The theme of this year’s National Gallery of Ireland calendar which I have hanging in my office appears to be “animals – alive and dead”. So you have Landseer King Charles Spaniels gazing adoringly at you one month and dead hares hanging by the hind legs drawn by some Dutch artist the next. I’m not sure that this is an entirely successful approach.
For the first time since November 2006, I forgot that November was national blog posting month. We’ve had a lot on. Maybe I’ll try to keep it going from here on out so it will be almost NaBloPoMo.
I haven’t got a lot to offer this evening. I was listening to a podcast (words which make my entire family roll their eyes) and they were talking about fairies and Irish. Síofra is a very popular Irish girls name for the cohort about 10 years younger than me and below. Sí is the Irish for fairy and I knew it was fairy related in some way but hadn’t really given it a lot of thought. “Do you know what it means?” the presenter asked, “It means changeling.” I felt the hairs rising on the back of my neck. A belated happy Hallowe’en to you too.
Hang on to your hats out there for more startling insights all the way to the end of the month.
Of late, I have taken to trying to put my phone down at 6.30 when I come in from work and not picking it up again until I go out to work in the morning. I have imposed my draconian regime on Mr. Waffle and the boys also. From when I come home, no one looks at the phone. I’m not saying it works perfectly all the time and sometimes things ping in or there is a phone call but basically we are phone free for most of the evening most of the time. I have a slight tendency to check the phone as I’m going to bed but I am trying to stop. Overall, it’s great for me. Now Mr. Waffle is saying we watch too much telly but, frankly, that’s a bridge too far for me. I’ll keep you posted on our progress towards Victorian evenings.
“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.
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.
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?