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

Sunday, 20 May 2018

"Nightmare Abbey" by Thomas Love Peacock

I met Sean at the book launch of the second novel by Ruth Hogan whose first is The Keeper of Lost Things. Sean is the only person I have ever met to have read the complete words of Sir Walter Scott. Sean recommended Nightmare Abbey to me.

This is a comic novella published in 1818 which satirises Peacock's literary circle which included the poets Shelley (Scythrop), Coleridge (Mr Flosky) and Byron (Mr Cypress).

Mr Glowry lives with his son, Scythrop, in Nightmare Abbey: gloomy people in a gloomy house. They have a house party, including, at various times:

  • Mr (and Mrs Hilary). He is cheerful and the voice of common sense in the book.
  • His niece and ward Marionetta, who has “some coquetry and more caprice” (p 50) and alternately woos Scythrop and rejects his advances. She is a tease and can send up the others.
  • Mr Flosky “a very lachrymose and morbid gentleman, of some note in the literary world” who hankers after “the good old times” (p 44) He has a chapter when he spouts philsophical gibberish at Marionetta who, frustrated, concludes that he either doesn’t know or won’t tell her.
  • Mr Toobad who believes that the devil is in charge of the world and always dampens the suggestion of hope with the phrase “not in our time” (p 45) Mr Toobad manages to fall down the stairs and fall into the Abbey moat; he provides the physical comedy. 
  • Reverend Mr Larynx “a good-natured accommodating divine, who was always most obligingly ready to take a dinner and a bed at the house of any country gentleman in distress for a companion” and who can be all things to all people.
  • Mr Listless whom Mr G found in London found “stretched on the rack of too easy a chair” (p 49); when discussing ghosts he declares that “I once saw a ghost myself, in my study, which is the last place with anyone but a ghost would look for me.” (p 109) 
  • Mr Asteria, an ichthyologist, on a quest to find a mermaid, who thinks he sees one in the Abbey moat.
  • Mr Cypress, about to embark for a foreign tour of ruins.


From time to times these characters have a post-prandial discussion. At these moments the normnal prose style of the book turns into a playscript format. Discussions include modern literature

The plot, such as it is, revolves around Scythrop who is what we would today call a conspiracy theorist and has published a book (seven copies sold) about his plans to use the Illuminati to achieve world improvement. He is torn between his love for Marionetta, who represents frivolity and fun, and Celinda, who arrives late in the story, and represents learning and seriousness.

Mostly, however, the novella is a vehicle for Peacock to show of his learning and his wit. There are moments when the characters transcened their caricatures and one scene in which the delightful Marionetta, possibly the best character, is teasing Scythrop, who is besotted with her and pretending to read Dante. She says “‘I see you are in the middle of Purgatory’. - ‘I am in the middle of hell,’ said Scythrop furiously. ‘Are you?’ said she, ‘then come across the room and I will sing you the finale of Don Giovanni’.” (p 64) Shortly after she observes to Mr Listless  that a “compendious method of courtship” is to read a book from the centre turning pages randomly back and forth “and she will immediately perceive that you are desperately in love with her.” (p 65)

Some more great lines:
  • she had mistaken the means for the end - that riches, rightly used, are instruments of happiness, but are not in themselves happiness.” (p 39) 
  • She often went her daily rounds through a series of deserted apartments, every creature in the house vanishing at the creak of her shoe.” (p 40) 
  • He was sent, as usual, to a public school, where a little learning was painfully beaten into him, and from thence to the university, where it was carefully taken out of him; and he was sent home like a well-threshed ear of corn, with nothing in his head” (p 40)
  • what, sir, is love to a windmill? Not grist, I am certain.” (p 54)
  • Laughter and merriment make a human being no better than a baboon.” (p 56)
  • Visiting ancient monuments is "much the same as if a lover should dig up the buried form of his mistress, and gaze upon relics which are anything but herself, to wander among a few mouldy ruins, that are only imperfect indexes to lost volumes of glory, and meet at every step the more melancholy ruins of human nature - a degenerate race of stupid and shrivelled slaves, grovelling in the lowest depths of servility and superstition.” (p 98)
  • a happy disposition finds materials of enjoyment everywhere” whilst a “discontented temper ... is always busy in detecting deficiencies, and feeding dissatisfaction with comparisons. The one gathers all the flowers, the other all the nettles, in its path. The one has the faculty of enjoying everything, the other of enjoying nothing. The one realises all the pleasure of the present good; the other converts it into pain, by pining after something better, because it is not present” (p 79)
  • We are most of us like Don Quixote, to whom a windmill was a giant, and Dulcinea a magnificent princess: all more or less the dupes of our own imagination.” (p 110)

May 2018; 86 pages

Thursday, 17 May 2018

"Purged" by Peter Laws

I met the author at a book launch for Ruth Hogan, who wrote The Keeper of Lost Things. It is always a worry to read a book in such circumstances: the review has to be honest and yet one doesn't want to offend. However, despite my early misgivings, I thought this book was well-written and I honestly enjoyed it very much.

Professor Matt Hunter used to be a priest but is now an atheist living with wife architect Wren, her teenage daughter Lucy and seven year old Amelia. They holiday in a cottage in deepest rural Oxfordshire, she to bid for a commission for a church extension in the village, he to complete his book. But the village is increasingly dominated by a charismatic preacher; many of the folk are born-again Bible bashers. And then women start to disappear.

One's first impression is that this is fiction where the pot has been boiled too long. The rural location with the creepy villagers (they attend a pre-Baptismal purging in which they all wear sunglasses) is straight out of B-movie horror films. The names themselves (Hunter for the hero, Wren for an architect, Seth for the local farmer) are not exactly subtle. The preacher is suitably extreme, there is a youth worker whose character screams paedophile, one of the policemen is a member of the flock: all these things are standard castings.

The plot is more thriller than whodunnit. The book opens with the killer baptising the first victim and then bashing her head in with a rock: lots of gory details. Thus, although the author hides the identity of the killer until the very end, we know he is a male. We also know the killer's motivation from the start. This sort of structure, starting with the horrific crime and letting us see things from more than the point of view of just the crime-solver, is increasingly common; another example is Hold Tight by Harlan Coben.

One increasingly common trend in books of this genre that I don't particularly like is the provision of back story. In Purged the back story comes in chunks. I prefer drip feed.

But the plot is always less important than the characters. The use of the family dynamic and the pressures and conflicts it entailed was another strong point for the book. So may detectives are solitary misfits and this means that their character is crucial to carry the book. Here the subsidiary characters were always more important, especially Wren and Lucy. Even the librarian, a walk-on part if ever there was one, was a brilliant character; it was like watching a cameo performance by a great actor. And Chris the preacher, the antagonist, was an interestingly complex character with many more dimensions than the stock baddy.

But what lifted this above the usual run of thrillers was the writing. There were scenes, such as the killing of the fox in the forest, which were original and spun from pure literary gold. There were many moments when the author deployed his techniques with skill and deftness. particularly strong at the little side descriptions that suddenly add three dimensions to a scene:
  • "A long string of wet lettuce hung out of her mouth like an alien tongue." (p 26)
  • "Marzipan lodged in his throat." (p 65)
  • "they stepped inside, nostrils instantly damp with the smell of mouldy carpet." (p 95) Wow! Damp nostrils!
  • "he saw a family of woodlice scuttling towards his foot. It felt like as good a cue as any to leave." (p 169)
  • "He listened to hundreds of people whispering at the same time, making a sound that slithered through the room like there were snakes under the chairs." (p 215)
  • The blind woman who is baptised by total immersion wearing a white shirt and a black bra. (p 239)
  • "He sat there listening to the gaunt quiet." (p 347) 'Gaunt'. Wow!
  • Looking back on the crematorium and seeing a cloud in the sky and confusing it with the smoke from the body. (p 352)
  • "He could smell the damp pavement under his feet." (p 356)
There were some vivid, original and very modern descriptions and metaphors:
  • "God on his throne clasping his hands together in watery-eyed delight as another latchkey prodigal skipped her way down the front path." (p 18) 'Latchkey prodigal'! So modern and so effective. And the image of the 'watery-eyed' deity links seamlessly to the context of baptism. Brilliant!
  • "He'd have felt less conspicuous in a dayglo mankini." (p 20)
  • "He even spotted a child's toy ... face down in a puddle of sweet and sour sauce, grinding his animatronic limbs back and forth like he was slowly screwing the spring roll wedged in his crotch." (p 25)
  • "Gangs of youths started to shimmer out of the concrete, with hoods up like medieval monks with ASBOs." (p 40) I adore 'shimmer'!
  • "Her face reminded him of those ghostly old photographs you see hanging in stately homes, only she wasn't wearing a Victorian night dress. She was wearing a leopard skin onesie." (p 123)
  • "He opened the glovebox which contained, of all things, gloves." (p 125)
  • "Every time someone talks religious round here there's this flicker on your face. Like you just sat on a syringe." (p 199)
  • "He felt like a bomb disposal expert trying to pick the right wire to cut. Only it was always more complicated when you happened to love the bomb." (p 300)
He was particularly good at weaving in of religious phrases from memory of a teenage "apocalyptic acne breakout." (p 20) to the police officer warning of rain with "the heavens are opening" (p 169)

He also had a nice line in pathetic fallacy such as "Now that the sun had truly sunk on Hobbs Hill" (p 114)

There were also some fascinating insights:
  • On church architecture: "Baptists love the Bible, so it lies there open, front and centre in the Sanctuary. Catholics love the Eucharist, so the altar sits in the spotlight." (p 95)
  • The way we can keep doing mechanical things when our minds are screaming at us to stop and pay attention to a dramatic change: "Matt heard the word dead echo in his ears and yet he still went to grab another handful of tortilla chips." (p 107)
  • "They started clapping (on beats one and three ... because white Christians never clap on two and four)" (p 111)
  • "He had that tight-lipped strutting thing going on. The move that stressed people do." (p 220)
  • "Funerals reminded him of a simple, shitty fact: that when it comes down to it, we all die alone. ... All those relationships we grow and nurture over a lifetime are just hurtling daily woards this. Cold, quiet, in a box. On our own." (p 319)
  • "Everyone he'd ever known liked to look at water. Walk along a crowded beach and you'd see families pressing the legs of their deckchairs deep into the sand ... so that they could look out. ... Water is the show and people will pay a surcharge to watch it from their hotel windows, to sleep to its whispering." (p 422
Another line I wish I had written:

  • "His eyes lingered on it, willing the shadow to rise. Astonished at how quickly sin can spread from one person to the next. Like fleas. Or the plague." (p 12)
I didn't think I would but I really enjoyed it. Must read the next!

Wonderful. May 2018; 471 pages

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

"The Versions of Us" by Laura Barnett

Cambridge. 1958. Eva,a nineteen year old student at Cambridge, swerves to avoid a dog. What happens?

In story one Jim offers to repair her puncture. They become boyfriend and girlfriend after she has broken off her affair with actor David.

In story two she rides on, ignoring Jim. She marries her boyfriend David.

In story three Jim and Eva get together until she discovers that she is pregnant by her former boyfriend David. She refuses to ask Jim to care for another man's child. Instead she goes back to David and they get married.

And these stories, set by chance onto different arcs, continue through the years. They grow old and have children. Eva the wannabe writer writes. Jim the wannabe painter paints. David becomes a Hollywood star. As each new set of events happen we discover what is happening in story one, two, and three. Sometimes they come together for family celebrations. Sometimes their stories continue on isolated paths. The names and numbers of children on different trajectories are different. Sometimes you have to concentrate hard to remember which path you are on. Who is married to whom. But it is cleverly done, though with less humour (and fewer tears) than in One Day by David Nicholls, the book it most resembles.

I did wonder why we have to be so firmly in the glittering world of painters and writers and actors. Ordinary people were a little hard to find. And the message of the book seems to be that domesticity stifles creativity.

Lines I wish I'd written:

  • "The stranger beams at him. 'You're British!' This said triumphantly, as if he might have forgotten." (p 83)
  • "you think snow is white, but it's not - it's silver, purple, grey. Look closely. Every flake is different. You must always try to show things as they are." (p 100)
  • "Men with cruel, handsome faces and unseeing eyes. Men who always won the game, without even bothering to learn the rules." (p 101)
  • "Dullness isn't contagious." (p 117)
  • "the relief that comes with the first drink - the sense that he is reconfiguring the world, making it comprehensible." (p 247)


Although the structure of the book can make it difficult to keep track of all the elements of the stories and to make sure that they didn't cross from narrative to narrative, and perhaps that is part of the point, this book was still capable of ensuring that the reader empathised with and even identified with the characters and it packed a powerful emotional punch in the end.

May 2018; 401 pages

Thursday, 10 May 2018

"No Longer At Ease" by Chinua Achebe

This sequel to Things Fall Apart starts with Obi Okonkwo, grandson of the Okonkwo whose life made up the story of that book, on trial for having received a bribe. This book explains the pressures on a young man who has been funded by his village to get a University education in England; who, returning, discovers that he must pay back his scholarship, and pay towards his little brother's education and his mother's hospital bills, and car insurance, and income tax; and that he still cannot complain to people who salary is one tenth of his. Money troubles, and girlfriend troubles, turn his promising youth into a tragedy. As Obi, an English graduate, says: "I remember an old man in my village ... who suffers one calamity after another. He said life was like a bowl of wormwood which one sips a little at a time world without end. ... Real tragedy is never resolved. It goes on hopelessly for ever. Conventional tragedy is too easy. The hero dies and we feel a purging of the emotions." Perhaps this refers to the story of Africa itself. (Chapter 5)

Although Things Fall Apart is regard as Achebe's classic in many ways I preferred this book to the first. Perhaps this was because it had a more conventional plot. In the first book things happened. In this book things happen for a reason. Although in the first book it could be argued that the misfortunes piled onto the head of Okonkwo stemmed from his single impious act and that therefore the hero was responsible for his own misfortune, in this book Obi seems to have been cursed by fate. The badness that he does is almost forced upon him. But the chain of events in which tragedy leads inevitably to more tragedy  is more conventionally western.

At the same time Achebe produces an interesting portrait of Nigeria in the years just before independence. One could argue that this is a portrait of a society that has been irreparably damaged by the unintended consequences of colonialism. But that would be too simplistic. There is a clear clash between traditional and modern values but Achebe is careful to ensure that all opinions are put. For example, although it is clear that bribery is wrong and that Obi is noble (although naive) in his early stands against it, people accept bribery as part of the way of doing things, an essential for hard-pressed underpaid public servants, and somethings whose origins are African although some white men are beginning to take up the practice (perhaps it could be argued that they didn't need to before):
  • "I am against people reaping where they have not sown. But we have a saying that if you want to eat a toad you should look for a fat and juicy one." (Chapter 1)
  • "He should not have accepted the money himself. What others do is tell you to go and hand it to their houseboy." (Chapter 1)
  • Another, more modern, character suggests that bribery is acceptable providing that you don't change what you would have done when you accept the bribe (so you are in effect taking a bribe and cheating the briber).
People, Achebe seems to say, are essentially selfish:
    • "We are strangers in this land. If good comes to it may we have our share ... But if bad comes let it go to the owners of the land." (Chapter 1)
Although Clara is a strong portrait of a modern African woman the overall atmosphere is still heavily patriarchal and male-dominated.

There are some great descriptions:

  • "He wore her sadness round his neck like a necklace of stone." (Chapter 6)
  • "He had very bad teeth ... One was missing in front, and when he laughed the gap looked like a vacant plot in a slum." (Chapter 7)
  • "There was always a part of him, the thinking part, which seemed to stand outside it all watching the passionate embrace with cynical disdain. The result was that one half of Obi might kiss a girl and murmur 'I love you', but the other half would say: 'Don't be silly'." (Chapter 7)
There are lots of African sayings:

  • "He that fights for a ne'er-do-well has nothing to show for it except a head covered in earth and grime." (Chapter 1)
  • "We are not empty men who become white when they see white, and black when they see black." (Chapter 5)
  • "It is not right to ask a man with elephantiasis of the scrotum to take on smallpox as well, when thousands of other people have not had even their share of small diseases." (Chapter 10)
And other original perspectives:
  • Obi is on the boat coming home form England, He looks across the sea. "What a waste of water. A microscopic fraction of the Atlantic would turn the Sahara into a flourishing grassland. So much for the best of all possible worlds. Excess here and nothing at all there." (Chapter 3); Achebe has clearly read Voltaire's Candide.
  • "the government was 'they'. It had nothing to do with you and me. It was an alien institution and people's business was to get as much from it as they could without getting into trouble." (Chapter 4)
  • "One felt very brisk after a cold bath. As with weeping, it was only the beginning that was difficult."(Chapter 13)
  • "The impatient idealist says: 'Give me a place to stand and I shall move the earth'. But such a place does not exist. We all have to stand on the earth itself and go with her at her pace." (Chapter 19)
Written in a very flat style, this book nevertheless develops some interesting characters and is a good read.

May 2018; 133 pages

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

"Windmills in Flames" by Tom Raworth

Raworth is a modernist poet. He uses few capitals, occasional punctuation, and very little discernible structure although sometimes he seems to play games. For example, in this volume:
  • Systems Disruption has two stanzas. Each stanza contain six lines; each line contains between four and six words. The words in each stanza are identical. Just in a different order. Both seem randomly arranged. 
  • Issue them gasmasks has two stanzas. Each stanza has four lines, The first three lines have three ‘words’ each followed by a fourth line of two words. Each ‘word’ consists of a part of an English word. These usually derive from Latin. Perhaps the game is that you can make other words and therefore construct a variety of poems.
  • Seesound, which is I suppose a play of the word seesaw, contains within it some ‘matched’ lines, sometimes as couplets and at other times distributed. Thus:
    • means of impression/ means of expression
    • no room for present ... no room for poignant/ no room for pregnant
    • added value water/ added while water/ added whole water
  • Never Odd Nor Even consists of six stanzas each of seven lines. The first four stanzas are a sort of ‘theme with variations’: five of the lines from the preceding stanza are repeated with two new lines added. Sometimes the line added came from a previous stanza. Each line is repeated twice over the four stanzas. The final two stanzas have the same seven lines in each but in a different order. None of these lines appeared previously.What is he playing at? Campanology? 
The volume contains what are presumably modernist jokes:
  • i am lonely for my replaced cells is a poem that consists of the single line: "1945, 1952, 1959, 1966, 1973, 1980, 1987" and presumably alludes to the belief that every cell in one’s body is replaced every seven years. 
  • 26 is a poem about dementia. I think. Right justified, almost every line ends in the middle of a word, as if the thought has suddenly stopped.
  • Language Construction consists of a big square blacktype letter A superimposed on a letter E and a letter N and a letter G. I think. It is dedicated to Doug Lang so it might be an L instead of an E to form an anagram but it looks like an E to me

But Envoi is the poem that sneers at people like me who remember rhythm and rhyme. It starts "I could go on like this all day/ Ti-tum ti-tum and doodly-ay". I suppose Raworth is saying that he can write conventional poetry but chooses not to; he has a higher calling. The trouble is that this is a pretty poor poem in conventional terms so the point is lost.

A number of poems refer to 'pleasant butter' but this makes no more sense than anything else.

I really don't understand much of this. He sounds angry.

Some lines did resonate with me:
  • something not quite filters through eyelashes
  • where do they go/ those things we know we know
Mostly, however, I just felt confused and stupid.

May 2018; 88 pages

Sunday, 6 May 2018

"See what I have done" by Sarah Schmidt

This is a "reimagining" of the Lizzie Borden axe murder case from 1892. The history is that Lizzie's step-mother and father were murdered, her probably first, in an upstairs bedroom while he was out, him secondly after he came home, downstairs. After some investigation Lizzie was tried for the murders but acquitted. No one else was ever charged.

It is written in first person narratives of four key players: Lizzie herself, her elder sister Emma who was on vacation in a nearby town when the murders took place, Bridget the maid, and a boy named Benjamin.

Lizzie is obsessed with blood and has some very strange thoughts:

  • "She made my teeth want to sink into her flesh and eat her out of life" (p 219)
  • "There was a pop in the middle of my ear. It crawled out and lunged at the walls of the house." (p 221)

Emma is the older child, 41 at the time of the murders, who has been pushed out by Lizzie, the baby of the family, the darling of her daddy, the favourite. She is desperate to get away but she was forced to dump the only boyfriend she had; Lizzie didn't want Emma to leave her. "Men didn't come knocking at our door, did not bother talking to me at social engagements. I hadn't realised how lonely a heart could become." (p 143) Emma's is the saddest story, forced to look after a bullying little sister whose moods verge of madness.

Bridget the maid is the normal one of the quartet, forced by economic necessity to watch the father bully the girls, the younger daughter bully everyone. Bridget is the sanest of the chroniclers and it is thanks to her that we get a true understanding of the poisoned relationships within the claustrophobic household.

If Lizzie is strange Benjamin is psychopathic. He flees his home after committing a serious assault on his father's first wife. He is a killer, as much at home with blood and pieces of bone as Lizzie. He assaults policemen and runs away. He is the ultimate in violent bogeymen. I was not sure what part Benjamin played in the narrative. He had the useful function of stealing the axe (the police never found the murder weapon) and offering it to Lizzie years later, when Emma finally left Lizzie. But he also plays a role in normalising Lizzie: she might be weird but Benjamin is violence personified.

I can't decide whether I found the authorly technique intrusive. She has certainly created a mood of claustrophobia and hatred and blood and other bodily fluids. But the writing is strange. For example, Lizzie often describes something by repeating a word: "my heart beat nightmares, gallop, gallop ... The clock on the mantle ticked ticked" (pp 3 - 4) She goes to drink water and "let my hands sink into the cool sip sip" (p 6) "The clock on the mantel ticked ticked" (p 6; again) This technique made me feel that Lizzie was a child. In fact she was 32. Throughout Lizzie's narratives you get the feel that she is a few sandwiches short of a picnic. But other characters also use words in strange and original ways. For example, Benjamin says :"The barn was the heat of sun-fire." (p 189) and Bridget says: "My underthings clung to my sweating places." (p 200) This is wonderful description but the technique is clearly visible.

Other great lines:

  • "The place where people talked about love like it was part of breathing." (p 39)
  • "At home, Mama was a dust keeper. Hours then hours of menial tasks to keep herself from thinking. 'If I stop, I'll leave and I'm not sure I'd take the children'." (p 75)
  • "John whistled as he walked. I was already sick of his tune." (p 157)

May 2018; 319 pages

Saturday, 5 May 2018

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" by William Shakespeare

I have seen this as an amateur production in The Place Theatre in Bedford; I hope to see it performed at Greenwich Theatre by the Lazarus Company who have also performed for me Tamburlaine and Edward II, both by Christopher Marlowe.

The plot revolves around Oberon, king of the fairies, using a love potion to make his wife Titania fall in love with the first thing she sees on waking, which Oberon's servant, the mischievous Robin Goodfellow, a puck, ensures is a weaver called Bottom whom Puck has given the head of an ass.

At the same time in the magical wood are a foursome of mismatched lovers. Tall blonde Helena (it would seem that Shakespeare wrote these parts for the characteristics of the two boys who played women in his theatrical company) is in love with Demetrius who doesn't love her but wants to marry short dark Hermia who doesn't want him but Lysander who loves her. So Oberon commands Puck to enchant Demetrius to love Helena but Puck gets it wrong and enchants Lysander instead. So now no one wants Hermia and both men want Helena who now thinks they are teasing her. And of course the men want to fight. The scene in the centre of the play (A3S2) is a brilliant fourway dialogue (tetralogue?)

The other plot is that of the rustics who are to perform a play in front of Duke Theseus for his wedding feast. Their rehearsals in the wood are interrupted when Nick Bottom, the weaver, is given the ass's head. This play ends with their play which, with Bottom overacting, the Wall talking and the Lion reassuring the ladies that he is not really a lion in case they are afraid, is as dreadful as it promised to be.

Classic error-strewn, knockabout Shakespearean comedy with the added bonus that one can really feel the characterisations (there is a wonderful moment right at the start when Lysander, angered that Hermia's father wants Hermia to marry Demetrius, says “You have her father's love, Demetrius;/ Let me have Hermia’s. Do you marry him.” Snarky!).

And, of course, there is the poetry:

... how slow
This old moon wanes! She lingers my desires
Like to a stepdame or a dowager
Long withering out a young man's revenue


Who'd be a nun?
To live a barren sister all your life,
Chanting faint hymns to the cold fruitless moon.


The world is out of sorts:
The ox hath therefore stretched his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attained a beard.
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrain flock.


Helena tells them not to take the piss:
O spite! O hell! I see you all are bent
To set against me for your merriment.


Why should he stay whom love doth press to go?

You thief of love - what, have you come by night
And stol’n my love’s heart from him?


My fairy lord, this must be done with haste,
For night’s swift dragons cut the clouds full fast,
And yonder shines Aurora’s harbinger,
At whose approach ghosts, wand’ring here and there,
Troop home to churchyards; damned spirits all
That in cross-ways and floods have burial
Already to their wormy beds are gon
e”

Cupid is a knavish lad
Thus to make poor females mad.


These things seem small and undistinguishable,
Like far off mountains turned into clouds
.”

Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold:
That is the madman. The lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt.
The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven,
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.


May 2018

Thursday, 3 May 2018

"Research" by Philip Kerr

Best-selling author John uses an 'atelier' of ghost writers including Don, who narrates the first part of this book. When John's wife is found shot in his fancy Monaco apartment and John disappears the Monagesque police come to London to interview Don. Whodunnit? And then John skypes Don pleading ignorance and asking for help.

About half way through the book we discover the true identity of the killer and the whodunnit turns into a thriller as John and Don flee across the south of France in a borrowed Bentley, stopping only at fine restaurants and luxurious hotels.

This has all the hallmarks of the wish-fulfillment thriller. The Monagesque police interview Don over lunch at Claridges in the course of which they drink two bottles of expensive wine. No opportunity to name drop is passed up: for example, we learn that posh luggage has identity codes on metal plates sewn into the insides and that it is difficult to sell a second-hand million pound watch encrusted with black diamonds without the box. One of the more endearing habits is the way Don continually quotes from books he has read and loved. But mostly this is boy's stuff: the women are there to shag, to betray, to be betrayed by, and to shop.

There was some good advice about how to write a thriller:

  • "Words only appear to be your friends; but you should think of them as the speed bumps on your page; they can slow the story down as much as they can keep it bowling along." (p 39)
  • "Cliches ... are the verbal particle accelerators to finishing books." (p 40)
  • "If you want to use similes and metaphors then go and write fucking poetry." (p 40)
  • "It was Picasso's genius to know exactly what you could leave out of a painting." (p 65)
  • "That's the thing about writing people just don't understand. It's about making yourself so bored that there's nothing else to do except to write." (p 154)
  • "Travel might broaden the mind but it means you get less writing done." (p 353)


Other great quotes:

  • "It doesn't matter where the fuck you come from; what matters is where you're going." (p 53)
  • "No one ever takes the stairs in our building. Most of the other residents would need a defibrillator if they climbed into their beds a bit too quickly." (p 127)
  • "You would always be getting into scrapes as long as you believed that you did things to girls instead of with them." (p 139) Not that this author takes his own advice judging from his entirely passive female characters.
  • "For a few moments it felt as if we two were at peace and had become so unmoored from the realities of everyday life that we were floating high above the rest of the world. Then again, that's how most writers feel, most of the time." (p 246)
  • "Zero sugar philosophy for muppets." (p 258)
  • "I'm the kind of person who if ever I were asked on Desert Island Discs would much prefer to be cast away with eight books instead of eight records. Music I can live without, but reading, no." (p 274)
  • "The place is about as shallow as a Martini glass." (p 356)


May 2018; 373 pages