Eric Idle OnlineMy Life

Reading blog, July through August

By , August 16, 2017 7:08 am


Pounding away on my laptop I fell disgracefully behind, not on my reading dear reader, but on my writing about reading, so these are recreated memories of the pleasures I endured this summer. One of the reasons for keeping this writing diary is so I remember not to forget what I enjoyed, and yet here I am, packing to leave, with a stack of books on my shelf I can only dimly remember. Apologies to self. I can only hope my writing was worth it.

The Dog’s Last Walk. Howard Jacobson
This kept me company throughout the summer, selections of his fine writing from what I now I only just learn has become the defunct Independent. I really must try and keep up, but if the Brits won’t let me vote despite paying taxes and force me to Brexit despite allowing me a choice in the matter, then I shall continue to ignore their often sick and insane newspapers. Many a fine day was ended with a keenly turned polemic, many an afternoon siesta preceded by a finely tuned satire, from the Mancunian master and I am grateful for the company of his wonderful mind, sharing as I do a Cambridge education, a love of ping pong and some early years in Manchester. I promise never again to use the words “a good read.” Though this is!

Pussy. Howard Jacobson
I was also reading and enjoying his new novel before I became sickened by reading or listening to anything at all about the fat, dystopian, lunatic in the White House, and forswore to pay him what he most desperately craves, any more attention, even at the expense of abandoning the satirists who mock him. Perhaps when he is gone and if the world survives his inevitable demise my sense of humour about the monster will return.

I enjoyed catching up with two very fine books by the master of the Bernie Gunther novels, Philip Kerr, who seems to be able to turn his hand to anything.

Dark Matter. Philip Kerr
A most unlikely thriller starring Isaac Newton as a kind of Sherlock Maigret ensconced in the Tower of London with a satisfactorily proficient swordsman sidekick called Christopher Ellis. Sir Isaac has become Warden of the Royal Mint responsible for hunting down counterfeiters during a national emergency. Faced with having to solve problems of codes and withstand physical attacks from assassins this is a highly suspenseful original tale. I have no idea how much of this is based on any historical truth but it makes a very satisfactory historical thriller.

A Philosophical Investigation. Philip Kerr
This is his version of a modern detective story, set in a slightly more dystopian version of London in 2013, where serial murderers are sought by DNA detection and put into a “punitive coma.” A case weary, female detective “Jake” Jacowitz, matches wits with an intellectual serial killer. This is a brilliant story, told from both perspectives, and I enjoyed it very much.

The Plot against America. Philip Roth
So culled from contemporary headlines does this seem that it is almost impossible to believe it was published in 2004. It is what might have happened to America had the Republicans chosen Lindberg instead of returning Roosevelt for a third term in 1940. A Nazi appeaser in collaboration with his country’s enemies in the White House, couldn’t happen I hear you say… Told from the perspective of a Jewish boy growing up in Newark this step by step story of how fascism came to America is both prescient and terrifying. It should have been a warning, and yet, here we are, with the country rising up to vote in a monster. A must read.

The Day I Died. Lori Rader-Day
A very fine thriller about a handwriting expert pulled in by a sceptical detective to try and locate a boy and his mother who have gone missing. Having only recently moved into the area she has her own story of running away and hiding. Finely done and gripping throughout this is great fun.

An Officer and a Spy. Robert Harris
Another fine book from this author, this one set at the time of the Dreyfus scandal where a French army officer witnesses Alfred Dreyfus being publicly humiliated and exiled for life on Devil’s Island. Georges Picquart, promoted to run the Intelligence Unit that tracked him down discovers that secrets are still being handed over to the Germans and is drawn into a struggle that threatens his life. Very brilliant and effortlessly written, I loved it.

The Slaves of Solitude. Patrick Hamilton
A fine novel, described by some as his finest, though I have read no others, set in a Henley boarding house during World War Two about the mind numbing dullness of the English when in society together. Underneath the polite nothings of conversation are seething hatreds and cruel tortures. Miss Roach, through whose eyes we see everything, is horribly tormented by the cruel and pathetic non entity Mr. Thwaites, a sadistic prat who is both pompous and useless and the major comic thrust of the novel, with his clichéd language and his rush to judge and destroy. He wastes no time tormenting Miss Roach whose essential niceness is sorely tested by his irritating attacks. Into this cold-bed of turmoil come two outsiders, an alcoholic American Lieutenant, and a blonde haired German refugee Vicki whom Miss Roach has been attempting to aid. The one flirts wildly with her, while the other wastes no time scoring off her, so she is puzzled and confused and unhappy.
There is a kind of genre of Boarding House novels which reflect a certain time in English society when people not related were forced to lodge and dine together. It seems to me that this has come to an end, although Kingsley Amis’ The Old Devils is a relic of it. This is a very fine example of the genre and the kind of patient suffering the British had to endure during the long length of World War Two.

So Long, See You Tomorrow. William Maxwell.
Slightly concerned not to notice at first I read this in January. This is what I wrote then. “The most magnificent short novel. Glorious. Beautiful written. Like the essence of a novel.” I suppose the good news of age is one can keep re-reading the same book!