News Archive

June 10, 2017
Amaryllis on Hubris

We are now officially the laughing stock of Europe… a high price to pay for the bookshop now being in a Labour constituency for the first time in its life.

Politicians! When will they ever learn? Perhaps if they studied a bit of Greek history, surely on the Eton/grammar school syllabus, they might have learned of the term ‘hubris’, ‘the pride that blinds’…

Or actually, Teresa May could just have learned a lesson from her predecessor. David Cameron called for a referendum on the EU and then sat back dreaming of his name in the history books as the man brave enough to let the people decide etc. But, unfortunately the people had a mind of their own and he will now be in the history books as the man who unnecessarily, and for his own aggrandisement, gave rise to Brexit – and then made a swift exit leaving others to clean up his mess. He now spends most of his time having pedicures!

Teresa May succeeds as Prime Minister: has her own ego trip – a bigger majority to push through her ‘hard’ Brexit; calls a general election despite saying she wouldn’t and has woken up today to the even worse mess of a hung parliament. She now faces a humiliating alliance with the DUP to make any kind of headway, calls from all sides including her own for her resignation and disbelief at her incompetency from the very European powers she will be hoping to impress.

Chaos on a massive scale but she didn’t need to just look to the Greeks to be warned: The King James Version says ‘Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall’ – and she a vicar’s daughter… Many politicians cite Trollope as a favourite author and Augustus Melmotte in Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, is typical of a the powerful man whose pride and arrogance prove his undoing as a tiny slip leads to exposure and suicide.

In Middlemarch, Mr Bulstrode, a wealthy banker with a suspect past employs religious hypocrisy to build himself into somebody he is not. He is exposed and exiled from the community and only his loving wife stands by him.

In Frankenstein, Victor’s pride in his scientific experiments creates the monster that destroys him – especially relevant to TM and DC in regard to the monster, Brexit.

In comparison with the past bleak months, the election actually feels like a party in the park! I have been considering how to find solace in times of such bleak uncertainty and distress. The television is hopeless, endless channels with absolutely nothing to watch – how is that possible? After a great spell at the pictures: Lady Macbeth; Their Finest; The Handmaiden and Frantz, the silly, super-whatever season has begun.

So, inevitably, I turn to books; but difficult times require a certain type of book: the story needs to confirm humanity without trivialising it. Anything by Barbara Pym, apart from Quartet in Autumn (too melancholy), springs to mind and so I have chosen Jane and Prudence for one of my next book groups. I read Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny this week which worked wonderfully well on the train journey as the weather added its bit to the general bleakness. As an antidote to the awfulness that is Trump and is withdrawal from the Paris agreement, I would choose Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis and just wish she were around to deal with him. Other palliatives would be Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, Another Marvellous Thing by Laurie Colwin, Something Fresh by P G Wodehouse and pretty much everything from the 19th century.

May 21, 2017
Amaryllis on the Silver Screen

It was book group this morning and we were discussing Patrick Hamilton’s searing novel of London just before the outbreak of war, Hangover Square: a sad, lonely schizophrenia sufferer and his mad obsession with Netta, the beautiful but cruelly indifferent object of his desire. It is a novel that positively reeks of cigarette smoke and alcohol as the protagonists puff and imbibe at a really astonishing rate but the unfortunate fact that the author was thoroughly familiar with his subject and themes gives the book great realism and poignancy.

However, the film makers had different ideas… they decided they wanted to make a film of Hangover Square but that the setting should be moved from the working class pubs to upper class drawing rooms and that the sad, shambling, lonely man should become a brutal, murdering psychotic and ne’er a drink was seen to be drunk let alone a hangover to be suffered… Americans seem particularly prone to eliminating the more disturbing aspects such as the death of Roger in Northern Lights – it just didn’t happen in the film. Why don’t they just write their own film rather than ruin an extremely good book? Needless to say and thankfully it was a flop so they didn’t bother with the rest of the trilogy and we were saved any more creative happy endings.

It set me to thinking about books being turned into films. Today, unfortunately, I feel a lot of books are written in the hope that a film (and lots of money) will be the result – these are not good books and should not be encouraged by making them into films, eg anything with the word ‘girl’ in it. Sometimes the film improves on the book but generally the best films are made from very good books. I have just been to see The Handmaiden which is transposed from Victorian London to 1930s Korea and it worked gloriously well – it kept the pace and the tension and the twists and the turns but clothed it in the beauty of the Japanese landscape and sensuous 1930s silks and satins.

In fact, most of the films I have seen recently have been adapted from books – Lady Macbeth, Their Finest, Nocturnal Animals– and I have really enjoyed them. I do think new books work better than classics that require longer and weightier treatment of a television series or radio dramatization although I did love the film versions of Dangerous Liaisons and The Age of Innocence. And they should never star Keira Knightley or Nicole Kidman or children… Unfortunately, some of my favourite children’s books have been ruined by wooden, precocious children such as the Narnia books – dreadful both on film and television. Others have fared much better: A Little Princess, The Secret Garden but a general rule should be that very few children can act – the marvellous Margaret O’Brien being a historic exception; as Beth in Little Women, she could melt the hardest heart.

Film is my other great love apart from books. As a child, I wasn’t allowed to watch television in the day time, but such a forbidden treasure was only the more tempting and, my father away, my mother would eventually give in rather than have me under her busy feet all day. So began my lifelong love affair with black and white melodrama and the Hollywood legends: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Cary Grant, Veronica Lake, Robert Mitchum, Lana Turner, Katherine Hepburn – too many to mention but all adored. It was everything about that golden age: the clothes; the hairstyles; the intrigues and love affairs where lighting a cigarette and a smouldering glance spoke passion louder than words or action; the chiaroscuro that played over it all so hauntingly and transported me far away from school, homework, real life… I didn’t even mind that the 1939 film of Wuthering Heights only told half the story or that Greer Garson and her sisters wore crinolines rather than regency gowns in the 1940s Pride and Prejudice: I was in thrall to it all and remain so still.

We had a very interesting book group discussing Outline by Rachel Cusk: whilst not everyone enjoyed the read, it was agreed that she was an extraordinarily good writer and she gave us a lot to think about and discuss and we may even read another of her novels, Transit, which would be a book group first!

I also very much enjoyed my first non-fiction book group – with myself! Yes, sadly no interest as yet, but The Violet Hour was a really interesting read – it details how several literary figures confronted their death. It sounds depressing and morbid and no-one is more scared of the thought of a world without me than me, but it actually wasn’t and I only had the one panic attack!

May 5, 2017
Amaryllis: What the Dickens?

When I was a small girl, there used to be on television a short children’s programme called Hector’s House. This was in the days before children had their own programme channel, their own television in their own rooms. Hector’s House was the last children’s programme of the day and was shown just before the early evening news. This meant that a parent, usually the father, (these were still the dark ages, the mother would be doing her duty in the kitchen), would end up watching this particular programme with the child as he waited for the news – it was good quality time and although I don’t remember my father being particularly taken with Hector’s House (Hector was, in a very modern way, rather at the mercy of his wife ZsaZsa and the busybody frog, Kiki), I do remember that he was a great fan of The Magic Roundabout…

Anyway the thing about Hector was that he was not the most intelligent of dogs and after the cat and frog had run rings around him, he ended the programme with a catchphrase that usually ran along the lines of ‘what a big silly Hector I am’ and everyone loved him and forgave him his faults. I was reminded of this when reading about Diane Abbott’s disastrous interview regarding Labour’s proposal to recruit 25,000 new police officers: when asked about the cost of such a proposal she lost the plot and the figures completely and will neither be allowed to forget nor be forgiven for such a disastrous handling of the situation. I can’t help feeling that if she had just shown a bit of humour and humility in the interview, she might have got off with less approbation. After all we are all human and fallibility is part of the human condition and he who throws the first stone etc etc.

But she didn’t, and politicians generally don’t. They will never admit fault and very rarely apologise for their mistakes as the unfulfilled pledges and promises of Brexit have shown. And their most unappealing characteristic is their hypocrisy! This led me to think of Dickens who has such a colourful array of villains of all sorts and sizes. There are the villains such as Quilp who positively revel in their wickedness and don’t pretend to be other than they are. There are historical reports of people sobbing in the street as the death of Little Nell was finally revealed but I am sure not a few privately admired such dedication in removing such a tediously pious young person and only regretted it took so long…

Then there are brutish fiends such as Mr and Mrs Squeers and Bill Sykes and their opposite, the cold and calculating Mr Tulkinghorn and Ralph Nickleby who prefer to keep their hands clean and let others do their dirty work.

But I think the ones whose downfalls I anticipate with most relish are the hypocrites: Mr Pecksniff, Thomas Gradgrind, Uriah Heep who simper and preach about justice and humility and are so convincing they end up convincing themselves. This appears to be the school to which most of our politicians ascribe… how to deliver sermons on what is best for the many whilst delivering for only the few. Only this time the irony is that they walked away and our downfall is Brexit.

My book of the week is The Sport of Kings: you may need a magnifying glass to actually read the tiny print or ruin your eyes as I have probably done but it is worth it and leaves a lot to ponder. I have also just read the new Elizabeth Strout, Anything is Possible, which is another beautifully quiet and tender novel.

Our new display is ‘Wicked Women’ featuring Lady Macbeth of Mtensk – the film is very good too!

April 22, 2017
Amaryllis Re-reads

Sometimes, it is a wonder to me that the face I present to the world in the mornings is so constant in its serenity and peace. Because, this completely belies the nightmare couple of hours that I sometimes have to suffer on my journey to work caused by people! Take this morning for example: I arrive at Tower Hill, renown for its number of tourists keen to spend the day queueing to gape at some vulgar jewels in the Tower of London; the ticket office is, of course, closed and the one person on duty is lost in a milling swarm of confused and competing tourists trying to buy tickets. I have a ‘gold’ ticket which is actually a dull beige paper ticket and despite costing nearly £5,000 a year consistently fails to perform as it should do regarding the ticket barriers so I am dependent on someone letting me through. But that person is too busy explaining the difference between a pound coin and a 20p coin and ignores me so I miss my train… I eventually get on a train and the person who takes the seat next to me immediately arouses my suspicions with a loud sniff and sure enough a quick glance registers a crimson nose followed by a hacking cough and no handkerchief in view so after some very pointed looks fail to register I am the one who has to move. Already late, I arrive at Notting Hill, another tourist hot spot and again, no-one to greet my gold ticket with the respect it deserves so I have to go and drag someone out of the office. Despite all this I greet JAM with my usual bonhomie and urbanity…

Our book group met this morning to discuss Leviathan by Paul Auster. At least half of us, myself included, had read it before – long ago in the 1980s – and had absolutely loved it and, indeed, all that he wrote at that time as he garnered quite a cult following. However, apart from R who had chosen the book and D who preferred it this time, we others were less impressed second time round. What had seemed innovative and clever in the 80s now seemed a bit pretentious and a predominance of art over character and story. Many of the literature of the 80s seemed to rely heavily on showing how clever one was, whether through tricksy plots, overdone literary references or playfully subversive texts at the cost of emotional connection and humour. This led me to think about re-reading books generally: I have been disappointed on two memorable occasions: I first read The Magus when a student during a very long coach journey from the south to the north of the country but had not noticed the time nor the discomfort so transfixed was I by the book; I read it again some 20 years later and was appalled by its games and superficiality and couldn’t finish it. The other book was The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch: I read all of Iris Murdoch and adored them, particularly this one but upon re-reading, was irritated beyond belief by the egotistically vain and fussy central character. D pointed out in the meeting today, the book hasn’t changed, only the reader, but perhaps the book needs to encompass more than the reader needs or recognises at any one time. I come back time and again to 18th, 19th and 20th century classics: Austen, the Brontes, Eliot, Dickens, Greene, Taylor, Bowen etc and each time, each decade, they offer something else to the person I now am, a newly discovered word, a previously unnoticed interaction outside the main relationship, a character that has grown upon me with age. Perhaps that is the true classification of a classic: how it works on the individual reader so it becomes a personal classic for one rather than for all.

In the group, we wondered what ten books from our time would be the classics of the future – I will think on this and come back to you…

My sister, Agapanthus, is coming to NH to visit me tomorrow. She currently lives a sort of Heidi existence in the Swiss alps running up and down the Alps with the goats. Here she is known as S, the Swiss having some difficulty with her family name… For some mad reason, she is forsaking the clear, pure, mountainous air to run a marathon in the poisonous London smog but each to her own…

April 1, 2017
Amaryllis’ Maternal Instinct

Last Sunday was of course Mother’s Day, another of those horrid exclusive celebrations for the smug.

Anyway, my son was working and my younger daughter didn’t think it was worth the trip back from the States, so it was left to my middle daughter to make my day. We decided to see a film together and she insisted that which film was solely my choice. I looked at the listings feeling sure that the cinemas would have made a special effort to show something out the ordinary: perhaps Mildred Pierce with the wonderful Joan Crawford slaving away and sacrificing everything for her spoilt, selfish daughter; or Gypsy with the wonderful Rosalind Russell doing her best to make her daughter the best stripper ever, only to be cast off with a flea in her ear by her ungrateful daughter. But – nothing, just the same old things about wolf men and lego batmen etc and I am not sure that my son had me in mind when he effused about them in such a glowing, reverential voice.

But undeterred, I decided upon Elle as I had wanted to see it for a while. So off we tripped to the cinema and it was a disturbing and unsettling treat. However, when we came out and I asked my daughter what she had thought, she replied vehemently that it was one of the worst, most violent films she had ever seen thereby implying major maternal misconduct. I asked what she would have preferred, Beauty and the Beast’ (mockingly). Of course she would have, but selflessly (and luckily for me) she had made no mention of her preference. So that was a fun day and a good reason for taking absolutely no notice of such days in the future. Next time, I thought we’d see The Handmaiden, a south Korean erotic, psychological thriller… [T writes – based on the wonderful English novel Fingersmith, in case you thought A was going too far off-piste]

On Tuesday, same daughter (still a bit rankled) and I met my parents and went to Regent’s Park on a beautiful spring day. I hadn’t visited the Park for a long while and it was very beautiful and quite quiet probably because the only locals would be those living in the ornate John Nash terraces that surround the Park and a lot of these houses aren’t homes any more but bank accounts. Apparently one man has bought three of these houses to knock into one dwelling, 10 bedrooms and 6 bathrooms obviously way too few for today’s householder. Not content with the space offered by 3 enormous houses, there are plans for a basement… Anyway, I tried not to let my bitterness and anger at such vulgar greed cloud our day and was soon cheered up by a sight of the penguins by peering over the fence into London Zoo. Or would have done if before mentioned daughter hadn’t kept muttering darkly about animals in zoos…

My read of this week and it has been a slow week because it is a rather big book but do not be put off! It is so worth the read and could be a good one for anyone thinking of buying 3 houses to turn into one and then not live in it… It is The Dollmaker by Harriette Arnow and is the story of a mother with 5 children who has to follow her husband to Detroit during the second world war leaving behind her dreams of a self-sufficient farming life in Kentucky. The description of life in a prefab house in Detroit as it churns out steel to support the war effort is desperate and visceral as is the struggle of Gertie, the large and unlovely heroine, to adapt or die. To be honest, I wasn’t immediately gripped and even put it down but now just over half-way through I can barely put it down and it is constantly with me.

March 18, 2017
Ageless Amaryllis

I have been giving some thought to ageing: not in relation to myself being of an eternally youthful, ‘age cannot wither her’ sort of person but as portrayed on screen and in books. I have seen two films recently and amazingly the middle-aged female characters actually had faces that moved and wrinkled in joy, despair, horror and grief. Annette Benning in Twentieth Century Women and Nathalie Baye in It’s Only the End of the World were actually able to give vent to a whole gamut of emotions because their faces weren’t frozen in immobility, the mask that passes for eternal youth these days…

Even older age and the proximity of death is the subject of Memento Mori by Muriel Spark, the book we discussed at this morning’s meeting. A nameless caller on the telephone reminds his elderly victims to ‘remember you must die’ a fact that most of them spend all their life trying to forget. Resigned patience and forbearance are not characteristics common to this group of who gripe and grumble and sleep and stumble their way to the inevitable end. They are wilful and selfish, domineering and dismissive determined to remain in control even if it is only by making and remaking their wills, gloating over the obituaries or comparing own debility to the even worse decrepitude of others. However the book is actually very funny due to the author’s acuity of observation and her merciless exposure of the frailties and hypocracies of mere humans. Memento Mori originated to remind people that not only must they die, they must then be judged. I plan to reintroduce the use of this warning to everyone who uses a mobile phone in the quiet carriage! [T writes: or the bookshop for that matter]

I have mentioned elsewhere that a lonely soul is mine, never happier than striding across moor and mountain at one with the elements so I really thought I had found my soul mate in another book that I read this week: The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel. This is the extraordinary true story of a hermit who decided to turn his back on the world aged 21 and lived undiscovered for 25 years in a forest in Maine surviving sub-zero winters living in a tent with just a calor gas stove for warmth. He stole what he needed in terms of food and supplies from a nearby cabin resort and one of these raids ultimately led to his capture and, with terrible irony, a term of imprisonment for theft. This story is a perfect antidote to the noise and light pollution, the overcrowding of cities and the terrible greed for more and more stuff. Unsurprisingly, the legal system did not really know how to deal with such a case… At one point in the book, Finkel asks himself and others when was the last time and for how long they could remember being totally alone – again unsurprisingly, the answer was practically never, certainly no longer than a few hours. Apparently, people who spend time alone are actually more intelligent than those who don’t – well I should know!

From old age to youth, young girls in particular, nymphs! Yes, I am reading Lolita as chosen by JAM for our classics book group. It is difficult to explain the reading experience in regard to this book, appreciation of the language and writing, revulsion at Humbert’s obsession, slightly guilty laughter at the comedy. Should be a very interesting discussion…

March 4, 2017
Amaryllis: Vigilante

One of the many, many, many problems with Brexit is that it has pervaded the news so completely and so is so stultifyingly boring that it has obliterated the time and the will to cover or listen to the issues that should be receiving our attention. No-one else gets much of a word in apart from that other hideous disaster of 2016. It is like the Government’s Trojan Horse, huge and unwieldy but letting in all kinds of dangers whilst everyone is concentrating on it alone.

One such, very close to my heart, is the Government’s proposal to raise business rates for many small businesses especially in London and the South East. This could mean the death knell for thousands of independent shops and services already struggling with exorbitant rents and rates. I am often confused by political motives, Brexit being a case in point, and insanity often seems the likeliest explanation. Else why would they (whoever thought up this crazy idea) think high streets offering a diversity of services and products could be improved by replacing these with: endless coffee shops; exclusive clothes shops where the assistants look bored out of their minds but are still not prepared to liven up their day with a visit from anyone unless they are dressed head to toe in Gucci; shops selling ‘exclusive’ products, alpaca cheese, raw muffins, elixirs of life and youth that could leave you looking as unreal as Nicole Kidman, none of which would help put a meal on the table but reassuringly at discriminate expense.

Raising the business rates will force shop closure and staff redundancies, and at the very least, wages and bonuses may be frozen to compensate. Following on from the closure of libraries, pubs, theatres, cinemas etc, the loss of bookshops, independent record stores and other businesses that involve the community through reading groups, events, workshops etc will decimate the community even further. Even more insanely, rates for internet-based super-corps such as Amazon and Sports Direct will actually DECREASE!! They don’t pay taxes, they underpay employees and treat them appallingly but hey let’s they deserve a break! London is increasingly coming to resemble a sort of Gotham City playground and provider to the wealthy, essential workers and diversity sidelined to the outskirts.

Anyway we may not have Batman but luckily Amaryllis is on hand and in the fight to keep the community we have defiantly set up yet another bookgroup. Last week saw our first meeting for the Crime Book group which read The Pledge by Friedrich Durrenmatt which was a great book to start with because it explored and asked questions about the conventional detective novel within a detective novel if that makes sense. Well, it will if you read the book. It was a small group, actually just F and I but we thrashed out the very marrow of the book over coffee at the wonderful Pedlars. However, we were eventually drowned out by our neighbours who seemed to be engaged on a very loud discussion of their own although perhaps not of the same perspicacity and reasoning. I believe their topic of interest was the Batman Lego movie…

This week I read a wonderful novel called Pachinko which is a sweeping and very moving story of a family of Koreans forced to move to Japan during the twentieth century. I did not know much about this history and it is a fascinating one and beautifully told and it is always an excellent policy to remind oneself of the struggles others have gone through when faced with the bleak period we seem to be living through now.

February 18, 2017
Amaryllis Goes Off

We have just had our book group meeting discussing the lost classic, Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm over D’s delicious hand-made cookies and my shop-bought banana bread. Zuleika and I are quite alike in a femme fatale sort of way: ‘a cynosure indeed! A hundred eyes were fixed on her, and half as many hearts lost to her’. How well I know that experience. However I do baulk at the youth of the town embracing a watery grave to prove their adoration. Gifts are always an acceptable and less messy alternative. Really, we decided that Zuleika cannot be blamed for the folly and stupidity of Oxford undergraduates and we wished her well in Cambridge…

Zuleika did not let affairs of the heart interfere with her appetite and I doubt whether such ‘a lithe and radiant creature’ would have had recourse to such a book as L’art de la Simplicite – How to Live More with Less. Generally I do not agree with censoring books but I have had to remove this one from the shelves… You might think such mantras as ‘fasting is an art to be cultivated’ or ‘I can go to a restaurant and be happy just to talk: I don’t need to eat’ and ‘An empty stomach clears the head, cleanses the spirit and feels pleasant’ more likely found on a ‘Pro-ana’ site than an international bestseller supposedly proposing a happy and healthy life. As a young 15 year old schoolgirl, I was told by my very thin history teacher, as she taught through our lunch break, that empty stomachs would improve our intellects: to say I have spent decades with a very fraught relationship with food is an understatement. Of course, that remark isn’t the only reason but these things fester!

Anyway, a good week culturally: on Saturday, I went to see the wonderful Woolf Works at the Royal Opera House thanks to the lovely V. It was dramatic, moving and mesmerising in all kinds of ways; bodies in positions and attitudes one wouldn’t believe possible; an amazing light show; electrifying and powerful music by Max Richter. All in all, a feast for the senses!

Also on the weekend, the weather excusing any possibility of a walk, I devoured The Heart’s Invisible Furies, John Boyne’s latest novel and in which he has taken on a Dickensian likeness. I actually laughed out loud several times, which I almost never do (reading) and came perilously close to tears as the book neared its end. It was a perfect fusion of comedy and tragedy played out by a host of marvellous characters, who like the author, I suspect, do not know whether to love or hate their native Ireland.

Last week, despite freezing rain and bleak, grey skies, I found some brave little snowdrops heralding the Spring – we hope!

February 4, 2017
Classic Amaryllis

So far has my name spread that one of my devoted readers has got in touch all the way from South Africa… She has asked for a list of my favourite classics old and new. This is an extremely difficult task but I am always up for a challenge as long as it is to do with books and involves nothing physically exerting.

One of the books that will NOT be on my list is our current choice for the Classics book club which is Kafka’s The Castle. It is the most impenetrable and over-rated book it has ever been my misery to read. When not falling asleep over it I am ready to tear it to pieces in frustration. Which I suppose in my more lucid moments is what K probably feels, stuck in the village with such deadly people, but that is too much reality. Even Kafka got fed up with it as he gave up mid sentence! Apparently it is a completely different experience reading in the original German, the custom of splitting the verb adding tension and humour…

Anyway I am going to limit myself to recommending ten classics that I do love and I’m also not going to choose the obvious suspects – just take it as read that I love Austen, the Brontes, Dickens, Eliot, Tolstoy etc etc. I’m also trying to avoid books that I have mentioned before.

I’m just going to list them and not give any hints as to the content because I think it is best just to read the book!

House of Ulloa, Emilia Pardo Bazan
Riders in the Chariot, Patrick White
The Man who Loved Children, Christina Stead
In Diamond Square, Merce Rodoreda
A Way of Life Like Any Other, Darcy O’Brien
A Life, Maupassant
Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me, Javier Marias
An Angel at My Table, Janet Frame
Clayhanger, Arnold Bennett
Testing the Current, William McPherson

Enjoy!

January 20, 2017
Amaryllis on the Warpath

As I write this in the bookshop, a man is walking to and fro outside the door speaking loudly on one of those ridiculous hands-free gadgets that make you look as if you are shouting at yourself. Even more annoying, he has now just stopped right outside the door so that on-one can get in but is, of course, completely oblivious to this! I may be more irritable than usual on this never-in-your-worst-nightmare day but – unbelievable! (I just complained of this to JAM and she says she does it all the time outside the shop next door…)

Anyway, to get the annoying things out of the way, one of my gripes this week has been WHERE HAVE ALL THE EDITORS GONE? I have just read The Nix, a debut novel by Nathan Hill. I actually quite enjoyed it, at least I finished it: it reminded me a bit of The Goldfinch but I hated that and this is much better except… It comes in at about 600 pages but could have been so much better at half that length. This, I thought, is where the editor comes in, but apparently not or we would not have to read literally pages of unbroken prose detailing the death of an elf in the computer world of Elfscape or the inner thoughts of a phone obsessed student, both stories largely irrelevant to the greater scheme of the thing.

But it is not just this novel that has suffered for the lack of the Editor’s art: it only too common, as if a book cannot possibly be any good if it is less than 500 pages and is crammed full of the author’s interests and self-conceits. That is why another dispassionate eye is necessary along with a hand wielding a very large red pen to obliterate flights of fancy that should never, ever be transferred from the brain to the page.

Happily, there are people who are masters of the art of writing all by themselves. Such a one is Brigid Brophy, whose book, The King of the Rainy Country, we are reading for book group today. It was written in the late 1950s with spare dialogue and description but so beautifully rendered that one is immediately transported to bohemian London and sun-drenched Italy.

We have just had our book group and The King of A Rainy Country was universally acknowledged as a very good read. I actually consider it a great read. Next month it is Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm.

We also shook our heads in despair at the forthcoming day’s events but cheered ourselves up with thoughts of books, films and kittens.

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