Thursday, February 15, 2024

What I'm Reading Now

Jane Gardam, A Long Way from Verona, Old Filth, The Hollow Land, Faith Fox

To be honest, Jane Gardam is mostly what I am reading now. I discovered her via Dame Eleanor Hull's blog, and although my library only had two hard copies (my preferred method of reading) they have bunches of e-copies, and I am working my way through them. 

Gardam is a delight -- lucid, lively writing, and a huge backlist, so she can keep my reading appetite satisfied for awhile.  

A Long Way from Verona, which is about an adolescent girl, Jessica, in England during WWII, whose father has quit being a headmaster to become a curate in Yorkshire (the vilest part of England, according to Jessica's mother). It's Jessica's voice that carries this one -- she's tough, hilarious, and unstoppable. This is supposed to be a children's book, but as an adult, I loved it.

Old Filth is one of her adult novels, about a British judge (retired) whose wife has just died. The novel moves back and forth in time, from the death of Filth's mother at his birth (in Malaysia), after which his father neglects him entirely until he is five, and then sends him home to England to board with a woman who keeps "Raj orphans," which is to say children whose parents send them back to England while remaining in East Asia or India themselves. Apparently Gardam bases this part of the story on Rudyard Kipling's life, which honestly explains a lot about Kipling. Filth stands for Failed in London, Try Hong Kong, by the way. Apparently this is a trilogy, but I haven't gotten ahold of the others yet.

Hollow Land is a collection of what read almost like short stories, set in Cumbria, which is apparently part of the Lake District, tracking the lives of two families and their general community from the 1970s until 2015, which makes it technically science fiction, since it was originally published in 1981. Gardam's 2015 is a much more interesting and appealing one than the one we have, I'll add.

I've just started Faith Fox, and I love it to bits already.

Highly recommended.

Carolyn See, The Handyman

Carolyn See was also recommended on Dame Eleanor Hull's blog. This is the only one the library had in hard copy; I'll look for e-copies next, because See is also great. The Handyman is about a guy who wants to be an artist, but can't seem to find his material. It's kind of how he finds his material, but mostly about how he becomes a humane human and how he learns about community. I could not stop reading this one; I read it all in one day, finishing about two in the morning even though I had to be up at six the next day. I'm very much looking forward to reading all her other books.

J. G. Ballard, Empire of the Sun

Someone left this book on the leave-one-take-one shelf in the English department hallway, and since I'd wanted to read it since seeing the movie, I took it. I didn't leave one, but I took several of my excess books the next day, very penitently. 

This one, as you probably know, is about a British boy who gets separated from his parents in China during the early days of WWII, and spends the war interned in various camps, surviving by attaching himself to adults who both exploit and look after him. Ballard himself was interned in China during the war, though I am pretty sure he was with his parents the whole time.

This is an interesting but not great book. If you liked the movie, it's worth looking at; but I don't know that I'll seek out more Ballard. Apparently he wrote science fiction, but I've never read or even seen any SF books by him. Wikipedia tells me he wrote a SF book called Crash, which the movie of the same name is based on, but I haven't seen that movie either.

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