“The Hare with the Amber Eyes” by Edward De Waal
A bit of a slow start. Lots of art history, and I like art history but there is only so much of Paris in the late 19th century that I can take. “Persist until he gets to Vienna,” said my friends. I persisted. The story follows the history of small carved Japanese figures called netsuke from when they came into his family in the 1870s. This device is used to tell the story of his family, the Ephrussis, an extremely rich banking family of Russian, Jewish extraction. Vienna works better for a range of reasons. Paris is too long ago and the author’s link is too indirect. His grandmother grew up in the Viennese family and it is much more immediate and, of course, over this fin de siecle Viennese tale hangs the reader’s and the author’s knowledge of what happens to European Jews over the following 50 years. It’s fascinating and very direct and moving. Also, I now really want to visit Odessa.
The author was in Dublin a couple of weeks ago and I went to hear him speak but he only spoke of pots. Alas. He is a famous potter as well as an author.
“I Feel Bad about my Neck” by Nora Ephron
This book is sinful. The publishers and the author pulled together a couple of slight, previously published essays from a variety of sources, added a couple of new ones and foisted them on an unsuspecting public. Or maybe I’m just bitter because I have only three years before my neck collapses. Very mildly funny in places.
“The Tiger in the Well” by Philip Pullman
For my money the best of the Sally Lockhart novels. The author is still concerned about women’s rights but this time he’s showing how married women had a very raw time when they fell out with their husbands. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. And also quite exciting in spots.
“The Tin Princess” by Philip Pullman [New Year’s Resolution]
Slightly tedious fable set in a doomed statelet in Mittel Europa with the now familiar cast of Lockhartian characters (Jim’s turn to star). All action but it never really leads anywhere. The conclusion is feeble and gives the impression that the author just ran out of energy and couldn’t be bothered tying up the loose ends.
“Georgette Heyer’s Regency World” by Jennifer Kloester [New Year’s Resolution]
This was a present and one which I might have been imagined to like but I found it very tedious until about three quarters of the way through when I stopped trying to read it as a kind of narrative and started reading it like a dictionary. I finally know what “boxing the watch” really means.
“Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden [New Year’s Resolution]
Can’t see what the fuss was about really. I suppose, culturally, a bit interesting though hard to know how accurate it is. I met the only Irish person I know who speaks fluent Japanese for lunch today and asked her whether it was true and she said, as far as she knew, yes and also, it’s pronounced gaysha not geysha [this information is free to you, I had to buy her lunch]. Also, I had to explain to my daughter what a geisha was, as she saw the book around the house. And in the same breath, she said, “And what’s a lesbian?” Parenting is very tiring.