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Holiday Reading and a Massive Babybel

Posted on: Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Howdy. We're not long back from The Isle of Romance and Magic and Backfiring Scooters, a.k.a. Capri, ah me. What did I do, you ask? Um, well, I sat on my backside by the pool and read, mainly. Sometimes I got a bit too hot and sweaty and moved under the trees choosing either a hammock or occasionally a deckchair just to mix things up a bit. Ten days, five books; I tell ya, I was like a Trojan. 

So I'm back in Belgy, baby, and it's good (sort of) to be back. Well, if you try to ignore the rain, the itchy mosquito bites, the fact that the cleaner isn't back from holiday until September and the impending fear of being weighed at my next antenatal appointment. I swear to God, weighing pregnant women is a medical fixation here, along with taps on the bottom and comments like 'Not too much on here, hmm?' (true story, happened to someone I know) and blood tests at every possible juncture. Oh, and the fact that Bedders is on my brother's stag do at Galway Races which will blatantly be mega and I'm here trying not to eat the massive Babybel that's in the fridge.   

Massive Babybel. Two euro coin for scale.

I'll post some obligatory holiday photos of sun-soaked Italian wonderment soon enough. For now, though, here are my holiday reads in order from best (utterly mega) to worst (still totes readable). 

1) Other People's Countries, Patrick McGuinness. Frigging marvellous. The peculiarities of Belgian Walloons encountered by this quarter Geordie/quarter Irish/half Belgian hybrid of a writer. A memoir of times and places and people long gone during boarding school holidays and short breaks from trailing the world with his diplomat parents, but also a memoir of memory itself - why do we feel the need to pin down the mundane, the inconsequential figures and details of our lives? The whole thing is a mishmash of different forms and styles, slipping from poetry to inane trivia (did you know that Kevin is a disproportionately popular name in the Ardennes thanks to Kevin Keegan, Newcastle's manager when Phillippe Albert was playing for them?) and, oh, the Afterword is just sublime. Read it now. *****

2) The Easter Parade, Richard Yates. Emily is pretty and promising.; so's her sister Sarah. Sarah marries, has three boys and dies of liver disease/at the end of her husband's fist, take your pick. Emily shacks up with disastrous bloke after disastrous bloke (tortured poet, anyone?) and, sob, is incapable of real intimacy with anyone. Yates generously dishes out generational fuck-up after fuck-up and the morale seems to be 'you might think you've escaped, but you haven't.' 

Horribly miserable. Bloody well-written, though. 

3) The Last Hundred Days, Patrick McGuinness. DISCLAIMER: I know nothing about Romania except what I might have gleaned from Challenge Anneka in the early 90s (orphanages? That's it). The context is important, though, and McGuinness is desperate that we GET IT by including FACTUAL INFORMATION MASQUERADING AS NARRATIVE at every feasible opportunity so I might have to, I dunno, watch some YouTube videos or something.

ANYHOO. Jeez, Romania in 1989 sounds horrible (although there seems to be a big debate raging on Goodreads as to whether he's representing it accurately). And it's hard to believe it happened in our lifetimes. I would have found it a whole lot more enjoyable, though, if the narrator hadn't a) lacked credibility and b) been so annoying. Twenty one, a University lecturer, maddeningly sulky, inexplicably attractive to every woman he comes across, involved simultaneously in revolutionary plans and shady ministerial double-deals despite having no apparent charisma or relevant skills-base? Oh, and the sex scenes are gross. 
*** (but in third place thanks to it being new and interesting, whereas The History Boys is old ground)

4) The History Boys, Alan Bennett. Education, Literature, wisecracks in French, what's not to like?

As an aside, it was strange to read this in the current Operation Yewtree/Notarise climate of hysteria and come across exchanges like this:

Dakin (re: being groped by teacher Hector while riding on the back of his scooter): Are we scarred for life, do you think?
Scripps: We must hope so. Perhaps it will turn me into Proust.

5) Trumpet, Jackie Kay. Excellent premise: a black woman born in Scotland in the early 20th century grows up and becomes a famous trumpet player. And, somewhere along the way, redefines herself as a man calling his new self Joss Moody (what a name!) and guarding his secret at all costs. It got me down a bit, though, that the roving 1st person didn't give more away about his wife Millie, the only other person complicit in the coverup, and instead focused more on the view of his bitter adopted son Colman and avaricious journo Sophie, both of whom were a bit thinly sketched.

All a bit on the heavy side, I suppose, but marvellous nevertheless and up to press I'm working through a few of the Booker nominees starting with this. It's a kooky delight written by Phoebe from Friends Karen Joy Fowler.

What are your holiday reading plans? Recommendations gratefully received. 


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