enitharmon: (bookrosie)
Arthur & George by Julian Barnes. First published 2005

The creator of the world's most famous literary detective takes up a case of his own. George Edalji, a Birmingham solicitor, son of a Scottish mother and an Indian father who was vicar of an inward-looking farming-and-mining parish in Staffordshire, has been the victim of a grotesque miscarriage of justice, convicted and imprisoned for the mutilation of horses in his home village.

This is a fictionalised account of real events, but it carries the distinctive narrative imprint of Julian Barnes. It's meticulously researched, playful, swinging from funny to deep outrage. There's much more than a piece of detective work, anyway. That only takes up about a third of the book. It's a work of biography - a brief biography of George Edalji and a more detailed one of Arthur Conan Doyle. Biography is not normally one of my favourite literary forms, but this was engrossing. It's also an outing for some of Barnes's pet themes; the complexity of love and its effect on the people tangled in its web (like Doyle, his invalid wife and his lover), and Doyle's interest in spiritualism is a shoo-in for his fascination with death and what follows.

And then, whenever any writer, let along one as clever and methodical as Julian Barnes, writes a period piece, you have to ask why? And, more pertinently maybe, why now? Perhaps it comes as a shock to find an Indian as an Anglican vicar, not in a big city but in a quiet semi-rural village. An Indian, too, who is, despite his dog-collar, perceived as a 'Hindoo', which he never was in any case, and judged accordingly. He and his dark-skinned children are "not a right sort", the don't fit in. They are persecuted to the point of gross injustice by the establishment. And then there are the establishment figures, covering up their failings, "burying" an unfavourable report by publishing it quietly on the eve of a public holiday. That could never happen these days. Could it?

We're only three weeks into January so it's way too early to start thinking about the best read of 2008. The nature of the project means that the competition is likely to be fierce, but I'd be surprised if this wasn't a contender come December.
enitharmon: (bookrosie)
K is for Killer by Sue Grafton. First published 1994.

For several years now I've been working my way slowly through Sue Grafton's series with the alphabetical theme featuring California PI Kinsey Millhone. They are unashamedly formulaic works, some have been highly enjoyable and some have misfired so far.

This eleventh in the series is a rather limp entry, and the weakest I've read so far. I'm imagining Sue Grafton regretting signing up for twenty-six titles and wondering what the hell she's going to do for the next fifteen. I get the sense of going through the motions. The ending feels rushed and unconvincing, and I don't feel any sympathy for anybody involved.

There's another tiresome feature of these series books; every one of them seems to have to explain everything in Kinsey's life all over again, so we have to be reminded once again of Kinsey's landlord Henry the eccentric retired baker (even though for the first time he is absent from this book) and Rosie the obstreperous keeper of a dodgy eaterie who, now I come to think of it, is also largely absent from this episode. Since these permanent minor characters are a lot of the fun and colour in the Alphabet books their absence from this one was keenly felt.

Lack of enthusiasm meant that I've made a meal of a short and easy book. Still, I'm assured that the series does get better so I'll press on!
enitharmon: (bookrosie)
A nice easy one to kick off with - 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne. First published 1870, first English translation 1872.

A rollicking-good fantasy adventure with the deranged Captain Nemo and his submarine Nautilus on a tour of the world's oceans in search of, well, do we ever really find out? Short and easy to read.
enitharmon: (Default)
I haven't done a reading challenge before but in 2008 I'm setting myself the task of reading one novel from each decade beginning with 1801-1810 that I've never read before. Not necessarily in order. The first decade looks like being the hardest: seems to be a choice between Maria Edgeworth and Walter Scott, unless anybody knows better!
enitharmon: (Default)

Years ago I used to quite like football. Now it mostly leaves me cold. Ever since the Premiership came in, the spirit has gone out of the game. It's part pf the entertainment industry now, more to do with selling replica kit in Sichuan than with community pride.

Still, I've felt a glow of pride for Reading FC, winning what is laughably described as the 'Championship' these days. I much prefer to call it Football League Division Two! Still, it means that Reading will be playing in the the top division next year, and the sense of pride about the town is palpable. Yesterday's parade, which I didn't actually see but I did see the periphery of it, was quite an event.

Even though I''m leaving Reading soon, and feel little affection for the place, I'm happy to have been here when it happened, to enjoy this last shout of community pride in football. Next year they may have lost their soul, but this year I still get a warm glow from someting that isn't quite lost yet.

(Photo by BBC Radio Berkshire)


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