Emma — Jane Austen
I usually think of this as my second favourite Austen (after Pride and Prejudice, naturally), but on my re-read of all six, I found to my surprise that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had Sense and Sensibility. Perhaps it’s partly because I had overdosed on screen adaptations recently: the Kate Beckinsale and Gwynneth Paltrow versions from 1996, the 2020 film with Anya Taylor-Joy, and the 2009 Romola Garai TV series. I really enjoyed all of them, but I guess having seen four rather different perspectives on the novel, the novel itself didn’t really have much more to show me.
If I Never Met You — Mhairi McFarlane
This is is my fourth McFarlane book. (Previously: You Had Me At Hello, It’s Not Me, It’s You, Here’s Looking at You). She continues to impress and delight, although I do have to admit that by this point the plots are slightly starting to blend into each other a bit. Continue reading
Northanger Abbey — Jane Austen
I’m making my way once more through all six of Austen’s completed novels, and was interested to see how this one would hold up. Although published posthumously it was actually the first one she completed, and bears many of the marks of juvenilia — including a lot of pop-culture references that are now lost on us, and were probably already outdated by the time it was published fourteen years after completion.
Tremendous Trifles — G. K. Chesterton
One of the better ways to approach Chesterton is through a collection like this one, consisting of 30 or 40 or so short, self-contained pieces in which he thinks about things he has seen or done. He is always a keen observer, quick to see beneath the surface of things, and able at drawing analogies between trivial occurrences and the most profound matters. And of course, he is fun.
The pieces collected as Tremendous Trifles vary rather wildly in quality, but in any one of them fails to appeal, there’s always the knowledge that the next one will be along soon. It’s the second time I’ve read this (see my notes on the first time), and won’t be the last. Continue reading
High Society — Ben Elton
Elton doing what he does best, colliding a cast of somewhat stereotypical characters (the corrupt politician, the drugged-out singing star, the teenage runaway) and working with the sparks that fly — and doing so with rather more craftsmanship than he is often credited with.
The Magician’s Nephew — C. S. Lewis
I don’t quite remember what the specific stimulus was for my starting to re-re-re-read Lewis’s classic Narnia books. But this must be at least the tenth time through, going back to when I was eight or nine. (These are often referred to collectively as “The Chronicles of Narnia” but that it exactly what they are not. They are stories, with no pretense to historic verisimilitude or exhaustiveness.)
Wintersmith — Terry Pratchett
Towards the end of his career — and Wintersmith is the 41st of the 47 Discworld books — it seems to me that Terry Pratchett’s heart was really in the Tiffany Aching subseries, aimed at young adults.
Wintersmith is the third of the five in this subseries, and I think one of his last really good books. Tiffany is a young witch: practical, headstrong, feet on the ground while others have their heads in the clouds. She is easy to like, and Wintersmith puts her in an interesting set of dilemmas. Well worth reading (and re-reading, as I was doing.)
Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now?: 2018 edition — Ian Dunt
I’ve pretty much heard everything Ian Dunt has to say about Brexit from his numerous columns on politics.co.uk, but since his e-book was on special offer for a couple of pounds I thought it would be worth reading it all in one place, in a single narrative. It was. Lots of useful detail, proper respect for expertise, and a sober assessment of where we are and where we might be headed.
Recommended, especially now Brexit has actually happened. Continue reading
Ordeal by Innocence — Agatha Christie
Apparently one of Christie’s two favourites among her own books (along with Crooked House), and I can understand why. The two books share dark atmospheres, with the multi-generational inhabitants of houses deeply mistrusting each other. Some of Christie’s books feel like games; this one feels serious. The protagonist is a man who was unwittingly the alibi of a murder suspect who was convicted two years earlier and has subsequently died in jail. When he realises this, he goes to the dead man’s family to tell them the good news that he was not, after all, the murderer — only to find that they are not delighted. He had failed to realise that his news meant that one of the other family members had done it, and that they were therefore still living with a murderer. Good stuff; but not a good jumping-on point for new readers, as it’s rather atypical. Continue reading
Popcorn — Ben Elton
More Elton, this one the story of a film director, clearly based on Quentin Tarantino, who makes very violent but very stylish films; and about two copycat killers who break into his Hollywood mansion and hold him hostage.
Again, fast-moving and compelling. Ironically, though, it falls into exactly the trap that it’s accusing Tarantino of falling into: making the mindless violence seem exciting and sexy. I would like to think that Elton did this deliberately, as a sort of meta-comment, but I’m not sure he’s that clever. Continue reading