Reading matters…….

1867145.jpgRescued this ‘Shooting In The Dark’ from ‘unread books’ section, and found it was set in York which is where we used to live once upon a time. It’s Crime Noir North of England, and good for that. Location is so important to me even in crime novels, and John Baker ensures you know you’re in York. It got good reviews in The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent and from Val McDermid, so I had high hopes and I was not disappointed. I must explore what else John Baker has written. The first third in particular read like a hard-core New York novel with humour, and then it settled into its plot the main protagonists being Sam Turner, an world-weary private tec and two vulnerable sisters one of whom was blind. This gave an entirely different slant to things. Basically they were being stalked by someone who wanted revenge for a childhood disaster. I really liked the fact that the characters were sympathetic and nearly all of the time I appreciated the minor characters being highly intelligent (much philosophising, particularly on existentialism). Recommend? Definitely……

‘Skios’ is a Faber publication, so it’s got to be good right?….my favourite publisher bar none. Here’s their blurb……..13732574.jpg

“On the sunlit Greek island of Skios, the Fred Toppler Foundation’s annual lecture is to be given by Dr Norman Wilfred, the world-famous authority on the scientific organisation of science. He turns out to be surprisingly young and charming – not at all the intimidating figure they had been expecting. The Foundation’s guests are soon eating out of his hand. So, even sooner, is Nikki, the attractive and efficient organiser.

Meanwhile, in a remote villa at the other end of the island, Nikki’s old school-friend Georgie waits for the notorious chancer she has rashly agreed to go on holiday with, and who has only too characteristically failed to turn up. Trapped in the villa with her, by an unfortunate chain of misadventure, is a balding old gent called Dr Norman Wilfred, who has lost his whereabouts, his luggage, his temper and increasingly all normal sense of reality – everything he possesses apart from the flyblown text of a well-travelled lecture on the scientific organisation of science …”

At heart this is a case of mistaken identity, deliberate in the case of one of the protagonists and not so with the other. It is an old-fashioned farce. And if you like farce, you will like this. It is extremely funny throughout and, as Michael Frayn is a writer of well-received stage farces, very well written. To go on writing such idiosyncratic stuff at his tender age (born in 1933) is quite remarkable. Incredible holiday reading………particularly if you’re jetting off to Greece.

I finished my marathon reading of the 6 Palliser novels with ‘The Prime Minister’ and ‘The Duke’s Children’. Bit like reading War and Peace twice or thrice. Anyhow, highly enjoyable and quite the equal of The Chronicles of Barsetshire……

30086155115.jpgTrollope himself considered ‘Can You Forgive Her?’, ‘Phineas Finn’, ‘Phineas Redux’ and ‘The Prime Minister’ to be the four novels that constitute the Palliser series. In his autobiography he wrote…….”To carry out my scheme I have had to spread my picture over so wide a canvas that I cannot expect that any lover of such art should trouble himself to look at it as a whole. Who will read Can You Forgive Her?, Phineas Finn, Phineas Redux, and The Prime Minister consecutively, in order that they may understand the characters of the Duke of Omnium, of Plantagenet Palliser, and of Lady Glencora? Who will ever know that they should be so read?”. Self-deprecating as usual, he thought that his reputation would soon wither, and that in no time at all he would be forgotten.

However, notable fans of Trollope, according to Wikipedia,  have included Alec Guinness, who never travelled without a Trollope novel; the former British Prime Ministers Harold Macmillan, Earl of Stockton and Sir John Major; the first Canadian Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald; the economist John Kenneth Galbraith; the merchant banker Siegmund Warburg who said that “reading Anthony Trollope surpassed a university education.”; the English judge Lord Denning; the American novelists Sue Grafton, Dominick Dunne and Timothy Hallinan; the poet Edward Fitzgerald; the artist Edward Gorey, who kept a complete set of his books; the American author Robert Caro; the playwright David Mamet and the soap opera writer Harding Lemay. So I am in excellent company.

As I have said before to read Trollope is to gain an amazing insight into upper-class, and upper middle-class, Victorian society. But not just that. Trollope expounds in significant detail on the politics of the time, the role of the Church, the concept of the gentleman and gentlemanly behaviour, the role of money and debt at a macro and micro level, the standing of women, and so much else besides.  If you accept that you are in an entirely different world you will be drawn along and you will want to know what happens next to his well-drawn characters. I must say that I personally found his anti-Jew reading somewhat obnoxious, and I am startled to find so far no reference to this by the critics. That besides, what will I do now I have read all of his major work? Read them again? Quite possibly!

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