Last weekend I went to visit my parents in the Forest of Dean and took advantage of the lovely weather to go for some long walks in the countryside. From Littledean we walked uphill to some fields overlooking the River Severn (above) and from there past Blaize Bailey to Cannop Ponds, which we hit just as the sun was setting (below).
Continue reading “Autumn walks”
by Arthur Quiller-Couch and Daphne du Maurier
Well what a contrast to my previous read. After lingering for two weeks over The Evenings, I raced through Castle Dor in 24 hours. Was it a case of the right book at the right time, or is it just a cracking good read? It is Daphne, after all.
Except that it’s only sort-of Daphne. This book was started by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (better known to many by his pen name Q), who Daphne knew a little as her near-neighbour in Fowey, but he was much older than her, so it was his daughter Foy (named for their beloved home town) who became a close friend of Daphne’s. When Q died in 1944 he left behind one final unpublished work of fiction: the first half of a novel retelling the story of Tristan and Iseult, set in 19th-century Cornwall. Some 15 years later, his daughter Foy persuaded Daphne that she was the perfect person to finish the book.
Knowing that in advance, it is certainly possible to spot the signs that different hands start and end the novel. But it is skilfully done, with no obvious seam. (Apparently Q’s manuscript was left mid-chapter, even.) I can tell you that the opening chapters felt more flowery and more scholarly than any Daphne du Maurier book I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot of them now). And the closing chapters had a touch of the supernatural, even spiritualism, that felt very Daphne and certainly hadn’t been so prominent in the book. But the join between the two felt entirely gradual and invisible.
Continue reading “Like a vision seen in a dream and scarce remembered”
The Evenings: a Winter’s Tale
by Gerard Reve
translated from Dutch by Sam Garrett
After the emotional onslaught that was A Little Life, a comedy first published in the 1940s seemed like the perfect next read. But perhaps this was exactly the wrong choice at that moment, because I did not enjoy this.
Set in Amsterdam in the last few weeks of the year (presumably 1947, when it was written) this is the story of Frits van Egters, a young office worker living with his parents, trying to stave off the boredom of the long winter evenings. He is irritable and melancholic, prone to dark, violent thoughts and fantasies.
Frits has plenty of friends to call on the time of, which is perhaps surprising considering how rudely he speaks to them, verging on bullying at times. But he is also something of an entertainer, talking a lot, telling tall tales, passing on gossip and encouraging others to do the same. He drinks, smokes, listens to music, goes to the cinema, but is always dissatisfied.
Continue reading “I only wish that I could stir it up, fan the fires”
A Little Life
by Hanya Yanagihara
This book has consumed my life for a month. It is often sad, upsetting, shocking even, but I still wanted to dive back in as soon as I could whenever life dragged me away from it.
This is a big book, and it takes a while for its main themes to become apparent. Although I knew quite a bit before I started reading, I’m going to avoid spoilers here.
We open with four men in New York, good friends since college, now in their late 20s and trying to put their stamp on the world. Willem is an actor, making most of his money waiting tables at a high-end restaurant. JB is an artist, trying to find his subject. Malcolm is an architect, working long hours, dreaming of the day when he will have his own projects. And Jude is a lawyer at the public prosecutor’s office, not really making enough money to live in Manhattan.
Continue reading “The pressure to achieve happiness felt almost oppressive”