I read twelve books in March.
You don’t need me to tell you what’s been going on this month. Silver lining is more time to read. I’ve reviewed my twelve books in two posts; the first is here.
This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay
My daughter has been pressing this on me for a while (long before the current situation) and I resisted, thinking it was going to be very depressing about the state of the NHS; however it was on the TBR pile beside my bed which I now have time to work my way through. And I loved it; the blackest of black humour is delivered in such brilliant turns of phrase eg the pregnant woman who declared she wanted to eat the placenta after her baby’s birth is described as being ‘50% goji berries and 50% Mumsnet threads’.
It would enormously help the NHS if people didn’t do mind-bogglingly stupid things to themselves (in the current situation I hope that toilet brushes and Kinder eggs are used only for their intended purposes).
Noah’s Compass by Anne Tyler
I got this lovely American hardback edition in a charity shop. No, it’s not about someone called Noah although the reason for the title becomes clear towards the end. Liam, a rather solitary character although he has an ex-wife, three daughters and a grandson nearby, finds he has memory loss after being attacked. When trying various methods to retrieve his memories he meets Eunice, a quirky woman (to say the least) twenty years younger than him. Maybe, though, Liam’s loneliness is blinding him into thinking this could be the start of a new relationship.
Beyond The Thirty-Nine Steps: A Life of John Buchan by Ursula Buchan
I bought this last year at the Borders Book Festival after an event by the author, a granddaughter of JB. Some reviewers commented that it shed no new light, i.e. it didn’t dish any dirt. And that’s because, although of course he had his flaws like everybody else, there is no dirt to dish. He did not have feet of clay.
I have been a little obsessed with the Buchan family since reading his sister (pen name O. Douglas) as a young girl (they are still my comfort reads) – her novels draw heavily on her immediate family history. I’ve also read other biographies of him and his own memoir.
What I find particularly fascinating about him is his capacity for work (which I don’t think would leave him any time for ‘dirt’ …). As I said in an earlier blog post:
‘Now maybe JB didn’t have to worry about what to make for dinner, nor did he have to update his Facebook page or worry about his Amazon ratings and he didn’t have the option of slumping in front of a movie. But as well as being the author of around 35 novels and 50 non-fiction titles, including single-handedly completing the 24 volumes of Nelson’s History of the War, he was in the course of his 65 years a lawyer, diplomat, WW1 propagandist, publisher, MP and Governor General of Canada.’
With all that it’s rather ironic that he is best remembered now for creating Richard Hannay and his adventures in The Thirty-Nine Steps – a book he didn’t think much of himself.
The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry
Ambrose Parry – aka best-selling novelist Christopher Brookmyre and his anaesthetist/medical historian wife Dr Marisa Haetzman. This is a brilliant mash-up of their talents.
It’s Edinburgh, 1847. Will Raven has just become apprenticed to the renowned (real) Dr James Young Simpson in whose household is maid Sarah Fisher who would aspire to the medical profession herself were it an option for females.
When bodies of young women are found across the city Will and Sarah join forces to investigate. I loved it. Perhaps it’s not for the squeamish though …
I’d like to find out more about Dr Simpson who seems to have been a larger-than-life, generous-hearted man as well as earning the thanks of women everywhere for advocating chloroform during childbirth. I had my children in the hospital that was wonderfully named for him, the Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion. I believe in its new location it’s called something much more prosaic.
The Foundling by Georgette Heyer
Continuing my journey through Regency England in Miss Heyer’s delightful company. Unusually, the main character here is a young man – a young Duke, in fact – who was a delicate child and feels he is still mollycoddled by his family and retainers although on his approaching 25th birthday he will fully come into his inheritance. He longs to have just a few days of being ‘Mr Dash from Nowhere in Particular’.
Along the way on his adventures he finds himself in charge of a runaway schoolboy and ‘the foundling’, a beautiful but ‘bird-witted’ girl, and comes up against some characters who would seek to get some of his wealth for themselves.
Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
Read for book group meeting on 1 April … which went ahead virtually, courtesy of Zoom.
Set in New Jersey, there are two strands, one in the present day and one around the middle of the 19th century which features a real person, a naturalist called Mary Treat who corresponded with Darwin and other (male) scientists of the time. There’s also a high school science teacher whose headmaster does not believe in science.
The modern family, seen through the eyes of Willa, live in an old, inherited, house that is quite literally falling around them; if it turns out to have been inhabited by Mary Treat in the past they may be eligible for a restoration grant.
Willa also has to cope with a horrible and horribly ill father-in-law (her conversation with a health official telling her he’s not covered by insurance makes you weep with thankfulness for the welfare state here), an infant motherless grandson, and a daughter who thinks Willa’s generation is far too materialistic. Plus (as if that wasn’t enough) it’s 2016 and ‘the Bullhorn’ is making unexpected inroads into the race to be President … Willa does have a lovely husband though, the laid-back Iano.
I love BK’s writing; it’s so dense and yet so clear As usual all her characters leap off the page. If I have a criticism it’s that sometimes chats between characters are more polemic than a real conversation would likely be.
Her The Poisonwood Bible is one of my favourite reads ever.
Stay safe, everyone. Are you getting through your reading pile?