I purchased this because something, I don’t know what, made me think of the BBC TV series in the 60’s which starred Nyree Dawn Porter, Eric Porter and Kenneth More amongst others. Everybody but everybody was glued to the TV at peak time on a Saturday evening…all ages, and no-one went for their Saturday night out without seeing it. No catch-up in those days. The book, which is really a trilogy – ‘The Man of Property’, ‘In Chancery’ and ‘To Let’ is joined together by two short stories ‘Indian Summer of a Forsyte’ and ‘Awakening’ . Altogether just under half a million words made this an epic read. And it is of the highest quality. Since he wrote it all in the 30’s Galsworthy has had a pretty poor press with the critics, but the public have ignored that and loved it. In the last decade or two the critics have come round to the public’s view. Interesting! Basically it is about the varying relationships of one very large upper-middle class family in High Victorian and then Edwardian England. As well as extremely good characterisation, and plots which you want to follow to their outcome, the background is fascinating as many of the main themes of Great Britain in those days are explored – from Empire and foreign travel through to politics, the introduction of the motor car and so much else besides. I cannot speak of the novel too highly. And the short story ‘Indian Summer of a Forsyte’ is so memorable a description of what it is to grow old and not be able to do the things you want, and at the same time the anguish that comes from unrequited love that it will stay with you for ever. What a read.
Being held up with the sale of our house prior to moving to Cheshire (or Lancashire, not absolutely definite yet……), I have had to make do with reading about the county. I was glad to see on a recent visit to Waterstones that a new guide was out in the ‘Slow Travel’ series by Bradt. This I have devoured from cover to cover. It really is a most unusual and brilliant series of guides. Written by local experts, ‘Cheshire’ was a revelation. So many out of the way places, restaurants, farm shops, attractions of all kinds that we haven’t yet visited in our trips up North. And what you quickly learn in this guide is that your probable preconceptions about the county – flat, inland, dairy farms, cheese, the houses of footballers and Coronation Street stars – is wide of the mark in many respects. Parts of the countryside are as beautiful as anywhere, there are some lovely heights to walk along and get amazing views, Cheshire has a coast (the Wirrall) which is well worth a visit. And history and industrial interest are everywhere. And undoubtedly Chester itself is one of my absolute top-favourites of small towns, more spectacular than York in both setting and what it contains. Thanks to ‘Cheshire’ I am more anxious than ever to migrate there!
Before our recent trip to Verona, I sent for the book ‘Italian Neighbours : An Englishman in Verona’ by Tim Parks. It seemed a natural for anyone visiting this most splendid of cities. But the more I got into the book, the more and more disappointed and frustrated I became, because this wasn’t about Verona at all but about the little village somewhere near Verona where Parks lives. Verona got about two mentions. Whilst it was moderately interesting in itself, it really was something that should have fallen foul of the Trades Descriptions Act. Caveat Emptor! Having fallen completely in love with Venice again ( we were only there for a few hours), we have both been re-reading the Commisario Brunetti novels by Donna Leon. ‘Death At La Fenice’ is the very first, and I have just finished it. It certainly doesn’t read like a first novel (as so many first novels do), and all of the characteristics which are in the many later novels are also present here. The emphasis on Brunetti’s home life, the pointing up of differences between how men think and how women think, the drinks and the meals, the description of place, the realistic conveying of how Venice ‘feels’, the ever=present undercurrents of Italian politics and corruption – all are just as important as the plots which are never very convoluted and therefore ideal bedtime reading. So glad we went to Venice to get us back into reading these brilliant evocations of Italian life!!!
Rescued 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……..
“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……
Trollope 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!
Always a pleasure to read a Folio Society edition, and Phineas Redux the fourth in the series of six Palliser or ‘Parliamentary’ novels is by common acclaim one of the best of Trollope’s extensive writings. He certainly appears at the top of his powers, whether in his descriptions of riding to hounds (one of his own favourite things) or his semi-satirical take-offs of some of the great issues of the day particularly the Disestablishment of the Church in Ireland and the Reform of the political system. He also appears a prophet before his time in his sub-plots involving the possible introduction of decimalisation and the positioning and powers of the monarch in a constitutional crisis. Having said all of this, Trollope as usual develops all these themes around the life and loves of his main character, and Romance plays an equal part to Politics. His characters are very strongly drawn and in a novel of some 700 pages we get to know them well! A large part of the second half of the book concerns the court case where Phineas is accused of attempted murder, and Trollope revels in his taking to pieces of the legal system as it existed. So, not only is Phineas Redux a page-turner, it is a detailed and extensive commentary on the constitutional, political and social life of Victoria England and in that equal to the efforts of Dickens. Only two more novels to go. Far more demanding of time and concentration than War and Peace!
Because we are in the middle of selling our home and hope to move to the North West, I have bought second-hand copies of two excellent books ‘The Treasures of Lancashire’ and ‘The Treasures of Cheshire’. These are very detailed portrayals of the two counties in terms of the countryside and towns, which are described succinctly and well, and the treasures therein, with emphasis on the churches, public buildings and houses to be found. I must say that I took great pleasure in reading these minutely and I discovered so much new about areas I know well enough. Not only have the two books strengthened how much I am looking forward to moving, they have directed my attention to considering alternative locations for our new home. These books weren’t available new any more and I only paid between £3 and £4 each. A real bargain.
For some light relief, as both the Trollope and the guides were demanding of concentration, I have been re-reading ‘Engel’s England’. His book is not a gazetteer, he explains, “nor a guidebook, nor a compendium of England’s best anything”. It is, rather, he claims, a celebration of “the most beautiful and fascinating country on Earth”, though even the determinedly upbeat Engel cannot avoid an Anglo tone of loss and melancholy. “By way of subtext,” he notes in passing, “I visited all 41 (Anglican) cathedrals and lit a candle to my late son in each.” But that in no way gets in the way of his genuine desire to see what makes the different counties tick, and to find the quirky or humorous things that will both amuse us and inform at the same time. This he does in spades and very funny he is more often than not. He is warm, human, funny and cutting at times. The sort of man who would be interesting to talk to in the local pub, knows a lot, plenty to say, empathetic and probably very willing to stand you a pint or two. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip around England in his company (as I did the first time).
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……..
‘Friends At Court’ was the book that inspired me to take up the Law……I never did. But the fascination remains. A judge has said ‘No-one has ever caught more precisely or wittily the atmosphere of litigation’, and this certainly comes through. Although very witty at times, at other times you feel you are in the hands of a barrister ( I nearly wrote barista) who is talking about real cases in which he is himself involved. I am sure that much is taken from real life. As this was published in 1956 you might think that it would be very old-fashioned. It isn’t. The law changes slowly. having read this I was looking forward to the other ‘Brothers In Law’ Penguin we have on our shelves, but my wife cautioned it started off well but got very silly indeed. I don’t know whether to read or not. problems, problems.Having liked the P D James Dalgleish novels that I have read I thought I would start at the beginning and read the first couple in a long, long series. However my plans went awry when the first arrived. It was half in French and half in English. I just couldn’t read it. I therefore had to start with the second in the series ‘Cover Her Face’. I have to say that although quite well written, it was a little turgid, and I soon spotted the perpetrator of the murder which in a ‘Who Dunnit’ is not really a good sign. It reads like a second novel. having enjoyed the depth and the literary excellence of later novels it perhaps was a mistake to return to the beginning! I try not to buy books for the sake of it, particularly now that we are retired, but some of the Folio books on our shelves have been sitting for a long time just looking good. I am working my way through them and it is a pleasure to read such well-formed books with often top-quality illustrations. In fact I am sure Folio could do good business selling the illustrations as prints. The covers are good too….this is ‘Dracula’. Now we all think we know the story, but how many of us have truly read this novel? I steer away from anything vaguely relating to Fantasy. I personally regard it as somewhat childish. I did enjoy Fantasy at school, but surely I am past that now. Well this is the book that put paid to that argument. It is Fantasy but it is exceedingly well-written on the whole and, although long, it is gripping. I wanted to get to bed each night to read more. I have to say I really, really enjoyed it. The limited cast of characters are very well-drawn and the atmosphere unsettling. The fact that a lot of the story is told through various people’s journals also adds to the pot. If you haven’t read it now’s the time. Another beautiful Folio, this time ‘Brideshead Revisited’ .Now everyone must have read this or seen the film or seen it on TV but it amply pays a re-read. If you can get yourself this Folio edition it is certainly worth the investment. Background…..Charles Ryder’s cousin warned him against taking rooms on the ground floor of his Oxford college, so when the young Lord Sebastian Flyte is sick through his window, it seems he should have heeded the advice. However, no one is immune to Sebastian’s inimitable charm and soon a relationship develops that will change Charles’s life for ever. Chosen as one of Time magazine’s 100 greatest novels of all time, this is Waugh’s most popular book, combining aching sympathy for the passing of privilege with the best of his razor-sharp wit. You feel the time and place you really do………….
In 1346, at the age of sixteen, he won his spurs at Crecy; nine years later he conducted a brutal raid across Languedoc; in 1356 he captured the king of France at Poitiers; as lord of Aquitaine he ruled a vast swathe of southwestern France. He was Edward of Woodstock, eldest son of Edward III, but better known to posterity as ‘the Black Prince‘.The Prince learned the graft of warfare the hard way. At the famous English victory at Crécy in 1346, the 16-year-old Edward was placed in notional command of the vanguard. When he became severely pressed by a French onslaught (the English were outnumbered by almost two to one), his father is reported to have delayed sending his son any reinforcements, saying: ‘Let the boy win his spurs.’ And so the boy did, with a characteristic display of the courage and steadfastness that so impressed his contemporaries. Here and throughout, Jones captures the drama and press of a medieval battle. I normally shy away from the second tier of historians and go only for top league authors. So I was a bit reluctant to buy what I regarded as a ‘chancer’. I’m glad I did. Not only does Michael Jones tell an exciting tale of a chivalrous knight’s life, but he brings to the table his detailed research and telling use of original sources including the letters of the man himself and his friends, as also using contemporary chronicles both French and English ( and others). You get a very rounded picture of a man who was extolled as the greatest warrior of his day but also a man who was extremely religious in this very religious age. Michael Jones doesn’t shy away from discussing his alleged ruthlessness and misdeeds either. It’s a great pity that Edward and his father Edward III had such differences and misunderstandings which led to the eventual loss of all that the Black Prince had gained in France. A pity too that he died so young. Nevertheless his name and aura live on and you can do much worse than enjoy this book as much as I did.
Another great history book ‘Bosworth’ by a well-known historian (and politician) tells in detail the story of how a Queen’s love match with a Welsh servant led eventually to the birth in a following generation of Henry Tudor and the successful if rather surprising overthrow of the Yorkist dynasty. Skidmore is an excellent guide to how all this led to its culmination in the Battle of Bosworth. He describes the background in terrific detail as well as giving us a blow by blow understanding of the battle itself. Well researched and told in a lively manner, the only criticism I would have is the lack of clarity at times as to who we are reading about. I can’t count the number of times I had to peruse the genealogical chart to see which Margaret or which Edward he was talking about. I can only assume all those reviewers who praised its clarity didn’t read it in as much detail and with as much care as I did! Still buying two history books which I didn’t want to put down is a good result……..
This hardback book ‘Bomber Command’ was purchased as a £5 remainder at WHS. I have tried for some time now to research my father’s experience as a Bomb-aimer. No luck in getting his personal details so far and very frustrating considering I have his Forces ID number. However reading the book has given me an excellent idea of how lucky he was to survive, how brave he and the others were, how professional, and I also can appreciate why he didn’t say very much about his experiences and why he had a lifelong antipathy to war and armed struggles of all kinds. The only time we had a short chat he told me how sometimes when a plane returned they would literally have to hose out the remains of the Rear Gunner. I felt I couldn’t really take it any further, but as historian myself I really really should have done! ‘Bomber Command’ is terrific for the details but also covers the overall strategy and the controversies that have arisen since. Max Hastings is willing to be more critical of the key personnel involved than some other historians, but I found the research and output very balanced indeed. £5? A great buy!
Another of F.’s books, I just got in first again. Peter May is a Crime writer, but for the greater part of this book I wondered where this was going in terms of a Crime plot. It seemed more ‘Welcome to the island of Harris – we’ll tell you some things you didn’t know about this special place’. Well it certainly is special. But I couldn’t help thinking all along that my son had spent a week there with his school pal who comes from Harris and he has always said ‘Never again’. What a dispiriting place it seems. So, the plot. The two protagonists own a company that makes an upmarket alternative to Harris Tweed, one of them is blown up by a car bomb in Paris. There is a desultory search for the perpetrators. Some off-beam characters are drawn as possible suspects and then, right at the end, and as obvious as obvious can be, the partner turns out not to have been blown up after all. Weak. I would say so. I was thoroughly disappointed at the end and rather glad to get onto something else.
Sarah Langford’s ‘In Your Defence’ is one of those brilliant books that keep you up at night, that you don’t want to put down, you don’t want to end, and which teaches you so much you didn’t know. Whilst it was her love of words that inspired her to take up the law, Sarah took an unprivileged, unconventional route that however stood her in good stead and made her determined to succeed in what is still a profession full of privilege and some bias against women. However this story is not about her it is very much about her clients, and in particular 11 clients in 11 different cases which she outlines in some detail. Each case starts with the location of the trial (changed along with personal details to protect clients’ anonymity) and a tiny note on the law involved in the particular case. These get your mind racing before you know anything about the case. Sarah then takes us through each story from start to finish. All of the cases are to do with Family or Criminal Law. And wow how you get involved. Of course her job is to represent clients whether she believes them innocent or guilty, and to us looking in from the outside, this in itself poses incredible moral dilemmas. But, as she says herself, “Life is not binary,” “There is very rarely a situation where there is no other version of the story.” Intricate points of Law are explained in notes at the end of the book. The cases range from a woman charged with conspiracy after a burglary, and a young man accused of assaulting three police officers during an arrest that leaves him with cuts and bruises on his hand, ribs and head to a child whose views are, unusually, taken into account in deciding which of his divorced parents he should live with. You come away feeling battered, hugely impressed with the Judges and Barristers involved, and scandalised by how little someone like Sarah is rewarded for the efforts she puts in. A thrilling book.
‘Thomas Cromwell : the untold story of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant‘ by Tracy Borman is a splendid history of the man and his times. It is amazing, and indeed reassuring how closely all of this ‘real’ history follows Hilary Mantel’s novels. As with all well written and researched histories Tracy’s book flows, and is almost like a Crime novel in that you want to keep turning the pages to see what happens next. And believe me a lot does happen. Cromwell, who I studied at school and Uni as a great administrator is a man of his times. A great administrator yes, but also a philosopher, a well-read man of huge intelligence, a deeply religious man, a brutal and cunning and ruthless but loyal politician who right up to his last few days in the Tower knew how to manipulate the King and his Council, many of whom looked down upon a man risen from the gutter just as they had looked down upon his predecessor Wolsey a butcher’s son. It is no wonder that King Henry lived to regret his decision to cut off his head. As I say, this biography is absolutely compelling reading. The only little criticism I can make is that Tracy Borman, when no other sources are left to her, is willing to use the same ambassadors’ letters home (the Venetian and Spanish ambassadors particular) that she criticises in another breath as being difficult to give too much credence to. Having said that, I so much enjoyed getting to know Thomas Cromwell, and didn’t want the book (or his life!) to end………
Rummaging around in a WHS remainder shop in Plymouth (I hadn’t realised they existed), we found a couple of books which were extremely good value. So I bought a new copy of the hardback ‘The Complete Great British Railway Journeys’ priced at £40 for just £4. Amazing! The book is a compilation of ‘Great British Railway Journeys’ and ‘Great Victorian Railway Journeys’ and based on the very enjoyable BBC programmes fronted by Michael Portillo with those names. It is really for dipping into but I read it straight through, over a few weeks admittedly, and really loved all the insight into the ‘history, landscape and people of Britain’ that it gave. Partly a reflection of how much things have changed since the publication of Bradshaw’s Guide to the lines in question, but also a celebration of how much has survived and the progress that has been made, I found such a lot to interest me and so many references to subjects new to me. From the Victorian find of the Bronze Age Gristhorpe man, still on display in Scarborough, to the Preston cotton mill riots (I was born there, opposite a cotton mill) and the establishment of the Temperance Movement in Preston, I was surprised at my lack of knowledge. Great, and very satisfying, to remedy a few gaps.
With her Christmas present of a National Book Token, F. bought 4 books when we were out the other day and I have already finished one of them. In truth it didn’t take me long. It was so good. It was the kind of book you would walk around the house reading not wanting to put it down. I rationed myself to bedtime reading mainly, and there followed a few nights of reading till well past 1am. ‘Dead If You Don’t’ is the book in question and the author Peter James stand at the pinnacle of Crime writing. His DS Superintendent Roy Grace novels are set in Brighton where he lives, and where he has astonishing contacts with the Police and others and which means all the procedural stuff is spot-on. This one is about a kidnapping and about the Albanian criminal fraternity living in Brighton. It is also about many other things including the corruption of wealth, the dangers of gambling, and of course about the personal interactions of Grace with family and friends. It is taut, well written and exciting. Can you praise a Crime novel more?
During our recent visit to Edinburgh I found this ‘The Daughter of Time’ on my daughter’s shelves. I had already read it but was anxious to do so again as I got terrific enjoyment the first time. I don’t think by any stretch of the imagination you could call Tey a great writer….I have read other of her titles and been immensely disappointed, but this is something else. A detective recovering in hospital, flat on his back most of the time, comes across, amongst the gifts friends and colleagues have been bringing in, a portrait of Richard III. He asks himself…is this the face of a man who could commit the murder of his two nephews in the Tower, an event heinous even then. His detective brain starts whirling and he is soon loaded down with serious histories, copies of documents and more trying to sift the evidence looking for clues as to who did actually ‘commission’ the murders. A brilliant tapestry of the times is woven as he refuses to accept the history written by the winners, in other words the Tudors, unless there is factual back-up. Although a Lancastrian myself, and a historian, I have always had a soft spot for Richard III and thought him ill-used by History. Although this is a novel it grips as real history always does. My two favourite subjects, History and Detectives, and this is part History/part Detective. I really couldn’t ask for more.
Since we had a leak in the new roof in the conservatory I have had to move a lot of things out of there, including many books. Noticing one of these, ‘Shakespeare’s Restless World’ I picked it up and started idly leafing through it. I saw immediately that this was only part-read so I resolved to start again. I am so glad I did. It is so well-produced with clear text and beautiful images, and so well-written by ex-Director of The British Museum Neil MacGregor, that it is sheer pleasure. Neil has chosen 20 objects (not only from the BM) to illustrate various aspects of what Shakespeare’s world was really like. These range from the failed attempts of James I to put together a joint flag for the Great Britain he wanted to be a reality, to a woollen apprentice’s cap in absolutely remarkable condition, to a pedlar’s trunk complete with contents, to a brass-handled iron fork lost at the Rose Theatre, the ownership of which was a sign of absolute sophistication. And he uses the objects to telling effect, delving deeply into the full range of Shakespeare’s work. So, my other favourite subject History/Shakespeare is well catered for in this splendid book.
Which leads me on to saying that, having aroused my interest in WS once again, I could not forgo the immediate and absolute pleasure of reading again for the umpteenth time the play ‘Hamlet’ which for me represents the height of literary achievement. It was something I studied in great detail for ‘A’ levels. I have seen the play a few times. I have seen a couple of films. For me it never palls. I read this time round the Arden edition which has copious footnotes and explanatory material, but I must admit that I am easily distracted by these and actually found all of this tiresome as the Editor Harold Jenkins seemed to be engaged a lot of the time in scoring points off previous editors and commentators. Hamlet is too good for this. Best just to read it straight through and make your own sense of it.