Friday, 28 August 2009

Holiday assignment

I have seen better days. The smallest Trefusis, Hunca Munca, finding me curled in a ball on her sofa this morning in my clothes from the night before (these ones, detail lovers. Not ideal nightwear) stared appraisingly at me for a minute, took out her dummy and asked "What ARE you?". It was a fair question. I'm not sure. A mess? A cautionary tale, the moral of which appears to have been mislaid? 79.8% wine and messed up liver enzymes?

Moreover, Confessional is off because our confessor has dug a hole at the bottom of the garden and is refusing to come out. Let's do something different.

Tell me about one book you've read this summer. It can be your summer holiday book report, and as with all holiday assignments, it should be done badly, at the last minute, and in a rush. You may make it up if you can't remember, or spent your holiday doing livelier things.

I am going to tell you about Harry Revised by Mark Sarvas, that I bought on a whim in WHSmiths in Paris on the basis of the synopsis and reviews on the back.

Very briefly, the story is this:

Harry is an aimless, inept Bel Air radiologist whose wife has just died, a fact that leaves him practically unravelling but seemingly emotionally detatched. He falls in love with a waitress, and embarks on a programme of reinventing himself as a masterly, secretive philanthropist, inspired by Alexandre Dumas's Count of Monte Cristo. Disasters heap upon him as he pursues his scheme and the story spools back to explain the web of ineffectual, weak deceits that defined his life with, and indirectly led to the death of Anna, his wife.

From the cover description, I thought it might be a bit blokey. Not blokey in a moronic Tony Parsons way, but more in a young American male novelist way; a bit slick and technical but emotionally empty. My god, but it isn't. It's got wonderful comic timing and plotting, and made me laugh out loud, repeatedly. I don't often laugh out loud at books and I did here, more than once. At the same time, it's a kind, affectionate book, which is odd for something with such a strong farcical element. The characterisation is very humane; Harry himself is hapless but eminently likeable and the relationship with Anna is painfully acutely described. It has a lot to say but with a wonderfully light touch about the bizarre process of grieving and the strange accommodations of marriage. Yet at the same time the plot gallops along in a hugely compelling way and Harry's self-induced catastrophes are hideously funny and relentless.

Hmm. I don't think book reviews are my forte, but fuck it, I have a bizarre tingling in my right hand and all my internal organs are crying like a greek chorus of reproachful viscera. This will have to do. Er, summary time now?

It's great. I recommend. I'll send my copy to whoever gives me the best book report in the comments.


screamish said...

"Une femme en marche" Catherine Rey.

have only read the first three chapters. When you're as exhausted as i am you go to bed at night and search for your page. OK so you found it? Good! now go back a couple of pages to remind yourself what had been happening before that point.


Result: every night you read your book you actually go BACKWARDS.

Persephone said...

In the grand tradition of book reports, I am cheating. This is a review of one of the books I read this summer, but I am copying-and-pasting my review from

Underfoot in Show Business by Helene Hanff.

"This is actually Helene Hanff's first book, published in 1961, a few years before she enchanted millions with her 84, Charing Cross Road. It's an episodic account of her years as a struggling playwright on Broadway, leading to how she ended up writing for television, and it overlaps (and never mentions) the period of her famous correspondence with Frank Doel and his staff at the London antiquarian book shop. We do meet a couple of friends who figure in 84, most significantly the irrepressible and incorrigible Maxine Stuart, a flame-haired actress who can't hold a tune (and yes, that is important).

"I think my favourite chapter covers the how and why of being an 'outside reader' which includes everything you need to know about The Lord of the Rings (warning: Hanff is not a fan). However, I recommend your reading it for yourself to find your favourite bits. A book you can put down and pick up again quite comfortably."

If this is unacceptable, I can slap together a really slapdash review of either Home (Julie Andrews' memoir) or The Senator's Wife by Sue Miller (one of her best) or The Private Patient by PD James (not one of her best).

Provincial Lady said...

I picked up 'Crime and Punishment', read page one, and gave up - I read the last Harry Potter (for the seventh time) instead. I now own a second copy of C&P in Penguin 'design your own cover' style, and have neither designed, decorated nor read it still.

citycas said...

Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell. Actually this was an Easter book, sut that still qualifies as a holiday assignment. An occassionally very funny and nicely paced thriller. Worth the read for the spectaularly gruesome, if completely ridiculous self mutilation toward the end. I don't think I have ever before shut my eyes at a book before.

Mwa said...

"Dirty Havana Trilogy" by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez.

A guy named Pedro Juan is truly fucked up and living in Cuba and some other places. He has a lot of sex. He tries every job in the world to get by. It's quite philosophical. I liked it a lot.

Kate said...

read 2 books this summer (one not done yet - guess which)

1. julie and julia - stolen from a friend to read on an airplane. ended up hiding behind it crying since i thought the plane was going down. julie seemed both nice and funny i still wanted to smack her a bit and tell her to shut it. i bet it was better as a blog.

2. my lady scandalous: the amazing life and outrageous times of Grace Dalrymple Elliot, royal courtesan. bought for 3 bucks at the national gallery in ottawa. both tedious and interesting. secretly wish it was a little juicier but it's not historical fiction, so i guess that's not possible.

kathycastro said...

In celebration of my summer of shallowness, frivolity and intellectual apathy, I have read about a dozen books in the past two months, every one fluff of the lowest order and undeserving of a review. I have exhausted my ready supply of the poppiest of pop fiction and fear I am soon to have to dip into the actual worthy books just staring at me balefully from my shelf: Paddy's Ashodown's autobiography, Richard Russo's That Old Cape Magic, Hillary Jordan's Mudbound, Richard Price's Lush Life. Even Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife has been too taxing to tackle.

So, mindful that I need to fulfill the assignment, I shall review the fluffiest of the fluffyness I have read (note, this is a tight race, as the list includes masterpieces such as John Grisham's The Appeal and Candace Bushnell's Lipstick Jungle). To you, dear Waffle, I give "Lovehampton" by Sherri Rifkin. It is the tale of a thirty-something newly single TV promo producer (think the wheelchair dancers for the Beeb) who shares a Hamptons summer house for the season with seven strangers. Revel in makeovers, female rivalry, housemate nookie, socialite shenanigans, embarrassing drunken snogging, conversations inconveniently overhead, you know the type. I must say, I absolutely LOVED it and devoured it in under 24 hours. It had just the kind of glamorous shallowosity I am seeking this summer, and I was rooting for the heroine to have her happy ending at the turn of every page. It is not obviously badly written (I'm struggling here), it is fun, uplifting, and easy to read. When one is wallowing in a morass of male-initiated bullshit, it practically warms the heart.

That being said, I'm sure it has no more than 2 stars on Amazon.

kathycastro said...

Ha! I don't give my shallowness enough credit: 4.5 Amazon stars!

Laura said...

This summer I have read The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I bought this book because I wanted to read it before watching the film so I could pick holes in the film (because I don't really like watching films).

Now I have read it I don't really want to see the film because the characters don't look like I've pictured them. I think this is a story that really runs through your head as you read it.

So, I enjoyed the book and found the premise of a time travelling husband an interesting one. The characters had depth tho them although I didn't particularly like Clare, the wife. I couldn't really understand how someone could spend their whole life waiting. Another problem for me was that they just seemed to spend their whole lives shagging (at one point discussing if it was too much because she was a bit sore).

I would recommend this book because while fairly tragic it was highly original and had an undercurrent of humour running through it.

Juci said...

The best novel I've read this year was Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson, hands down. It has two timelines, three very likeable protagonists, lots of stuff about the 2nd WW and maths and computing and cryptography and even some sex, and it is very, very funny and absolutely engaging, even though it sounds like a nerdy book. I recommend wholeheartedly.

Anonymous said...

“Sea of Poppies” by Amitav Gosh is definitely “Profoundly moving” as promised by The Times on the back cover. In the sense that the story moves halfway round the globe, from Baltimore to Calcutta to Mauritius. Apart from that, I’m not too sure. The writer has definitely done his homework as far as opium-production methods ca. 1830 and the slang of Asian seamen and Indian colonialists are concerned.
“From what I hear, the Rascal’s going to be in for a samjaoing soon enough. The kubber is that his cuzzanah is running out.”
(p 50)
“Chee-chee? Lip-lap? Mustee? Sinjo? Touch o’tar... you take my meaning? Wouldn’t challo at all, dear fellow: no sahib would have one at his table. We’re very particular about that kind of thing out East. We’ve got our BeeBees to protect, you know. It’s one thing for a man to dip his nib in an inkpot once in while. But we can’t be having luckerbaugs running loose in the henhouse. Just won’t ho-ga: that kind of thing could get a man chawbuck’d with a horsewhip!” (p 51)
What we learn from this book is
- that the British made a lot of money by trading opium.
- that imposed monoculture – in this case: poppies/opium - ruins the rural economic balance
- that white colonialists treated “natives” like animals. Duh.
- that life aboard a ship ca. 1830 was brutal. More duh.
All that apart, it’s easy seaside reading & not bad at that. Sort of Joanna Trollope writing as Caroline Harvey written by a male Indian. It’s just that the reviews on the back are totally misleading, really.

Mrs Jones said...

I've just finished reading both "If This Is A Man" by Primo Levi and "War of the Worlds" by H G Wells.

Primo Levi was an Italian Jew who got caught with a group of partisans in the mountains in 1944 by the Germans and was transported to the slave labour camp bit (rather than the death camp bit) of Auschwitz. This is his depiction of what he and other inmates had to do to survive. It is an extraordinary book. He tells his tale with no rage at all but calmly 'this is the way it was'. His survival was mostly based on luck - that he was young and fit enough to begin with, was captured late in the war, that he was a qualified Chemist and so was picked to work in the chemical labs which meant warmth and food throughout winter, and that he was ill with scarlet fever and in the camp hospital during January 1945 when the Russians came. The Germans cleared out all the ambulant prisoners onto the infamous Death March but Levi was too ill to leave the hospital where he got better and was liberated. The book is not nearly as depressing as I thought it was going to be - I kept wanting to know what happened next - but is a remarkable psychological record of man's inhumanity to man and how one man survived it. Unbelievably recommended. The second stage of the book - 'The Truce' - tells how he got back home to Italy. I've not read it yet but will start soon.

'War of the Worlds' is a cracking read and a real page-turner. Far more exciting than I thought it was going to be and a LOT easier to read than Thomas Hardy. I also know the locations well so it's hilarious to think of Woking and Chertsey being destroyed by a heat-ray. If you're still reading aloud to your kids and they're, ooh, I dunno, between 8 and 12 years old, read them this, it's brill.

anxious said...

like screamish, I have trouble staying awake when reading. But after numerous attempts, I finally finished this on holiday in Devon.

Detached and yet strangely poignant at times, it captures the misery and pointlessness of corporate life. There were certain paragraphs in there that resonated so clearly with me, that I wanted to cut them out, enlarge them, frame them and stick them on the wall.

My memory is so bad, that I can't remember much more about it than that.

Waffle said...

Anx - I read that not long ago and I sort of put it in that 'too clever by half' category. I know the detachment and anomie is sort of the point, but I didn't find it made for a very engaging read. Very clever and observant though. Also hello! I always like it when you show up.

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Restoration by Rose Tremain - Not only I, but the book-shirking husband read it on holiday...

Robert Merivel goes on a journey of experience in 17th Century England, choosing to court the court of King Charles II and on the way finds himself in love and out of love, in lust, and in lust again, with a variety of bawdy dames...

This is a colourful and tangibly authentic romp through tempestuous times - Politics, Plague and The Great Fire - as Robert contends with the dawning reality of his shallow self, finding truth and salvation through his growing selfless deeds, finding his humanity and salvation along the way.

This is an often funny, post-apocalyptic paeon that has much of a message for our shallow, image-obsessed times, methinks.

Much love, JW - Fhi x

Simon said...

This summer I read, among other things, Pale Fire. I too will be lazy and copy and paste my goodreads review:
"I was prepared for this to be complex, multi-layered, dense and allusive, which it is. What I didn't expect was that it would be quite so funny. Kinbote is a hilariously pompous buffoon to rank alongside Ignatius J. Reilly, although he also, particularly at the end, displays glimmerings of self-awareness which turn him into a rather tragic figure.
It's like a house of mirrors which defies attempts to establish who or what is "real". The wikipedia page lists any number of theories as to which characters are aliases or aspects of others, which is fascinating but, I feel, misses the point: the book is satirising critics and their over-elaborate analyses.
By the way, Mary McCarthy's painfully pretentious introduction almost put me off reading it at all, but afterward I found out that she was a noted satirist in her own right - maybe her introduction is part of the joke...?"
And I second the recommendation for Cryptonomicon.

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