier read than Foucault’s introduction and at no point does Flaubert have to resort to diagrams to show how the reader should appreciate the work.
This book was a present from this man who when reproached (after I had read the introduction but before I had read the text) said that he didn’t remember much about it but at least it was short. This also turned out to be true.
Before turning to the text proper, I must point out that this is the version translated by Lafcadio Hearn of whom I was dimly aware as an Irish man who spent time in Japan. Thanks to the more intelligible of the two introductions, I now know a lot more about Lafcadio. Unusual life story.
This is a weird, weird book but, as advertised, quite easy to read. I found it easier going than “Madame Bovary” mind you, my expectations were pitched far lower. It describes how Saint Anthony was tempted. It lingers on the heresies of the early church in loving detail. It’s a bit dull but very understandable. I liked the glossary the best. Did you know that Sheba is in the Yemen? How about that Sartor is an agrarian god of the Romans who presided over the weeding of gardens?
“The Fall of Paris” by Alaistair Horne [New Year's Resolution]
This is a history of the siege of Paris in 1870. Guess what happens in the end. I read a good review of this once and it spent about 15 years on my shelf waiting to be read. It assumes a knowledge of French history which I do not have, alas. The author assumes that the main figures in the drama are well known to the reader and are old friends who need no further introduction. It also has quite a bit about military tactics which I always find very dull.
On the plus side it is filled with entertaining incidents and contemporary comment on the siege. I liked the bit where one of the contemporary accounts talks about a newspaper from Rouen which arrived during the siege bringing some news from outside: “whoever had said 3 months ago that a Provincial paper a fortnight old arriving in Paris would cause a sensation would have been laughed at; however such was the case”
The whole thing is made worth while by the chapter on hunger. What did the Parisians do when the food ran out? Well, all manner of things. They began to eat horsemeat. Then the signs “Feline and Canine Butchers” made their debut. By December one man was commenting in a matter-of-fact way “I had a slice of spaniel the other day.” Another man was “fattening up a huge cat which he meant to serve up on Christmas Day, ‘surrounded with mice, like sausages.’”
The passage below appeals:
As more and more of the two traditional domestic enemies became reconciled in the cooking-pot, Gautier claimed that they seemed to grow instinctively aware of their peril:
Soon the animals observed that man was regarding them in a strange manner and that, under the pretext of caressing them, his hand was feeling them like the fingers of a butcher, to ascertain the state of their embonpoint. More intellectual and more suspicious than dogs, the cats were the first to understand, and adopted the greatest prudence in their relations.
Rats, you will be delighted to hear were essentially a rich man’s dish “on account of the lavish preparation of sauces required to make them palatable.” They also ate the animals in the zoo.
The whole chapter is full of hilarious and very odd anecdotes. The whole book is strong on primary sources which is its great virtue though the comment on the back of the book that “[o]ne lives through the siege of Paris and the Commune as much as those who were on the spot” is certainly overstated.
I don’t think it’s a good introduction to the period as it requires to much detailed knowledge but I still found it really interesting. Even though the commune were idiots in many ways – making decrees about administrative matters in squabbling committees when the Versaillais were marching determinedly on the city – and bloody, it’s hard not to admire them a bit. The influence of the short lived commune was huge. The last line in the book is “In 1964, when the first three-man team of Soviet comonauts went up in the Vokhod, the took with them into space three sacred relics; a picture of Marx, a picture of Lenin – and a ribbon off a Communard flag.”
“Sister Morphine” by Catherine Eisner [New Year's Resolution]
This is a bit odd. I bought it ages ago. I thought that it was about women and insanity and it is a little bit but mostly it’s short stories about women’s lives. Some are more successful than others. I loved the fairy tale feel of Isolde and her sister which is partly set in a forest with a hint of wolves but the one about the girl in the catholic day school really annoyed me. It had a sort of gothic view of catholicism which, for someone who comes from a country where catholicism is still the religion of the majority, just seems idiotic and over written. The stereotypical Irish nun didn’t help either.
I thought the whole device of framing this as the case notes of a psychiatric nurse was a red herring and it didn’t add enough to the text to make it worthwhile. I suppose it did mean that you regarded the narrator as unreliable and that put you off balance. The final story is deeply annoying. It is narrated by the psychiatric nurse herself who, wouldn’t you know it, has her own problems. It analyses and links the cases identifying them by patient ID and also from time to time by name. As none of the stories is identified by this in the table of contents one is constantly flicking through the book trying to make out who on earth she is talking about. She also throws in a couple of other cases not mentioned in the book (I think). I nearly threw the book in frustration.
What’s particularly annoying is that I do think that this writer is talented but I found the format to be over-indulgent and in serious need of pruning. Snort.
“The School at the Chalet” by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
I picked this up at the library on the basis that it might appeal to herself. I was never much of a Chalet school girl but I read a few of them. I started reading this and it’s alright. I think it’s very dated and deeply improbable but I suppose it’s not really fair to read it from an adult perspective. It was published in 1925 which is why this piece of dialogue appears that amused me:
“Start a school!” He stared at her. “My good girl, that sort of thing requires capital; which we haven’t got”
“Yes, I know that as well as you do!” retorted his sister. “At least it does in England but I wasn’t thinking of England.”
“Then where were you thinking of?” he demanded, not unreasonably. “Ireland? Shouldn’t advise that! You might wake up to find yourself burnt out!”
“Of course not! I’ve got some sense!…”
Elinor loves the Tyroleans and the Southern Germans but the Prussians are horrible. I found the attitudes just that bit too dated to feel any enthusiasm for handing it over to herself but I suppose, if she fancies it, she can read it, she’s read worse.
“Le Voleur D’Ombres” by Marc Levy
I got desperate in France. Ouest France said that this man was a bestseller. I thought that this would mean it would be an easy read. It was. That doesn’t mean it was good though. It’s a coming of age story with a twee supernatural angle that the narrator can read people’s thoughts by stealing their shadows. I am not against science fiction but I just found this cloying.
“Westwood” by Stella Gibbons
She didn’t just write “Cold Comfort Farm” you know. This is not a particularly funny book though it is funny in places. It is the story of a plain young teacher who is dazzled by the glamour of a family who live in a big house nearby. It’s set in London during the Second World War. It has loads of characters and because it is quite long by the time you’ve finished, you really feel you know them. Even the characters who are almost caricatures have some depth. I was sorry to say goodbye to them without having any particular affection for any of them. This book is very long on character but short on plot. The big incident that the book leads up to [signalled from early on] is too slight to sustain the whole novel. The characters are great but you have to give them 200 pages of your time to warm up which is a lot. I’d try another of her books all the same.
“Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” by Jeanette Winterson
I like Jeanette Winterson and I’ve read a lot of her stuff. I liked this too. It’s well written and it is heartfelt. It first part covers much of the same ground that was covered in “Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit” and the second part is about her search for her birth parents. This book is so sad. It seems to underline that you can’t escape a damaged childhood. Despite her success, she is a deeply disturbed and unhappy woman. Only read it, if you’re feeling very cheerful.
From Saturday’s Irish Times, page 15:
“..in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, you can see the enormity of the task…”
No, you can see the size of the task or the vastness of the task.
Same paper page 9:
On a Senator who dislikes NAMA: “We were expecting a very heated discussion, seeing as he is such a public protagonist of Nama.”