Monday, 22 August 2016
1. Travels with my Aunt by Graham Greene
I've only lately begun to read Graham Greene properly, having dabbled with Brighton Rock and The End of the Affair as a teenager. There's something so bittersweetly human about this novel, with its improbable yet entirely believable anecdotes, its global range, and its gradual entropic movement. Beautifully controlled, yet with a strong strain of anarchic glee. Its main character, Henry Pulling, is pulled out of suburbia into the dangerous, apparently far distant world of his aunt - only to discover that there is more about her, and about what she does, that is close to him than he would ever believe.
2. The Monk by Matthew Lewis
What struck me as I read this bonkers early Gothic novel is the youth of its writer, and of many similar writers. Mary Shelley, William Beckford, and Matthew Lewis were in or barely out of their teens when they wrote these disordered masterpieces. The Monk is set in Spain, where I was staying, and concerns the prideful Ambrosio who, once succumbing to temptation, falls swiftly into lust, black magic, rape and torture. It also contains a homoerotic fallen angel with diamond bangles, a daring escape plot featuring a ghostly nun, and various visions, chasms, brigands and poisons. It challenges the status quo whilst, quite literally, freezing the blood; and there are some characters who speak in a sort of proto-Jane Austen idiom, which adds another level of enjoyment to the whole.
3. The Blue Flower by Penelope FitzGerald
This is a mysterious, light-filled novel about the life of the poet Novalis. Born an aristocrat, he must follow his father's wishes and become a salt mine inspector; yet he falls in love with a (very) young girl "of the middle classes." Everything is thrown into question: what must prevail, love or duty?
Elusive, allusive; the technique of the novel is to present short scenes, vivid and imbued with a quiet urgency. Very few novels have caused me to weep on the last page: this one did, and with only three lines of bare information. Did people in the past live their lives more fully, knowing they would not live that long? Discuss.
4. Devil's Blood by Prentice and Weil
I had been very much looking forward to this sequel to Black Arts, in which our hero, Jack, is still
troubled by his devil sight, and also must learn how to use the key given to him by the god Lud. The Elizabethan setting is as lively and bustling as ever, and is given the added frisson of time travel as Jack is sent hurtling into a deadly plot. The book is dark, pacy and very enjoyable.
Ongoing: I'm still moving slowly through Pepys, taking my time, savouring it like a few morsels of a delicious pie every now and again. I'm also taking a great deal of pleasure in Robert Tombs' The English and their History, having made it now to the Industrial Revolution (though that's only about half way through.) And finally, Norman Davies' Vanished Kingdoms is a dazzling account of how brief and beautiful a political entity can be: I've just finished the entry on Burgundy, a clear and intriguing piece of scholarship if ever there was one.