Monday, 10 July 2017

Summer Reading 2017

1. The Acceptance World by Anthony Powell

Volume 3 in the Dance to the Music of Time quartet, this third volume sees Nick Jenkins consummating his love for Jean, and also attending an Old Boys' dinner which descends into farce (initiated by the appalling Widmerpool.) The figure of Mrs Erdleigh, a tarot card reader, bookends the novel. Powell's long, arch sentences stretch are full of apt observations and wry, ironic moments.

2. House of Names by Colm Toibin

Toibin's spare prose - with nary a descriptive term in sight - is entirely suited to the echoing halls and rocky terrain of ancient Greece. Here he retells the Oresteia, telescoping the time scale, and really pulling out that terrible sense of uncertainty evident in Euripides's version, whilst also managing to hint at some of the grandeur of Aeschylus. Orestes, Clytemnestra, Electra, here become people, as buffeted by chance and questions as any of us.

3. Superpowerless by Chris Priestley
I read this to interview Priestley for Books for Keeps: it's a fine piece of work in which a teenage boy grapples with grief for his dead father by immersing himself in comic books. Priestley has an unerring way of entering the mind of an adolescent male, and there is plenty of drama, sorrow and joy. It is a companion piece to his Kafka-esque Anything That Isn't This, in terms of the way in which it delineates teen male psychology. Priestley's bold illustrations complement the text with energy and style.

4. Caught by Henry Green

This is a novel of the Second World War. It is surprising how little literature has entered into the collective mind regarding this war: we prefer instead to dwell on the First. This details the life of an upper middle class man who enters the Fire Service, and how rumour and sex bubble under the surface, whilst an apocalyptic inferno awaits around the corner. This isn't essential reading, but for Green enthusiasts it's an interesting curiosity.

5. The Rings of Saturn by W G Sebald

I'd only read samples of Sebald's writing before, and I was entirely transfixed by this wonderful, erudite, surprising and labyrinthine work, defying genre and convention to make something entirely new. Inspired by Thomas Browne's complex writings, it spans centuries of history whilst Sebald goes on a walk along the Suffolk coast, returning always to the image of the silk worm and its connections with life and death. 

6. Back by Henry Green

Another Second World War novel, this sees the return of an amputee soldier who is placed in a tedious administrative job. There are Hitchcockian hints: his old love has died, and he runs into someone who looks almost identical to her, causing psychological distress and erratic behaviour. The seediness and exhaustion of life in the mid-40s is captured nicely - the suggestive remarks and the random couplings. Again, not essential, but if you're interested in the trauma of war, or how the novel developed during that time
, and particularly in the influence of Green on other writers, then it's worth a look. 


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