Christmas reads in brief

As I may have mentioned once or thrice, most of our spare time lately has been spent chivvying builders/cleaning up after builders/redecorating. While I have managed to squeeze in some reading, I think I’m going to skip writing full reviews for this holiday and get back in the swing next week. That’s a good way to start the new year, right?

Modesty Blaise: the Black Pearl

Modesty Blaise: the Black Pearl
by Peter O’Donnell (story) and Jim Holdaway (art)

Modesty Blaise: the Green-Eyed Monster
by Peter O’Donnell (story) and Enric Badia Romero (art)

I punctuated my holiday with two volumes of the long-running comic strip about the very British super-capable heroine Modesty Blaise. As I’ve written about her before, there is little new to say. O’Donnell puts her in a variety of locations and intrigues but tries not to make his stories Bond-like, so although she has a good friend high up in the British secret service, she is not a spy. She is a gun for hire, but most of the time she finds her own work, happening, like a young sexy martial-arts-trained Miss Marple, upon crimes and capers wherever she goes. Some stories impressed me with their nuanced political intrigue but then there was the occasional racism that reminded me that this was popular culture in the 1960s and 1970s.

First published in the London Evening Standard and the Glasgow Evening Citizen 1966–1971.
These collections published 2004 and 2005 by Titan Books.

The Clothes They Stood Up In
by Alan Bennett

This tiny book is a novella about a middle-aged couple whose fancy flat is burgled while they’re out at the opera. Everything has been taken, even the carpets, light fittings, toilet rolls and telephones. It’s almost a farce, with the well-to-do middle class slowly picked apart as they try to navigate public telephones and immigrant-run corner shops. Bennett is of course spot-on with his observations and had me laughing out loud from page one. But it’s also moving, sad even, to see how unhappy marriage can be and how far apart people who live together and love one another can become. Highly recommended.

First published in the London Review of Books in 1996. This edition published in 1998 by Profile Books.

Wild Girls: the Love Life of Natalie Barney and Romaine Brooks
by Diana Souhami

On the back of the excellent Mitfords book I thought I’d try another biography. Unfortunately, this one was not as good. It felt a little rushed although perhaps they were really only interesting by virtue of the circles they moved in? Barney was a poet and Brooks an artist. Barney surrounded herself by the elite of Paris culture, particularly the gay section of that crowd, and had affairs with everyone (or rather every woman who would have her). Brooks started out in this crowd but became a recluse. Souhami tells of the wonderful long life of Barney versus the painful slow decline of Brooks and it’s sad but I never felt I had got to know either of them. Extracts from their passionate love letters are repetitive and overblown. Souhami’s intensive research has led to strange chaotic annotations/references in several different formats, which were near impossible to navigate when I actually wanted to. Interesting, but felt like it could have been more than it was.

First published in 2004 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson

So that’s what I read over the holidays. What about you?