Saturday, 26 May 2007


AUTHOR: C. J. Sansom


DATE READ: May 2007

NOTES: A really great read. The story brings to life the sights, sounds and smells of Tudor London as Matthew Shardlake and his sidekick Barak tear round the city in an attempt to regain the secret of Greek Fire for Cromwell and the King while at the same time trying to save the hapless Elizabeth Wentworth from being wrongly condemned to a grisly death. The author doesn’t shy away from the complex religious issues of the day and how small deviation in belief could lead to a hideous execution. Well paced, a cracking plot and good characterisations – what more could you ask for from a historical crime fiction? (Better than Dissolution!)

Wednesday, 23 May 2007


AUTHOR: Gustave Flaubert


DATE READ: April 2007

NOTES: I can well understand how controversial this novel was when it was first published. Overall it is a vicious portrayal of small town France. Most of the characters are revealed to be self-seeking and vain. At the heart of the story is Emma Bovary – and Flaubert is, I feel, ambivalent in his attitude to her. He sometimes describes her very favourably and at others as selfish hard-hearted. And we as readers share this ambivalence – is she a cruel temptress who cares little for her own child or is she a victim of the social mores and unable to act independently? Certainly the book highlights how women of the time could only find happiness and fulfilment through a male partner.

The suicide at the end is prolonged and horrific. Was Flaubert hoping to attract our sympathy for the hapless Emma or was he ensuring that she was suitably punished for her infidelities?

The writing is splendid – surprisingly modern and beautifully descriptive. I am sorry I let this book sit unread on my bookshelf for so long!

Wednesday, 16 May 2007


AUTHOR: Martin Amis


DATE READ: May 2007

NOTES: I chose to read this book as it was included in the recent Guardian list as one of the books best evoking the 1980s. And it had been sitting unread on a bookshelf for ages….
It’s the story of John Self as he weaves his way through life, revelling in money, sex, alcohol and pornography. From a background in advertising he is caught up in plans to make a film in US but gradually falls foul of a financial scam and his world gradually falls apart. Very exuberant language – including some very evocative invented names for actors, fast food etc. Martin Amis appears as a character – this is done in a clever and intriguing way and not as an ego trip.
There are lots of literary references eg Otello the opera (Self get the plot wrong!) and a car called Iago. Reference to Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 also very funny. Most characters are venal and untrustworthy and the whole book is a mixture of darkness and hilarity.

Thursday, 3 May 2007




DATE READ: April 2007

NOTES: I loved The Dream of Scipio and An Instance of the Fingerpost so I was looking forward to this book. It is a pretty easy read although he has chosen to use a narrator (the artist, Henry MacAlpine) speaking as a monologue to his subject (art critic, William Naysmith) Not an easy way to tell a story involving betrayal, jealousy and spite – but he copes with this pretty well. He built up the picture of the windswept Breton island and of life in the artistic community at the end of the 18th and beginning of 19th centuries. The ending is a bit predictable, but nonetheless satisfying, as there were a few surprises along the way.

Would make a good radio play – or would be good to have as an audio book.