0593 | Women in Love | D.H. Lawrence post image

Context: endured this across the bridge to Saudi on my commute.

Back when I lived in another world, I listened to The Rainbow, the first of this two volume story of the Brangwens of Nottinghamshire. Rainbow scored 59%. This one has scored 58%. Neither of them were enjoyable and, when I’ve spoken to people who can’t stand Lawrence, I wonder whether they tried one or both of these and then gave up. That’s a shame.

As I said 237 books ago, the writing is “tedious” and I don’t think anyone is going to put Ursula and Gudrun on their list of great fictional heroines. I mean, for a start, why on earth would you choose those names for them?

Throughout, these two display the same tormented states of mind as in Rainbow. One minute their all passionate about something, the next minute they detest it, or themselves, or both, or everything. They go on and on and on about the state of the world in [click to continue…]

0592 | Cause for Alarm | Eric Ambler post image

Context: Listened to this in the car with the wife (who also thought it was pants.)

Dear me, this hasn’t aged well at all, and I couldn’t wait to get to the end of this one. According to Wikipedia, Ambler is known for his thrillers. I can’t say I was thrilled at any stage while reading this lame account of a particularly pathetic British engineer who ends up the victim of espionage agents in pre-WW2 Fascist Italy.

Apart from wanting to punch the “hero” in the face on virtually every page, the storyline is utterly predictable with the only twists being ones where the plot gets lost in some kind of bog while you wait for anything remotely thrilling to happen. The somewhat ironically named Marlow – ironic because he’s the complete opposite of Chandler’s Philip Marlowe – spends the whole time acting like a paranoid tourist with the backbone of C3PO. Quite how Zalashoff, the Russian agent who effectively saves him, manages to resist putting a bullet through his head is beyond me.

What Ambler’s done here is what others, such as Buchan, failed to [click to continue…]

0591 | Buddenbrooks | Thomas Mann

0591 | Buddenbrooks | Thomas Mann post image

Context: Had a record year for photography sales which finally saw me get out of the red and make a profit.

Now this was a Mann novel I could get into. This masterfully told epic of generations of a German family shows their demise from a close family of business leaders self-secure in their wealth to a shattered shadow of their former selves.

Completed as his first novel, at the age of only 25, this was a glimpse of the Nobel laureate that was to come. Compared to his later novels such as The Magic Mountain, and particularly the very late Doctor Faustus, the novel is emphatically realist with its emphasis on the socio-political mores of the time and closely-crafted characterisation that extends to the geography itself.

I have to say that while I enjoyed the tale of Hans Castorp as he attempts to recover his health on The Magic Mountain, the ethereal aspects of the novel were hard for me to process in my early history of novel reading. Faustus was beyond me even with a lot of reading under my belt. So, to have a straightforward story of a family with realistic characters was quite refreshing.
[click to continue…]

0590 | The Adventures of Augie March | Saul Bellow post image

Context: While listening to this, we got a third kitten… for the second one to play with. That should do it.

Another Bellow, another fellow. This time it’s Augie, a Jewish kid from the ghetto who we follow entirely randomly as he grows and flows out into the world and all it has for him.

Now, I know very well that Bellow won a Nobel prize and that this is regarded as one of the best novels of the 20th century. However, I remain to be convinced that anyone actually regards this as one of the best novels they’ve read.

Augie is a tempestuous figure and events come at him thick and fast once he leaves home. There’s no real rhyme or reason. He ends up with various women on various continents doing things as varied as being a salesman and hunting iguanas with an eagle.

But this is a Bellow novel; the events are simply stimulus for the psychotherapy. As is typical, you, the reader, are trapped inside Augie’s head. You don’t feel as claustrophobic as you do in Herzog‘s [click to continue…]

0589 | Norwegian Wood | Haruki Murakami post image

Context: Read this while house-sitting in Stockholm. Perfect IKEA reading set up!

Last summer, just before a week in Sweden, we were staying at some friends. Browsing their bookshelves, I came across a lovely little two-volume boxed edition of Norwegian Wood. Perfect 1001 Book holiday reading I thought as I headed downstairs to ask if I could borrow it.

It wasn’t until I went to check it off the 1001 Books list after completing it that a horrible feeling came over me… “It’s on the list, isn’t it? Isn’t it?!”

Er… no. It isn’t.

And this was not the first, but the second time that I’d bothered to pick up this novel under the same misapprehension. Years ago, I now recollect very dimly, I bought it second-hand only to realise it wasn’t on the list and dump it in another second-hand shop. So this time, [click to continue…]