Eric Idle Online
Dance for the Dead by Thomas Perry - Mar-2014

I was still in a holiday reading mode so I plucked from the shelf an old Thomas Perry that I was pretty certain I had read before but which I had picked up in a nice hard copy at Iliad. He didn’t let me down on re-reading this Jane Whitefield Novel. Good to have reliable authors.

Brown Dog by Jim Harrison - Mar-2014

I poured into this new Jim Harrison and I really enjoyed it. I find the sheer energy of his sentences and the rough reality of his characters makes me want to continue reading him, so he’s hard to put down. This one I felt I might have read before somewhere?? Finding the dead Indian in the cold waters of the lake seemed familiar to me, but he develops the story on one hand in a farcical manner, with Brown Dog’s attempts to shag and drink everything, and on the other Brown Dog seriously trying to protect the Indian Burial Site from the depravations of an academic lady whom he is boffing. Much booze and misunderstandings follow and he almost makes jail, but he is so cheerfully an outsider of society and he has such a keen eye on the media and the total misunderstandings of the Press and Police that I find him really enjoyable.

The World of Apples by John Cheever - Mar-2014

A wonderful later collection of short stories in a lovely first edition from 1973. As if it were possible for his stories to get better these do. I particularly loved The Geometry of Love and the eponymous The World of Apples.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - Mar-2014

Having watched the third series of Sherlock for the second time in a month I was tempted to tackle the original books and found much to enjoy on I pad. They are always there for me.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck - Mar-2014

I bought a lovely signed limited first edition in London and have been saving it up. I love it. He is such a great writer I can’t believe I never read these books before.


I snatched a quick Mexican Beach break at the end of February, partly burned out from six months on the Python show and partly to avoid all the Oscar bollocks that invades this town. I felt confident in my choice of books but in the event I was grateful for my I Pad to which I had to turn for some solid fall-back reading choices when others let me down…

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler - Feb-2014

Mercifully I had downloaded some Chandler a long time ago for just such an emergency. The prospect of running out of reading abroad. I had almost forgotten how great he is, and this is simply a magnificent book. A classic. I had forgotten too how good this one is. He is a master of the art of short, simple, writing. I devoured it and,  as with all great books, felt saddened as the end approached.

Restoration: Charles II and His Kingdoms by Tim Harris - Feb-2014

I always like to take a history book and this one I felt sure would grip me but sadly no. Writers of His Story should remember that half of it is Story. Academically history can be a series of essays about aspects of the period, but only if you’re studying it. Not if you are reading it for character, for drama and for the foibles of mankind, especially the rich and powerful, behaving in unseemly ways and suffering the consequences. Here we need wit, syphilis, mistresses, retribution, Catholicism and Revolution but it’s as dull as a Dissenters Dinner.

The Collected Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever - Feb-2014

I ploughed gratefully into these on iPad, despite the fact I have read them before in hardback. His creation of the sad world of the commuter and the small businessman and family man and the suburban drinking at the club rings so real. Shady Hill is aptly named and those that survive and thrive there and those that implode and fail there are magnificently rendered. Most people lead lives of quiet desperation, and between Rome and Shady Hill he chronicles the life of keeping up appearances, the daily drudgery of the struggle for existence. He is rightly the master of the short story.

After Dark by Haruki Murakami - Feb-2014

Fortunately I had brought a shorter back up Murakami and this one was both briefer and more enjoyable.

The One From The Other by Philip Kerr - Feb-2014

Fortunately Bernie Gunther is always busy. Something is always happening. Rich women, famous Nazis, Eichman even, and he loses a second wife to influenza. Some detectives have no luck. Or is it really influenza? The great thing about Kerr is even the smallest threads are tied up. Nothing is entirely irrelevant. And he is a very funny writer. I devoured it and was saddened by the thought that I have now read every single one of the Bernie Gunther books.   More please!

The Wind-Up Bird by Haruki Murakami - Feb-2014

I turned instead to the author I had  recently discovered and enjoyed but I found him annoyingly slow too. I kept waiting for a story to break out. He’s so busy preparing dinner and listening to classical music that it takes ages for something to happen, far too long for a holiday read, so I ditched him too.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tart - Feb-2014

I felt confident taking this since so many people seem to have enjoyed it and it is a best seller everywhere but I’m afraid that after the first and highly dramatic opening scene I found her writing so prolix and her sense of drama so long winded that I lost all interest and ditched it fairly soon after I arrived.

Flappers and Philosophers by F. Scott Fitzgerald - Feb-2014

Short stories from the Twenties. He’s bang in form, magnificent writing, just shortly after his huge hit This Side of Paradise. He seems to write through scenes, delicately dropping phrases which somehow activate and bring to life a scene, so that his writing is as poetic as Shakespeare who has the same ability in verse drama. Also these stories seem to exhibit a world weariness and an almost sardonic view of relationships, especially amongst the suburban world of the commuter and New York, a definitely satirical view of how they despise the South and southerners. I associate the bitter sweet world of marital problems, and failed aspirations (Head and Shoulders, The Ice Palace) rather more with Cheever, who of course must find it in these stories. A delight. And of course the hall mark of all great books: you dread it ending.

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift - Feb-2014

In a finely illustrated Windermere Series, which claims to be published in 1912, but which the good people at the Iliad Bookstore suggested might have been later, and the publishers were still pushing the early print run. Either way a fine edition of a fine read. How strange it was all personal satire from his frustrating years at the pinnacle of power in London under Hervey and Co. Although I’m ashamed to say I still can’t tell a Whig from a Tory….

Jonathan Swift by Leo Damrosch - Feb-2014

A rather long biography of Jonathan Swift, an old favourite of mine. As usual, I got fairly nauseated by all the baby talk of the Stella letters, but there is so much else in the book. Perhaps the obverse of satire is sticky sentimentality, for a lot of them seem to have it. And how odd that his great children’s work is a detailed piece of satire on the then Government, which simply falls away for he is such a great story teller. Then of course I just had to read:

Prayer by Philip Kerr - Feb-2014

And this one too I didn’t really enjoy so much as I was expecting. I found it confusing, and I’m still not quite sure what happens at the end. Perhaps it’s the involvement of the God element, and killing through prayer, which leads us almost into Dennis Wheatley territory. It’s set in the Houston FBI. And of course a chap is entitled not to be hobbled by the extraordinary success of the Bernie Gunther novels, but I can’t wait to read another!

A Philosophical Investigation by Philip Kerr - Feb-2014

Having spoken so flatteringly about Philip Kerr I had to put aside this book about murdering a serial killer because it gave me bad dreams. I think that is a good enough warning. I cannot watch Dexter. A female detective from a favourite author, but I’m sorry, I have to look after my own mental health.

The Catcher in The Rye by J.D. Salinger - Jan-2014

PBS did a brilliant TV biography of this reclusive writer, which showed his heart-breaking year of first combat (D Day!) through the long fight up to liberate Paris, the Battle of the Bulge, the slog into Germany, finally ending with the surreal nightmare of liberating Auschwitz, a horrendous year which would be enough to make anyone a recluse. He carried with him bits of this novel, working on it when he had time. We shall see whether the interesting decision to turn his back on the world after the enormous success of his first novel, really pays off, as perhaps ten more of his books are due to be published at regular intervals throughout the next few years. I re-read the Glass stories recently and found them to be quite over rated. I’m afraid I started to re-read this “classic” and dropped it quite quickly. Perhaps Gore Vidal was right? And why did it became for a short time the murderers handbook. Questions for others I’m afraid.

And now a treat for all of us. Penguin are publishing entirely new translations of the Inspector Maigret books of Georges Simenon, at regular intervals, one a month. I already can’t wait for the next having already devoured:

The Late Monsieur Gallet by George Simenon - Jan-2014

A beautiful book of a mysterious death in the Loire. Maigret is sent to investigate. His detective is as relentless and as instantly likeable as any great detective. More appealing than Poirot, more real than Sherlock.  Perhaps I like him because I have been so enjoying Bernie Gunther from Philip Kerr. The more cynical and realistic side of real policing, rather than the Home Counties crimes of Agatha Christie.

Pietr the Latvian by George Simenon - Jan-2014

The first Maigret book.  He seems to have sprung to life fully formed. “…his frame was proletarian. He was a big, bony man. Iron muscles shaped his jacket sleeves and quickly wore through new trousers. He had a way of imposing himself just by standing there. His assertive presence had often irked many of his own colleagues.” Here he chases down the mysterious many presences of Pietr the Latvian, a man composed of a confusing melange of characters and associates.

How it all Began by Penelope Lively - Jan-2014

I haven’t read much of her but I enjoyed this witty book which illustrates chaos theory, how one random event, a mugging on a London street, can lead to disruption and chaos in the lives of so many others who are variously interconnected. A marriage falls apart from a randomly discovered affair, a famous pompous historian attempts to become a TV celeb and a middle aged immigrant discovers love through learning the language. Wise and funny and thoroughly enjoyable.

The Last Lion by William Manchester & Paul Reid - Jan-2014

Finally finished the last third of this last volume of the great Manchester biography, on my I Pad because the book is so heavy. Very exciting read with the finish of World War Two, after six bleak years for an exhausted country, the amazement of D-Day, the final horrendous civilian bombing of London by the V2’s, the first real rocket weapons, the liberation of Paris, the Battle of the Bulge and the invasion of Germany itself, which thanks to the millions Stalin was prepared to sacrifice, was a lot easier than it might have been. Stalin running rings around a dying Roosevelt, and a helpless Churchill, preparing to bring down the Iron Curtain over Europe. This was the world I was born into. It should be required reading. Then of course the Lion won’t leave the stage, and the servicemen vote him out of office. He still returns, and I can remember that election on the radio! A massive man, and a massive biography. The world owes him a lot.

Andrew’s Brain by E. L. Doctorow - Jan-2014

You know, somewhere along the line Doctorow lost it. Oh he can write alright, but too often now I find it too easy to put his book down. I liked the last one (Homer) but this one I found I couldn’t read.

A Ghost at the Door by Michael Dobbs - Jan-2014

Described as the electrifying new Harry Jones thriller I’m afraid I only found his writing so-so, exactly what I felt when I read the books that led to the original magnificent BBC TV series House of Cards. It’s a certain Bond kind of thriller writing which is closer to wish fulfillment than real life. Escapist fiction is probably it. Jeffery Archer does it. And this chap too is apparently a Lord and worked in the House of Commons for Thatcher and Major. Affable enough, but in the end not good enough I’m afraid.