Wanting some lighter reading I picked through our shelves and chose a Fifties copy of George Simenon’s ‘The Blue Room’. I often think it is quite surprising how French (and other) writers are stylistically worlds apart from British authors. Same with films of course. It was a real pleasure to read this short but very satisfying novel so quickly. Just recovering from a hernia operation I hadn’t much else to do….I certainly couldn’t walk anywhere. French authors seem much more capable of getting right inside a character so that you almost become the character yourself and feel what they feel. In this case an adulterer on trial for a murder he did not commit as a result of what the French call ‘une grande passion’ or an intense relationship and affair. The ingredients of the novel were straightforward – a small French village where everyone knows everyone, an illicit affair, an interrogation. The result – something extraordinarily powerful. This book is in translation although you certainly would not know it, and who is to say how good the translation is. But the writing is top quality and expressed with economy. Having said all this I am glad that I have just, by accident, seen on-line the following comments on Simenon by John Banville………
‘He has a Nabokovian ability to convey in words the tactility of things, although the words that he employs and the sentences he makes of them are always humble and plain. He prided himself on his modest vocabulary and the spareness of his language; having finished a book – which he would do in the space of 10 days or so – he would emerge from his study shaking the finished manuscript by the spine, in order, as he joked, to get rid of the last remaining adjectives.’
Wonderful! ( I don’t think he used a single exclamation mark either).
We have quite a large Crime section on our shelves (bigger than in either of our bookshops), and there are quite a few novels which we perhaps haven’t read or have forgotten reading. One such was Nicci French’s ‘The Red Room’. Totally coincidence that I chose The Red Room immediately after The Blue Room! In fact fool that I am I have only just noticed……..Anyhow what an unexpectedly great read this was. In a somewhat different way to Simenon, French also got right inside the head of our protagonist, a female psychologist helping to solve a series of murders whilst trying to get a grip on her own private life. The scenario and plot were utterly believable and all the characters well drawn. A really gripping Crime novel of the first order.
‘How Many Socks Make A Pair?’ is what’s called a book about surprisingly interesting everyday maths. It does fulfil its function. However, Rob Eastaway sometimes explains the maths and sometimes doesn’t – with his ‘you get the idea of this, but I won’t go into it in detail as the maths is a bit complicated’. I found this frustrating as sometimes you get the impression that he is just serving you up one puzzle or conundrum after another. Still, enjoyable on the whole……..