What I’ve been reading lately, part 10

[See also previous and subsequent posts in this series.]

I have got far, far out of date with this blogging thread: I’ve read 49 books that I’ve yet to write about here, so I’ve forgotten much of the detail of the older ones and I’m going to be terse about many of them. Never mind, off we go:


Night Watch — Terry Pratchett

An enjoyable installment in the Sam Vimes sequence: thrust back in time to when he first joined the Night Watch, he unwittingly becomes his own mentor. Lots more going on here, including an incipient revolution in Ankh Morpork, and Reg Shoe’s origin story.

Appointment with Death — Agatha Christie

Hmm, can’t really remember much about this one. A horrible old woman is murdered and everyone in her family is surreptitiously glad about it. Who did it? It doesn’t really matter.

Monstrous Regiment — Terry Pratchett

It’s hard to write about this one without giving away a massive spoiler. I’ve known people to describe this as their favourite Pratchett. It’s in the bottom half-dozen for me. A lot of pages are turned, but not much happens; and much of what does happen is not really credible, even by Discworld standards.

The Defendant — G. K. Chesterton

A collection of loosely connected essays in which Chesterton defends various things and people that were not well regarded at the time of writing. He’s on fine form here, as in most of his short-essay collections, full of witty observations and brilliant insights.

Pope Francis (Pastor of Mercy) — Michael J. Ruszala

A surprisingly moving portrait of the present pope. The English is quite poor (I am guessing it was translated from Spanish) but the character of the man shines through. By all accounts, he is an exemplary Christian, with a long history of doing practical things to help the poorest people in the places he’s lived. The book left me wanting to meet Francis (despite my inherent dislike of Roman Catholicism).

Lilith — George MacDonald

Very obviously the work of the author of Phantastes, this is a similarly episodic quest narrative: surreal in places and packed with imagery, not all of which I’m sure I understood fully. By the end of it I felt deeply moved, but without any very clear sense of what I’d been deeply moved by. I can certainly imagine re-reading this one in the future — I suspect that, as I found with Phantastes, I will get more out of it on the second time around.

Guards! Guards! — Terry Pratchett

I went back to the start of the Sam Vimes thread of Discworld novels. This one has always been among my favourites. Vimes himself feel solid and real from the outset, Carrot is fascinatingly different without yet having settled into the unvarying character he becomes later in the series, and — best of all — this is a book about dragons that has proper respect for the dragons.

Men at Arms — Terry Pratchett

The sequel to Guards! Guards!, and arguably something of  re-tread. The central mystery isn’t devoid of interest, but it doesn’t hold me like the dragons do. The most memorable part is the relationship between Cuddy the dwarf and Detritus the troll, members of races with an ancient enmity who find themselves unexpectedly friends.

Manalive — G. K. Chesterton

Ah, the unique brilliance of Chesterton. This is a short novel, opening with a fairly conventional cast of characters sharing a boarding house. Their lives are utterly disrupted by the arrival of Innocent Smith, a larger-than-life character whose eccentricities push everyone to re-evaluate their priorities. For reasons that are not completely clear, the inmates of the house then put Smith on trial for a variety of offences, and the second half of the book details his explanation for the different crimes he is accused of.

What’s compelling about this is how Smith appears simultaneously as a man, a force of nature, and some kind of divine or demonic incursion into mundane life. (In that respect, he resembles Sunday from the Chesterton’s even better book The Man Who Was Thursday.)

Feet of Clay — Terry Pratchett

The third of the Vimes novels. Very pleasant, undemanding reading.

Death on the Nile — Agatha Christie

Justly one of the better known Agatha Christie novels. It has an intriguing setup, a well differentiated cast, a baffling mystery and of course Hercule Poirot. A fine entry point to the Christie canon for those new to her work.


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