Leaving Alexandria – a Memoir of Faith and Doubt

by Richard Holloway

I had heard about Holloway’s book A Little History of Religion and, while searching for it on the library website (I have reserved it), found this one.

The subtitle tells it all – this is a memoir of Holloway’s life, from his childhood attraction to the Anglican Catholic church to his later run-ins with established theology and church practice.

Holloway’s approach to his subject – his journey of faith – is thoughtful and insightful.  Though it does at times seem that he is preoccupied with this, to the exclusion and possible detriment of those around him: colleagues, children and wife.

Holloway is very well-read, and quotes poetry in particular to support the points he makes.  I found this a revealing and ultimately rather disturbing read.  But at the same time, it helped me to realise that everyone – even a bishop – will have moments of doubt and wavering in faith, even deep despair, while still holding onto a view of the Creator.

The Italians

by John Hooper

The author is a journalist and foreign correspondent, most recently for The Economist in Italy and the Vatican.  With this book he looks at various aspects of Italian life and explores how Italians behave and why they do so.

My Italian daughter-in-law Debbie recommended this book to me.  I ordered a copy straight away, and read it gradually over several months. Each chapter addresses a different aspect of the Italian character and way of doing things.  So yes, it deals with the importance of family, the prevalence of corruption in public affairs, the importance of appearances (fare una bella figura) and many other areas of Italian private and public life.  For me, it was an eye-opener and enables me to understand Debbie’s upbringing and my consuoceri (son’s in-laws) a little better.

I will keep an eye out for Hooper’s journalism.  And maybe return to this book from time to time, planning, as I do, to get to know Italy and the Italians a little better over the coming years.

The Tailor of Panama

by John Le Carré

After reading Le Carré’s memoirs, The Pigeon Tunnel, I felt I should read at least one of his novels.  This one was recommended by my friend Lindsay.

It is quite a heavy read – although the story gripped my imagination, still I felt I needed to work at it.Le Carré’s writing did not disappoint.  He is insightful into human character, and he also knows how to tell a good story.  Unlike many spy stories, there weren’t a lot of twists and turns (which I find lead me to lose the plot!) and the outcome was predictable, if shocking.  But the moral stance of the various characters, their behaviour and the ways in which they relate to each other were all minutely observed and, sadly, all too believable.  I hope that the author was to some extent poking fun at the ways in which his security officers and politicians operate.  But I can almost believe that this kind of thing happens, and did happen in Latin America as well as elsewhere in the world.  Shocking, if true.

The Uninvited Guests

by Sadie Jones

A really good book, and a satisfying read.  I picked this up on a whim from the library, popping in there after a visit to the doctor – my first outing since being stricken with ‘flu.  Laid up for the best part of two weeks, I have been doing a lot of reading, but not all of it satisfying.  Perhaps because I am already feeling better and more ready to get my teeth into a good book, but perhaps (more likely) because it is such a good book, I raced through this while still savouring every word.

A review of another of Jones’ books suggested that were she male, she would be up there with the Ian McEwans and Julian Barnes’ of literary fame.  This seems a bit of a back-handed compliment to me.  Her work is reminiscent of these authors, and surely it deserves to be rated alongside their output irrespective of gender.  Perhaps this was the point the reviewer was trying to make – but in doing so, he drew attention to what is surely an irrelevant distinction.

The story: the Torrington family is living in financially constrained circumstances in a large country house they can’t really afford.  While Edward Swift, the head of the household, who is also the unpopular stepfather of two grown-up children and one younger child from Charlotte’s first marriage, is away, some invited guests arrive at the same time as a group of people apparently sent to the house by ‘The Railway’ after a train crash.  The family is given to understand that the ever-increasing group of people, whom they treat rather shabbily, consists of survivors of the accident, and that they will be moved on my The Railway in due course.

The reader gradually becomes aware that the ‘survivors’ may not actually be what they seem.  And we learn that some members of the family are perhaps also not what they seem.  Nevertheless, they are all rather likeable characters, and everything plays itself out to a satisfyingly happy (if improbable) ending.

I can’t wait to read more by this author.  Great stuff!

The Paper Moon

by Andrea Camilleri

Not one of his best.  A later book about Inspector Montalbano, in which he seems preoccupied with his own ageing and perceived reduction in his mental and physical capacity.  Of course, Montalbano solves the mystery eventually.  But the first half of the book seems to go nowhere at all, as Montalbano looks for a suspicious and involved reason for what on the face of it is a straightforward murder.  Of course, he is right – but it was a painful process keeping my attention to the end!