Decline and Fall

by Evelyn Waugh

Selected by our book group.

I had previously read only one book by Waugh, Put out more Flags, and this was in fact lent to me by a book group member when his choice was not selected, a couple of years ago.

It took me a chapter or two to decide that I wanted to read Decline and Fall. Maybe because Paul Pennyfeather’s fate is just too awful to contemplate; or maybe because the grotesque description of public school life is shockingly real – whatever the reason, for my initial distaste, I forced myself to read on, and found myself delighting in Waugh’s sharp humour and precisely drawn characters.

The modernist architect Silenus’ categorisation of people into ‘static’ and ‘dynamic’ types allows this character – and perhaps others in the novel – to ignore every moral code. Certainly I feel that Paul’s unquestioning acceptance of the injustices that are done him shows him as passive, if not exactly static. But does this excuse the perpetrators of those injustices? Surely not.

There is plenty more I could say, but before I do, I intend to listen to an episode of BBC Radio 4’s In our time which  deals with this novel, and which I have downloaded.

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Behind Closed Doors

by B A Paris

What can I say about this book?  It was an easy read – though not so easy in terms of the subject matter, which was quite disturbing.  I picked it up as a recommended Kindle download, quite cheap (£0.99 probably) and found it gripped my attention enough to be worth reading.

A woman who marries what appears to be the ideal man – rich, successful, caring – quickly finds she is being held prisoner by him.  Her end is likely to be gruesome, and another character is potentially going to be drawn into his disturbed plan.

All this goes on ‘behind closed doors’, and to outward appearances, even to her own friends, the woman leads a charmed life.  The husband’s stage management of her life and interactions is quite chilling.

I don’t want to give any spoilers, so that’s as much as I plan to say about the story.  Suffice to say that it is a thriller worth picking up.

The Shape of Water

by Andrea Camilleri

What can I say?  Camilleri’s stories of Inspector Montalbano are very readable, the English translation – once you get used to the colloquialisms – is a joy, and, as far as I can tell, conveys well the slightly idiosyncratic language of the original.  I can’t remember – writing this three months on – what this story was about.  But it doesn’t matter.  Like the TV series, the joy is in the moment, as you experience the story, its characters and the Sicilian setting.

Where my Heart Used to Beat

by Sebastian Faulks

I came to read this book by a slightly different route than usual.  Here’s how.  My son and daughter-in-law visited us just before Christmas, and were planning to do some last-minute Christmas shopping.  They asked me what gift I thought my aunt would like.  More specifically, if they bought her a book, which one.  David suggested Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings.  Well, I had enjoyed this book (though it was a bit of a slog, in parts), but I wasn’t convinced that Wendy would like it.  I had just read something, while browsing a website, about Sebastian Faulks’ latest novel.  I thought it sounded interesting, and suggested that title to David and Debbie.

Wendy often leaves some of her gifts with us, to deliver to her when we next visit her by car.  That way, she doesn’t have to carry heavy items – especially books – on the coach.  Since she seemed inclined to leave this book, I asked if I might read it before returning it to her, and she agreed.  Just two weeks before our next scheduled visit to Wendy, I deemed the time right to start reading this book.

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So there’s the background; what about the book?  I have to say that I relished every page.  Faulks is a skilled user of language, able to draw detailed and vivid settings and characters.  But I’m afraid that some of his books have left me cold.  In particular, I didn’t enjoy Human Traces – and so I was a little cautious when I realised that this book also explores the workings of the mind through the experience of a mid-twentieth-century psychiatrist (in fact, two such).  I need not have worried.  The narrative cleverly delivers the life story of Robert Hendricks in his own words, at the same time as his growing understanding of what his life has meant, the effect his relationships have had upon him, and the supreme importance of memory in all our lives.

Though other critics may complain that there are elements of the novel that don’t easily fit the narrative, I found few if any of these.  I found, instead, that I could get inside Hendricks’ head and understand life as he sees it.

Highly recommended.  Indeed, I believe I will recommend this book to my book group.  It offers plenty to talk about – and I don’t think we have read a book by this author yet.

 

Doctor Thorne

by Anthony Trollope

This is the third of the six books in the Barchester Chronicles series.  As far as I am aware (and I am about to find out) they can each be read alone.  Certainly this is true of the present volume.  The only overlap with the previous two books is the occasional mention of the Proudies, Dean Arabin and, mentioned slightly more often but not actually appearing, the Thornes of Ullathorne (to whom the Doctor Thorne of the title is distantly related).

It is also quite a long book – the longest or second-longest in the series.  Since I planned to read it on my Kindle, I googled the book’s title to find out how long it is.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there is a TV dramatisation of the novel in preparation, adapted by Julian Fellowes (of Downton Abbey and Gosford Park renown).  Another incentive, then, to read it – if one were needed.

The past two weeks have been a reading delight.  The characters are almost all likeable, despite their various flaws – with the exception of Lady de Courcy and her daughter Alexandrina, both of whom feel the need to interfere and ‘guide’ the affairs of Lady de Courcy’s sister’s family, the Greshams.  The story, whilst somewhat predictable, is nevertheless engrossing and ultimately pleasing.  Most pleasing of all is Trollope’s great insight into human behaviour, and his ability to use this insight to develop and unravel situations which are utterly believable to the reader.

I will pause again before reading the next book, Framley Parsonage.  I hope to complete the series by the end of May.