Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Pies and Prejudice

Title: Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North

Author: Stuart Maconie

Number of pages: 338

Started: 21 May 2008

Finished: 28 May 2008

Opening words:

A few years ago, I was standing in my kitchen, rustling up a Sunday brunch for some very hungover, very northern mates who were ‘down’ for the weekend. One of them was helping me out, finding essential ingredients like paracetamol and orange juice, and asked me, ‘Where are the sun-dried- tomatoes?’

‘They’re nest to the cappuccino maker’ I replied.

A ghastly pregnant silence fell. Slowly, we turned to meet each other’s gaze. We didn’t say anything. We didn’t need to. Each read the other’s unspoken thought; we had changed. We had become the kind of people who rustled up brunch on Sundays, passed around sections of the Sunday papers, popped down to little bakeries; the kind of people who had sun-dried tomatoes and cappuccino makers.

Southerners, I suppose

Plot summary:

A Northerner in exile, Stuart Maconie goes on a journey in search of the North, attempting to discover where the cliches end and the truth begins. He travels from Wigan Pier to Blackpool Tower and Newcastle's Bigg Market to the Lake District to find his own Northern Soul, encountering along the way an exotic cast of chippy Scousers, pie-eating woollybacks, topless Geordies, mad-for-it Mancs, Yorkshire nationalists and brothers in southern exile.

Summary taken from Amazon

What I thought:

Hmm… what to say about this book. I was not a massive fan. I am quite happy to admit that I am probably an ignorant Southerner, but this book didn’t do a lot to educate me. I thought it was full of stereotypes – of both Northerners and Southerners. All Southerners appeared to be Tory voting snobs and Northerners wee “decent folk”.

My main conclusion from the book was that there are similarities and differences all across the country – and that actually it was too narrow a view to try and sum up the people of any particular city or place as being like this or that. Stuart Maconie may well have ended up loving the north, but he did it in a way that was at other people’s expense (and not just that of Southerners), which is never my type of humour. I wish the book had been more of a celebration in its own right rather than having to demean others. I think we’re big enough and brave enough as a country to admit our faults and celebrate our successes together. Oh and on the last page, he gave a treatise on the north and misnamed a song (he called it “The NIRA” when it was “The NWRA”), which rather killed the point of what he was saying. Oops.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008


Author: Daphne du Maurier

Number of pages: 448

Started: 13 May 2008

Finished: 21 May 2008

Opening words:

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate.

Plot summary:

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again ...Working as a lady's companion, the heroine of Rebecca learns her place. Life begins to look very bleak until, on a trip to the South of France, she meets Maxim de Winter, a handsome widower whose sudden proposal of marriage takes her by surprise. She accepts, but whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to the ominous and brooding Manderley, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory of his dead wife Rebecca is forever kept alive by the forbidding Mrs Danvers ...Not since Jane Eyre has a heroine faced such difficulty with the Other Woman. An international bestseller that has never gone out of print, Rebecca is the haunting story of a young girl consumed by love and the struggle to find her identity.

Summary taken from Amazon.

What I thought:

I really enjoyed this book. It was very atmospheric and had a sense of doom about it. There was a part of me that thought the new Mrs de Winter could have done herself a bit of a favour but speaking up for herself a bit, but given the circumstances of her arrival at Manderley her reaction was perhaps justified. It was interesting that you never got to find out what her first name was though, even though the name of the previous Mrs de Winter was so dominant, including being the title of the book.

Well worth a read and makes me want to read more of Daphne du Maurier’s books.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Seize the Day

Title: Seize the Day

Author: Saul Bellow

Number of pages: 118

Started: 11 May 2008

Finished: 13 May 2008

Opening words:

"When it came to concealing his troubles, Tommy Wilhelm was not less capable than the next fellow. So at least he thought and there was a certain amount of evidence to back him up"

Plot summary:

Fading charmer, Tommy Wilhelm has reached his day of reckoning and is scared. In his forties, he still retains a boyish impetuousness that has brought him to the brink of chaos: he is separated from his wife and children, at odds with his vain, successful father, failed in his acting career (a Hollywood agent once placed him as the type that loses the girl') and in a financial mess. In the course of one climactic day, he reviews his past mistakes and spiritual malaise, until a mysterious, philosophizing con man grants him a glorious, illuminating moment of truth and understanding, and offers him one last hope.

Summary taken from Amazon.

What I thought:

Another book that I wasn’t very keen on. It had parts that I thought were well observed and there were some good moments in it, but on the whole it was not a book that I found very engaging or that I enjoyed very much.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Red Harvest

Title: Red Harvest

Author: Dashiell Hammett

Number of pages: 224

Started: 30 April 2008

Finished: 11 May 2008

Opening words:

The Continental Op first heard Personville called Poisonville by Hickey Dewey. But since Dewey also called a shirt a shoit, he didn't think anything of it. Until he went there and his client, the only honest man in Poisonville, was murdered. Then the Op decided to stay to punish the guilty. And that meant taking on the entire town...

Plot summary:

The Continental Op, hero of this mystery, is a cool, experienced employee of the Continental Detective Agency. Client Donald Wilson has been killed, and the Op must track down his murderer. Personville, better known as Poisonville, is an unattractive company town, owned by Donald's father, Elihu, but controlled by several competing gangs. Alienated by the local turf wars, the Op finagles Elihu into paying for a second job, "cleaning up Poisonville." Confused yet? This is only the beginning of an incredibly convoluted plot. Hammett's exquisitely defined characters the shabby, charming, and completely mercenary lady-of-the-evening; the lazy, humorous yet cold and avaricious police chief; and especially the tautly written, gradual disintegration of the Op's detached personality make this a compelling read. In addition, William Dufris's performance is outstanding. Each character has his/her own unique vocal tag composed of both tonal inflections and speech patterns suited to his/her persona. Wonderful! The only flaw is the technical difficulty of cueing the "track book marked" CD format. An exceptional presentation of a lesser classic from the golden age of the mystery genre.

Plot summary taken from

What I thought:

This novel was described as “hard boiled” and I can understand why. It was like reading a 1940s black and white film unfold before your eyes in written form. It was not a very descriptive book and relied on conversation and brief additional sentences to fill in the gaps.

I’m not sure I would say that I enjoyed the book, it was ok, but perhaps a bit too stark for my liking, but I can see what it epitomises this type of literature.