0608 | Gormenghast | Mervyn Peake post image

Context: Read this while watching a fantastic sunset from a cliff top in the absolute silence deep in Wadi Rum, Jordan

As I watched the protagonist ride off into the sunset at the close of the second part of Peake’s vastly underrated trilogy, I couldn’t help but think that he’d mixed up the titles of the first two installments. This novel, not the first, is about Titus Groan whereas the first novel, not this one, is about Gormenghast.

But that is a negligible criticism for two works of writing which have been all but forgotten in the half century since they were written. A lot of what I wrote for Titus Groan applies yet again, and more so: the prose perfectly matches the world Peake has created; the characters only deepen their Dickensian charm; Steerpike’s scheming reaches its climax; and the best way to approach it all is to lie back and drift in the stream.

At times, I have to say, I wondered if Peake was a bit too ponderous. Irma Prunesquallor’s love life seems a bit too tangential to hold my attention for as long as was required. But having got through that, and in the latter third of this volume, the pace quickens as political [click to continue…]

0607 | Martin Chuzzlewit | Charles Dickens post image

Context: was reading this while I attended a day’s training at the Movenpick Hotel in Al-Khobar.

Dickens takes a cultural diversion to the USA in this one (in order to boost flagging sales of the installments the book was released in) and it’s a plot diversion in what is otherwise a difficult tale to keep up with as characters come and go throughout. It wasn’t his most popular work and was removed from the first edition of the 1001 books list. I can see why on both accounts.

The first issue that threw me was that there are two Martin Chuzzlewits. Whereas the eponymous one is the younger and protagonist, he is the namesake of his wealthy grandfather who disinherits him. Thus, he stumbles into an acquaintance with the arch duplicitor Pecksniff who wheedles his way into Martin senior’s good books to the detriment of Martin junior. Pecksniff also has two daughters who are spoiled upstarts and then there’s Joseph Chuzzlewit (nephew to Martin Sr. and cousin to Martin Jr.) who is an absolute rogue.

With it so far? [click to continue…]

0606 | The Soul of the Camera | David DuChemin post image

Context: picked this up at a photography event at the Bin Matar House in Muharraq, Bahrain.

Picked this up from a fellow photographer at a photography event one evening and, were it not for the fact that I need to get up at 5am for work, would have finished it in one sitting such is the power of DuChemin’s writing on photography. As it was, I finished it the next evening.

Whether you’re a professional or only use the camera on your phone, The Soul of the Camera is worth a read. For one thing, it’s beautifully illustrated with his own photographs and this guy can take them, he certainly can. In fact, I’d say it was worth having for the images alone. All black and white in this edition, the book itself is a beautiful thing.

But in between each pair of photographs are a few pages of DuChemin’s captivating and extremely thought-provoking prose. His website describes him as a “humanitarian” and I take that to mean that he aims to capture what it is to be human in his work, [click to continue…]

0605 | Daniel Deronda | George Eliot post image

Context: read this while working on training materials for one of Saudi’s first female driving academies with the recent change in the law here.

So often Eliot is held up as the paragon of 19th century English prose. Here is yet another novel to demonstrate why I simply cannot afford her the accolades that others offer.

Although the term schizophrenia wouldn’t be coined for another forty years, studies of the illness were extant and influential among them no doubt is George Eliot’s last novel. Firstly, as with Adam Bede, the novel is a misnomer. For the first third of the book, you’ll be wondering what Deronda has to do with anything at all. For someone with obvious creative abilities, Mary seems to have been a bit stumped when it came to naming her overlong writings.

There are a number of novels in here, and critics of her day even suggested that abridgements be created which allow the reader some focus. There’s the story of Gwendolyn Harleth which, on the face of it, is the simple and pretty obvious tale of a headstrong young woman whose pride leads her into a loveless marriage with a tragic end. No literary surprises there although, to be fair, if Eliot [click to continue…]

0604 | Arrow of God | Chinua Achebe post image

Context: read this while having dinner at the British Club. It seemed an appropriately colonial thing to do!

Not as easy to follow, Achebe’s third novel in his African Trilogy is a less straightforward narrative than his famed Things Fall Apart. Although both novels focus feature Nigerian male protagonists battling with the influence of colonialism, Things was more us versus them. With Arrow, priest Ezeulu also faces a fatal battle with his own people.

As with Things, Achebe sets up the local scene before introducing the white man. Again, this gives the (intended Western) reader time to come around to the local way of thinking and doing things, to gain some level of empathy with tradition. But by the time the white man shows his influence in Arrow, it’ll be the rare reader who feels that what might potentially be destroyed by the Imperial influence is worth hanging on to.

Achebe paints a vivid picture of tribal infighting, familial jealousies and as much disharmony as you can expect in any culture anywhere. [click to continue…]