Monday, 28 February 2011

The Quiet American

Title: The Quiet American

Author: Graham Greene

Number of pages: 192

Started: 21 February 2011

Finished: 28 February 2011

Opening words:

After dinner I sat and waited for Pyle in my room over the rue Catinat; he had said, ‘I’ll be with you at latest by ten,’ and when midnight struck I couldn’t stay quiet any longer and went down into the street. A lot of old women in black trousers squatted on the landing: it was February and I suppose too hot for them in bed. One trishaw driver pedalled slowly by towards the riverfront and I could see lamps burning where they had disembarked the new American planes. There was no sign of Pyle anywhere in the long street.

Of course, I told myself, he might have been detained for some reason at the American Legation, but surely in that case he would have telephoned to the restaurant—he was very meticulous about small courtesies. I turned to go indoors when I saw a girl waiting in the next doorway. I couldn’t see her face, only the white silk trousers and the long flowered robe, but I knew her for all that. She had so often waited for me to come home at just this place and hour.

Read a longer extract here

Plot summary:

Into the intrigue and violence of Indo-China comes Pyle, a young idealistic American sent to promote democracy through a mysterious 'Third Force'. As his naive optimism starts to cause bloodshed, his friend Fowler, a cynical foreign correspondent, finds it hard to stand aside and watch. But even as he intervenes he wonders why: for the sake of politics, or for love?

What I thought:

I have a mixed view of Graham Greene’s books. Some of them I absolutely love (such as The End of the Affair) and others leave me somewhat more cold. This book rather falls into the former category. I thought this was such a well written and observed book. There were passages in it that were such a pleasure to read – the emotion that was portrayed or the observations that were made just exactly hit the spot.

It was rather a sad book, but it was a really good example of how sometimes Greene so perfectly captured the true essence of a situation and was able to portray it in such a well observed way. There were some passages that I re-read because I thought he expressed them so well. This is a book I might be tempted to read again one day.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Third Policeman

Title: The Third Policeman

Author: Flann O’Brien

Number of pages: 240

Started: 13 February 2011

Finished: 20 February 2011

Opening words:

Not everybody knows how I killed old Phillip Mathers, smashing his jaw in with my spade; but first it is better to speak of my friendship with John Divney because it was he who first knocked old Mathers down by giving him a great blow in the neck with a special bicycle-pump which he manufactured himself out of a hollow iron bar. Divney was a strong civil man but he was lazy and idle-minded. He was personally responsible for the while idea in the first place. It was he who told me to bring a spade. He was the one who gave the orders on the occasion and also the explanations when they were called for.

Plot summary:

A thriller, a hilarious comic satire about an archetypal village police force, a surrealistic vision of eternity, the story of a tender, brief, unrequited love affair between a man and his bicycle, and a chilling fable of unending guilt, 'The Third Policeman' is comparable only to 'Alice in Wonderland' as an allegory of the absurd. Distinguished by endless comic invention and its delicate balancing of logic and fantasy, 'The Third Policeman' is unique in the English language.

What I thought:

This was a very strange book. It started well, but then went off into the realms of bicycle worship. I guess the clues were there with the author being compared to James Joyce, but the book was certainly one of the odder books that I have read, and, for me, not in a good way.

This book was only published posthumously because it was turned down by the publisher. I have to say that if they made that decision based on the likely mass appeal of the book, I can see why. A strange read and not one that I would highly recommend.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

The Swimming Pool Library

Title: The Swimming Pool Library

Author: Alan Hollingsworth

Number of pages: 304

Started: 3 February 2011

Finished: 12 February 2011

Opening words:

"I came home on the last train. Opposite me sat a couple of London Transport maintenance men, one small, fifty, decrepit, the other a severely handsome black of about thirty-five. Heavy canvas bags were tilted against their boots, their overalls open above their vests in the stale heat of the Underground. They were about to start work! I looked at them with a kind of swimming drunken wonder, amazed at the thought of their inverted lives, of how their occupation depended on our travel, but could only be pursued, I saw it now, when we were not travelling."

Plot summary:

Alan Hollinghurst’s first novel is a tour de force: a darkly erotic work that centres on the friendship of William Beckwith, a young gay aristocrat who leads a life of privilege and promiscuity, and the elderly Lord Nantwich, who is searching for someone to write his biography.

What I thought:

I liked this book, but it was one that I felt slightly uncomfortable reading on the tube! It has quite a lot of fairly explicit sexual references in it and it made me a touch paranoid that someone might peer over and see the content of parts of the book. But, perhaps I need to get out more.

That said, it was a good book. I thought it was well written and touched on some difficult issues and told the story well. It’s just not the sort of book most people would recommend to their mum.