Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Title: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Author: Muriel Spark

Number of pages: 128

Started: 27 October 2009

Finished: 28 October 2009

Opening words:

The boys, as they talked to the girls from Marcia Blaine School, stood on the far side of their bicycles holding the handlebars, which established a protective fence of bicycle between the sexes, and the impression that at any moment the boys were likely to be away.

The girls could not take off their panama hats because this was not far from the school gates and hatlessness was an offence. Certain departures from the proper set of the hat on the head were overlooked in the case of fourth-form girls and upwards so long as nobody wore their hat at an angle. But there were other subtle variants from the ordinary rule of wearing the brim turned up at the back and down at the front. The five girls, standing very close to each other because of the boys, wore their hats each with a definite difference.

Plot summary:

She was a schoolmistress with a difference. Proud, cultured, romantic, her ideas were progressive, even shocking. And when she decided to transform a group of young girls under her tutelage into the "creme de la creme" of Marcia Blaine school, no one could have predicted the outcome.

What I thought:

This was a good read. I have read one Muriel Spark before, which I think I was a bit ambivalent about, and I liked this one a lot more. It was a tale of a teacher’s attempt to shape the lives of some of her pupils – and the consequences of doing so. The book made it clear early on that it would not end well, and it was a carefully woven story that fed you bit by bit the downfall that was to come. An enjoyable, if somewhat spiteful read and worth a look.

Monday, 26 October 2009

The Pursuit of Love

Title: The Pursuit of Love

Author: Nancy Mitford

Number of pages: 192

Started: 23 October 2009

Finished: 26 October 2009

Opening words:

"There is a photograph in existence of Aunt Sadie and her six children sitting round the tea-table at Alconleigh. The table is situated, as it was, is now, and ever shall be, in the hall, in front of a huge open fire of logs. Over the chimney-piece plainly visible in the photograph, hangs an entrenching tool, with which, in 1915, Uncle Matthew had whacked to death eight Germans one by one as they crawled out of a dug-out. It is still covered with blood and hairs, an object of fascination to us as children."

Plot summary:

Childhood at Alconleigh is scanty preparation for the realities of the outside world and Linda, sweetest and most aimless of the young Radletts, falls prey to a stuffy banker and a rabid communist before she finds her ideal in a Frenchman . . .

What I thought:

I enjoyed this book. Nancy Mitford’s writing has been compared to Jane Austen, Evelyn Waugh and Aldous Huxley (books like Crome Yellow rather than Brave New World), but having read books by each of those authors, I have to say I preferred this book. It tells the tale of a slightly mad aristocratic family and their many adventures – and is the forerunner to the better known book ‘Love in a Cold Climate’. It was quite an amusing read and is actually semi-autobiographical. It’s certainly worth a look and is the sort of book you could curl up with on a wet Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Mr Vertigo

Title: Mr Vertigo

Author: Paul Auster

Number of pages: 288

Started: 16 October 2009

Finished: 22 October 2009

Opening words:

I was twelve years old the first time I walked on water. The man in the black clothes taught me how to do it, and I’m not going to pretend I learned that trick overnight. Master Yehudi found me when I was nine, an orphan boy begging nickels on the streets of Saint Louis, and he worked with me steadily for three years before he let me show my stuff in public. That was in 1927, the year of Babe Ruth and Charles Lindbergh, the precise year when night began to fall on the world forever. I kept it up until a few days before the October crash, and what I did was greater than anything those two gents could have dreamed of. I did what no American had done before me, what no one has ever done since.

Plot summary:

The story of Walt, an irrepressible orphan from the Mid-West. Under the tutelage of the mesmerising Master Yehudi, Walt is taken back to the mysterious house on the plains to prepare not only for the ability to fly, but also for the stardom that will accompany it.

What I thought:

It is no secret that I am a big fan of Paul Auster. I find his books incredibly engaging and I love the darkness that underpins them. They are not stories that come together in some neat Hollywood happy ending. Having said that, I don’t think book was one of his best. I didn’t find the plot quite so engaging and it lacked one of my favourite things about Auster – his ability to weave a story within a story.

It was a decent read and it is a book that I would like to read again because I don’t feel I gave it my full concentration, but in my view he has written better. I would still suggest giving it a go, but if it doesn’t ‘do it for you’ then try one of his others because he is a fantastic author.

Thursday, 15 October 2009


Title: Waterland

Author: Graham Swift

Number of pages: 368

Started: 5 October 2009

Finished: 15 October 2009

Opening words:

"'And don't forget,' my father would say, as if he expected me at any moment to up and leave to seek my fortune in the wide world, 'whatever you learn about people, however bad they turn out, each one of them has a heart, and each one of them was once a tiny baby sucking his mother's milk...'"

Plot summary:

First published in 1983, Graham Swift's multilayered chronicle set in the Cambridgeshire Fens is widely regarded as one of the finest British novels of the 1980s. Tom Crick is a history teacher, but the history that absorbs him is his own and his family's. The past, with its secrets and oddities, hangs heavy on him, pushing him towards a heartbreaking new crisis in his life. Swift's powerful psychological drama takes in life and death, betrayal and compassion; his setting, the brooding landscape of the marshy Fens, is utterly compelling.

What I thought:

I had mixed feelings about this book. Overall I enjoyed it, but I found the parts set in the present more compelling than the parts looking back over the history of the fens and his ancestors. I liked the narrator talking about his own life and telling the tales of his ultimate downfall, but other parts I found dragged a bit and whilst I am sure they had great meaning in them, it mainly passed me by. A decent read, but not wholly satisfying.