Well, the world sure changed over the course of this month. I cannot believe just over two weeks ago we were going to work, to the pub, hanging out with friends. The Great Isolation has barely started and looks set to last for months, so we’re going to have to figure out new ways to be sociable.
Tim and I are luckier than most right now – we’re healthy, still working, safe at home – but it’s hard not to be a ball of anxiety. Which is taking a toll on my reading. For most of the month I’ve only read comics, plus the news. I’m putting what spare energy I do have into trying to make sure I get enough exercise. But reading is still the best means I know to get to sleep. And my work-from-home set-up is in our dining room/library so I’m surrounded by my books all day, and that’s comforting.
The Ministry of Pain by Dubravka Ugresic
Translated from Croatian by Michael Henry Heim
Tanja is teaching Servo-Kroat at the University of Amsterdam shortly after the 1990s Yugoslav civil war. Her students are mostly refugees, so she invites them to share their memories of their former home country. The narrative flits between these recollections and Tanja’s musings on language, on life in Amsterdam, on being a migrant. It’s beautifully written but a few odd decisions toward the end spoiled it for me.
The Cracked Looking-glass by Katherine Anne Porter
Penguin Classics Mini, first published 1932
In this novella, a woman muses on marriage and life. It starts out atmospheric, but I must admit I lost interest. I also found the narrator kinda racist.
Steeple by John Allison, Sarah Stern and Jim Campbell
Issues 1-5 published by Dark Horse Comics
This comic series from the author of Scary-Go-Round and Giant Days focuses on a seaside village in Cornwall, the vicar who has spent years fighting literal demons, and the pretty young curate who arrives to help him. Oh and there’s a Satanic cult and an annual witches convention. This is a lot of fun. The series continues online.
Modesty Blaise #21 Live Bait by Peter O’Donnell and Enric Badia Romero
Originally published in the Evening Standard 1987-1988
1980s Modesty Blaise is pretty much the same as it was in the 1960s, but her bestie Willie Garvin comes across as more feminist. In these three stories, the pair tackle Soviet spies, a porn production house that abducts young women to star in its films, and the kidnap of a rich couple’s young child. There’s no shortage of unnecessary nudity, but the theme is generally that Modesty is totally kickass and in control, which I can’t complain about.
Modesty Blaise #29 The Children of Lucifer by Peter O’Donnell and Enric Badia Romero
Originally published in the Evening Standard 1999
This is the penultimate collection of Modesty Blaise comic strips republished by Titan Books. Here, Blaise and Garvin deal with a Satanic cult (weird that came up in two books this month), a kidnapping and a Tibetan village held to ransom by Chinese soldiers. These stories are pretty darned dark. Maybe after 37 years O’Donnell felt he had to up the stakes.