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gertrude

November 2017

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reading

November books

stageblood

Speaking from Among the Bones, Alan Bradley
The Dead in Their Vaulted Aches , Alan Bradley
Life After Life , Kate Atkinson
Valley of the Shadow, Carola Dunn
Kipling, 100 Poems Old and New, ed. Thomas Pinney.
Queen Camilla, Sue Townsend
Object Lessons, Anna Quindlen
The Old-Girl Network, Catherine Alliott 1994
Stage Blood, Michael Blakemore

Valley of the Shadow is the third Cornish Mystery, which unfortunately I didn’t enjoy as much as the first. I shall go on reading the series, though, as I really like the heroine. Kipling, 100 Poems Old and New, ed. Thomas Pinney and published by The Cambridge University Press. I’ve received this from NetGalley and will review it when I’ve finished reading all 100 poems!

Object Lessons was thrust into my hands by a friend, who said she enjoyed each of Anna Quindlen’s books more than the last. As it came with a recommendation from Anne Tyler, I was encouraged to dive in. The book is set in the suburbs of New York at an unspecified time which is obviously the early sixties. It’s strange that although living so near to the city, the family seem as isolated as if they were living in the mid-west. Maggie Scanlan lives with her parents and brothers. Her mother’s family background is Italian, her father’s Irish, and the two communities do not mix well. Old John Scanlan, family patriarch and bully, has never been reconciled to the marriage but favours Maggie. He is very rich and controls all his children by making them beholden to him. In the summer in which he has a stroke and her parents’ marriage seems troubled, Maggie starts to grow up. An engaging story, full of well observed detail.

I picked up The Old-Girl Network because I’d enjoyed My Husband Next Door. This book is much earlier (1994) and I didn’t like it as much It’s highly entertaining if you can stand an airhead heroine who lies compulsively to get herself out of awkward situations (of which there are many) and often gets drunk. She’s rather like Bridget Jones, I suppose, but one feels more sympathy for Bridget. Things I noticed, in a book set in the nineties: what a lot of smoking goes on and the lack of mobile phones. In a later book everyone would have been phoning and texting like mad but here, when a real emergency occurs, there’s just a carphone. A lot of muddle but true love prevails, of course.

Queen Camilla was a real treat. It’s a sequel to The Queen and I, set thirteen years later. The royal family still lives in Hell Close. Charles and Camilla are married, as are Princess Anne and Spiggy. The Prime Minister, Jack Barker, is going mad and there’s a possibility that the monarchy will be restored. But who will be on the throne? This book seems to have been influenced by Private Eye and The Hundred and One Dalmatians. Conversations between Charles and Camilla bear an uncanny resemblance to those in Dame Sylvie Krin’s immortal works La Dame aux Camillas and Heir of Sorrows. All the dogs understand every word the humans say, speak to each other and organise resistance to the government’s new anti-dog laws by sending messages from beacon to beacon.

Who could resist this?
‘Charles was reading aloud to Camilla from Macbeth … He had tried to introduce his first wife to Shakespeare by performing Richard III to her, but she had ruined his concentration by flipping through Cosmopolitan and yawning.
Camilla, on the other hand, was giving every appearance of being thrilled by Macbeth and his performance; commenting occasionally on the action, saying, ‘How horrid!’ when Macduff’s children were killed, and, ‘Mad cow!’ when Lady Macbeth/Charles was screeching during the hand-washing scene.’

Sue Townsend is brilliant.

Stage Blood is subtitled Five tempestuous years in the early life of the National Theatre. The title makes the book sound like a murder mystery and indeed, the book could as well have been called A Knife in the Back or Final Curtain. It begins in 1971, when Michael Blakemore was made an Assistant Director at the National. These were the years of transition, when the new theatre on the South Bank was taking forever to build and Olivier’s dream of an actors’ company was about to pass. There are detailed descriptions of Blakemore’s own productions, like Long Day’s Journey Into Night, which give a brilliant insight into the transformation of a play from text to stage. The jealousy, bitchiness and politics behind the scenes are also revealed, as in the great betrayal, as Blakemore and others saw it, when Peter Hall was appointed the new director. Olivier was kept out of the loop, a massive insult which he took graciously but naturally felt hurt by. No doubt I’ll read more about that when I get my mitts on the Ziegler biography. Major players (ha ha) of the time are brought vividly before us: wily director John Dexter, brilliant Kenneth Tynan, drunken Anthony Hopkins and of course, ‘Larry’ himself, who inspired love and exasperation in equal measure. Peter Hall comes in for criticism which is pretty moderate considering the provocation. Very well written, full of interest, highly recommended to anyone interested in the theatre.

Comments

Catherine Alliott is definitely an author who has improved and matured over time. I loved The Secret Life Of Evie Hamilton.
That must be true. I'll look out for Evie Hamilton.