Speedy round-up of books I’ve finished recently. I haven’t been updating enough recently.
Dorothy L Sayers’s Gaudy Night which was light and very enjoyable, but had some surprisingly deep musings on independence and marriage. It’s set in Harriet Vane’s Oxford college, where some unpleasant attacks are taking place, and while attempting to solve the problem of who is committing them and why, Harriet is also making a decision on whether she should marry Peter Wimsey or not. The atmosphere is delightful, charming between-wars cosy Englishness combined with a lovely portrait of first wave feminist academia, and though I’m not fond of the whodunnit form (I looked at the end when I was about half way through to see who had done it) I thoroughly enjoyed it as a light read. (50)
Edward Said’s Peace and its discontents, which was a collection of essays on the Oslo peace agreement. Interesting to read a criticism of Arafat and the Palestinian side from a Palestinian point of view: he is very critical of the incompetence and corruption of the PLO. Have forgotten a lot about this, though (it was weeks ago!) (51)
George Szirtes’s collection of poetry Reel, which I enjoyed but again can’t remember much about, and a perfect bus book, Ruth Padel’s 52 ways to look at a poem which was Padel’s choice of poems by 52 different contemporary poets and a short essay analysing each one. Made me realise how poetry-literate I am, which is good, but also taught me a few things about sounds and rhythm which I was unconsciously aware of and am pleased to have brought to the surface. (52) (53)
Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and dimed, which was incredibly depressing but pacey and incredibly readable. Ehrenreich took a series of minimum wage jobs in the USA to see whether life was actually sustainable on 6 dollars an hour, and found that, essentially, it wasn’t: she had to take two jobs just to pay the rent. Shocking, but not surprising, but she writes very well about her experiences – her descriptions of the way management treated her and the conditions she had to live in to keep her rent bill down burn with a clear fury. (54)
John le Carré’s Mission song, which was excellent although still not as good as the early Cold War ones (nothing is). It hinges around a planned coup in Congo, rather like the planned coup in Equatorial Guinea a couple of years back. The narrative voice is a joy: a half Irish, half Congolese translator in west African languages named Bruno Salvador, or Salvo. The setting is unusually restricted for a le Carré novel: most of the action takes place in the house where the coup is planned, then in London, but the book is huge with anger at corrupt politicians, Western and African, warlords, the interference of British governments and the hypocrisy of western attitudes towards Africa. I find it strange that as he gets older, le Carré gets angrier, but I suppose his anger also reflects the growing injustices in the world where a power imbalance has become more and more evident since the end of the Cold War. (55)
And still on an African theme, Conrad’s Heart of darkness which I enjoyed for the clever strength of the story-telling, and found interesting for the ideas about colonialism. I came away not sure whether the book meant what I thought it meant, it would certainly bear rereading. (56)