What is the matter with Mary Jane?

…it’s lovely rice pudding for dinner again!

I had forgotten how much I loved rice pudding, until a tin of Ambrosia fell into my basket by mistake. I tend to go shopping just with a basket because I think it will make me spend less. In fact I just wind up limping like Richard III because I’ve put too much stuff in it. Grabbing a trolley means accepting that I went into Waitrose for fig and walnut bread and Duchy Originals milk, and that I’ll come out with half a cow (or a horse, who knows?) and several bottles of Chat-En-Oeuf, so I go for the basket, like someone ordering Big Mac and Fries with a Diet Coke.

Anyway. I’d forgotten how bloody nice rice pudding is. Heated gently, with blackberries and raspberries heating in it like fruit jam. Not had any in a while? Grab a tin – you won’t be disappointed. But take a basket.

This week I have mostly been reading fiction. It has felt good to be back reading made-up-stuff after all the educational (dark) reading I have done. I started with The Scent of Death by Andrew Taylor, who wrote the rather marvellous An American Boy about a young Edgar Allan Poe a few years back. It was good more for how it was written, than actually what it was; it’s set in the American Civil War and within the first few pages I was entranced. As the narrator docks in New York I could hear the noise of the port, and smell the sour sea salt, and it was captivating.

The story itself is pretty humdrum really; mystery and murder in the 18th century; and I got a bit lost by the characters, but the beauty of the writing was worth it.

I then tried The Carrier by Sophie Hannah. I have enjoyed her earlier books, but here I fear is a little complacency going on. Or rather, someone who writes with a little too much self-awareness.  This book fell very low of my expectations, and I found myself feeling cross that I had to finish it in order to find out whodunnit.

One of the big problems in the book is that not one of the characters is likeable or sympathetic. The author seems to assume that you know a lot more about them than you do – and there are many confusing plotlines. There seems to be no reason why Charlie and Simon are married apart from that they are both dislikeable. The godlike Tim, the man who claims he has murdered his wife, seems to instil huge love and respect from everyone he meets apart from the aforementioned wife; so why does he stay with someone so vile? (His reason, from what I could gather, wasn’t good enough.) There are excruciating adulterous subplots and all in all I felt let down and bored – let alone the initial lies in the police investigation which I couldn’t untangle either and which also seemed irrelevant. I wasn’t rooting for anyone nor interested in them. I wanted to finish the book because, rather like clearing ones plate, I don’t believe in finishing one early (don’t tell anyone about my Confessional post OK). But oh, how I chafed at the bit.

So, enough with fiction. Back to the educashunal reading. I am now on a book about ghosts – 500 years of investigating them, to be precise – which is NOT fiction, mmkay? I live in hope of seeing a ghost. As someone in the book says “I’ve never seen a murder, yet I know they exist”, which makes perfect sense to me… I am a great one for faith and I don’t mean to be churlish, but considering all the effort I put into talking/reading/thinking/believing in ghosts you’d think one might show its face.

A Book at Bathtime

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A few weeks ago I was reading Primo Levi in a bath full of gerbils. I’d read somewhere that sitting in the bath with new gerbils (without water) was a good way to bond with them as they get used to your skin. Apparently you are supposed to do it unclothed but I kept my pants on (a la my foray into ‘nude’ modelling). No real bonding took place unless you count the scratch marks on my thighs when the little guys tried to ski down them and getting unclothed with them hasn’t made them like me anymore (‘twas ever thus). I decided to take a book in because I didn’t know how long I was going to be (11 minutes, in the end) and I don’t really ever do one thing at a time. I always have to be doing something else (reading, writing, ironing, cleaning, polishing, taking endless hideously dull surveys to exchange for Amazon vouchers). Only one of these things can be done in a bath of gerbils.

I do not advise googling ‘bathing with gerbils’, as I did, to see where I’d read this bit of complete bollocks.

The book was (rather aptly) The Drowned and the Saved, and I would like to know if anyone has read more heavy a book in more surreal situations. It was more a collection of essays than a book per se. Levi repeatedly asks the question how can human beings do this to each other; it’s a question we’ve been asking down the centuries, and nobody seems to have the answer.

So what else have I been up to. I’ve been putting off writing this entry to be honest because I haven’t had anything interesting to say. But it’s not really about me, but what I read – so with that in mind, here is my lowdown over the last few weeks.

I am currently on The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe which is a fascinating glimpse of Elizabethan life and politics. I am reading it with one half-cocked eyebrow because it’s quite a wild theory but there does seem to be a lot of evidence to back it up. Readers of Jack The Ripper: Case Closed by Patricia Cornwell will know though how well an author can adapt evidence to suit their scenario (and if you think Cornwell has figured out who Jack the Ripper was she hasn’t! She has decided who she wanted to be the murderer and built a case around her theory rather than build a theory around the scant evidence). I’m not linking to it because I think it is nonsense.

Before this I was on The Book of Negroes which is a must-read for anyone who wants to research slavery. I have read quite a few first and secondhand accounts about slavery (Roots, Oladuah Equiano, Incidents In The Life of a Slave Girl) but I never fail to be shocked and horrified by what we put these people through. Which is no bad thing.

And before that it was The Railway Man by Eric Lomax, the story of a Japanese Prisoner of War who went on to meet his tormenter 50 years after the end of the war. It was difficult to read at times but Eric’s determination to live and very matter-of-fact narration makes it an important one.

As per my last post, I was most excited to get my hands on Dolly by Susan Hill, her new ghost story. Very eerie, which I devoured in one late-night sitting. I’m not going to say anything more about it because I approached it knowing only the title and author and I think that’s how you should approach it too.

I also enjoyed Eminent Elizabethans in which the author gives a full bio of Margaret Thatcher, Prince Charles, Rupert Murdoch and Mick Jagger, very much in the style of Lytton Strachey and just as entertaining.

Forgive me Reader – I have Sinned.

confession

Here is my confession: I had three books last month which I couldn’t finish. The first was the story of McFly. I’m sure they are very nice boys and it is entertaining, but it started all about drugs and sex, neither of which interest me in the slightest.  Ditto Rupert Everett’s autobiography (no offence Rupert, I do think you’re fab). The third was Ghosts of Empire which I thought would improve my mind. In fact the politics began to bore me and I discovered that I hadn’t wanted to Learn as much as I thought I had. This is one of my many failings and possibly the second-greatest (I’m not going to admit to the first on here in case anyone I know reads it).

Ooh just to let you know about A Circle of Sisters which I wrote about in my last post. The sisters were quite interesting, but the men in their lives were more (authors, politicians, artists) which I shouldn’t say really. It wasn’t as powerful or captivating a book as some of the more era-specific, character-general books Flanders has written and which you will know about if you’ve read any other entries in this blog (or indeed if you have read them already, of course).

Blimey just writing this post makes me realise I ought to post more often as I do read a lot and even I’m glazing over at this point

I have a large amount of books in my ‘to read’ pile including a huge tome called Dreadnaught about the origins of World War One. I’ve had it since November and I don’t know how much longer the library will allow me to renew it. I suppose I could find a synopsis somewhere. If anyone can recommend anything shorter, let me know; and I’d quite like one which is entertaining and not too dark.

I suppose that’s a bit too much to ask for, it being about the war, and all … but do get in touch if you find one.

I Had A Dream

last night, and man it was awful. Really bad! In the dream, I was in Silent Witness, and we were investigating the ‘death dungeon’ of someone or other. There was a man lying eviscerated on a bed and a baby, also eviscerated, suspended over him. Then a woman came in, and skewered herself on an enormous fork for some reason. We all tried to escape, and helped the bloke who somehow came back to life. But just as we were about to escape on a plane, the people who were responsible for all this blew the plane up.

Not quite sure where that came from.

I have been rather bad this week. First of all I didn’t Magnuss Magnusson (started-so-I’ll-finish) three (count’em!) books. (I have edited this as I wound up talking about these in the Book at Bathtime Post.)

I had better luck with The Beacon by Susan Hill. I do love Hill’s work. This little book, about a family torn apart by one member’s seemingly vindictive action, is exquisitely written with characters very well drawn. It appears to be a rather placid tale of family, but there is an air of menace lurking in the pages. On the last page – and, no, DON’T go on and read it first, like I used to do with books! – I felt as if I’d drained a comfortable cup of tea and found a fly in the bottom of the mug. But in a good way.

I then started A Circle of Sisters but I have pressed pause on that because another Susan Hill book – Dolly – has come into the library. It is another ghost story and I am ridiculously excited about its arrival, a dark green slim volume sitting quietly on my pillow until I’m ready for it.

I thought I had posted this but it appeared to have saved without publishing. It makes sense to post it now, though I wrote it on Jan 26th.