Review – The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

OK, I’m calling it: When I grow up, I want to be Julian Barnes, please.

I’m not – specifically not – saying that The Noise of Time is the most enjoyable novel I’ve ever read. In places it was actually a bit of a slog. I did, though, still find it to be worth the effort. Why? Well, it turns out that Julian Barnes has a brain the size of a planet (and a proper planet, not one of those hokey-cokey ones at the edge of the solar system), and here he’s in the mood for sharing.

Indeed, there are times when this hardly felt like a novel at all. At its simplest, The Noise of Time is a fictionalised life of Dmitri Shostakovich under the Soviet regime, but that description in isolation is simple to the point of being misleading. This is not literary biography. Rather, Barnes takes three moments in Shostakovich’s life and uses them as a springboard for Barnes-as-Shostakovich’s ruminations on literature, music, philosophy, politics – really, a little of everything, delivered at times deadpan, with black humour; at others, with barely-suppressed anger. I’m not qualified (certainly not as qualified as Barnes) to comment on what Shostakovich was really thinking at these particular points in his life; to me, though, passages like this feel more like unfictionalised Barnes:

‘Art belongs to everybody and nobody. Art belongs to all time and no time. Art belongs to those who create it and those who savour it. Art no more belongs to the People and the Party than it once belonged to the aristocracy and the patron. Art is the whisper of history, heard above the noise of time. Art does not exist for art’s sake: it exists for people’s sake.’

Or this eminently quotable quote:

‘How was it possible not to love Shakespeare? Shakespeare, after all, had loved music. His plays were full of it, even the tragedies. That moment when Lear awakes from madness to the sound of music…And that moment in The Merchant of Venice where Shakespeare says that the man who doesn’t like music isn’t trustworthy; that such a man would be capable of a base act, even murder or treason. So of course tyrants hated music, however strenuously they pretended to love it. Although they hated poetry more.’

There are plenty more where that came from; in places, The Noise of Time feels like an evening spent with your old university professor, the one whose approval you craved. I enjoyed it, but then, that’s because I’m crazy about smart people, and I was in awe of nearly all of my professors – learning is pretty much my favourite thing. As a novel, though, rather than an exercise in intelligence, I’m not sure how well it works. It’s certainly not a book which can be read quickly, despite being a slim 192 pages – I had to keep putting it down and going back to it – and it’s not a book to pick up when you’re tired or distracted. I’d say that The Noise of Time has about the same intellectual density as Marilynne Robinson’s Lila has spiritual density; if you have the patience and the attention span to enjoy one, I think you’ll probably enjoy the other.

Now, I’m off to listen to some Shostakovich. Seems like it’s about time.

***

(This rating is probably unfair; I’m already feeling a little guilty about it, and may come back and bump it up. I think Julian Barnes accomplishes exactly what he set out to – and if I hadn’t read so many great novels recently, I probably would have given this an extra star. But I am a Philistine, and could have done with just a tiny bit more plot to help me digest all that intellectual fibre.)

Review – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

No, really, I did. This book will get into your head. For that reason, this is going to be a difficult review to write without spoilers, but I’ll do my best…

For anybody who, like me, has somehow managed to avoid this particular piece of British culture until now:

Our unnamed narrator seems doomed to a harried and unfulfilling life as a paid companion to a brash American (the frankly hilarious Mrs van Hopper), until she meets and falls in love with the tragic, brooding Maxim de Winter. After a whirlwind courtship (including, it must be said, one of the worst marriage proposals in literature), the newly-married de Winters return to his familial home, the incredibly atmospheric Manderley. And this is where the trouble starts. Manderley, in the great British Gothic tradition, is haunted. Not literally – although once or twice we may have our doubts – but emotionally, the whole estate is still saturated by the memories of the first Mrs de Winter, the eponymous Rebecca.

This had been on my TBR pile for years. I don’t know why it never made it to the top until now (I’m sure me buying a beautiful Little, Brown hardback edition had nothing to do with it…). Maybe I was slightly put off by a vague association of Daphne du Maurier with ‘romance’, by which I mean ‘romance’ in the awful, sniffy, prejudiced sense that associates the genre (falsely, in so many cases) with bad writing and unbelievable characters and events.

Well. I could not have been more wrong. I mean, there is romance, yes, and melodrama (in spades), and the characters are occasionally annoying. There’s a stretch in the middle, in particular, where I could quite cheerfully have slapped our narrator in the face for being such a bloody wet blanket. But something happens, and she gets over it, and besides, there’s so much else about the novel that’s good. I’m a fan of anything Gothic, and this novel has the Gothic in spades (remote country estate, characters communing with nature, unexplained phenomena – you name it, it’s there). There is also one of the strongest senses of place I’ve ever felt in a novel – Cornwall is never actually mentioned, but it’s everywhere, woven through the fabric of the story; apparently du Maurier wrote most of the novel while she was in Egypt and homesick for Cornwall, and it really shows.

The structure of the novel is intriguing, too. After a few pages at the beginning which make it clear that something terrible has happened, the rest is split broadly into thirds – the courtship in Monte Carlo, the tension-building introduction to Manderley and its residents, and then the breathless denouement, which has so many plot twists it’s like a cross between Downton Abbey and Eastenders.

But what really struck me were the parallels with another Gothic ‘romance’ with a troublesome first wife. I am, of course, talking about Jane Eyre. The character of Rebecca, unlike Bertha Rochester, is never seen, but she is everywhere, driving the narrative throughout – and in increasingly malevolent ways, through her own sinister presence or through the – frankly terrifying – agency of her own Grace Poole figure, Mrs Danvers. Maxim de Winter is, at once, both better and worse than Rochester; suffice it to say that they both play on our sympathies in comparable ways. Our narrator is like Jane Eyre mainly in the things that happen to her, rather than in who she is and how she reacts to them. She is younger than Jane, and less emotionally independent, and her own internal journey is all the more fascinating for that; her imagination gets her into a decent amount of trouble, and we’re never quite sure how much of what she tells us is really true. This adds a fascinating psychological dimension to the story, and kept me gripped, right to the end.

****

Sunshine Blogger Award

Aww! Thanks a million to the lovely Jo of the lovely Jo’s Book Blog for my Sunshine Blogger Award nomination http://josbookblog.co.uk/2016/02/02/sunshine-blogger-award/ . Jo’s blog has been responsible for more than one addition to my TBR, so head over there with care…(No, but seriously, you should head over there, though.)

Here’s how the award works:

  • Thank the person that nominated you
  • Answer the 11 questions they set for you
  • Nominate 11 other bloggers (and let them know they were nominated!)
  • Set 11 questions for them to answer

Here are my responses to Jo’s 11 questions:

    1. What is your favourite book? – Just one? Impossible! Gah…..OK. I change my mind on this a lot, but in the end, I always go back to Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. I first read it at 18, and it really opened my eyes to the possibilities of language. It also fed my life-long obsession with interest in India, which is a bonus!
    2. Do you judge a book by its cover? – Guilty… honestly, I do this more than I should. Although not as much as I judge a book by its title. I have a real prejudice against rubbish titles – by which I mean, fragments of sentences, nonsense phrases, anything with an exclamation mark…although to be honest I’m sitting here thinking up exceptions to all of those rules, so I’m actually going to plead maddening inconsistency on this one.
    3. If you’re not enjoying a book, do you stick with it or move onto something new? – If something hasn’t grabbed me by page 50, I’ll normally put it down and move on to something else. I am such a mood reader, though, a lot of the time I’ll come back to it later and like it. I’m not bad at picking the right books for my mood (years of practice), or at being honest with myself when I’m not in the mood for reading, so DNFs are rarer these days than they used to be.
    4. How big is your TBR pile?  (Be honest!) – Oh, gosh, hundreds. Finally taking to my Kindle (on my third attempt to try to get along with it) hasn’t helped, as now the usual three dimensions aren’t even a limiting factor. If I had to guess, I’d say…500 or so books? Of which maybe 350 are ‘real’, 150 virtual. I’m planning to move house later in the year, so something drastic and traumatic is going to have to happen sometime soon.
    5. What’s the next book you’re planning to read? – Depending on which I’m in the mood for post-Rebecca, either Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes, or The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore.
    6. Physical, e-books or a combination of the two? – Combination. Towards the end of last year, I was travelling a lot, and so for the first time I switched to reading more Kindle than physical books. It’s a bit of a vicious circle as now my most recent TBR is almost entirely on my Kindle, but I do still get a bit anxious if I don’t have a physical book with me (what if my Kindle, iPad and phone all break and I am left with nothing to read? This is a real concern.)
    7. 2016 publication that you’re most looking forward to – There were some great books published at the end of January, but the next release I’m looking forward to is The Sunlight Pilgrims, by Jenni Fagan. I’ve never read anything of hers before, but here is the blurb: “Set in a Scottish caravan park during a freak winter – it is snowing in Jerusalem, the Thames is overflowing, and an iceberg separated from the Fjords in Norway is expected to arrive off the coast of Scotland – The Sunlight Pilgrims tells the story of a small Scottish community living through what people have begun to think is the end of times. Bodies are found frozen in the street with their eyes open, midst economic collapse, schooling and health care are run primarily on a voluntary basis. Dylan, a refugee from panic-stricken London who is grieving for his mother and his grandmother, arrives in the caravan park in the middle of the night – to begin his life anew. Under the lights of the aurora borealis, he is drawn to his neighbour Constance, a woman who is known for having two lovers, her eleven-year old daughter Stella, who is struggling to navigate changes in her own life, and elderly Barnacle, so crippled that he walks facing the earth. But as the temperature drops, daily life carries on: people get out of bed, they make a cup of tea, they fall in love, they complicate.” Sounds like just my thing.
    8. Most disappointing book by a favourite author – I’m not sure whether he counts as a favourite author any more (yes, it was that disappointing), but I really didn’t get along with The Children Act by Ian McEwen. I found the main characters to be upper-middle-class in the worst way; insufferably smug and incapable of personal growth.
    9. What do you like to do when you’re not reading? – Travel is the other big drain on my resources. I’m a great fan of anywhere with history or beauty, so long weekends in Europe and fortnights in the American West have been the order of the day in recent years. New Zealand, central America and Iran are also firmly on the bucket list, as are return visits to India, China and Sri Lanka. I’m also a bit of a wine buff (which sounds so much better than just ‘drinker’) and love the theatre – in the past couple of months I’ve seen Guys and Dolls, which is one of my favourite musicals, as well as being lucky enough to score a ticket to Sir Kenneth Branagh and Dame Judi Dench in A Winter’s Tale. Pursuing any of these hobbies with any of my favourite people are guaranteed to make me smile.
    10. Favourite film / TV adaptation of a novel – Is it too early to call it for Andrew Davies’ adaptation of War and Peace? (For more details on my fangirl obsession, see pretty much any other post on this blog over the past month or so…) Honourable mentions to the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice (not original, but still the best), and Bridget Jones’s Diary – one of the only films I know that actually improves on the book, in my opinion.
    11. Which comes first – see the film or read the book – 99 times out of 100, read the book. Occasionally I’ll make a decision not to read the book, and then I’ll just watch the film (last time that happened was Gone Girl, I think). But I have issues with reading a book when someone else’s ideas of the characters are already in my head.

Fab questions – some of the opinions above I didn’t even realise I had!

My nominee list was tough to whittle down (and I’m sure some of you have been nominated already, so sorry if I’m double-tagging you!), but I nominate:

  • thepocobookreader
  • bitsnbooks
  • Marcel’s Book Reviews
  • Melissa (Melissa M Lindsay)
  • Word by Word
  • African Book Addict!
  • Ryan’s Book Reviews
  • Sarah Says Read
  • heavenali
  • A Little Blog of Books
  • The Air of Ideas

And my questions are:

  1. Who’s your favourite author? (A Top 3 is acceptable, if it’s too hard to choose!)
  2. What was your best read of 2015?
  3. Any reading goals for 2016? If so, what and why?
  4. Which book do you remember best from your childhood, and why?
  5. What’s your favourite literary genre?
  6. …And your least favourite?
  7. Where do you get most of your book recommendations from?
  8. And which book do you recommend most often (or most strongly!) to other people?
  9. What is your current read, and what made you choose it?
  10. What’s your favourite fictional location?
  11. What’s your favourite thing about book blogging?

Book Review – War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

The title of War and Peace is entirely accurate. The title of this blog post is not. It’s not really a review. Honestly, it’s the literary equivalent of a teenager’s thoughts on One Direction. I just loved this novel. No, seriously, I did. I’m not being sarcastic or anything. And the next 900-or-so words are an undisguised, unashamed, unabashed (does that mean the same as unashamed? Oh well, it sounds good) attempt to convince you to read it, if you haven’t already.

So, my love for this novel. It didn’t happen all at once. I started off strong, keen, and eager to stay ahead of the BBC miniseries. Then I got a couple of hundred pages in and Life Happened (back to work, horrible cold, general January malaise). My reading was confined to the weekends, and maybe a few minutes snatched at lunchtimes during the week. I was enjoying the book but, well, it was in danger of starting to feel like a bit of a chore.

Then something strange happened. I got to around 4-or-500 pages in, and – my priorities changed. I got really, really into it. I spent a big chunk of the weekend before last reading – probably 10 hours or more. I’ve been reading instead of watching TV in the evenings. One morning last week, sensing the end was in sight, I got the bus into work instead of driving, so I got more reading time.  It just got really good. And it stayed good, with minor exceptions, right to the end. (I’m not telling you what the exceptions were, as I’m terrified of accidental spoilers. Read it, and then we’ll talk; or I might post another, spoiler-y review, a little later. But suffice it to say the exceptions are minor, and you should still read it.)

Anyway, enough of me sounding like a 12-year-old fangirl. What did I like about War and Peace, and what can I say to convince those who remain unconvinced by its 1273 short pages? Well here, holiday-ad style, are a few of the delights which await you:

  • Delight in the brilliance of the writing! Tolstoy’s writing is basically the love child of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. From Jane Austen, he takes a lot of subject matter of the ‘peace’ – writing about the minor aristocracy, getting into the minds (and dressing rooms) of his characters, and exposing them to us, gently enough, but with warts and all. From Dickens, there is the breadth of scope, the feeling of the grand sweep of history behind the individual stories, although – for the most part – Dickens’s anger at social injustice is missing; this is not, in the end, a novel about serfs. In common with both Austen and Dickens, Tolstoy has humour. No, really. Parts of this book are really, really funny. (Pierre’s accidental engagement, for example. Or this: ‘Bonaparte was born lucky. He has excellent soldiers. And the Germans were the first he attacked. You’d have to be a do-nothing not to beat the Germans. Ever since the world began, everybody’s beaten the Germans. And they’ve beaten nobody. Except each other.’ I happen to like Germany quite a bit – but, as a Brit, that’s pretty funny and always will be.) And I was amazed at how modern the whole thing felt. OK, it’s long, and there are parts which are a bit slow – but those are the exceptions rather than the rule. On the whole, it’s pacy, and engaging as hell.

 

  • Fall in love with the characters! Honestly, this is the best bit of the whole thing. The characterisation is wonderful. It’s not your typical character-driven novel, veering off at times into history, philosophy and more (top tip: when you get to the bit about the masons, just take a deep breath and power through it) – but the really innovative thing, to my mind, was Tolstoy’s use of a narrative style which flits between the minds and points of view of almost all of the major characters, almost dizzyingly fast. That style took me some getting used to, but it encouraged empathy for the characters – all of them – perhaps moreso than any ‘classic’ novel I’ve ever read. (Well. I say all. Funnily enough, thinking about which characters I had no empathy for (I’m looking at you, Karagins), I don’t think we ever get inside their heads. So I’m standing by the point.) The character development is supreme. None of them are perfect, but they are all – to a greater or lesser extent – lovable. (Again – not you, Karagins.) My favourites changed throughout the book, and those who’ve read it more than once say that their favourite changed depending on where they were in their lives. Before reading it, I could never have imagined being one of those people, like Andrew Marr, who reads it every year. Now, I can’t imagine not revisiting Pierre and Natasha and Andrei and the rest of them; I finished the book four days ago, and I’m still/already mourning their loss.

 

  • Learn about the Napoleonic Wars! It’s almost a cliché to comment that War and Peace isn’t really a novel. Tolstoy makes that point himself, in an end note, commenting that ‘It is not a novel, still less an epic poem, still less a historical chronicle. War and Peace is what the author wanted and was able to express, in the form in which it is expressed.’ In other words, ‘Don’t fence me in, haters’. I must confess, ‘epic poem’ hadn’t really occurred to me (maybe it would have done, if I had the ability to read it in Russian), but I might have described it as either of the others. I had a vague awareness of what was going on in Europe in the early 19th century, but really only as it pertained to Britain. I’d have been unlikely to have picked up a non-fiction book about Napoleon, and I probably still wouldn’t, but at least now I know my Austerlitzes from my Borodinos. And all without having to wander half-blindly through a battlefield, without even so much as a uniform. (Sorry, Pierre.)

 

  • Bask in the kudos of the bragging rights! Actually, I’m lying. This one doesn’t really work for that long. If you can get two weeks out of saying ‘I’m reading War and Peace, you know’ before people start rolling their eyes at you, you’re doing well. Trust me on this. But still, it’s worth reading. I promise.

 

*****

Reading Round-Up – January 2016

My timeline is full of monthly wrap-up posts and they look like fun, so here is mine:

Books read in January:

This was a pretty good month, all in all. I read 8 books (none of which I have reviewed yet, whoops….), all of which were 3-star or better reads for me, including War and Peace which was my first 5-star read in ages. It has also got me firmly back into my reading groove, after a bit of a bumpy finish to last year. The 8 books I read were:

  • The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth – This was a re-read, but I read it for the first time back when it was originally published, around ten years ago I think, so I came to it as if for the first time. It marked the end of an alternative-fiction-what-if-the-Nazis-had-won spree, triggered by The Man In The High Castle, which I’ll write about in more detail soon (I promise).
  • War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy – This took up most of my month. It’s been on my TBR for years, in one form or another, but the promise of the Andrew Davies BBC mini-series was what finally prompted me to start reading. Both the book and the mini-series have been superb. I finished the book last Friday, and am sort of in mourning for the characters – and in total denial that the final episode of the series is this coming Sunday.
  • Pietr The Latvian, by Georges Simenon – This was purchased on a whim, a relatively quick read as part of 24-in-48. I enjoyed it at the time but it didn’t really leave a lasting impression.
  • Men Explain Things To Me, by Rebecca Solnit – Title essay brilliant, others mixed, overall better than average.
  • Scottsboro, by Ellen Feldman – A slightly-fictionalised account of the 1930s court case of 9 boys in rural Alabama, showing that nothing really ended with the Civil War.
  • The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, by Joanna Cannon – I had very high expectations of this and it didn’t quite live up to them, which isn’t to say it wasn’t good – I enjoyed it, and there were some particularly good laugh-out-loud moments, but it wasn’t the ‘Read of the Year’ I’d seen it hyped as.
  • Exposure, by Helen Dunmore – I’m very into spies, at the moment, and this was great. It seems like it’s difficult to say anything new about the Cold War, but looking at it like this, through a more domestic lens of what happens to the family of someone accused of spying, was really clever. One of the best I’ve read from Helen Dunmore.
  • The Complete Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi – My first ever graphic novel! The first half of this, detailing the Iranian revolution through the 9-year-old eyes of the author, was wonderful. The second part, in Austria and Iran, lost its way a little for me. But still very much worth the effort.

Best book of the month: War and Peace, by a country mile. I know that sounds like one of those hoity-toity things people say to make themselves sound good; believe me, I didn’t expect to love it. But I did. More on that to follow.

Reading goals for February: Stop buying books (easier said than done, when there are so many good ones being published)! And get on with the Classics Club Women’s Challenge. Five out of the eight books I read last month were written by women, but none of them were on my classics list. My first planned read for February is Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier), so hopefully this should start to fix itself.

I’d also like to read more diversely in February, which – looking at the list above – wouldn’t be difficult. On the TBR (among others) are The Sympathizer (Viet Thanh Nguyen), Human Acts (Han Kang, whose ‘The Vegetarian’ was one of my favourite books of last year), The Automobile Club of Egypt (Alaa Al Aswany), Beloved (Toni Morrison, actually a re-read but I remember loving this at university), and Americanah and We Should All Be Feminists (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). Any other recommendations gratefully received!

 

Random Bookish Thoughts – 27 January 2016 – On New Books for 2016

Following fellow readers on WordPress and Twitter has not, in any way, helped with my book-buying addiction. I’m not convinced I’m actually reading any more,* but I’m certainly contributing plenty of cash to the publishing sector.

In that vein, whilst I’m still in a pretty serious relationship with War and Peace, I will admit to checking out the eye candy (ie new books) that have crossed my consciousness recently via t’internet. The British publishing industry, in its infinite wisdom, seems to have concentrated the release of half a dozen brilliant new books on 28 January, which happens to be (a) tomorrow, and (b) the first payday since Christmas. So, either pre-ordered or on the Amazon wishlist, I have the following (with official-ish blurb):

 

  • The Noise of Time, Julian Barnes ‘In May 1937 a man in his early thirties waits by the lift of a Leningrad apartment block. He waits all through the night, expecting to be taken away to the Big House. Any celebrity he has known in the previous decade is no use to him now. And few who are taken to the Big House ever return.’

 

  • The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, Joanna Cannon ‘England,1976. Mrs Creasy is missing and The Avenue is alive with whispers. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly decide to take matters into their own hands.And as the cul-de-sac starts giving up its secrets, the amateur detectives will find much more than they imagined…’

 

  • Exposure, Helen Dunmore ‘London, November, 1960: the Cold War is at its height. Spy fever fills the newspapers, and the political establishment knows how and where to bury its secrets. When a highly sensitive file goes missing, Simon Callington is accused of passing information to the Soviets, and arrested. His wife, Lily, suspects that his imprisonment is part of a cover-up, and that more powerful men than Simon will do anything to prevent their own downfall. She knows that she too is in danger, and must fight to protect her children. But what she does not realise is that Simon has hidden vital truths about his past, and may be found guilty of another crime that carries with it an even greater penalty.’

 

  • In a Land of Paper Gods, Rebecca MacKenzie ‘Jiangxi Province, China, 1941. Atop the fabled mountain of Lushan, celebrated for its temples, capricious mists and plunging ravines, perches a boarding school for the children of British missionaries. As her parents pursue their calling to bring the gospel to China’s most remote provinces, ten-year-old Henrietta S. Robertson discovers that she has been singled out for a divine calling of her own. Etta is quick to share the news with her dorm mates, and soon even Big Bum Eileen is enlisted in the Prophetess Club, which busies itself looking for signs of the Lord’s intent. (Hark.) As rumours of war grow more insistent, so the girls’ quest takes on a new urgency – and in such a mystical landscape, the prophetesses find that lines between make believe and reality, good and bad, become dangerously blurred. So Etta’s pilgrimage begins.A story of a child far from home and caught between two cultures, In A Land of Paper Gods marries exuberant imagination with sharp pathos, and introduces Rebecca Mackenzie as a striking and original new voice.’

 

  • The Romanovs: 1613-1918, Simon Sebag Montefiore ‘The Romanovs were the most successful dynasty of modern times, ruling a sixth of the world’s surface. How did one family turn a war-ruined principality into the world’s greatest empire? And how did they lose it all?
    This is the intimate story of twenty tsars and tsarinas, some touched by genius, some by madness, but all inspired by holy autocracy and imperial ambition. Montefiore’s gripping chronicle reveals their secret world of unlimited power and ruthless empire-building, overshadowed by palace conspiracy, family rivalries, sexual decadence and wild extravagance, and peopled by a cast of adventurers, courtesans, revolutionaries and poets, from Ivan the Terrible to Tolstoy, from Queen Victoria to Lenin.’

 

  • Catullus’ Bedspread: The Life of Rome’s Most Erotic Poet, Daisy Dunn ‘Catullus was famed for his lyrical and subversive voice. His poetry tells the story of a life beset with love, loss, and the political conflict that characterised the end of the Roman Republic. ‘Catullus’ Bedspread’ follows the young poet’s journey through a world filled with all the indulgences and sexual mores of the time, and his lasting affair with a married woman called Clodia. While Catullus and Clodia made love in the shadows, the whole of Italy was quaking as Caesar, Pompey and Crassus forged a doomed allegiance for power. In these circumstances, Catullus composed his greatest work of all, a poem about the decoration on a bedspread, which forms the heart of this biography.’

 

I’ve pre-ordered the top two. Julian Barnes has been a bit hit-and-miss with me in the past – I Capital-L-Loved ‘Arthur & George’, I think I was a bit young for ‘The Sense of an Ending’. But this one sounds great. And ‘The Trouble With Goats and Sheep’ comes highly recommended by a number of people whose opinions I respect. I’m pretty excited about the other two novels on this list, too, and I suspect I will buy and read them well ahead of a lot of the other stuff on my TBR.

The two non-fiction I might resist a little longer, mainly because I have Peter Ackroyd’s awesome History of England series on the go. But ‘The Romanovs’ has been everywhere this month – even on Radio 2 – and it sounds frankly awesome. The Catullus is a more random pick, based not on any pre-existing knowledge of the Classics, but rather on some stellar reviews and a constant quest for ever more esoteric knowledge.

In any case, I’m looking forward to dipping into something a little more modern, once I finish with Tolstoy. (Although I’m not sure I will actually finish with Tolstoy, so much as turn the last of the 1273 pages and, somewhat befuddled, come up for air. In a good way.) Luckily, it looks like being a great month for new books!

 

*Actually, that’s not true. Based on my GoodReads record, I am actually reading more since I started following bookish social media – and remembering more of what I read, too. Long may it continue 🙂

#24in48 (sort of) wrap-up post

My final tally was about 9 hours of reading – not as much as I’d hoped, but not bad considering other commitments, not to mention the traditional January head cold! I read 2 books in full, 44% of another, and a good 80-odd pages of War and Peace (which is enough to take me to around page 500, and keep me just ahead of the BBC adaptation – although I suspect I will have to put in some serious reading time to stay ahead for next week!).

I’ll post more about War and Peace in due course. I’m enjoying it so much, and have so much to say about it, that I think an interim post when I get to the halfway mark might be a good idea. (So strange to be 500 pages in and not half done yet! But I’m enjoying the characters so much that I’m actually quite pleased.)

The other weekend reads were:

  • Pietr the Latvian (Inspector Maigret #1), by Georges Simenon. I bought this on a bit of a whim, because I fancied some classic crime fiction and a fairly quick read. It was good enough, not amazing. The writing was clunky in places (although it felt like that may have been over-faithfulness to the French original) and the plot was a little far-fetched, but it was an enjoyable read and I liked the slightly awkward character of Inspector Maigret. ***
  • Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit. I’ve had this on my Kindle for a while. The further I get up the professional ladder, the more necessary feminism feels to me. The title essay in this collection is great. Some of the others are less great, feeling a bit like ‘filler’, and she is better on current events than on other topics (such as the Virginia Woolf essay, where I think she is trying to say more than the essay form really lends itself to). There is also a little bit of first-world smugness when talking about women from other cultures; you’re not necessarily oppressed just because you don’t like hotpants. (It’s not overt, not really, but I think it’s there.) Still, these are important ideas, for the most part elegantly expressed. ****
  • Scottsboro, by Ellen Feldman. An only-slightly-fictionalised account of an event I was completely unaware of, until my trip to the Deep South in 2014. I’m ashamed to say this has been on my Kindle since then (Mount TBR has exploded, now that physical space is no longer a limiting factor), but I’m really glad that I’m finally reading it. Scottsboro tells the story of the Scottsboro Boys, 9 black teenagers falsely accused of ‘interfering with’ 2 white girls on a train during the Great Depression. I’ll wait until I’m finished before saying more, or giving a rating, but I’m really enjoying it so far.

I really like the 24in48 event – it’s low-key, low-pressure, and very light on rules. I’m already looking forward to the next one, when hopefully I can be better organised and actually fit in the full 24 hours of reading. In the meantime, I hope it will encourage me to keep up an increased reading pace throughout the week and into next weekend (and beyond? We can but hope…).