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Reading

29 June, 2015 at 6:56 pm by belgianwaffle

“An Utterly impartial history of Great Britain” by John O’Farrell

Funny. Accurate, I am sure. I have now almost entirely forgotten all the details. So it was good that I enjoyed it as I read it because the improvement in my historical knowledge is nil.

“The Moonstone” by Wilkie Collins

Um, very famous and an early example of the detective novel but, if you ask me, only alright and not half as good as the “Woman in White”. Apparently its fame is in part due to the fact that it features opium addiction and was written by an opium addict. Those Victorians.

I enjoyed this quote on page 488 of the edition I read, plus ça change and all that.

“In our modern system of civilisation, celebrity (no matter of what kind) is the lever that will move anything. The fame of the great Cuff had even reached the ears of the small Gooseberry. The boy’s ill-fixed eyes rolled, when I mentioned the illustrious name, till I thought they really must have dropped on the carpet.”

“Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” by Winifred Watson

Heartwarming, entertaining republication by Persephone Press. Life has been cruel to Miss Pettigrew. It perks up when she falls into (what her clergyman father would almost certainly have considered) a depraved circle.

“Consequences” by EM Delafield

If you have read and reread “The Diary of a Provincial Lady” and all of its sequels and you love it, approach this book by the same author with EXTREME caution. It is a very good book. It gives a very clear account of the misery of depression. But wryly humourous? Frankly, no. Set your expectations to extreme, relentless misery.

“Sense and Sensibility” by Joanna Trollope

I quite enjoyed this. It updates the Jane Austen classic and uses the same plot and the same characters. I went back and re-read the original afterwards and I was very impressed by how very closely the Trollope version stuck to the Austen novel. What was intriguing was how this was entirely a Joanna Trollope novel; her voice, the characters, the situations, everything.

“The Buried Giant” by Kazuo Ishiguru

I quite enjoyed this in a mild way. It has divided reviewers. It’s about two Britons going on a quest in a magical post-Arthurian Britain. Harmless. Not as good at all as “Never Let Me Go” though.

“The Secret Place”
by Tana French

I think Tana French is a wonderful writer. This is another detective story set in Dublin. This one revolves around a murder in a girls’ boarding school. I am not normally a great fan of the detective novel but I plan to read everything this author has written.

“A brief History of the Smile” by Angus Trumble

I was a bit disappointed by this. It does what it says on the tin. There is an original angle on history, there is lots about art but yet, I found it a bit dull. Also the black and white illustrations in my edition were not great for looking at the reproductions of art through the ages.

“Us” by David Nicholls

I know lots of people were enchanted and delighted by this novel but I was not. I found each of the three main characters very annoying and tedious in their own particular ways. It follows a family on a Grand Tour of Europe, father, mother and son about to leave for college. I did not like the characters and the plot left me cold. It’s very readable, I suppose. For my money, his best novel continues to be “Starter for Ten” which combines excruciating embarrassment and hilarity.

“Solace” by Belinda McKeon

I didn’t really expect to like this book, but I did. It’s a bit overwritten (you know the kind of thing, nobody ever hops up and opens the door but walks through the treacly sunlight filled with dancing dustmotes to answer the insistent tolling of the doorbell). The author patronises her main characters a bit. But, that said, it moves snappily enough. Though there are some strands that could usefully have been got rid of (what was that philosophy lecturer doing?) I was engaged and interested. I was genuinely quite shocked by the twist in the middle and that was really well handled as was the aftermath. I would definitely try another.

Gallipoli

5 May, 2015 at 10:17 pm by belgianwaffle

I went to see the Anu production about Gallipoli with herself in Collins Barracks. Anu does “site specific” interactive theatre and despite the awful sound of this, I have found them terrific. My most memorable theatre experience ever was courtesy of Anu.

There was an age limit of 12, so we waited until after her birthday and off we went; I am spectacularly law abiding. It was challenging enough for 12 and, to be fair, it was aimed at adults. I think she found the audience participation a bit off putting. The production did try to convey some of the horrors of the war; it also addressed the views of those in the newly developing Ireland on the soldiers who had fought for King and Country (not positive) and the lasting impact of the war on the soldiers themselves (one of the characters commits suicide after getting home): all quite difficult themes. At the end, she got to wave to one of the soldiers as they marched off to war (it was interactive and it kind of jumped around in time) and I think she found it all a bit overwhelming though, unlike me, she shed no tears. She is tough that way. Not her most comfortable theatre experience, but I bet she will remember it all the same.

She May Very Well Pass for 43 in the Dusk with the Light Behind Her

10 March, 2015 at 11:42 pm by belgianwaffle

I am 46 today which is surprising. It turns out that 46 isn’t as old as I once thought. If you were to say something in the comments, it would prove there was somebody out there and fill my middle aged heart with joy. No pressure now.

Rockin’ the Suburbs

15 February, 2015 at 7:48 pm by belgianwaffle

Last week, I was having a cup of tea with a colleague and she mentioned that she was going to see Ben Folds perform at the American ambassador’s residence. Who was he? Did I have any idea?* “Oh yes,” I gushed, “I love Ben Folds!” I was slightly overstating my enthusiasm, I mean I had bought an album and I’d been to a concert but that was before my children were born. And then, I’m not really a music person (insert gasp of outrage here).

Anyhow, my colleague was adamant that I should go and went to the trouble of asking her contact in the embassy to send me a ticket. It seemed churlish to point out that the night of the concert, last Friday, really didn’t suit me. Mr. Waffle was away and I was busy at work. I arranged for a babysitter to come to the house at 5.45, intending to peel off early from work and be at home at 5.30 to see off childminder and ready at 5.45 to welcome babysitter.

Regrettably at 5.45, I was sitting in a meeting, squirming in my seat. Meanwhile the babysitter had arrived at home and finding the house in darkness (childminder and children late home from school, not part of my calculations), texted Mr. Waffle (at that point in Heathrow) and me. Mr. Waffle texted me and generally, I was feeling a bit under pressure. My boss of bosses, who is a kindly soul with young children asked whether I needed to leave. Gratefully, I said that I did and he said we could talk on Saturday which, frankly, didn’t fill either of us with joy, but was very welcome at that moment.

As I was going down to the garage, the babysitter called. She and the childminder were exchanging posts. I spoke to the childminder, “Would he pick up the timetable for his hours for mid-term on the hall table?” He would. I got home, kissed the children, ordered Domino’s pizza and ran out the door again.

So, frankly, Mr. Folds would really have to deliver the goods to make it all worthwhile. And it was so worthwhile. The Ambassador’s residence is lovely. The President and his wife turned up from their house across the road, adding to the sense of occasion. There were only about 100 of us there. It was recorded live for the radio (listen here, if you fancy) and the session was delightful. Not just the live part but the impromptu tunes in the commercial breaks and the numbers that Ben Folds did afterwards for the audience. I was enchanted. I don’t know when I have enjoyed a musical occasion more. I had to leave immediately after the performance as I was collecting Mr. Waffle from the airport so, just pausing to cram some of the ambassador’s delicious canapés in my mouth (insert your own Ferrero Rocher joke here), I ran out the door. I gave up an opportunity to chat to the great man, but Mr. Waffle was suitably grateful. And I got a signed poster which I am half thinking of framing and putting up on the wall like a teenager.

Untitled

*Obviously Ben Folds, not the American ambassador. Don’t be pedantic. Although that is what I love about you.

Reading

13 February, 2015 at 11:00 pm by belgianwaffle

“We are all Completely Beside Ourselves” by Karen Joy Fowler

Nicely written with clever interesting ideas. Better if you don’t know the twist, which I didn’t.

The Woman who Stole my Life by Marian Keyes

Something of a return to form for Marian Keyes. Finally a heroine over 40. A bit dull in places but made me laugh out loud a couple of times.

Dear Committee Members” by Julie Schumacher

A slight, funny epistolary novel. Our hero is a university lecturer who spends much time issuing letters of recommendation.

“The Likeness” by Tana French

This is the second book of Tana French’s I have read and it is just as good as the first which is really saying something. She writes beautiful, atmospheric, plot-driven detective stories.

“Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande

This is a bit depressing, if you have elderly or sick relatives. Atul Gawande is a doctor who thinks a lot. He is very interesting and always writes beautifully. Bits of this book originally appeared elsewhere and it doesn’t hang together as well as it might but overall it is very good.

“The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande

It turns out that checklists are really useful in complex situations. A convincing and very entertainly written book on this point.

“‘Tis Earlier it’s Getting” by Colm O’Regan

The Christmas book of Irish Mammies. That’s probably all you needed to know. Quite hard to sustain the humour over an entire book. Easy reading though and very funny in places.

“Unravelling Oliver” by Liz Nugent

I enjoyed this story of a murderer’s motivations and backstory. The writing is only alright and there are plenty of cliches but I found the plot really moved along and held my attention.

“Divergent”by Veronica Roth

I had great hopes for this book. I am a fan of young adult fiction set in dystopian worlds. It was a New York Times bestseller that had been made into a film. What could go wrong? Alas, a great deal. Although the premise was clever. The book was boring. It combined violence and teenage romance (something done very successfully in the Hunger Games Trilogy) with an absence of any significant plot developments. I won’t be trying any further installments.

“The Thrill of it All” by Joseph O’Connor

I am not a big fan of Joseph O’Connor’s fiction (his “Irish male” non-fiction books, I enjoyed). I didn’t enjoy this story of a washed up rock star much either. Maybe I should stop reading his fiction. A friend of mine, rather cruelly described him as “an almost great writer” and that’s it. There are really wonderful passages but the whole fails to deliver and there are some, frankly, dire bits also.

“Interesting Times” by Terry Pratchett

Slightly dull Pratchett which I may have read before but of which I retain no recollection whatsoever. On balance, probably not a win.

Christ’s Entry into Brussels” by Dimitri Verhulst

This book, presumably inspired by the painting and Belgium’s labyrinthine administrative structures appealed to Mr. Waffle and he recommended it to me. There is something exquisitely Belgian about it. It brings back the weird, surrealism with which Belgium is far more amply supplied than any other country I have visited. Still and all, a bit slight and perhaps of less interest to those without a Belgian connection.

To Improve Our Service to You

10 January, 2015 at 9:35 pm by belgianwaffle

One night I went to book a train ticket online. I went to the iarnrod eireann website. I typed in my email address, my iarnrod eireann password and my full name, I booked my seat, I inserted my card expiry date, number and CVV number. Then I came to verified by visa which I hate with the passion of a thousand suns. Our internet security (Kaspersky) would not let me insert the relevant details in secure mode or otherwise. The train people promised terrible consequences if I gave up or left the page. At one in the morning, I gave up and left the page. Added bonus the link page you are to go to, if you are having trouble is a 404.

The next day, Mr. Waffle told me how to disable Kaspersky. I went online. I disabled the internet security. On the iarnrod eireann site I typed in my email address, my iarnrod eireann password and my full name, I booked my seat, I inserted my card expiry date, number and CVV number. Then I came to verified by visa and inserted my password. Twice. Wrong password even though I had it written down in front of me (internet security experts everywhere gasp in horror). I reset my password. It asked for the first four numbers of my bank account, the street or district where I lived when I was 10 (somewhat vague that no? Comes with the ominous advice that you had better remember your answer as it may be used as a security question in the future). I have done something wrong. I am locked out.

Ring verified by visa helpline and trouble a poor English woman who I am sure would rather be doing other things at 9.30 in the evening. Wouldn’t we all? I give my name, my bank account number and part of my online banking pin. She resets my card and tells me to continue my purchase. I go back to Iarnrod Eireann, I type in my email address, my iarnrod eireann password, my full name, I book my seat, I insert my card expiry date, number and CVV number. Then I came to verified by visa and reset my password and, finally, it worked.

It’s all about the positive customer experience, isn’t it?

Books of 2014

7 January, 2015 at 7:51 pm by belgianwaffle

Leaving aside books written by those nearly related to me, these are my top 5 books of 2014, in order of preference:

“In the Woods” by Tana French
“Dear Life” by Alice Munro
“Greenery Street” by Denis Mackail
“Love Nina” by Nina Stibbe
“Look Who’s Back” by Timur Vermes

2014 was a really great year for me – I read loads of books I enjoyed very much and the choice of a top five was unusually hard. More detailed reviews below, lifted from old posts and slightly updated, if you care.

“In the Woods” by Tana French

This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. It’s a detective story and a page turner but also very well written; quite lyrical in places without ever being dull. The author has written quite a few books and I plan to read them all. I’ve read another one since and it is just as good as the first and would have made this list only I was very tight for space.

“Dear Life” by Alice Munro

I really enjoyed this collection. I had read some of her work in the past and found it tough going but I found this collection drew me back again and again and I was putting aside other things to read it. I am not sure whether her style has changed or whether I like her better now that I am older. These short stories are all sad. They are slices of life and although things happen, that is not really the point. She is superb at drawing characters; not necessarily very nice or appealing characters but convincing ones. She writes beautifully. Well worth a read.

“Greenery Street” by Denis Mackail

My kind sister-in-law gave me a present of this in the Persephone Bookss edition and I was charmed. It is a lovely novel about a young married couple in their first home. The couple are singularly ineffectual, always running out of money and live in fear of their maid whom they call “the murderess”. All their crises, however, are minor ones and happily resolved.

I discovered on reading the introduction that Angela Thirkell, whose books I like very much, was the older and much loathed sister of Denis Mackail. Apparently she was by far the stronger personality of the two. I can see that as there is a sweetness in “Greenery Street” which is entirely absent in Thirkell’s work.

“Love Nina” by Nina Stibbe

This is a very entertaining read but might possibly be even more entertaining, if you were intimate with literary London in the 1980s. Unacquainted as I am with London literary figures, it still made me laugh. Also, Alan Bennett is a lovely man.

“Look Who’s Back” by Timur Vermes

The conceit of this novel, which was a best seller in Germany, is that Hitler wakes up in modern day Germany. Everyone things that he is a Hitler impersonator and he becomes a media darling. It has some very clever and amusing pieces like when Hitler tries to set up an email account (“Adolf Hitler” – No that’s gone – “Reichstag” -That’s gone too – and so on) and when he visits the neo-nazi offices. Quite daring overall, as well as funny, and interesting.


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