A lot of people seem to have had what they call a bad reading month, by which they mean they haven’t read much. We’re not all in some Stakhanovite competition to see who can read the most books. One might read a lot of bad books or just one superlative one; which is more worthwhile? (rhetorical question). I only managed half a dozen but the first was very good indeed.
Miracles of Life by J G Ballard. Lent to me by huskyteer and finished within twenty four hours. Ballard is not really my kind of writer but I loved Empire of the Sun. It still bugs me that Hotel du Lac won the Booker prize in 1984 when Ballard’s wonderful novel was on the shortlist. Ballard was brought up in Shanghai, the privileged child of a prosperous expat. community surrounded by the appalling filth and poverty of the native Chinese. He spent two and a half years in a Japanese internment camp then after the war travelled to a depressing, defeated-seeming England, where he felt like an alien. These events help to explain how in spite of a public school education and Cambridge, despite living in the same suburban house for fifty years, he has managed to remain an outsider in his head. This autobiography is beautifully written and reads like a novel. Highly recommended.
An Old-Fashioned Arrangement, Susie Vereker. This is very entertaining light fiction. A woman is left on her own with no visible means of supporting herself and her son; the possible solution poses a moral dilemma with some surprising later twists. The setting, Geneva, adds to the charm.
Bunkle Scents a Clue, M Pardoe. I’ve already written about this one.
The Princess Diaries, Seventh Heaven, Meg Cabot. I’m behind the times here, as the tenth book in the series is in the shops now. I do like these books, mainly because the language is amusing (to me) and grandmere's (sic) behaviour so rivetingly dreadful. She is scandalously (to Mia) politically incorrect, as in her views on New York's 'fascist' anti-smoking laws. The princess joke is wearing thin, though, and there seems less plot with each book.
Mrs Malory and a Time to Die, Hazel Holt. My reliable bedtime friend. I’m reading these books as I get hold of them, completely out of order, so in this one Mrs M is watching her grandaughter’s riding lessons, while in the one I’ve just started the child is not even a twinkle in her future daddy's eye. I find Mrs Malory's social round of charitable work, shopping and lunches out very soothing.
La’s Orchestra Saves the World*, Alexander McCall Smith. This is set mainly during the Second World War, when La, living in Suffolk, starts an orchestra to bring people together and defy Hitler. The book is really about the redemptive power of music but this theme is secondary to the story of La and that’s where the problem lies. To love this book you have to love La, but she never really comes alive. For instance, on page 36 we have, ‘ Valerie laughed. La had always entertained her, with her dry sense of humour. She loved her.’ Unfortunately, there’s not a single example in the book of this alleged sense of humour. La is obviously a good person but her other attractions are not as clear to the reader as they are to the book's characters. This is telling, not showing. Then there’s the stylistic tricks the author employs, which work very well in the Botswana books but less well here. I’ve written about this before and I mean these kinds of sentences: ‘people did such and such. That was what they did.’ Towards the end of the book La goes on in this way for at least a page and it is irritating. I read the book quickly, enjoyed reading it, but felt it didn’t come off. Nice cover.