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gertrude

December 2017

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reading

New books

The State of Grace, Rachael Lucas
A Very English Scandal, John Preston
Sidney Chambers and the Persistence of Love, James Runcie
I read all three courtesy of the publishers and NetGalley.



‘Sometimes I feel like everyone else was handed a copy of the rules for life and mine got lost.’ The words of the narrator, fifteen-year-old Grace, who has Asperger’s. The syndrome makes life difficult for Grace, her mother (father is away a lot) and her teachers. What I liked about this book and hope younger readers will like too, is that it’s so not an issues book about Asperger’s. Grace’s problems with school (nasty girls), boys (and a first kiss), home when things start to change and her ‘perfect’ sister gets into trouble, could be those of any teenager. Grace certainly does some silly things and it’s easy to see how people could get angry with her. Again, this could be any teenager. What I liked best about The State of Grace is that it’s funny. It’s published by Macmillan Children’s Books



A Very English Scandal, John Preston

This book is subtitled ‘Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment’. It deals with events leading up to, during and after the trial of Jeremy Thorpe, leader of the Liberal party, on a charge of conspiracy to murder Norman Scott. I was very disappointed in it at first, because I’d been expecting a different type of book, something politically analytical. I changed my mind as the book became a galloping page-turner showing that truth really can be stranger than fiction.

I’m old enough to remember Thorpe as a glamorous figure: attractive, dapper (oh, those velvet-collared coats!) and very funny. From the first hint of scandal in Private Eye, when Auberon Waugh wrote about the mysterious shooting of a dog called Rinka, I followed the story avidly. John Preston gives an almost blow by blow account of events, relying very heavily on the testimony of Peter Bessell as written in a privately published memoir. I felt that Preston was too generous to Norman Scott but Scott, unlike Thorpe, is still alive and spoke to the author. The account of the trial is riveting, the verdict as astonishing today as it was then. Peter Cook’s Biased Judge sketch is amazingly close to the judge's actual summing up.
It’s unlikely that the full facts of the case will ever be known but John Preston has written a thorough account of the scandal as he has been able to piece it together.

A Very English Scandal is published by Penguin.

Sidney Chambers and the Persistence of Love, James Runcie



This is the sixth Grantchester Mystery and I’ve read them all. In this latest book we’ve reached the 1970s. Sidney is now in his fifties and an archdeacon, still trying to balance the priestly life, family duties and his irresistible need to solve mysteries with his friend Geordie. The stories here are more of the same: Amanda in trouble again, a priceless manuscript stolen from a Cambridge college. No horrid murders this time but a dreadful shock which I can’t possibly reveal because it would be such a spoiler.

The book ends on something of a cliffhanger: Sidney offered a big promotion in the Church and resolving to give up his investigations. But can he? If James Runcie chose to end the series right here it would be a suitable place to do it. If he moves on into the 1980s, we’ll be in a period during which his own father was Archbishop of Canterbury. How will he deal with that? I’ve enjoyed all the books, especially for the religious and philosophical discussions which go on between characters and in Sidney’s head. Runcie himself has described the books as ‘moral fables’, which seems just right to me. He has also written that the writing is infused with ‘a liberal Anglican sensibility that understands ambiguity, seeks understanding and embraces tolerance.’ This is very obvious in the books but not, unfortunately, in the TV series, however enjoyable it is.

Sidney Chambers and the Persistence of Love will be published by Bloomsbury on 4th May.

Comments

Oh, I've been excited about the new Sidney Chambers book for months! I find the "liberal Anglican sensibility" to be very moving and having an especial application in these difficult times. I hooked my best friend on the series last year, and we've had many wonderful discussions about it.
Not long to wait!

I agree with what you say. It's great that you can share your enjoyment with a friend.
I haven't read any of the Grantchester books but I think that maybe I should :)
I like the way the series moves through the decades. There are a few rather obvious pointers that you feel Runcie must have looked up e.g. popular songs of the time, but nothing to irritate. If only some other writers would check facts before they publish!

I know some people have been disappointed to find that each book is a set of stories rather than a novel. I'd strongly recommend starting with book one and working through.

Big plus for you: set in Cambridge and Ely :-)
Thanks for the first book tip. Yes, a big plus is the location :)
I finally caught up with Grantchester over Christmas, and enjoyed it a lot. I tried reading the first book, though, and couldn't get into it. I'll try again. It'd be interesting to see Sidney in the 1980s given Runcie would have the most amazing insights into what was going on. :)
The TV series is good, just completely different from the books. Also, on TV I find Geordie much more attractive than Sidney! I suppose the books may take getting into; you need to enjoy that type of reflective narrative, which in this case I do.

I rather hope the series does go into the 1980s.
Ohh, I *definitely* find Sidney attractive in the TV series. At least you and I won't fight over them should we ever meet them in the pub. ;)
Ha ha!