I get quite miserable when I don’t have a good book or three on the go, and August was a miserable month for books. Here’s the list:
Mystery Mine, Malcolm Saville
Sea Witch Comes Home, Malcolm Saville
The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection, Alexander McCall Smith
The Two Mrs Abbotts , D E Stevenson
Flowers on the Grass , Monica Dickens
Deck with Flowers , Elizabeth Cadell
Lucretia and the Kroons, Victor LaValle
I Carried the Horn, Christine Pullein-Thompson
Various Pets Alive and Dead, Marina Lewycka
Painter of Silence, Georgina Harding
The Kashmir Shawl, Rosie Thomas
The Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight, Elizabeth von Arnim
Book of the Month was definitely Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding. I loved her book The Spy Game so I was looking forward to this one and it didn’t disappoint. It’s the story of Augustin, or Tinu, a deaf mute who can express himself only through drawing. In his Romanian village he’s accepted, even at the manor house, where Safta understands him. Rural life in this remote place is brilliantly described; the village is so backward the story could be set in the nineteenth century rather than the 1930s. But then comes war and the eventual Communist takeover, so that everything changes. Safta is no longer the daughter of the manor but gets by as a nurse. Her life remains linked to Tinu’s and she eventually finds a future for him. Hauntingly evocative of another world. The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection is more of the same from Alexander McCall Smith, which is just what we want.
Children’s books last month.
I re-read the Savilles for review, so will say nothing about them here. I Carried the Horn by Christine Pullein-Thompson is yet another famous pony book I’d never read. Unfortunately, it’s one of the most boring books ever. It’s part of a trilogy about a group of teenagers who run their own hunt. They are frighteningly competent and mind-numbingly technical. It may be correct hunting speak always to omit the definite article when referring to hounds (I know it is) but page after page of hounds crying, hounds running etc. is very wearing indeed. I much prefer the Jill’s Gymkhana kind of book, where children struggle to get a pony and have to learn everything from scratch. Then there was Lucretia and the Kroons, part of a new series by Victor LaValle. It came from NetGalley (You have been pre-selected to read …!) and of course I should have reviewed it but I disliked it so much I shan’t be able to. It wasn’t made quite clear whether this book is intended for children but I wouldn’t let a child near it, as the story is one long nightmare. Lucretia has a friend who is dying and when she disappears, gets the idea that she has been taken by the Kroons, who live in the top storey of their apartment block. These are mutant creatures, once human, who lead Loosie and her friend through a terrifying alternative version of the neighbourhood. Right at the end, we learn that Loosie later spends time in an asylum, so maybe none of it happened at all? I hope not.
Various Pets Alive and Dead is the first book by Marina Lewycka I’ve read since A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, which I found very funny. This latest novel is about baby boomers and their children. There are flashbacks to the days of communal living and high ideals. Why do writers about the sixties always go on as if everybody lived that way? It couldn’t be less true. Most of the book is about brilliant mathematician Serge, who daren’t tell his parents that rather than finishing his PhD at Cambridge, he’s making money in the City. Lewycka has done a huge amount of research into finance and the causes and consequences of the crash but it’s hard to see what the message is, if any. Messages of a different kind in The Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight by Elizabeth von Arnim. This was recommended by Geranium Cat and I swiftly downloaded it free to the Kindle. Priscilla lives a life of privilege and luxury in a Ruritanian fiefdom. Educated by her clever tutor, Fritzing, she becomes bored with her life and future and resolves to seek the simple life in an English cottage. She and Fritzi flee and establish themselves in Somerset, with unpredictable consequences for all. Throughout the book, the author keeps up an arch commentary on Priscilla’s behaviour and it’s rather disappointing that instead of a fairy tale ending, von Arnim concludes that everyone should stay in their proper place. This is coincidentally the title of my current O Douglas bedtime re-read.
The huge disappointment of the month was The Kashmir Shawl. A lovely fat book, well reviewed; I looked forward to reading it over the dreary bank holiday weekend. Instead I found myself bogged down and bored. I’ve been known to read a 500 page book in a day if it’s good enough, but this one took me days to read and left me dissatisfied. In complete contrast, I then read Weatherley Parade by Richmal Crompton in a single evening. I’m now struggling with Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways and enjoying Joy and Josephine by Monica Dickens. Yes, Macfarlane fans, I acknowledge the book’s merits but shall still have some hard things to say about it by and by.