“The Big City or the New Mayhew” by Alex Atkinson & Ronald Searle [New Year's Resolution]
This is pretty slight. I think that I may have picked it up in my parents’ house and I suspect one of them may have bought it when it was fresh collected journalism. It’s a collection of columns from Punch. The idea was that they would interview and describe the poor of the 1950s (the encyclopedia seller, the elderly actress etc.) as Mayhew had the Victorian poor. It may have been funny at the time but like much of this king of thing, it has not aged well. The cartoons are, however, very appealing.
“City of Djinns” by William Dalrymple [New Year's Resolution]
I think my sister bought this when she was living in Delhi. If not, I am at a loss as to why the price is in rupees. I know that she expressed considerable dislike for the author and all his works. This put me off slightly. However, she hated Delhi and yet another Westerner waxing lyrical about its virtues was unlikely to appeal to her. I thought this was a terrific book about Delhi: erudite, enlightening and entertaining. The author loves the Mughals and that’s where most of the book stays. He’s fine also on the British occupation of India but the last part of the book deals with Delhi before the Mughals came and that’s a little disappointing.
Overall, however, it made me regret very much that I decided not to visit Delhi while my sister lived there. Have a read yourself. I would say that I knew almost nothing about Delhi before reading it so it did strike me that, those who knew something about Delhi might find it a bit basic – in any event I thought it was an excellent introduction at the very least. I would be very willing to read another of Mr. Dalrymple’s works.
“Woodbrook” by David Thompson
I loved this book. It’s about a big house in the West of Ireland where the author spent a lot of time in the 1930s. He loves the house, the family, the place and the people and it comes across very strongly. It’s a sad book as it’s set in the Anglo-Irish twilight and the family lose the house in the end, though he seems almost more affected by it than the family themselves. But it’s not just about the family, it’s about the people who work for them and place where they live as well. He has a great feeling for the place and it’s a lovely, gentle book.
“Clayhanger” by Arnold Bennett [New Year's Resolution]
This was published 1910 but it is set earlier and has a somewhat Victorian moralising feel. Early on, I almost caught a whiff of Silas Marner [one of my least favourite books]. Mercifully I was mistaken. This is my favourite kind of Victorian novel. It’s lengthy so there’s no danger you’ll reach the end any time soon and you can sit back and enjoy it. He’s quite like Mrs. Gaskell, I think, though not as good.
I was only dimly aware of Arnold Bennett before and possibly confused him with Matthew Arnold. I remember, in “Testament of Youth”, Vera Brittain refers to him in awed tones. The back page of my edition of “Clayhanger” concludes its description of him in these glowing terms:
When he died in 1931 he was one of the best-loved figures in literary London, had great fame abroad, and was acknowledged to be one of the most celebrated men ever produced by his native count, or, indeed, by his country.
I think it would be fair to say that his reputation hasn’t survived particularly well. Or is that just my ignorance. Anyhow, I wouldn’t mind giving his masterpiece a go “The Old Wives’ Tale”. Or perhaps something else but not “Hilda Lessways” which, by definition would feature lots of Hilda whom I didn’t like much in this book and seems to have been a much less loved book. Details of your favourite Arnold Bennett book in the comments please.
“Skulduggery Pleasant: The End of the World” by Derek Landy
A book written for 9-12 year olds about a skeleton detective and his teenage sidekick. 128 pages for world book day. Very enjoyable. Your point?
“Jazz” by Toni Morrison [New Year's Resolution]
I find Toni Morrison’s writing deeply confusing. Even though I know the overarching story, I am always confused by the details. This is my second Toni Morrison book, I now feel qualified to comment. One of the things that really puzzled me about this book was that I couldn’t work out who the narrator was a lot of the time. That said, it’s a very clever book and it rewards you for sticking with it. There are lots of characters and they all have a very clear identity and, in a relatively short book, you learn a lot about all of them. But it’s not a quick read or a light one – the overarching story is of a married man who kills his 18 year old lover; his mad wife then goes to attack the corpse at the wake. But that’s really just a device – if a pretty dramatic one – to explore all the background to the people involved and why they are the way they are and it’s really interesting, if a bit opaque at times.
On balance, I think I’d try another.