Last November, during the NaBloPoMo odyssey somebody recommended Robertson Davies to me. I can’t remember who it was but I am very grateful.
I have just finished “The Deptford Trilogy” and it was excellent. Mr. Davies writes beautiful, spare, precise prose and it is a constant joy to read.
I learnt a lot about Canadians. I had always thought of them as like Americans only saner and with better healthcare and gun control. I also thought of them as French speaking Catholics; I mean, I knew there were a lot of English speakers there too but Quebec had unduly coloured my view of the country. Now I know that there are whole swathes of Canada that come from the same dour Scottish strain that is visible in Northern Ireland and it has given me a very different feel for the country and one that is much more nuanced.
The amazing thing, to me, is that I had never heard of Robertson Davies, even though one of his books was shortlisted for the Booker prize. Even though a Canadian friend said, that he was regarded as the father of Canadian literature. And I am not alone, very few of my friends had heard of him. Shame!
I have also just finished “An Accidental Diplomat” by Eamon Delaney. This is not a great work of literature though it was a bestseller. It’s possible that most of the copies were bought by officials in the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs. It gives an account of the author’s time as a junior diplomat in the Department in the late 80s to mid 90s and names many names. Apparently, there was a feeling in Foreign Affairs that the real problem with the book was that it did not contain an index. I started it years ago and gave up in annoyance. I came back to it, however, and found it gently humourous (very like a blog, not so much like a book – dreadfully poorly edited too, loads of typos and repetition) and I feel more indulgent to the author who this time round seems like a very young man from a very long time ago rather than an irritating cocky know it all only the same age as me. That’s middle age for you, I suppose.
And finally, I have also finished Seamus Deane’s “Reading in the Dark”. I thought as I started it – I am never reading a book by a poet again. Opened at random at page 132, may I offer you the following: “the rain dripping from us in clock-steady drops”; “small artilleries of thunder rattled in the distance”; “the Sacred Heart lamp burning in its chained vessel above the altar:crimson, scarlet, crimson, steady, flickering, steady”. I am not saying that the language isn’t beautiful but it’s a bit rich and indigestible for an entire novel. In the end, though, I was seduced by the book, it has a good plot and some wonderful set-pieces: ghost stories and, in particular, the maths class chapter which is masterful.
Finally, finally, I was away and I bought Mr. Waffle back a present of this book “Affluenza“; I’d seen it well reviewed and I thought that the premise was interesting, namely, that we’re all bitten by a bug which makes us spend money unnecessarily. Mr. Waffle looked at the offering. “But you hate Oliver James“, he said. “It’s written by that Oliver James, the man from the Observer?” I asked in horror. “Yup, and,” he said, flipping over the back of the book, “he’s 8.99 better off thanks to you.” Blah.