It was a very booky Christmas, since I spent most of my time as a great inert mass on the sofa, reading, reading, reading. I believe my heartbeat probably slowed to that of a fish in hibernation in icy climes. The most strenuous exercise I did was reaching for yet another mince pie. Heiffer up, as we say in this house when we are feeling exceptionally lardy.
Here is what I read over Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
- Interworld – Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves
- Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont – Elizabeth Taylor
- The Coroner’s Lunch – Colin Cotterill
- An Infamous Army – Georgette Heyer
The Cotterill was the biggest surprise. Never in a million years would I have chosen a detective book set in 1976 Communist Laos for myself, since in my mind communist = unfailingly depressing. However, I was snuffling quietly to myself at this one very early one, and found the chief character, 72 year old Dr Siri, entirely engaging. How can one fail but to warm to a man who puts a Welcome mat at the entrance to his extremely poorly equipped morgue?
Alas, An Infamous Army was rather disappointing. I like Heyer’s battle writing, and I know that serious military historians read her novel The Spanish Bride for its descriptions of Peninsular campaigns. But in this one, the attempted romance between Charles Audley and Lady Barbara Childe never quite came off, in large part because they both seemed like cardboard cutouts. Lady Barbara in particular was a collection of mannerisms wrapped up in beauty, but never a living character. At the same time I also felt that Worth, Judith, Peregrine Taverner, and the Avons were faded, dusty versions of the vibrant selves that appear in their own books.
Clearly, Heyer just wanted to write about Waterloo, and I wish she had.
I also read a couple more O’Brians, which are running in the background in between other books. Then earlier this week I read Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Philips, which I had listened to on audio earlier in the year. It imagines the Olympian deities crammed together in a decaying house in London, with their powers weakened because no one believes in them anymore, and each of them driving the others mad. When Apollo (TV medium) offends Aphrodite (phone sex worker) by refusing to heat up some water for her shower, she plots vengeance by getting Eros (who has become a Christian) to make him fall in love with a random mortal. Comedy, tragedy, heroism, the potential end of the world, and a trip to the underworld (accessed via Angel tube station) all ensue. Frankly, it’s a tough conceit to pull off, but I think Philips does it and mostly because her re-conceptions of the gods works so well. I love that Dionysus is a DJ and runs a club; that Artemis is a dog-walker; that Athena is a brilliant scholar but completely unable to communicate her ideas.
But having finished that at lunchtime, I was left bookless for the train ride home so made an emergency trip to Posnan’s and grabbed The Monsters of Templeton (largely because it has such a great cover). The story is fine so far, but I’m finding the photos and family trees a bit annoying and pointless. Unless it is presumed that the reader can’t keep the fairly straightforward genealogy in mind? It seems a bit like a marketing idea that made it into the book.
Meanwhile, the short term booklessness had made me panic so I put in a Powells order for the following:
- Fangland – John Marks, which if I mistake me not is a reworking of Dracula
- The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective – Kate Summerscale, non-fiction and from all the reviews I’ve seen a romping good read about a real, mysterious murder
- Names My Sisters Call Me – Megan Crane, which Zoesmom recommended ages ago but has never been in any bookshop when I’ve looked for it
- Excellent Women -Barbara Pym, because I’ve started, so I’ll finish
- Mr Fortune’s Maggot – Sylvia Townsend Warner, and I admit I can’t remember how this got onto my list, but I love her stuff
Sadly, none of these are due to arrive until January 23, which is so far away that by then I’ll have forgotten that I ordered them. So the box will arrive and a gluttonous orgy of reading will commence at the nearest available weekend. Now that I think of it, I might diary that in specifically.