Mr Norris Changes Trains

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Read 25/09/2018-04/10/2018

Rating: 4 stars

This time two years ago I read Goodbye to Berlin, Christopher Isherwood’s collection of short stories that describe life in Berlin in the years leading up to Hitler seizing power. Mr Norris Changes Trains is an earlier novel that deals with the same period. It’s part comedy of manners, part espionage thriller. Continue reading

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Random Thoughts: Sleeping in a library

Well, not quite in a library. Almost, though.

My best friend’s husband texted me a couple of months ago to suggest a birthday surprise for his lovely wife. I’ve known Mandy since 1989. We met at a party in our first term at university and shared a house in our final year. Over the twenty six years since graduation, we have been through lots of adventures, but this weekend I think we had our best one yet. Continue reading

The House of the Seven Gables

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Read 07/03/2018-14/03/2018

Rating: 3 stars

I bought The House of the Seven Gables for £1 from the book shop in the café at Mrs Gaskell’s House. Once upon a time, it had cost five shillings, and its purchaser had given it to a friend. There’s an inscription inside the front cover. The recipient is nameless, the donor signs themself M.L. and it’s clear that the book meant a lot to them. Continue reading

Revolutionary Road

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Read 09/02/2018-21/02/2018

Rating: 5 stars

This is the first Richard Yates novel I’ve read. I own it thanks to the Willoughby Book Club which, once I whittle my to read pile down, I intend to subscribe to again.

My first thoughts were that Yates is an Updike with charm, and that his prose style is the equivalent of Meryl Streep’s acting – a bubbling effervescence lying across hints of darker depths. Revolutionary Road is set at a similar time to Rabbit, Run. Its main male protagonist has similarities to Rabbit Angstrom, but he’s also more mature. Continue reading

My Ántonia

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Read 08/10/2017-16/10/2017

Rating: 4 stars

I chose this book for Nebraska in the US Road Trip reading challenge that The Reader’s Room ran from July to September. I didn’t manage to complete the challenge, but I’ve decided to carry on because I’m enjoying discovering new-to-me American authors. I hadn’t heard of Willa Cather. My Ántonia has a 34-page introduction in the Oxford World’s Classics edition that I borrowed from the library, which I skipped to read the novel, but then didn’t return to because I didn’t want someone else’s academic critique to spoil the book with earnest dullness. Maybe it wasn’t dull at all. (It looked dull.)

Anyway, to my hopefully not dull critique of the novel! Jim Burden, a New York-based lawyer for a railway company, encounters an old friend on a train journey across Iowa. They begin to reminisce about a woman, the Ántonia of the title, whom they both knew in Nebraska when they were young.

Continue reading

The End of the World: A Love Story

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Read 19/08/2017-26/08/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge

I hadn’t heard of Edward Eggleston before. I’m unsure how well known he and his brother George are in the US, but they were certainly celebrated in life and their home in Indiana is now an historical monument. I needed to find a book for the Indiana stage of the Road Trip Across America challenge I’m doing, so I Googled authors from the state and sought out something I liked the sound of. My local library wasn’t much help, so I ended up downloading Edward Eggleston’s second novel from Project Gutenberg.

The End of the World sounded like the kind of easy going 19th century literature I typically enjoy. It’s very much as you would expect a novel written in 1872 to be. The characters are extremes of human nature, almost clichés. There is the hen pecked husband who is easily manipulated by his shrewish wife, and a pair of young lovers who are kept apart by her parents because he, a farmhand and a foreigner, isn’t good enough. Lots and lots of prejudice, and lots and lots of over dramatisation. On the first page, Mrs Anderson is introduced as a manipulative harridan, and I almost stopped reading right there. However, as other characters were introduced, I realised that the descriptions were intended as comedic, and the novel was tongue in cheek. It made me think of the musicals I loved watching when I was young. Calamity Jane, Oklahoma!, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Lots of rambunctious action and foolhardy decisions before everything comes right in the end. Continue reading