Eric Idle OnlineMy Life

Reading List February thru March 2017

By , June 13, 2017 8:38 am

The Rich Man. Georges Simenon
Another of the great series of psychological novels. I found a1971 First English (US) Edition at Iliad. Simenon is so wonderful about sex. He is completely non-judgemental. He describes it as it is. Something humans do. That can lead to crime, or just something to do after a decent bottle of white wine. This may be because he is French (well Belge) and also because that is what he did with a good deal of his time. He not only wrote more novels than anyone, he had more sex than anyone. Probably that’s why his books are so short. Short they may be, but they are deceptively complex. He has a deep understanding of the human condition, and writes about it superbly. Here we are with Victor Lecoin, who makes up for his sexless marriage, by having sex with locals and prostitutes, with his wife’s understanding. He completely falls for and becomes entirely obsessed with a rather plain 16 year old maid called Alice and tries desperately but without success to keep his hands off her.. and Simenon still manages to land a surprising end.
No Man’s Land. (and A Stranger’s Hand) Graham Greene
A couple of rediscovered Graham Greene novellas. Both worth a read. The former, a short spy novel set in Yugoslavia, and the latter set in Venice with a small, lonely ten year old English boy, waiting to meet his father. The latter was turned into a film, but he only wrote this first opening piece. It’s still amazing. There is a foreword by David Lodge. I like Greene’s film treatment stories, The Fallen Idol, The Third Man etc. and Lodge perceptively points out that “Graham Greene belonged to the first generation of British writers who grew up with the movies, and his work, like that of his contemporaries Evelyn Waugh, Henry Green and Christopher Isherwood, was deeply influenced by the new medium. What Greene learnt from cinema was how to hold his readers in the coils of a suspenseful plot while exploring moral and metaphysical themes, and how to evoke character and milieu with the verbal equivalent of cinematic close-ups and pans.”
Another Great Day at Sea. Geoff Dyer
Geoff Dyer spends time on a US Carrier in the Gulf. I got the big photographic version of this book but never read it. This I love, because he is such a great observer, and honest writer. He makes no attempt to hide his own crankiness and manages to get himself a single stateroom, and eventually decent food, almost unheard of on this huge floating, deafening island. But he meets people and paints them wonderfully. I enjoyed every sentence.
This Gun For Hire. Graham Greene
“Murder didn’t mean much to Raven. It was just a new job.” A fascinating spy novel about a hare-lipped, double-crossed assassin and his attempts to revenge himself on the people who employed him to shoot a good man in order to create a European war for profit. Originally published in 1936 in England under the title This Gun for Sale. I’ve been attracted to re-reading some of the lesser known novels in my collection of his books. He is that good.
Prussian Blue. Philip Kerr
One of the great delights was finding this new Philip Kerr Bernie Gunther novel in Hatchards. Alas not signed, but I devoured it on my return, dreading reaching the end. It’s set in Hitler’s winter white house of Berchtesgaden. He didn’t trust Berliners. Only Bavarians. It’s so fascinating to read about the corrupt Nazi world of his henchmen and cohorts, all busy building Villas next to the leader, and the mass of tunnels they’re constructing under the mountains, even before he has gone to war. Wonderfully ironic that he should be finally forced to suicide in Berlin, instead of in his billion dollar custom-built, air conditioned Bavarian bunkers. Here Bernie is brought in by Martin Bormann to solve a murder on the terrace of Hitler’s newly constructed tea-house before the leader gets there to celebrate his fiftieth birthday. Nazis are only a minority election away… This is as good as any of them and incredibly readable. I could start it right away again. Can’t wait for the Tom Hanks TV series.
Striptease. Georges Simenon. I found this Review Copy of the First American edition at the Iliad. Published September 20th 1989. I love these non Maigret novels. This one is set in a strip club in Nice. He is so brilliant with his characters. His style seems so simple, yet he paints scenes so clearly. I could read it again now.
The Patient. Georges Simenon
Another one of the non Maigret’s. I picked up this 1963 first edition at Hatchards. It’s about a successful businessman and newspaper editor who suffers a debilitating attack of hemiplegia. His loss of interest in life and the medical attempts to bring him back to “life” is clearly about Simenon’s own experience. A great example of being able to tell the truth about life more accurately in fiction.
Sylvia. Leonard Michaels.
I left this highly autobiographical first novel, about first love in New York, behind in London. And also this next book:
The Crofter and the Laird. John McPhee
About the author taking his family to spend some months on the lonely windswept Scottish island of Colonsay. I hope they forgave him… Cruel and unnecessary paternity it seems to me. The island is now owned by an English solicitor from Brighton. It is interesting to learn that before the foul Highland clearances (an early form of ethnic cleansing by the English on the defeated Scots after Culloden) this island was home to thousands of crofters. Perhaps luckily for them they all moved to Canada.
Snowdrops. A. D. Miller
This is a very good book. Occasionally I felt he was on the verge of making it a great book. I think it won’t be long. He can write. “Snowdrops” are bodies left in the snow and found in the spring in Moscow when the ice melts. He brings the metaphor home nicely. “That’s what I learned when my last Russian winter thawed. The lesson wasn’t about Russia. It never is, I don’t think, when a relationship ends. It isn’t your lover that you learn about. You learn about yourself. I was the man on the other side of the door. My snowdrop was me.”
Set in Moscow about corruption and relationships.
Maigret Takes a Room. Georges Simenon
Patience is one of Maigret’s greatest virtues. He waits. He watches. Then they crack. Here he moves into a well-kept boarding house, where all is not what it seems.
General Macarthur. William Manchester
A long and fascinating biography by a long and fascinating biographer. I knew nothing about the General. Now I know too much. Actually that’s not really true. Manchester is such a fascinating writer that what interests him interests us. Or in this case, me. On My I Pad as it is a long and rather heavy book. I’m still only up to half way through WW2 before the retaking of the Philippines and it assures me I have 9 hours to go, so I think it will be travelling with me. Manchester sees both his flaws and his genius and is fair to both.
Spring Fever. P .G. Wodehouse
A book I hadn’t quite finished before I had to leave for Europe. I haven’t yet picked it up again. He is really funny. I have an entire collection of his novels by the Overlook Press and have shamefully neglected them. They sit in my bedroom ruefully mocking me, but one day, when I can’t leave my bedroom I shall be grateful for them. Stock piling for that rainy day.

The Ides of March. Thru End of March.
UK. London. Cambridge. Copenhagen.

I read two books back to back which seemed coincidentally connected in theme – The Hand by Georges Simenon and The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene
The Hand. Georges Simenon
This is a very fine book indeed, and reveals just what a good novelist Simenon is, especially here where Maigret is not only not involved, but it is set in a snow storm in Connecticut, far from Paris and the French. Simply and clearly written with four characters, it’s about how little we really know of each other. The unhappy local lawyer Donald Dodd discovers in the accidental death of his best friend Ray in a blizzard, that he didn’t like him at all, and he may even have murdered him. He comes to realise he really cannot stand his long time wife Isabel who seems to just look at and through him. His life is torn apart by his passion for Ray’s wife Mona, a physical affair, at the end of which he is faced with emptiness and misunderstanding. It is “a devastating psychological novel…which…delves into the lies we tell ourselves and the darkness within us.” Published in 1968 in French, part of a series of books known as Les Romans Durs, and as John Banville notes “they are tough, bleak, offhandedly violent, suffused with guilt and bitterness, redolent of place….utterly unsentimental, frightening in the pitilessness of their gaze, yet wonderfully entertaining.” This is by far the best of them I have read so far.
The Ministry of Fear. Graham Greene
An Entertainment. Published in 1943.
Greene’s very well-written thriller is set in 1941 in the Blitz, where the central character, Arthur Rowe, suffers from self-loathing because, as we learn, he has killed his wife, but solely to free her from pain. For this he has been found not guilty and confined for a while to a mental hospital. He emerges into a confusing world of random violence from the skies, the nightly bombing raids from Germany, and accidental interaction with some banal characters at a Fete who puzzle and confuse him when he wins a cake in a raffle.
It seems to me the novel owes a lot to John Buchan (The 39 Steps) It is largely all action with mysterious foreign spies engaged in a conspiracy with an overseas power. Greene’s tale is empowered by love, the love of a sympathetic sister, and is resolved through it. Rowe is empowered and escapes his past. Again, like the Simenon, there is the issue of self-loathing, or lack of self-knowledge and a yearning desire for self-destruction.
Maigret and The Man on The Beach. Georges Simenon
Maigret as a close observer of human behaviour is engrossed by a single detail of a man, found stabbed to death in an alley. He wears goose shit green shoes. But why, when he is so dull otherwise?
Hidden Killers. Lynda La Plante
An airport buy, and a perfect travel book, WPC Jane Tennison is a genuinely original Detective character creation, and of course it helps that we cannot read about her without picturing the brilliant and extraordinary Helen Mirren, but nevertheless Madame La Plante is a very good creator of story and the thriller genre. She knows about plot and her stories are gripping. I enjoyed it and it took me happily to Denmark and back.
The Man Who Watched The Trains Go By. Georges Simenon
Not exactly a Maigret, but Inspector Lucas is involved peripherally. It’s a portrait of madness. A comfortable middle aged Dutch clerk goes off the rails when he discovers his employer is a cheat and a fraudster. He does a runner, leaving wife, hearth and family, to the puzzlement of the world. To him he has discovered sanity. A man on the run from himself, and the constraints of life. A Roman Dur.