Bizarre humour

965374I’ve been lax in my book reviews lately, and have no excuse. I have been reading though! I finished the first in a WW2 mystery/crime series with a cast of odd characters set in London during the Blitz. Full Dark House is ‘a bizarre dark comedy …’ according to The Guardian (front cover) and I agree that it’s a dark comedy police unproceudural but bizarre? Hmm. It’s fun! And I enjoyed the odd couple aspect of one being a girl magnet and the other not. I did get confused at one point in the story where I didn’t know the setting was the future and I was reading thinking it was still WW2. But there you go – I do take drugs where confusion is a rare side-effect ….   I plan to read the rest of the series because the humour really got me and the mystery was a good one – I didn’t guess until it was revealed! But that wasn’t the end of it, there had to be a nail biting climax.

I’ve been reading Cram me with Eels! on and off for almost a year. It is a dip in and out 1661614collection of Beachcomber (JB Morton) Daily Express snippets from the late ’50s to the mid-’70s. The names Morton came up with for his characters are real screams! Dr Smart-Allick from Narkover (a public school), Captain Foulenough, Tumbelova the ballerina, Mrs Wretch, Vita Brevis, Charlie Suet the civil servant, Sledjhammer the Norwegian pianist… And I just have to copy two favourites: ” ‘Her little boy jumped about in the neighbours concrete before it was set, and was reprimanded by the neighbour’ [News Item] ‘I thought you were fond of children,’ said the mother. ‘In the abstract,’ answered the neighbour, ‘not in the concrete.'” And this had me laughing aloud “Enough to go on with: ‘Calmness in emergencies is a matter of will-power.’ [Morning paper] A man thundered on the door of a burning house, and when it was opened he shouted, ‘Your house is on fire, lady.’ ‘Is that all?’ replied the householder. ‘Well,’ said the man, ‘it’s all that I can think of for the moment.'” Beachcomber was a wizz with funny headings not matching the contents and articles with details in it that had nothing to do with other details. I asked Shaun Micaleff on Twitter if he knew of Beachcomber and he said he did, and I knew it! Many character names on Mad as Hell are very Beachcomberesque.

 

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A dystopia and a doorstop

I recently finished two books, both for the Read Harder ’18 challenge. I picked Divergent as it fitted two categories – a scifi written by a woman with a female lead and a new-to-you young adult series. Well, I didn’t like Divergent at all. Something niggled me about it 13335038and when I reached the end to a postscript by the author, I read  … ‘thank you god etc etc etc’ … and well. I didn’t read all the postscript, but I realised what was bothering me about the story – it is a crusade against unbelievers story. The intelligent are schemers and therefore evil and the good are the obedient and believers. Other than that, the characters are wooden, unbelievable maturity is seen in the main character (who is like that at 15?), and the whole lifestyle is pointless. I also thought that the food the characters were eating would not condition them to become physically adept.

The doorstop was Tara Road by Maeve Binchy for the Oprah Bookclub category. I like Maeve Binchy novels – she has a way of sucking you into the story and you cease to notice the size of the novel. The story could go on after she ends them. The characters are so real and believable and you get to like them or loathe them. but want to keep reading about their lives. When I picked up the novel to read, I’d not notice time go by, That is the 845782case for me with all the Binchy novels I’ve read so far. I wouldn’t call them cosy, but they are friendly and like a friend, you want to sit down with them with a cup of tea. Tara Road is a story of a group of friends who live near each other on Tara Road in Dublin. I really enjoyed the story about the renovation, the dramas, all set in Ireland’s economic boom and then the stirrings of the bust. The description about the book makes you think that the house swap is the main story, and it isn’t. Everything that leads up to the swap is the bulk of the story and then the actual swap is close to the end, and I guess is used to bring the end of the novel to its conclusion. Binchy’s characterisations are brilliant and you wonder about how many different sorts of people she met during her life. The story of Gertie and her alcoholic husband and scared children was close to home and an uncomfortable read, though my Dad was never physically abusive, just verbal. Rosemary is a wonderful character and Ria is too, and how clever Maeve was with how Ria fell into living in a dream world, divorced from reality. How many of us are living such a life?!

Two Chris Manby books

I went away to Sydney for a mini-conference and a meeting in late July and decided to take a Chris Manby book for a bit of light reading and an escape from work. A Proper 25439004Family Adventure is one of her more recent novels and part of a series about the Benson family. I enjoyed it but I thought the story a bit sparse with too much about the cruise. There is a twist to the organ transplant story from the previous stories and I liked the story of Lisa and Kristie overlapping with the Bensons. Some of the story felt a bit forced though – maybe Manby should have worked on this one a little more? The second of the Benson series – A Proper Family Christmas was a better one.  I do like Chris Manby novels and I have a few myself. I first came across her in the ’90s when I read both Lizzie Jordan stories.

Then about 3 weeks ago, my husband and I had a holiday in Malacca (I’m not always going on holiday – honest!) and I took a Chris Manby book that I had bought earlier but hadn’t read yet (yes – I do buy lots of books and then it is years til I actually read them …) called Deep Heat. This one I sped 1479137through – it was so much fun! It was a good holiday read. We had a great room with a chaise and I spent time on it by the huge window reading. At many turns on the story I was thinking ‘oh no!’ or ‘this is going to bite her in the bum sooner or later!’. And things do catch-up with the main character Alison Harris (known as Ali to her friends). But all turns out well in the end – almost. Some reviewers said that Ali was a naive person but this isn’t necessarily a fault with the story. Yes, she was a little needy after a massive personal blow, but who wouldn’t be? The ending was a bit rushed but I think it was OK.

The best thing I like about Chris Manby novels (she now is going by Chrissie because too many people thought she was a guy when she was Chris) is that the names of the characters are so real and believable.  I can just imagine being in line at Tesco with Chelsea Benson …

Some recently read books

I’ve had a few books on the go at the same time and so have finished some close to one another. I’m also wondering what book (or books) to bring on holiday – a Marian Keyes or some Aggies? The book I finished reading yesterday [Black Widow] was about Louisa Collins – Australia’s first female serial killer. It is very well researched using only documentary evidence, but there was something lacking that I can’t put my finger on. 25529155However, the other titles written by Baxter are intriguing enough that I want to read another. Louisa endured 2 inquests and 4 trials. Going over 2 is unheard of and I felt that the state really had it in for her. Baxter mentioned some very telling things about how women were viewed in colonial Australia and especially those of little education and no social standing. Husband killing was worse than wife killing (it used to be named petit treason in the statute books) – and that is still true today to some extent. Her end was hideous and inhumane. And there are still unanswered questions about whether she did kill both husbands, or just one.

On a similar vein, I finished The Kreutzer Sonata and other Stories. The Kreutzer Sonata was hard for me to read because it is all about the loathing of women. A man kills his wife out of jealousy and he blames her for his feelings and actions. Apparently Tolstoy based this closely on his own relationship with his wife (they were going through a rough patch) and she was very upset when she found out (who wouldn’t be?!). So this wife killer gets away with murder. Tolstoy obviously didn’t have a nice word to say about women at that time. In The Kreutzer Sonata, he advocates married people live like brother and sister and not engage in sexual relations, otherwise marriage is like enforced prostitution – and the mothers looking to marry off their daughters are madams. The other stories Ivan the Fool, A Lost Opportunity, Polikuchka, and The Candle are all moral tales about religion and how the upper class are better than the serfs. I did laugh at Ivan the Fool which was my favourite of all these as it was neither highly moralising or a religious I-told-you-so. It was more about human nature.

I picked up Travels with my Aunt from the free library in Coburg because I read The 1197064Quiet American and really enjoyed it. I’m glad I picked it up because I really enjoyed this too, though it is very different from TQA. Henry Pulling has retired to a very boring life but he doesn’t see it before he meets his aunt. After getting further acquainted and getting into all sorts of adventures, he ends up seeing his life as boring and falls in love with travel and adventure. It is charming and Henry’s true capacities are slowly revealed to himself and the reader and in a very enjoyable way. His life in a small town in England is described lovingly and I think Green did love England. Green is very adept in getting across to the reader that many people are so wrapped up in their jobs that it becomes their entire life – and this is dangerous. For what do you do when you retire? Henry Pulling’s whole life before meeting his aunt was about his job and he really was at a loss on retirement. Luckily, his aunt turned up!

With Nails: The Film Diaries of Richard E Grant

Well, I’m glad I’m not an actor. All that waiting around, repetition and long periods between gigs. Plus the mercurial emotions – remember being at school and wondering when you’d be picked for a sports team? I guess it’s like that. Grant occasionally writes in ALL CAPS when he is excited or depressed, or angry or grief-stricken, and sometimes it occurs very often.

My husband and I recently rewatched Withnail & I after 129360almost finishing his film autobiography. The film was just as funny as I remembered it. What I didn’t know on first seeing it was that a lot of Withnail & I is based on Bruce Robinson’s own life after acting college. Grant looks terrible in the film with good reason (not just because the character he played was a young despairing out of work alcoholic actor). Grant doesn’t drink or smoke so when he had to get roaring drunk for the ‘chemical memory’ he got ill. He was also grieving the loss of a child Who wouldn’t look terrible in those circumstances? After Withnail, he starred in lots of Hollywood films, including some bombs (Hudson Hawke was Bruce Willis’s baby and supposed to be a Bond spoof but really, can you make a parody of a parody?) so there is a lot of Hollywood tales.

There is a lot of name dropping but it has to happen, given the nature of this autobio), so some sections were rather slow for me (because I’m not a Hollywood nut). But what is lovely is that he writes that he hates being separated from his wife and child for long periods of time and how happy he is when they come to visit.

Grant is a good writer and witty – some parts are very funny and others .. But that is real life isn’t it?

 

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