“Good fiction’s job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”
― David Foster Wallace
I don’t think that’s the only function of fiction, but it may be a consequence. Some fiction is solely for relaxation, speaking of which, my husband and I have just returned from a holiday by the beach, the first time we’ve been away on our own in I don’t know how long. This was for our 35th Wedding Anniversary. We did a lot of walking, climbing, and visiting coffee shops but almost zero reading. Judging by the weather forecast, we thought it would be raining the whole time, but the weather was perfect and disregarded the predictions.
Now that we’re home, I thought it was time I updated all things bookish, so here goes.
Churchill by Andrew Roberts
I’m listening to this on audio; narrated by Stephen Thorne. I’ve listened to him narrating the Brother Cadfael books by Ellis Peters that I used to get from the library & he has a distinctive voice that suited those and this book, too. It’s just over 50 hours in length and I’ve come to the WWII section which is dynamic and engrossing, but it’s taken about half the book to get there. Churchill’s earlier years, his childhood and youth were engaging, the WWI section and his political wilderness sections were slower but still a good listen. Roberts gives a well-balanced account of Churchill and has obviously done considerable research.
‘Roberts gained exclusive access to extensive new material: transcripts of War Cabinet meetings, diaries, letters and unpublished memoirs from Churchill’s contemporaries. The Royal Family permitted Roberts–in a first for a Churchill biographer–to read the detailed notes taken by King George VI in his diary after his weekly meetings with Churchill during World War II.’
Towers in the Mist by Elizabeth Goudge (1938)
I thought I’d read all the best Goudge books but I’m enjoying this one very much, partly due to its historical content. It’s set in Oxford in Elizabethan times and looks back a little at the earlier history of the town – the rise of the Guild of Learning, Wolsey’s Cardinal College, the reign of Queen Mary, the destruction of libraries and the despoiling of churches. I’m about a third of the way through it and so far, it’s up there with her best.
Greenmantle by John Buchan (1916)
This is a re-read. I recently re-read, for about the fourth time, Buchan’s The 39 Steps and have chosen another of his books that I thought I’d read before but realised I hadn’t for the 1929 Club (see below). His books are entertaining but have substance. I enjoy his descriptions of place, his characters, and his almost prophetic insight into the world he inhabited and wrote within. Set during WWI mostly in Germany & Turkey, it provides an unusual outlook. Free to read on Gutenberg & Faded Page.
Thou Givest, They Gather by Amy Carmichael (1958)
A devotional type of book, simple but extremely wise, it was compiled from notes the author made which she never had any idea of publishing. They are easy to read and practical and I’m just slowly reading sections most days.
I’m also continuing to read and blog through Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s book, For the Family’s Sake, although a little more slowly than I originally intended.
Babette’s Feast by Isak Dinesen (1958)
Isak Dinesen is the pseudonym of Karen Blixen and Babette’s Feast seems to be better known by the 1987 movie. There’s a nice review here of this short story and a literary article I linked to below that explores more about the author:
A fan once wrote to Blixen, asking what she meant by her story “The Monkey” from Seven Gothic Tales (1934). Blixen expressed discomfort with the question “What does it mean?”, but nevertheless shared some of her thoughts about her own tale, concluding: “This is not a good explanation, but you are free to come up with a better one.” So, with the author’s sanction, readers of Blixen’s tales are free to come up with whatever interpretation they please. Few of her tales have been subject to as many
varied, and even contradictory readings, as “Babette’s Feast.”
The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Ladlow
I’ve read a couple of spin offs/re-tellings/re-imaginings of Pride & Prejudice and they were ho-hum, but Janice Ladlow took a different direction with this story and kept the original characters and events intact. The Other Bennet Sister takes one character, Mary Bennet, the unattractive and moralistic middle sister and fleshes her out. Life seen from Mary’s perspective gives the reader insight into why she is the way she is, reveals a different side to her nature, and then cleverly re-writes Mary’s future. I thought this book was well-written and liked how the author explored the Bennet family dynamics and the plight of some women in that society. I think she took a few liberties in her treatment of Mr. Collins and Charlotte but overall the narrative held up well.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wild (1890)
A dark story that I found a little depressing. Dorian Gray is a shallow young man or becomes so after being influenced by the philosophy of another shallow and rich young man. Gray wishes to stay young and never age and gets his wish with consequences…infamy and murder. I can’t say that I enjoyed this novella, but its ending was its strength. It had me thinking about the cosmetic industry (Australia has the highest rate of cosmetic surgery in the world) and its pursuit of ‘eternal youth’ which promises much but doesn’t really deliver.
I And My True Love by Helen MacInnes (1953)
I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Helen MacInnes although some books are certainly better than others. From the start this one promised not to end well, and it didn’t. A man from Communist Czechoslovakia tries to reconnect with a woman he loves when he is sent on a mission to America accompanied by Communist agents who want to use his previous relationship with said woman to get information from her husband who works in high places…it’s a recipe for a sad ending. It’s not one of her best books but it’s still a good read.
The 1929 Club
I’ve chosen to read John Buchan’s book, The Courts of the Morning for the 1929 Club hosted by Stuck in a Book and Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings. Another addition might be The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie which was also published in that year.