A Glastonbury Romance

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Read 01/03/2021-14/03/2021

Rating 4 stars

A Glastonbury Romance is an incredible piece of literature. It won’t be to everyone’s taste. It rambles and gets bogged down in verbiage at times, but it also soars. I was utterly absorbed and entertained by it. The story examines the nature and meaning of life on Earth through the peccadilloes of its characters and John Cowper Powys’s commentary on various philosophical ideas, from religion to politics via environmentalism. I think it portrays human nature honestly, for the most part, but also reveals that Powys at best didn’t understand women, and at worst was a chauvinist. Continue reading

Permafrost

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Read 21/02/2021-26/02/2021

Rating 5 stars

Permafrost is the first novel by Catalan poet Eva Baltasar. It’s a thing of beauty, visceral and uncompromising. It’s about depression, and being cared about but not loved; it’s the story of someone who tries not to let others in because being self-contained is safer. It’s also deeply, dryly funny.

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Six Degrees of Separation: from Hamnet to How to be Both

The first Saturday of January came too soon for me. 2021 started slowly and I’m only gradually emerging from the brain hibernation I’ve been experiencing for the past couple of weeks. But here I am for Six Degrees of Separation. Can I sustain a chain a month for the meme hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best for another year? This month, we’re starting with a book I read last year, Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet.

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Six Degrees of Separation: from Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret to Fantastic Mr Fox

December’s here already, and the first Saturday of the month brings with it Six Degrees of Separation. At the start of the year, I decided that I would attempt to create a chain for the meme every month. And here I am, at the end of the year, with my twelfth chain. This month, we’re starting with Judy Blum’s 1970 classic Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

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The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

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Read 26/01/2020-14/02/2020

Rating 3 stars

Jonathan Haidt wrote The Righteous Mind in 2012, four years before many of us finally became aware that the political world had tilted on its axis and everything we thought we understood about the democratic process had unravelled. Haidt, it’s true, had pinpointed the change as starting in the 1990s, but for many of us, 2016 was Year Zero. Continue reading

I Who Have Never Known Men

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Read 13/09/2019-20/09/2019

Rating 5 stars

Jacqueline Harpman’s I Who Have Never Known Men is filed under Sci-Fi at my local library. I’m not entirely sure why. There’s a vague hint that the characters, who are incarcerated in an underground bunker for the first part of the novel, are no longer on Earth. It felt more dystopian than Sci-Fi to me, more akin to The Handmaid’s Tale, futuristic and speculative.

The novel was first published in French in 1995. An English translation followed in 1997. Vintage has reissued Ros Schwartz’s translation this year with an excellent introduction to the novel by Sophie Mackintosh. She, too, suggests that it’s a Sci-Fi work, but also relates it to Herland. Mackintosh’s intro draws out the key strands of the story and makes a case for the significance of Harpman’s book far better than I can. We are agreed that it’s a masterpiece. Continue reading

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

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Read 10/03/2019-16/03/2019

Rating 5 stars

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is the story of the intellectual and philosophical engagements with life of two residents of a Parisian apartment building. Renée Michel is the widowed concierge of the building and Paloma Josse the 12 year old daughter of one of its residents. I bought the book a little more than three years ago but haven’t felt any urge to pick it up.

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Three Short Reads

 

I slowed down my reading during January, trying to get more depth of engagement with what I read, relishing it more. This includes books of less than 150 pages that I would typically zip through. Recently I read three short books from Penguin, all of them full of big ideas. It took longer than I expected, and I found strong links between the three, so I’m reviewing them together.

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