About Me

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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Thursday, 30 October 2014

"The Last Tycoon" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This is the last and unfinished novel by FSF and it is a sympathetic portrait of movie mogul Monroe Stahr who is the chief executive of a paternalistic film studio in Hollywood. Stahr is hard working and focussed on churning out a new movie every eight days but at the same time he is dedicated to developing talent and developing this new art form. By accident, during an earthquake, Stahr meets a woman who looks exactly like his late wife: they embark on a romantic love affair even though she is about to get married.

The book is narrated by Celia, the daughter of Stahr's partner in the studio, who has a crush on Stahr and wants to make love to him while he just sees her as his partner's daughter. It swings in and out of the first person. Stahr is portrayed as compellingly human behind the move facade.

One particular feature of the book, which is a first draft and includes some errors and inconsistencies, is the way Fitzgerald wove real movie actors and film people in and out of the story. This gives the book extra verisimilitude.

Fitzgerald is very touching when he takes Stahr and Kathleen and moves them from strangers to lovers. The dialogue hints at unknown back stories which will inevitably complicate their romance. What they do is normal, yet they are moving closer together, yet there is nothing inevitable about what happens until the final moments. This was beautifully and delicately handled.

But my favourite scene is the one where Stahr is teaching a writer how to write for the movies and I imagine this must have been based on a personal experience of Fitzgerald's. Stahr diagnoses that the reason that the writer is disaffected is that he somehow sees movie scripting as unworthy because he sees movies as being mass-produced assembly-line creations which own everything to cliche and nothing to art. The writer wants to have melodrama everywhere. Stahr then paints a word picture of a movie scene:

"Suppose you're in your office .... A pretty stenographer that you've seen before comes into the room and you watch her - idly. She doesn't see you, though you're very close to her. She takes off her gloves, opens her purse and dumps it out on a table .... She has two dimes and a nickel - and a cardboard match box. She leaves the nickel on the desk, puts the two dimes back into her purse and takes her black gloves to the stove, opens it and puts them inside. There is one match by the matchbox and she starts to light it kneeling by the stove. You notice that there's a stiff wind blowing in the window - but just then your telephone rings. The girls picks it up, says hello - listens - and says deliberately into the phone, 'I've never owned a pair of black gloves in my life.' ....

What a start to a story. Proof that movies can be as great an art form as novels. Later in the book the writer, who still feels this is all beneath him, is taken by Stahr into a meeting where the writing teams on another movie have got stuck and he starts to sort it out.

I loved this book! (Although the synopsis of what Fitzgerald planned for the rest of it made me shout out: "No, that isn't how this develops!"

Fitzgerald also wrote The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night.

October 2014; 169 pages

Monday, 27 October 2014

"Frenchman's Creek" by Daphne Du Maurier

If you're going to write slushy romantic fiction, write well and write hard. This is the ultimate. Set during the Restoration (romantic enough already!) this is the tale of a headstrong lady escaping from her husband to live on her Cornish estate. She encounters a French (of course) pirate and she falls in love. But the local gentility  are searching for the pirate and the noose is tightening.

Classic and very enjoyable. October 2014; 253 pages

Saturday, 25 October 2014

"The Lady of the Camellias" by Alexandre Dumas (fils)

Marguerite is a courtesan. Every day she carries a bouquet of Camellias. Twenty five days of the month they are white, five days they are red. She goes to the theatre and mixes with Dukes and Counts. She lives a high lifestyle funded by her lovers. Then she meets Armand.

And falls in love. But he isn't rich. He cannot keep he in the style to which she is accustomed. At first she continues with her life and he tries to rationalise it that it is like having an affair with a married woman; he has to accept that she sleeps with other men. But their love is strong so they retire to the countryside and set up house together. Secretly she sells her horses and pawns her jewels so that they can afford to live. Armand assigns the income from the inheritance he got from his mother to Marguerite. Armand's father is not best pleased.

The books starts slowly at first with the framing story of the narrator who attends the auction of the dead courtesan's possessions and then meets Armand. Armand then tells the narrator his story. So it starts slowly twice over because after the auction and the mystery of finding Armand we have to go through the slow build up of Armand's meeting Marguerite and falling in love. But once they have set up house together and we know that they cannot live happily ever after because of her past, because of his poverty, because of her extravagance, because of his father; because of all of these pressures the tale then moves inexorably to its doomed outcome. In this part it becomes very compelling indeed.

Written by the son of the man who wrote the Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, this book became the inspiration for Verdi's opera La Traviata.

Brilliant. October 2014; 206 pages

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

"Maurice" by E M Forster

Maurice is from the suburbs, from the upper middle classes (dead daddy was a stockbroker), not very bright but very snobbish. He's also gay. This book, written in 1914 but not published until after Forster's death in 1970 (three years after homosexuality was legalised) follows him through Cambridge where his initial passion for the rather more intelligent (and upper class) Clive turns into a three year unconsummated love affair, into a physical relationship with a servant. Lust for the lower classes leads to such self-disgust that he seeks medical advice to cure him of his inversion. Will he accept his true nature or will he live a life of self-denial?

What I especially loved about this book, apart from the usual light touch prose and dialogue at which Forster excels (as in Room with a View, Where Angels Fear to Tread, Passage to India, and Howards End), is the way the characters leap out of their stereotypes. I love the utterly unsympathetic character of Maurice with his stupidity, his suburbanity, and his petty tyrannies over his mother and sisters. I love the servant Alec who, after their initial encounter, tries to lure Maurice back and when that fails (Maurice fears blackmail) threatens him thus realising Maurice's fears. The two of them are beastly to one another and this leads directly to (one presumes) a night of wild passion. Forster knows human beings so well that he can make the reader see their motivations underneath their contradictions.

Even as I was thoroughly disliking the nasty Maurice I was hoping that he would be true to himself and find fulfilment. This is how good Forster is.

October 2014; 218 pages

Sunday, 19 October 2014

"Intimacy" by Hanif Kureishi

Jay, an author, has decided to leave his wife and his two sons in the morning. This is the story of the night before.

Why is he leaving? He has been having an affair with another woman but she has left him. One of his friends is happily married and condemns Jay's plans. One of his friends is unhappily separated from his wife and this has caused one of his sons serious psychological damage. Jay loves his little sons. They love him and trust him absolutely. He knows that what he is planning will hurt them.

I was shouting at the book: don't be a fool. Don't leave.

The long night moved remorselessly on to the dreaded conclusion.

Sometimes I found this book so hard to read. It is so honest, so intimate, so searingly sad that I wanted to hide it where I could never find it again. It was a trauma to read it.

Stunning writing.

October 2014; 155 pages

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

"Capital" by John Lanchester

This book chronicles a year in the live of some of the people who live in, or are connected to, Pepys Road, a London street where the property prices dwarf anything that anyone can actually earn.

There is the Pakistani shopkeeper, his wife and children and his two Moslem brothers who are expecting a visit from their formidable mother. There is the city banker who needs a Christmas bonus of a million pounds to make ends meet because of the extravagance of his wife and the lifestyle they have evolved; they help to pay for a Hungarian nanny and a Polish builder. There is the old lady who is feeling unwell, her daughter and her grandson who is a famously anonymous artist. There is the million pound new soccer signing from Senegal, a seventeen year old wizard and his dad. And there is the Zimbabwean asylum seeker who has an illegal job as a traffic warden.

The plot revolves around the delivery of postcards saying 'We want what you have' and the consequences. As such it is a trivial plot device; I was much more interested in the details of the lives of the characters which were quite enough to carry the story on their own.

The author explicitly tells you back story and thoughts of each character; there are no surprises. This was 'tell, don't show' with a vengeance. And yet it very quickly got me engrossed in the stories. I really wanted to know what happened next. There weren't many surprises, but in each case there was plot development and many characters developed too. It was simply written but it worked very well.

Beware assistants!

This was a three part BBC TV series in November to December 2015.

A good read. October 2014; 577 pages.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

"The Mystery of Edwin Drood" by Charles Dickens

This is the last and unfinished novel by Charles Dickens and the only disappointing thing bout it is that it is unfinished. Although there are moments of classic Dickens sentiment and he has a deplorable tendency to tell you the innermost thoughts of some of his characters, the book stands up with a strong plot and some wonderful characters:

  • John Jasper the opium-smoking choir master and uncle of Edwin
  • Twins Helena and Neville Landless, the latter being the prime suspect for the murder of Edwin, if indeed he has been murdered
  • Edwin's guardian Mr Grewgious, living a lonely bachelor life in Chambers
  • The pompous Mayor of Cloisterham, Mr Sapsea, who can't even write an epitaph to his wife without boasting about himself
  • Opium seller Princess Puffer
  • The Philanthropist and bully Mr Honeythunder
  • Detective Dick Datchery
  • Ex sailor Mr Tartar who befriends Neville and Rosa and was Mr Crisparkle's fag at school; his house is ship-shape and Bristol fashion
  • Durdles the stonemason who rather likes a drop of liquor
  • Deputy the urchin who is employed by Durdles to throw stones at him is he sees him out after 10PM and thus drive him home
  • Combative landlady Billickin


It is a brilliant start and I would love to see it completed.

October 2014; 304 pages