Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. Show all posts

Friday, February 21, 2014


Many thanks to Ann Fontaine for recommending Louise Penny's mysteries. I'm about three quarters through reading "Still Life", the first book in the series with Chief Inspector Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec in Canada. I'm enjoying the story immensely, and I still don't know whodunnit, so no spoilers.

An excerpt:
Gamache waited.

The village stirred and by seven-thirty most homes had come to life. Lucy [the deceased's golden retriever] had been let out of the Morrow home and was wandering around, sniffing. She put her nose in the air, then slowly turned and walked then trotted and finally ran to the trail through the woods that would take her home. Back to her mother. Gamache watched the golden-feathered tail disappear into the maple and cherry forest, and felt his heart break. A few minutes later Clara came out and called Lucy. A single forlorn bark was heard and Gamache watched as Clara went into the woods and returned a moment later, followed slowly by Lucy, her head down and her tail still.
That's fine writing.

Gamache suffers from vertigo, and the author describes quite well his panic when he climbs up a tree to a rickety deer stand in the woods.
Gamache dug his hands into the bark, feeling the wood pinch his palm, glad for the pain to concentrate on. His horrible fear, and the terrible betrayal, wasn't that he'd trip and fall, or even that the wooden blind would tumble to the ground. It was that he'd throw himself over the edge. That was the horror of vertigo. He felt pulled to the edge and over as if an anchor was attached to his leg. Unaided, unthreatened, he would essentially kill himself. He could see it all happen and the horror of it took his breath away and for a moment he gripped the tree, closed his eyes, and fought to breathe deeply, regularly, from his solar plexus. It worked. Slowly the terror ebbed, the certainty of flinging himself to his own death diminished.
Vertigo or acrophobia plagues me, too, and it's not simply loss of balance or dizziness in high places.  Panic sometimes takes hold when I'm at the top of a stairway or any height and, like Gamache, I fear flinging myself down from the height.  The terror dissipates only if I quickly grab a railing or something solid, or if I back away from the edge.

Though I've strayed well away from the subject of the post with my diversion to the description of Gamache's vertigo and reference to my own, the quote is another vivid example of Penny's excellent writing.  I highly recommend the Gamache mysteries.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


Recently, I began rereading Barbara Pym's novels.  I have them all, but I was only going to read the one, The Sweet Dove Died, but Pym's fiction is addictive, and I'm now a good way through Excellent Women.  Before the Pym binge is over, I will have gone through all the novels again for probably the third reading.  I Googled around to see what I'd find online before writing this post .  On my second click I struck gold, pure gold at the Guardian - an article on Excellent Women, the very book I'm reading now, that links Pym to Jane Austen.  I'd already made the connection a long time ago, when I first began to read Pym.
Like Jane Austen, Pym painted her pictures on a small square of ivory, and covered much the same territory as did her better-known predecessor: the details of smallish lives led to places that could only be in England. Neither used a megaphone; neither said much about the great issues of their time.
On Excellent Women:
That world of vague longing is described in this novel in a way which not only shows us the poignancy of such hopes, but allows us to smile at them. One does not laugh out loud while reading Pym; that would be too much. One smiles. One smiles and puts down the book to enjoy the smile. Then one picks it up again and a few minutes later an unexpected observation on human foibles makes one smile again.

It is these asides, I think, that make Excellent Women so beguiling.
Oh, but one does laugh out loud, repeatedly, even in a semi-public place.  As I sat in a waiting room passing the time reading EW, I laughed out loud.  Fortunately, I was alone in the room, but I wondered whether the receptionist behind the glass heard me.

Even the names of the characters...
'And Mr Mallett and Mr Conybeare, just look at them,' she went on in a voice loud enough for the two churchwardens to hear.  'It wouldn't do them any harm to soil their hands with a little honest toil.  Teddy Lemon and the boys put up all the trestles and the urns.'

'Yes, Sister, we found everything had been done when we put in an appearance,' said Mr Mallett, a round jolly little man.  'It was quite a blow, I can tell you.' 
Mildred Lathbury, the first-person narrator, is having lunch with Everard Bone, an anthropologist, who had just returned from an archaeological tour holiday visiting caves in the Dordogne. 
'There are stone circles in Brittany, aren't there?' I began, trying to show intelligent interest.  'And then of course there's always Stonehenge.'  I remembered that my father had been interested in Stonehenge, and I seemed to see us all sitting round the dinner-table, my mother, father, a curate - I could not remember which curate - and a canon and his wife.  We were having a conversation about Stonehenge and suddenly all the lights had gone out.  The curate let out a cry of alarm but the canon's voice went on without a tremor - I could hear it now - just as if nothing had happened.  My mother got up and fussed with candles and the canon went on explaining his theory of how the great stones had been carried to Salisbury Plain.  It was an impressive performance and had been rewarded, or so it seemed to me, by a bishopric not long afterwards.  Thinking about it after all these years, I smiled.

'Yes, there's always Stonehenge,' said Everard rather stiffly.
I remember a conversation when I was in England last year about what a group of us would do on the day we met together.  One person in our group said, 'Can we not go to Stonehenge?'  All of us had seen Stonehenge, and we agreed that none of us were particularly eager for another visit.  Not that there's anything wrong with Stonehenge...

Mildred reminds me of myself in the way her mind drifts from the present moment to a time past and then responds to the memory with some sign, such as a smile, before drifting back to the present.

On marrying:
'Perhaps one shouldn't try to find people deliberately like that,' I suggested.  'I mean not set out to look for somebody to marry as if you were going to buy a saucepan or a casserole.'

'You think it should just be left to chance?  But then the person might be most unsuitable.'

The idea of choosing a husband or wife as one would a casserole had reminded me of Rocky's letter and his allegation that Everard had broken one of his casseroles.  I suppose a smile must have come on my face, for he said, 'You seem to find it amusing, the idea of marrying somebody suitable.'
Oh no.  I was somewhere else. 

I look forward to my binge.  I'd forgotten what a delight it is to read Barbara Pym.  Most of her novels are available at Amazon, and Excellent Women is on Kindle.