When I worked in libraries I was quite snobbish about which sort of authors I read. Among those I would not have touched with a bargepole were the writers of Mills & Boon romances, Catherine Cookson, Barbara Cartland, the Regency romances of Georgette Heyer and the novels of Anya Seton. I have just read my first one from that list of ‘banned books’ – Anya Seton’s ‘Avalon’. I wouldn’t say it was brilliant but I was surprised to find I enjoyed it and that it contained more historical detail than I had anticipated. I had thought to find a slushy romance set in some vaguely historical context. In fact it was not that slushy and the tenth century setting ranged across France, England, Iceland, Greenland and the coast of North America. I may well read another of hers sometime.
Among my postcard swapping acquaintances there are perhaps half a dozen who I have come to know quite well and who I now count as friends. One of these is Dai Li, a Chinese student, from whom I am learning a lot about China and Chinese culture (as well as receiving some wonderful postcards and stamps). On one card she mentioned Cao Xueqin’s ‘The Dream of the Red Chamber’ and asked if I had read it. I hadn’t, so I put it on my list for reading at date. When it arrived from Amazon it was only 80 pages (being just part of a larger work) so I read it straight away. I didn’t really understand it or why it should be such a major part of Chinese literary heritage. I obviously have a lot more to learn about China before its literature becomes essential reading for me.
When I need to fall back on an old favourite what better than to open a Josephine Tey novel? Recently I re-read ‘To Love and Be Wise’. Knowing the ending didn’t spoil it, in fact, it enabled me to concentrate even more on the skill of the storyteller. Her style and her ability to create bizarre yet credible characters are highly unusual. I was amused to find that one of her characters quoted Sellars & Yeatman’s 1066 and All That’ by referring to a Bad Thing (capital B, capital T). GB and I often do this.
My one and only complaint about the book lies on the back page where Tey uses the word ‘covenances’ [agreements]when she means ‘conventions’ [sets of agreed, stipulated, or generally accepted standards].
A quote or two –
“Then the vicar arrived. No one had remembered that he was coming to dinner. He was that kind of man….”
“Lack of common sense is responsible for practically every ill in life. Everything from wars to not moving up the bus.”
“Perhaps the old sating is true and it is not possible to love and be wise. When you are as devoted to anyone as Serge is to Toby Tullis, I expect you ease to be sane about the matter.”
Back to cosy crime with Alanna Knight’s ‘The Seal King Mystery’. In 1861 constable Faro heads back to his Orkney home, ostensibly on holiday. The Lammastide legend of the Seal King coming ashore to claim a human bride appears to become a reality and Faro himself is the chief suspect in the girl’s disappearance. A fun read. Faro may be a detective but he can’t work out the behaviour of women –
“Meeting Inga again had raised doubts that he knew anything at all about women, to say nothing of their extraordinary behaviour… You knew where you were with men, he thought, by comparison. They seemed uncomplicated, straightforward creatures.
“But there was an old saying that in every relationship ‘there is one who kisses and one who is kissed’. He had to confess that he fell into the latter category.”
“Love Lies Bleeding” by Edmund Crispin (1948) is a classic tongue-in-cheek whodunit. Castrevenford school invites English professor and amateur sleuth Gervase Fen to present the prizes at Speech Day. However the night before, strange events leave two staff members dead. The Headmaster calls on Professor Fen to investigate. Louis on Goodreads rated it 5 of 5 stars and commented "Crispin's the writer who slipped more polysyllables into the whodunnit genre than any other. He occasionally runs so beautifully away with the language that it feels as though either he'd really rather not be writing crime novels, or he's forgotten that he is. For those who care, he delivers slippier & more satisfying plots than you've a right to demand, and for those who don't, he leaves you feeling you've had the kind of wonderful conversation you were worried you'd never have."
“Fen… wandered off alone into the other rooms of the cottage. Their squalor, being indescribable, will not be described.”
”The air was faintly scented with chypre – on perceiving which, Stagge , whom a puritan up-bringing had led to associate olfactory delights of a non-culinary nature with ungodliness, frowned slightly. “
“It is well known to all motorists that for some inscrutable reason the most gigantic lorries in the manufacturers’ catalogues are invariably to be met with at the most impassable points of the most exiguous lanes, at the unlikeliest hours of the day and night.”
I have recently re-read Scipio by Ross Leckie.
Quoting the inscription on one of his grandfathers’ tombs, he read – “I increased the merit of my race by my upright standards, I begat children, I followed the exploits of my ancestors so that they rejoiced I had been born to them. Honour ennobled my stock.”
“’The wettest thing is water,’ says Xenophanes,’the brightest thing is light, the hottest thing is fore, the softest is air. But the hardest is to know yourself.’”
I then read (or is it re-read?) Leckie’s “Carthage”.
There are lots more books I have read since I last posted about books but that is more than enough for now.