Eric Idle Online
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald - Jul-2015

The most delightful and original book I have read in years. A beautiful book, a very fine book and a new classic. In a perfect edition from Grove Press. It’s the sort of book you want to sit down and instantly re-read. Natural history, which is about both nature and history. A valedictory for her father. To cope with her grief she adopts a goshawk and patiently and with great courage learns to teach it the ancient arts of hawking. She herself is an odd bird, but she writes heavenly prose. I loved this book.

The Two Penny Bar by Georges Simenon - Jul-2015

Continuing the fabulous new Penguin edition binge into the work of this modern master. It seems like effortless writing. They are just so great I can’t wait for more.

Trouble is My Business by Raymond Chandler - Jul-2015

Very short. Obviously written for the Pulp Mags, which he writes about. It’s not his best. But it’s still Chandler. From his intro: “When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.” “Everything a writer learns about the art or craft of fiction takes just a little away from his need or desire to write at all. In the end he knows all the tricks, and has nothing to say.”

Plus three short stories: Finger Man, Goldfish and Bad Wind. About Philip Marlowe.

I just realized that Chandler was at school in Dulwich not far from where Christopher Marlowe was murdered.  (There’s a thesis for you.)

Casino by Nick Pileggi - Jul-2015

The Rise and Fall of the Mob in Las Vegas. Wonderfully readable. Led to a Scorcese film. Given to me by Jeremy Clarke, who couldn’t believe I have met Nick and enjoyed his company.

Low Life: The Spectator Columns by Jeremy Clarke - Jul-2015

The delightful Jeremy came to dinner, leaving me a signed copy of his latest collection, and I sat happily in front of the Test Match reading it and giggling.

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon - Jul-2015

I get the feeling I tried this before. It starts off so well and bogs down. I haven’t abandoned it, just been flirting with other books. Actually now I have abandoned it. I don’t like it.

The Misty Harbour by Georges Simenon - Jul-2015

One of my favourites. I think he writes best of the foggy coastlines of Northern France and the small villages, where people have private agendas and nobody talks.

Family Album by Penelope Lively - Jul-2015

A portrait of a family. Well a portrait of a house really. An interesting book, a large and complex family are portrayed through reminiscences and multiple viewpoints in time and character. It makes the story slow, but because she writes so well it works. We get their viewpoints on everyone else.

The Shadow Puppet by Georges Simenon - Jul-2015

Low life mystery in the Place des Vosges.

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson - Jul-2015

A lovely novel I had somehow managed to miss. She is a brilliant writer. I loved her book about her nightmare mother last year Why Be Happy When You Can be Normal, which made me howl out loud with laughter, to the surprise of my wife. How can you find such a monster mother funny, she asked? This was her debut novel and won a lot of prizes for very good reasons.

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively - Jul-2015

A most wonderful, eloquent, elegant, beautiful, exquisitely written book, which I see quite rightly won the Booker Prize in 1987.

A delightful discovery, a happen chance in Harrods, hiding in the shelves of their classics. It is immediately gripping. Her prose so finely constructed, so that you do not notice the effort that is here. And the tale unrolls with breath-taking control. How could I not know about this?

Sometimes it feels like a blessing and a benediction to discover such beauty, and yet there must be hundreds of such undiscovered delights, hiding on shelves all round the world. Literature at its finest, about who we are and how we are and how we got to be here. I was gratefully and intensely joyful for the few unputdownable hours I spent in the company of her gracious wonderful mind.

Past Times remembered. The base of both literature and history.

Hotel Savoy by Joseph Roth - Jun-2015

A rather beautiful short novel translated from the German. Roth is new to me but I loved this story of a soldiers homecoming from captivity to stay in the old Savoy Hotel, along with a crowd of unusual characters. The uncertainty, and threatened violence of a post war city is reflected in his beautiful prose. A nice discovery.

Cecile is Dead by Georges Simenon - Jun-2015

They keep coming, and they keep pleasing. These delightful inspector Maigret books issued by Penguin Classics in new translations are essential for your travels. This one about a woman who keeps coming to see Maigret and he is bored by her constant visits, with bad results…

Suspended Sentences by Patrick Modiano - Jun-2015

One of those French novels where very little happens at great length, but we are spared no detail. Actually three short novellas. I managed about one and a half!

Picked up at Daunts on a whim.

Maigret by Georges Simenon - Jun-2015

Though now retired Maigret is drawn back into the familiar world of the Police Judicaire by the folly of his nephew who is accused of a murder. Hovering like a famous ghost at the edge of the investigation, treated with respect and occasionally not, he builds his patient case.

Missoula by Jon Krakauer - Jun-2015

This is not a book you enjoy. And indeed the emotions and passions and violent language of the public towards principals in this tale of two rapes make you despair of the brave new internet world, where ignorance and savagery and hurtful language is the new fee speech.

As a Brit all I can say is that this outbreak of extraordinary entitled and violent behaviour towards women has several elements that are peculiarly American. First are the drinking laws which ensure that illegal drinking is the norm, and binge drinking, and private drinking games consume a large amount of College social life. Second is the extraordinary savagery of a game which makes heroes of violent young men. Third is that fame itself and the special privileges that come with it in a closed society, due to the extremely profitable exploitation of their sport, permit young men, of less than high intelligence, and far less than impeccable or sensitive behaviour, to act as if they are above the law. This is now such a common perception that it is epidemic.

The liberation of young women into a supposedly equal college society where gangs of boys conspire to seduce them actually leaves them vulnerable. If there is any encouraging news it is that colleges now seem to be taking this rape epidemic seriously, and Obama called it out. It makes you feel ashamed to be a man.

Seize the Day by Saul Bellow - Jun-2015

A nicely written sad tale of the worst day of a no longer young and foolish man, who keeps failing and faces an unsympathetic father and separated wife. Good yarn.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - Jun-2015

Interesting to read the novel after seeing the movie, because of course you know the big secret, which it takes more than half the book to get to. The big secret of Amy. So reading it is interesting because you know she is lying in her version of events, which you would not normally know when reading the book for the first time. As in the movie we feel ambivalent towards them. We don’t know what will happen. The brilliance of the book is in this… it is so skilfully plotted. It’s filled with a million insights of how it is to be caught up in celebrity culture. Everyone now behaves like the TV and needs to grab the story and twist it for their advantage…

I Blame Dennis Hopper by Illeana Douglas - May-2015

More movie Memoirs this time from the siren Ileanna.

The Hot House by the East River by Muriel Spark - May-2015

Found this first edition from 1973 set in sweltering New York, the principal characters, though hilarious, are not quite what they seem to be. She is so playfully, both in her writing and her use of form.

Wilde in America by David M. Friedman - May-2015

He argues that Wilde invented the cult of celebrity, by agreeing to allow D’Oyly Carte to tour him round America, so that everyone could see what Patience was mocking. Persuasive argument, since Wilde had only a small volume of self-published poems to his name, but instantly became widely well known, lecturing to the denizens of the States, to greater and lesser acclaim.

Deception by Philip Roth - May-2015

That rare bird, a Roth I hadn’t read. And even rarer, didn’t love. All in dialogue. Scenes from an affair.

The Hollow Crown by Dan Jones - May-2015

The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of The Tudors

I picked up and read the second half of this – well from about Edward IV to the end. The more familiar arrival of the Tudors. Hundreds of years of civil war here, sometimes there seem to be about three rebellions a year. The entire island seems to be filled with plate armour and arrows and terrible bloody, muddy, hacking to bits. They’re all about 23 too. So it’s late teenage violence on a huge scale.  More like gang warfare. Richard 3rd was definitely a serial killer. May have killed two Kings too. Henry VI it is widely assumed. Quite possibly his brother as well.

Life Ascending by Nick Lane - May-2015

The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution

I’m still reading this. It’s not a book you can rush, since it encompasses The Origin of Life, DNA, Photosynthesis, The Complex Cell, Sex, Movement, Sight, Hot Blood, Consciousness and Death.

I expect to be reading it still next year. The Unbeliever’s Bible. How things really came to be. I read it on my phone and I pad. Often, occasionally, and always with great interest.

Gideon’s Spies by Gordon Thomas - May-2015

The Secret History of the Mossad.

The totally fascinating, utterly gripping, long but never dull, history of the Mossad. With all the greatest hits, and a few of their misses. An intriguing tale of ten heads of this most secret service, and the way they coped with the many, many crises which continue, and the threats, which seem to worsen, and the potential for Middle East disaster with nuclear proliferation. Then there’s the incredible tale of Robert Maxwell…. This book is essential reading, and it’s updated now and in a nice big fat paperback form. I could not put it down.