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gertrude

October 2018

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reading

August Books



This seems to have been a long month. I've already written about several of these books.
Cold Cream, by Ferdinand Mount, has to be one of the best autobiographies I’ve ever read in my life, such a pleasure I could hardly put it down. It doesn't seems fair that one man should have met so many interesting people in his life but then, it’s possible to lead a fascinating life and write a very dull book about it. Mr Mount had the advantage of being half a Pakenham, so was provided with a large family network including ‘Uncle Tony’: Anthony Powell. There’s his parents’ friends (a lively crowd), boys met at prep school and Eton who went on to be famous, then Oxford and Fleet Street. To crown everything, he became head of the Policy Unit at No.10 working closely with Margaret Thatcher. I found the political chapters the least interesting, preferring the Dance to the Music of Time-style (Uncle Tony again) meeting of old acquaintances throughout the book; Ferdy as a real life Nick.

Mr Mount follows Mark Twain’s advice to start an autobiography where you please and wander about at will. The first section of the book is written entirely in the present tense. The crucial event in it, the death of his mother, is something the reader knows will come; the episodic rather than chronological narrative postpones the actual event, which makes it all the more poignant when it happens. Margaret Thatcher apparently hired him because ‘you are such a wordsmith’, making it sound, according to the author, about on a par with being a dental technician. He certainly can write and I may look out for more of his books.


Force of Nature, Sue Cook *L
Death in Cyprus, M M Kaye
I didn’t like this one as much as Death in Kashmir. Too many idle rich people, too improbable a plot.
Mrs P’s Journey, The remarkable story of the woman who created the A – Z map, Sarah Hartley. I thought this book, the story of Phyllis Pearsall would be so interesting. Her parents, Jewish-Hungarian/Italian-Irish, seemed like characters in a novel by Linda Grant. Then my heart sank as I realised it was yet another fictionalised biography. More than half way through the book we still hadn’t got to the A – Z and Phyllis was appearing more and more dislikeable. I realised that reading the wretched book was actually making me miserable and I abandoned it.
Winter Ground, Catriona McPherson *L.
Highland Fling, Nancy Mitford *L
The Spy Game, Georgina Harding *L
Library books unfinished:
Poppyland, Raffaella Barker
Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting, Penelope Mortimer
The Sea Lady, Margaret Drabble

Rose Cottage, Mary Stewart
Very agreeable light reading.
Nancy Mitford Letters edited by Charlotte Mosley
All the Nice Girls, Joan Bakewell
Gran-Nannie, Noel Streatfeild.
One of her last books and oh dear, it’s dreadful, one for the completists.



Another toff book! Past Imperfect is one of those Great Expectations/Brideshead-y books in which the narrator looks back on his youth with the self-knowledge of middle age. It’s set in the London season of 1968 (yes, there really was one!) and its aftermath. What interested me about Julian Fellowes’ book is that unlike Ferdinand Mount he is my generation, a baby boomer. In spite of this, the only point of contact I can find between the life he led back then and my own is that we must have listened to some of the same music. I say ‘he’ because although the narrator remains anonymous we can I think assume that some of his opinions on the modern world are those of the author. …that decade has been hijacked by the voice of the Liberal Tyranny. Theirs is the Woodstock version of the period… and so on. I find the ‘in those days we’ irritating because of the tiny class of people it refers to.

The starting point for the book is that a former friend of the narrator, who has made a great deal of money, is dying and wishes to find his heir. Mr Fallguy is hired to trace him/her. In the course of his investigations he meets people he hasn’t seen for forty years and is forced to face events in their joint past he would rather forget. What a crew! I enjoyed the book more as it went on; it’s well written (if oversprinkled with commas) and I genuinely wanted to find out what happened.

Cold Cream, Ferdinand Mount *L
Death in Zanzibar, M M Kaye
These books were all retitled when they were reissued after the success of The Far Pavilions. This one should have been called ‘Death All Over the Place’ because the murders come thick and fast and not all in Zanzibar. It's good.
A Thatched Roof, Beverley Nichols. Ooh, he is awful! But I like him.

Comments

I take it you didn't like the Penelope Mortimer then?
Too depressing. I felt I'd had enough of unhappy women.
Must look out for the Ferdinand Mount - sounds interesting.
And yay for Beverley Nichols - I love his books.
You have to marvel at the way BN could burble on for ever all about nothing and at the rather shocking deceptions he practised on the public. But he's so funny!
And The Tree That Sat Down was one of my favourite books when I was a child - do you know it?
I've read one of those three but not when I was a child, so didn't really get the magic.
I know what you mean - I read the other two as an adult and was disappointed but I do love TTTSD.
I read Mrs. P's Journey ages ago and felt about it just as you did. It's one of the few books I didn't want to keep.
I'm off to put Cold Cream on my wishlist, however!
Glad we agree! My copy is in the charity bag, going back to the shop it came from.

My library had Cold Cream: I pounced.
A very nice list! I've read BN's gardening books and love them.

Along the same lines as 'Rose Cottage' is Mary Stewart's 'Thornyhold', which I think is even a bit better.
We really are kindred spirits!