Thursday, 21 August 2014

Death, more death, extra death, treacle toffee and laminitis: my holiday reading

My holiday reading was very extensive, so I am not adding it to the "Reading" page but doing a proper post. Incidentally, I loved this piece on holiday reads - though none of mine qualified at all. Actually, if I was writing my own criteria, they would involve a lot more death, and ideally some detectives who like eating.

Tana French - The Secret Place
I have adored all her other novels and there was a lot to love about this one, which is beautifully written and creepy, but the minor foray into the supernatural put me RIGHT OFF. Might do the opposite for other readers. Also it is huge, you get a lot of French for your money.

Joanna Rakoff - My Salinger Year
I did really enjoy this slight, thoughtful, lyrical memoir (with a slight bitter fore and aftertaste caused by several people bemoaning my 'book' not being sufficiently like it) but was repeatedly distracted by wondering how she dealt with describing her profoundly non-simpatico ex-boyfriend so, um, candidly. I mean, he sounded an absolute tosser, so perhaps she just didn't care what he thought, but I would have been terrified of coming across him in the future and awkwardness.

Lynn Barber - A Curious Career
There is very little new material in this collection of interviews linked with little snippets of autobiography, but it's thoroughly enjoyable all the same. Now there's a woman who would never be put off by awkwardness.

Elly Griffiths - The Outcast Dead
This is a very pleasing series of archeology related crime novels, but this one did not have enough archeology in it for my liking.

Julian Barnes - Levels of Life
Apart from the magnificent description of Sarah Bernhardt's menagerie on the previous post, I sort of felt that the best bits of this grief-memoir-using-extended-ballooning-metaphor  had been so extensively excerpted I had already read them all.

Eimear McBride - A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing
Godalmighty. This is the antithesis of a holiday read as described in that New Yorker article and gave me insomnia. This Anne Enright review of it is very good, I think. Do I regret reading it? No. Was I delighted to move on? Yes. It's stayed with me though.

One More Pony - Hilda Boden
After the almighty harrowing of A Girl is a Half-Formed thing, I had to take refuge in my childhood bookshelf of pony books. In 'One More Pony', self-effacing good girl Patricia and hot-headed sister Jackie conspire to buy a mistreated pony from a cruel member of the lumpenproletariat (whom they also trip up and leave in a gutter) by holding an illegal raffle at their boarding school. After their stern but secretly soft-hearted father relents and allows them to bring the pony home, it undergoes a Cinderella-like transformation (a toothless groom declares it to have "good confirmation" then feeds it "a good bran mash") and becomes the plot device by which sissy neighbouring child Colin (or Kevin? Seems unlikely) finally mans up and is cured of his debilitating wimpishness. Colin, it is briefly mentioned in passing, was injured in the accident that fatally injured his mother but this, it is quickly intimated, is NO EXCUSE. There is very mild peril, a brusque but generous cook providing paniers of supplies, camp fires, jumping of five bar gates and much whickering and whinnying. Highly satisfactory.

Malcom Mackay - The Sudden Arrival of Violence
The third in a trilogy of grim Glaswegian organised crim.. NO STOP, COME BACK, they are really really good. I mean, ok, they are not a barrel of laughs but it's a very minutely observed portrayal of a group of  men - yeah, they're (nearly) all men - in the grips of strong emotions and impossible circumstances. Some GREAT twists and a compelling sense of the way one act leads inexorably to another and how trapped they all are by a code of conduct they never consciously chose.

Denise Mina - Still Midnight and The End of the Wast Season
Two from another series of grim Glaswegian crime. I love Denise Mina. Excellent, but required:

Fortune's Foal - Garland Bullivant
Another one from the pony shelf. I both wish I was called Garland Bullivant and that it were still acceptable to write a book with not even the faintest attempt at a narrative arc. Really, there is no plot at all in this story, just a series of vaguely related incidents. Girl - no attempt at giving girl a personality of any sort - falls for pony (also largely without distinguishing characteristics). Generic uncle benefactor - motivations not explored, could not pick him out of a line-up - buys her pony. Girl rides pony. Sometimes falls off. Tediously lengthy descriptions of hunting. Rides in a race. The end.

Lesley Glaister - Little Egypt 
First of hers I have read, on a recommendation - a macabre, modern Gothic tale of Bacardi Breezers and mummification. Very odd. Very good.

Failed to read: The Luminaries. No surprise there.

What have you been reading this summer? Recommendations?

Wednesday, 20 August 2014


(highly debatable)

Hello. I have been back for ages (well, since Saturday, it just feels like an eternity), but was immediately sucked into the post-holiday maelstrom of overdue bills and overdue work and overdue washing and renewed lamenting at the builders. Also, until today when I despatched F to NerdCamp (the Jeunesses Scientifiques or Scientific Youth, which sounds faintly terrifying, or like a post-punk band), the children had no gainful activity with which to occupy themselves (L still doesn't, he hasn't dressed or washed for 3 days, I think he is turning into a sort of pre-pubescent Father Jack Hackett: "JUICE" "MINECRAFT" "SNACK") and instead spent their every waking minute being complete dicks towards each other. It is awful to be back, I am not going to try and spin this positively. You'd expect nothing less from me, I know.

From this:

And this (view from house):

And this (house):

To the usual Uccle reprobates, exploded binbags, pervasive aroma of chicken shit, upside down wallpaper, misnumbered invoices, godawful November weather and seventeen irate letters from the social security.

House still looks like this, but with more builders and a gathering atmosphere of impotent fury:

Memorable holiday incidents:

1. Accidentally roofie-ing the dog. We gave him the vet's recommended dosage of sedative to deal with twelve hours in a metal box on the Hull ferry, but when the time came to put him in the metal box, his legs had given way entirely. Even on arrival, he was stoned out of his tiny mind and staggered around the house in a state of loopy, paranoid confusion, running from room to room, collapsing into chairs then throwing himself out of them, peeing on curtains, burying under covers then emerging wild-eyed, a state which continued until the next morning. He did very much enjoy the rest of the trip - rolling in unspeakable things, chasing rabbits, climbing hills, and we did not give him the recommended dose on the way back. He is fine, well inasmuch as he is ever fine, ie. he is morose and unfriendly and spends his every waking moment plotting to get onto the sofa from which he is banned.

2. Arrival of a HERD of tiny ponies in the field down the road including 8 ridiculously little tiny pony foals and two exceptionally curious and friendly tiny ponies even closer to the house who would come for hugs and carrots. I have no pictures, sadly, perhaps because I was hyperventilating every time I went to see them.

3. Knitted garlic/onions in the window of the Leyburn hardware shop (along with a knitted bike, Tour de Yorkshire oblige):

4. The dog attracting the close attention of a curious herd of bullocks and not noticing until the last minute. He was begging for sandwiches as we sat on some rocks and did not notice he had been cornered by a rapidly encroaching semi-circle of fascinated giganto-bovines. In this picture he is juuust starting to sense that possibly something untoward may be happening somewhere? He did not actually react until one of them touched him with a vast damp muzzle, whereupon he scrambled onto the rocks faster than a rat up a drainpipe and with less dignity.

This goes down in the annals of unfair amusement at the expense of my domestic animal (big, fat, annals those) as one of my favourite pictures of the weepette:

5. Ant and Dec live at the Leeds First Direct Arena, the boys' "treat" for the holidays (that, and a much anticipated trip to Poundland). Ant and Dec, for the happily uninitiated, are veteran squeaky clean Saturday night entertainers beloved of grandmothers and pre-teens (my father: "ANT AND DEC! THEY ARE DISGUSTING AND UNSPEAKABLE". Twerking. Castleford tattoos. Foam fingers. Keith godawful Lemmon. Indescribable. Best enjoyed half-cut on regularly replenished warm gin and tonic in plastic cups. I will give Ant and Dec this: they are impressively energetic and amiable and can eat a family sized packet of crisps between the two of them in less than a minute.

6. My favourite passage in all my holiday reading (of which a great deal more in the next post, when I will compare and contrast Eimear McBride's A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing and Hilda Boden's 'One More Pony'), regarding Sarah Bernhardt's menagerie:

7. Regular encounters with these guys, usually on the road and having to be removed, politely, giving the giant horns a wide berth:

(Note more typical Yorkshire August attire here, including fleecy hat)

8. An eccentric but delightful meet up with ex-Brussels, now Edinburgh, much missed friend B and his husband in Pickering at a pleasant if wholly dysfunctional pub.

Otherwise our two weeks passed (for me at least) in a delicious haze of gin, Dairy Milk and crisps, vicious vertical bogs, dead and dying things (bird, sheep, rabbits, the electricity), long naps, hours of reading and peace, total peace (even the landline was down this year). Returning to the viciously awful state of the world has been grim and the temptation to surf the internet looking at cheap dilapidated barns enormous.

Three positive things about being back, just because it is good for the soul:

1. Can resume vital for emotional well-being regime of daily light complaint with M.
2. The cheese shop reopens tomorrow.
3. It was briefly quite beautiful this morning and at least I don't have as many sulky teenage children as the family of swans I saw at the Ixelles ponds this morning:

Have you been away? Would you like to fill the comments box with lamentations at your return? I have missed you!


Percentages (I have forgotten how to do this properly, clearly):

50% unrealistic Yorkshire rural idyll fantasies
20% listlessly digesting heap of leftover pancakes in manner of Sarah Bernhardt's boa constrictor
10% new jumper gift glee
10% reopened pit of career despair
5% avoiding online banking
5% longing for bed