Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Month: August 2012 (page 1 of 3)

Should I do Dunnett?

One author I have yet to read is Dorothy Dunnett.  I own the first few volumes of the Lymond chronicles thanks to my late Mum. She enjoyed them very much and was re-reading them back then. They are renowned for not being an easy read though, requiring perseverance and frequent referring back or to a guide to remind yourself of who’s who and what’s what.

For anyone who’s not heard of the Lymond Chronicles, they are set during the middle of the 16th century, and tell the story of Francis Crawford of Lymond, a Scottish nobleman. They feature a lot of real historical characters too, and the action ranges from Scotland across Europe and the Mediterranean. There are six volumes in the series – each of around 500 pages.

She has a heavyweight cadre of fans too. Before she died in 2001, she set up the Dorothy Dunnett Society; they now host an ‘International Dorothy Dunnett Day’ or IDDD which will be on November 10th this year.

Before I read up a little about her and discovered the existence of the above society, I toyed with the idea of inviting you lot to join me in reading the first in the sequence, The Game of Kings. It has four parts of roughly 190, 90, 90 and 200 pages – the last can be split again into two.  Then if we liked it, we could do the second volume Queens’ Play.  We could take it in leisurely fashion, starting on IDDD (Nov 10th) and regrouping in the New Year to review the first and largest chunk, then the smaller chunks over the next four months to the end of April …

… then I read DGR’s post from 2007 and saw the problems Lynne and her co-readers had with ‘Dunnettmania’.  It all sounds more than a little daunting. Added to that, all the books are out of print in the UK, (although it is in e-book format), and secondhand copies are available – at a price…

So dare I?  Dare we?  Have you done Dunnett?

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To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Game Of Kings
Queens’ Play
The Dorothy Dunnett Companion

Who killed the penguin?

Morgue Drawer Next Door by Jutta Profijt, translated from the German by Erik J Macki.

This unusual crime novel is narrated by Pascha – he used to be a car thief – the best young one in Cologne. Pascha has become a sort of detective, teaming up with Dr Martin Gänsewein, a forensic examiner for the city. They have a bit of a love-hate relationship, Martin is very good at his job, but is a little set in his ways; Pascha can be like an annoying dog, always nipping at his heels. Martin does believe in justice though, and Pascha’s heart is in the right place for an ex-car-thief.

They met in the morgue, when Martin was performing Pascha’s autopsy – yes, Pascha is a ghost! Martin is the only person he can communicate with, which drives him mad – but the two do work together well. The story of their meeting, in which they investigate Pascha’s own murder, is told in the first book of this series Morgue Drawer Four, which I’ve not read, (but would now like to).

In Morgue Drawer Next Door, the unlikely pairing have a new case to investigate. A convent in the posh area of Cologne, has a fire in which one sister perishes, and another is burned to a crisp, but hangs on in ICU. The run-down convent needs a lot of expensive restoration work done and the police are inclined to think that the fire was an accident. One person knows differently however – the nun who died, Sister Marlene. Marlene’s spirit lingers – she has a mission to accomplish before passing on.

When Pascha finds her, he takes her under his wing and vows to help. The only problem is that Martin is a) not supposed to be back at work yet after having been stabbed (in the previous novel), and b) would rather Pascha was not around so he can progress his fledgling romance with the lovely Birgit. Pascha becomes go-between, for Marlene can only communicate with him, and goaded on by the two ghosts, Martin grudgingly gets on the case.

Martin is gloriously grumpy and reluctant to get involved in another case – after all, he got stabbed the previous time. He also wants more downtime from Pascha being in his head. He’s not a policeman, he’s a pathologist, but knowing that the fire was no accident, he can’t leave it. He must find a way of getting the right information on how to solve the crime to the police without them condemning him as a crackpot who talks to ghosts! Luckily for Pascha, Martin’s new girlfriend Birgit is game for helping him out, and has no idea about the ghosts.

This brings me to Pascha and Marlene. Their interplay is so sweet and funny. You can imagine how a middle-aged nun would react to the testosterone-led mindset of a young man, yet there is no-one else for her to turn to to show her the ropes of being a ghost. Sister Marlene soon realises that, and the chalk and cheese pairing are soon whooshing all over the place and manipulating situations to find the proof they need.

Although this all sounds delightful and irreverent, which it is, there is a more serious side to the novel regarding the work of the convent. Amongst other things, they run a night shelter for the homeless, and none of their neighbours like it. The surrounding area has gone up in the world, and the new posh inhabitants don’t want bums on their doorstep, nor do the allotment owners nearby, or right-wing groups. The nuns are under pressure on all sides to shut up and ship out.

The novel is narrated throughout by Pascha, who maintains that he is writing a book, and there are frequent asides about his Editor. Initially, this was slightly irritating, but you can’t help warming to Pascha. There is a lovely bit where he tries to justify his having been a car-thief to Marlene – generating wealth in insurance, people buying new cars etc, and keeping the manufacturers in work.  Marlene too, although pious, is humane and does have a good sense of humour for a nun – something she had needed in her work one surmises.

If you enjoy crime novels with humour and a lot of heart, this may be one for you. Knowledge of the first volume is not necessary to enjoy this one, but I certainly want to read it now I’ve read the second. (8.5/10)

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I received my book to review from Amazon Vine.
To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:

Morgue Drawer Next Door by Jutta Profijt. Amazon Crossing paperback, Jul 2012, 256 pages.
Morgue Drawer Four – the first book in the series.

John Wilson does it again

The highlight of last year’s Promenade Concerts at the Royal Albert Hall for me was the John Wilson Orchestra, who performed a night of Hollywood film music. I was lucky enough to get tickets for my Dad and me, and we enjoyed every minute.

For the Proms this year, Wilson relocated from the West coast to the East – and compiled a divine evening of music celebrating the golden age of the Broadway musical, and I was in place to get tickets as soon as booking opened again, but this time for my Dad, me and Elaine of Random Jottings.

It’s so lovely when you finally meet blogging friends you’ve been corresponding with for ages, it’s always a pleasure and our virutal friendship has now been cemented into a proper one, and I hope we can meet up again soon (certainly for the Proms in 2013). Elaine has also blogged about the evening here.

Before I describe some of the musical highlights, if you like musicals and are in the UK, set your recorders for BBC2 on Saturday 1st when it’ll be broadcast on TV.

The key thing for me, listening to and watching John Wilson’s handpicked orchestra, is that the players really invest themselves in the music – they visibly live, breathe, and enjoy it so much. The sense of fun, drama, melancholy – whatever the song desires, the orchestra embodies it.  Add a superb choir in the Maida Vale singers, and an A-list cast of soloists and you have an evening of musical bliss.

Below is a clip of Anna-Jane Casey and Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane performing the comedy number ‘Seven and a half cents’ from the Pyjama Game, one of two duets they performed together. Wilson’s programme was a lovely blend of the familiar, Tonight from West Side Story (sung beautifully by Sierra Bogguss and Julian Ovenden), and lesser known gems of songs like Joey, Joey, Joey from Loesser’s The Most Happy Fella, and Little Tin Box from Fiorello! – I’d never heard of either musical, but these songs were great, and all six soloists were amazing. The orchestra also did some instrumental numbers – I loved the jazzy ballet Slaughter on Tenth Avenue from On Your Toes.

After the show-stopping closer ‘Mame’ (see Elaine’s post for a clip of that), we were all on our feet to give a standing ovation, and were rewarded with a wonderful encore which featured a row of tap dancers in Top Hats, Spats and Tails. What a night!

“Summer fling, don’t mean a thing, But, oh, oh, the summer nights”

August is a Wicked Month by Edna O’Brien

When I came across this short novel published in 1965, in a bag of books from my late Mum’s, I had to read it straight away for two reasons.  The obvious one is the title – it’s August – when better to read it.  The more compelling one however, was the cover photo on my edition which is of O’Brien herself.  Apart from ‘Read me’, her direct look seems to imply a book that will be chaste and wanton, and definitely hints at darkness. Of course she does know what fate has in store for Ellen, whose story this is.

Ellen, a young Irishwoman, is separated from her husband. As the book opens, he has arrived to take their young son off on a long camping trip. Ellen waves them goodbye, and a few days later she’s no longer missing them, for she has company, and foreplay soon starts…

He was doing what he could. Her arms were singing and her hips wild with little threads of joy running through her like little madnesses. After a year’s solitary confinement.
‘I’m out of practice,’ she said.
‘A girl like you.’ He didn’t believe it. Who would? She was twenty-eight and had skin like a peach and was a free woman with long rangy legs and thick, wild hair, the colour of autumn.

Ellen in appearance sounds rather like Edna herself, doesn’t she?

Her lover is a married man with kids, and another mistress called Miranda. Ellen is under no illusions, but after a night of passion, she does believe they will see each other again…

‘I suppose we’ll ring each other up,’ he said when she got out and stood on the kerb holding the door.
‘I suppose we will,’ she said. Wise now with the soft lustre of love upon her. Her eyes shining. They would meet soon and she would open again. The river of his being flowering into the pasture of her body. She was thinking of that when she got to the restaurant.

O’Brien is brilliant at using the world of nature for describing the joys of sex – while it’s all going well that is!

It’s a slack time at work, Ellen has some leave saved up, and feeling lonely after her encounter, decides to go to the south of France on the spur of the moment, with sun and sex on her mind. Every man she encounters gets the once over as a potential holiday romance. Her instincts aren’t always right though – the handsome Frenchman sitting next to her on the plane was looking forward to getting back to his wife and family in the mountains; the young hotel bell-boy gets the wrong end of the stick and makes a pass. With slightly less of a language barrier, will the Austrian violinist from the hotel orchestra be more the right thing?

‘And this,’ he asked, pointing to where her nipple lay, flat, under the flowered dress.
‘Nipple.’
‘Hot word,’ he said. It took her a minute to understand that he wanted not ordinary words, but erotic ones for wooing Englishwomen.

Soon though, she falls in with the entourage of an actor, and is courted by his manager Sidney, an older man. Hoping that the actor Bobby will eventually notice her, Ellen joins the party and is whirled into another world full of drama.

From this point on the book took on a distinct aura of Hemingway’s rich young things from The Sun also Rises – life is just drink, party, drink, get bored, drink, drive, drink, fight, drink, party, drink – you know the sort of thing; but also the failing relationships of Dick and Nicole Diver from Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night.  There’s a timeless quality to this group’s exploits that echoes those earlier novels, and of course the Mediterranean setting reinforces it too – the sun and blue water acting as a reflecting and magnifying lens. I can’t tell you what happens after that. You’ll need to find that out for yourself – but it’s shocking on several levels.

Having become a mother while very young, Ellen’s release from the confines of single parenthood allow her to revert to her younger self and become a flirt. This, she enjoys at first, but as her holiday continues, it becomes something much darker, even an drug. O’Brien takes us into the mind of Ellen, from the frivolity of her lusty passions to the clarity of maturity that comes from having experienced the cycles of real life, and tinged with Catholic guilt. I really felt for Ellen.

This novel has so much light and shade – being racy and earthy, and full of the joys of love and nature, with some robust language, and then coming down to earth with a bump – becoming matter of fact and direct. I think I’ve found another author from the second half of the twentieth century to add to my list of greats.  Like Beryl Bainbridge and Muriel Spark, O’Brien doesn’t waste words, or pad things out with long descriptive passages.  This novel may not have Beryl’s wicked humour, but it’s packed with romance and darkness and didn’t disappoint. Thanks to my mother too, I’ve got several more O’Briens to read. (9/10)

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I inherited this book. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
August is a Wicked Month by Edna O’Brien. Pub 1965. Paperback, 169 pages.
Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises (Vintage Classics) by Ernest Hemingway
Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald.

Saatchi on Saatchi

My Name is Charles Saatchi and I am an Artoholic: Everything You Need to Know About Art, Ads, Life, God and Other Mysteries and Weren’t Afraid to Ask by Charles Saatchi

The title of this little volume may be a bit of a mouthful, but former ad-man, now the foremost UK collector and exhibitor of modern art, Saatchi is a man unafraid of frankness. This book from art publishers, Phaidon, consists of a whole lot of questions which were put to him by critics, journalists and members of the public. His answers are very candid and direct.

He has two loves in his life – modern art and Nigella (Lawson, the cookery writer); indeed most of the questions are about one or the other couched in many different ways. His answers are wholly consistent, fascinating, and I was really entertained by them too.

To give you a flavour – here is a small selection of the many Q&A …

Q: How do you choose what to buy? Is it about what you like, or will you buy things you don’t like as an investment?

A: The more you like art, the more art you like. So I find it easy to buy lots of it, and seeing art as an investment would take away all the fun.

Q: As a general rule, are art critics all failed artists, and dismissed as such?

A: In the UK we have so many newspapers carrying lengthy art reviews that most shows find themselves getting a mixed bag of responses, and no one critic matters that much, whatever their credentials. My favourite, Brian Sewell, has never written a favourable word about any show I’ve done in 20 years, but dismisses them with such grandeur and style, it’s almost flattering to be duffed up by him. The days when critics could create an art movement by declaring the birth of ‘Abstract Expressionism’, Clement-Greenberg-style, are firmly over. By the way, there is no such thing as a failed artist.

Q: What’s Nigella’s cooking really like?

A: I’m sure it’s fantastic, but a bit wasted on me. I like toast with Dairylea, followed by Weetabix for supper. It drives her to distraction, frankly, particularly as she gets the blame for my new fat look. But the children love her cooking, and our friends seem to look forward to it.

Q: Did For the Love of God, Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull, symbolise the emptiness of modern art – more about money than message?

A: My dear, the money is the message.

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I bought this book. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
My Name is Charles Saatchi and I am an Artoholic by Charles Saatchi, Pub 2009, Phaidon books, 176 pages.

Mid-book cull – pause for a giggle or three…

As you may have surmised, I’m in the throes of having a major book cull. I gave seven bags full to my daughter’s school fête back in June, and have been working my way through the other piles, double-stacked shelves and bags over the past weeks.  I’ve sorted out some worth selling via various routes (including the tab above), loads to car boot or try other methods, and some will go to the charity shop. There are over 200 to go now, lots still to come – I may make a list.

Apart from my own book mountains – there were a couple of unsorted bags-full from my late Mum’s still to deal with, and I’m having fun going through them…

Firstly, I’ve allowed myself to be distracted from the heavyweight pleasures of John Saturnall’s Feast by a short Edna O’Brien novel – the first of hers I’ve read, but it seemed appropriate for the time of year… August is a Wicked Month is a 1965 novel in which a twenty-something divorcée looks for love while her young son is on holiday with his father. A couple of chapters in and it’s very racy, and I’m sure that 50 shades author E L James would never describe a certain something as like a ‘foxglove‘ – ‘high and purple‘! (*blushes*). Fun though so far, ahem!

My late Mum often stuck a Post-it note with comments on book covers, or cut out a review and stuck it inside after reading a book. Delving in a bag I came to a book called Pushkin’s Button by Serena Vitale.  Inside was a clipping from the Literary Review of another book about Pushkin, with her note on top – this sounds better-written than this book.  Further down the bag was the book in question – Pushkin by T J Binyon – with a Post-It on the cover saying ‘Better than Pushkin’s Button’. Don’t think I’ll read them though.

Lastly – a nice coincidence…  Today Simon T posted about a book he abandoned after just 1.5 pages. That was Gone to Earth by Mary Webb. Funnily enough, I found a very tatty ex-library copy of it amongst my Mum’s books – and I binned it.  Seems I had the right instinct about it!

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To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk
August is a Wicked Month by Edna O’Brien
Pushkin’s Button by Serena Vitale
Pushkin by T J Binyon
Gone To Earth (Virago Modern Classics) by Mary Webb

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