Thursday, 15 January 2009


Today I am unwell and I can't speak at all, just make croaking noises. So I'm blogging instead of working. I haven't said anything about books for a while, partly because I've been doing quite a lot of rereading. I had to prune my books heavily before going to Italy so when I was unpacking them again I came across a lot of things I wanted to reread. Also I've forgotten all the stuff I read in Devon, except for The Journal of Dora Damage, which was readable but mediocre, and the thing I remember most about it was that the author died immediately after finishing it, which was sad.

I did pick up Salman Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence. It is good. Either Rushdie has returned to form or I've just not been in the mood for his last few books -- I think it's the former. I also read Kate Atkinson's When Will There Be Good News?. I think she's great and it annoys me that now there won't be another for a while. Benjamin Markovits's second Byron book, A Quiet Adjustment, is very well written and psychologically convincing, but I don't think I will ever reread it -- it just didn't quite interest me enough. It's never going to be easy to have any sympathy for someone who willingly marries Lord Byron. The book sort of skips her decision to marry him as well as most of the actual marriage, which was probably a good choice.

My boss recently decided that I watch too much television and spend too much time on the internet, so he has helpfully lent me a big pile of nineteenth-century novels translated from the Portuguese. They're by someone called Eça de Queiroz, who spent a long time as an ambassador in England (his letters are quite interesting apparently). They turn out to be very good. So far I've read The Crime of Father Amaro, which is like a sarkier Edith Wharton, and The Tragedy of the Street of Flowers, which is sort of Manon Lescaut meets Oedipus rex. They're pretty bitter. I've noticed that the women get their comeupance, but it's not in a straightforward anti-women sort of way, it's more as if he was a very cynical person who couldn't quite let go of the idea of women as moral beings. The men just get worse and worse and end up morally dead -- Father Amaro's crime results in some terrible consequences, but not to Father Amaro, and what he takes away from it all is a resolution only to "confess" married women.

Also I saw The Reader. I think people have been a bit harsh about this, as if they want it in some way to solve the holocaust. I would interpret it as just telling a story. If it's asking whether you can ever feel any sort of human relationship to someone who has done really terrible things then that's a fair question, and I don't think it makes any attempt to diminish her guilt -- especially given that she only ever shows shame about one thing, and it's not active participation in mass murder. I give it three and a half stars, which is short for reasonably interesting, not a waste of time, but probably quite forgettable, and I won't bother watching it when it's shown on Channel 4.

In this shocking story scientists have discovered that many Victorian novels promote moral behaviour! The scientists did this by getting academics to fill in a questionnaire. I assume Eça de Queiroz wasn't included; his sort of moral universe might not come over well in a third-hand questionnaire.

I used to like David Quantick a lot but his new Radio 4 thing, Broken Arts, isn't very good. Alas. But I do like these odd shorts, and also this Rex the Dog video, which I got off of popjustice.

Bubblicious from Rex The Dog on Vimeo.


  1. Yay for The Enchantress of Florence! It was probs my favourite book on the Booker Longlist (of those I read) followed closely by 'A Case of Exploding Mangoes'. Are you a Trollope fan? I'm now on Vol 2, and greatly relishing references to 'well-fed, well-used Minor Canons...'

    Hope all is going well (apart from sickness). Series Three of Skins soon... And go see Slumdog Millionaire (and take your boss).

  2. I love Trollope! Trollope is the best. If it's the 2nd Barchester book then you are having a good time. Read "Can You Forgive Her?"! And the Phineas Finn books! And "He Knew He Was Right"!

    I think you would like Eça de Queiroz. I've ordered "The Relic" which is apparently about a young man who goes to Jerusalem to buy a relic for his aunt. I'm guessing it's going to turn out to be less Anglo-Catholic than that sounds, and more of a searing indictment.

    I'm not sure my boss is a cinema-goer. Am, to be honest, unlikely to ask him... but I might try to get more book recommendations off him. He never reads anything written later than the nineteenth century. My current recommendation is 30 Rock, which is almost as good as Arrested Development.

  3. OK: I will defo investigate both Eça de Queiroz and 30 Rock; your quotation from the latter caused much lollage.

    Do you twitter? Do you read Stephen Fry's twitter? It's quite good fun. If only your boss would twitter; I'd love to read his thoughts about what he's working on!

    Have you seen Dexter? It's pretty good, though very bloody. And Hurrah! New series of Gossip Girl and Skins!! And I have the new Philip Roth. A top weekend. [Also I will be hearing our favourite Palestinian Anglican Priest preaching at WAbbey].

  4. It's odd you should say that about twitter -- I follow some twitterers but realising I had no desire to twitter myself I had this urge to twitter about what my boss is up to, before realising it would be highly inappropriate. Still here's a one-off souvenir piece of micro-content about him: he doesn't like Jane Austen because her books are insufficiently nasty.

    I saw some Dexter, and read the books, but the books go wierd, and illogically that put me off the TV series, plus I'm no longer sure what channel it's on. I did indeed watch both Gossip Girl and Skins this week. They both seem pretty much as usual, and this is good. If you're around here at any time let me know and I'll pass on some Eça de Queiroz.