Friday, June 30, 2006

Book Clubs

The book I am reading at the moment, has a lot in common with The Jane Austen Book Club which I read not that long ago.

  • Obviously there is the title: both involve clubs centred on an author. In the case of The Club Dumas the "club" is a mysterious and ultimately sinister force in the book.
  • Both books refer frequently to the author's works and it helps to have read them although it is not absolutely necessary to enjoy the book. I have to say I know a lot less about Dumas ( either pere or fils) than I do Austen! The author though is extremely knowledgeable and tells me more than I really want to know about Dumas his life and all his writings as well as about The Anjou Wine and The Nine Doors and other works.
  • Both books talk about books and writing although The Club Dumas has a lot more detail as the plot involves a hunt for incunabula.
  • And in both we are led to closely associate characters in the novel with characters in the authors' works. This is very marked in the Club Dumas where characters who are chasing the protaganist look and act like characters from The Three Musketeers.
The writing I think is better in The Club Dumas, at least I think it might be if the translation were better. It has an awkward feel in English which I think is probably not in the Spanish version. The author plays with his character, teasing him. Is he real or not? Here's a quote or two.

The flesh and blood Corso...was increasingly tempted to see himself as a real character in an imaginary world. But that wasn't good. From there it was only a small step to believing he was an imaginary character who thinks he's real in an imaginary world. Only a small step to going nuts. And he wondered whether someone, some twisted novelist or drunken writer of cheap screenplays, at that very moment saw him as an imaginary character in an imaginary world who thought he wasn't real. That would really be too much.

In a chapter titled The Plot Thickens the protaganist, the bookseller Corso, thinks...
One way or another things were getting out of control. This was more than a matter of quaint coincidences. It was a premeditated plan...Here was a plot with all the classic ingredients of the genre [the genre of Dumas] and somebody - aptly an Eminence Grise- must be pulling the strings....And yet the key to the mystery had to lie in its very strangeness and novelistic nature."

A little later he says: " I'm not suggesting anything. I'm just trying to work out the serieal that somebody's writing at my expense." These little double entendres are little jokes shared with the reader who like the author knows Corso is indeed not real, but only a character with the plot written in around him.

As for the is quite involved and I haven't quite finished. With three chapters left, the unravelling of all the tangled strands is yet to come. But it story follow's Corso's adventurous and dangerous search for three copies of The Book of the Nine Doors which is a book supposedly used to summon the devil. Each book is slightly different and all three must be collected to solve the puzzle of the proper incantation. The Club Dumas is a secret society whose members are chasing Corso either for the Nine Doors book or for a hand written chapter of one of Dumas's books or both.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

A painting a day

Now that is productive. I came across this artist's site and it seemed so like the effort I put into my Nanowrimo experience that I had to comment on it. I also like many of the paintings! So here's a plug for Jeremiah

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A book about Books

I enjoy books that have to do with books in some way. Usually they are non-fiction, perhaps about writing or about reading, such as Margaret Drabble's A Writer's Britain; Landscape in Literature. but sometimes they are fiction books. I enjoyed Chasing Shakespeares by Sarah Smith for example about Shakespeare's real identity which involved "reading" clues from his plays and his life.

I have come across another book of that ilk, called The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte. It is translated from the Spanish and is not an easy read in some ways as it is quite involved with lots of detail about antiquarian books and many clues to absorb but I am enjoying the mystery of it very much. I would like to see the movie which was made from the book, by Polanski ( The Ninth Gate starring Johnny Depp) I hadn't heard of it so missed it when it came out -good movies never seem to come here- but I will have to look for it on DVD.

My enjoyment of this book makes me want to also read this author's previous book, The Flander's Panel a murder mystery involving a painting.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Garden shots

Nothing like some photos to brighten up a blog post.

To be Continued

After all the rain we have had the last few weeks the last few days of warm sunny weather have been wonderful. With a few of the gardening things done ( oh, yes, there is more to do but those chores can wait) I took the time to just sit in the sun with a book and a notebook.

I sat enjoying the warmth of the sun, the chirping of the birds and the sibilant sound of the stream running past. I started thinking idly about my Betty story [ I really must come up with a better title]. Mostly I thought about what had to happen next. Where should Lizzie head after Bar Harbor, what job should she get, what mischief could she get into? Meanwhile what was Janet discovering back home? What gossip could she pick up? Where could I find a believable hand in bridge to play out in the next chapter? I did come up with a few ideas which I jotted down in my notebook. My writing group meets tomorrow you see. I HAVE to come up with something.

When the ideas stopped flowing I turned to my book, A Passion for Narrative, by Jack Hodgins which I had picked up second hand somewhere. The introduction has an excerpt from Nabokov's Lectures on Literature in which he says a major writer combines storytelling, teaching and enchantment. Ah, yes, the great writers are enchanters. Think about the books that are truly memorable. There is that something that is beyond just the story, beyond the message, some elusive quality that charms, besotts, casts a spell. Witchery. I wish I had that but since I don't I can be the sorcerer's apprentice.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Farewell to Scotland Street

I lost 44 Scotland Street and then I found it again. Yes, I looked for it all over the house and couldn't find it anywhere so I knew I must have left it somewhere and the only place I could have left it was at the sauna, at the excercise club I sometimes (but not often enough) frequent. I finally got myself organised to go in I asked after it and yes, it was still there by the sauna, but with another book mark in it. Someone else who had a sauna after I did had started it - in preference to the many magazines offered- and marked their place hoping no doubt to continue when they came again. They did not make off with it. I almost felt guilty taking it away with me. Now that I have finished the book I think I may take it back and place it with the magazines so my unknown reader can continue!

Somehow that was like the book itself - a little moral anecdote -peripheral to plot. That is 44 Scotland Street. The book was not about the sketchy story line, not really about the Peploe that turns out to be a Vetrianno and then a nothing, not about Pat and her murky past and not about her supposed love affair with the narcisstic Bruce. It was about the little incidents and philosophical asides that flesh out the characters. McCall Smith offers up a view into a number of lives, a pastiche of people and their messy but compelling situations in a restricted window of time and as always with a complex moral sense that gets the reader thinking - or should. It reminds me of Seinfeld. And McCall Smith says it very well in the introduction when he says: It is in observing the minor ways of people that one can still see very clearly the moral dilemmas of our time.

Here is a small sample - an exchange between two lesser but important characters: Domenica the older woman who has seen much and Angus Lordie an anti-establishment artist with a dog that winks.

"We live in such a humourless age" Domenica remarked. It used to be possible to laugh. It used to be possible to enjoy oneself with fantasies - such as your ridiculous hymn- sorry, Angus- but now? Well now there are all sorts of censors and killjoys. Earnest ignorant poeple who lecture us on what we can think and say. And do you know we have lain down and submitted to the whole process. It's been the most remarkable display of passivity. With the result that when we encounter anybody who thinks independently or who doesn't echo the received wisdoms of the day we are astonished." [Angus replies]
" In such a way is freedom of thought lost ... by small cuts. By small acts of disapproval. By a thousand discouragments of spirit."

And here is the priceless inner dialogue of Bertie's Mum;

Irene cast a glance over in the direction of the mysterious politician. Bertie was right: there might well be a strong resemblance between Tam Dalyell and Robin Harper and certainly if one asked the average five year old boy to say which was which one would not expect a clear answer. But there was nothing average about Bertie of course. Now she was uncertain herself. It was very unsettling really not being sure whether one was confronted with Mr Dalyell or Mr Harper and really should one find oneself in this position? Robin Harper was younger than Mr Dalyell who was a very senior politician and one might be expected to distinguish on those grounds. But Mr Dalyell did not really show the years at all and both had a rather, how should one put it , enigmatic look to them, as if they knew the answer to some important questions and we did not and both of course were good men of whom there was a very short supply. She smiled. How was the matter to be resolved short of asking him directly? But what would one say " Are you or are you not Tam Dalyell? sounded a bit accusing as it there was something wrong with being Tam Dalyell. And if one were to be given a negative answer, would one proceed to say: " In that case are you Robin Harper?" That sounded as if it was somehow second best to be Robin Harper which of course it would certainly not be, at least if one were Robin Harper in the first place. Presumably Robin Harper was quite happy about being Robin Harper. He certainly looked contented with his lot.

Tam Dalyell and Robin Harper are real politicians of course ( there are footnotes). They are not the only real person to play bit parts in the book. Ian Rankin shows up rather prominently (no doubt with his permission) as the purchaser of the perhaps Peploe. Real places are used too of course and these references to real Edinburgh must have been a delight to the readers of The Scotsman where the book was serialised.

There are lots of loose ends so I am not surprised his readers demanded a sequel. I want to find out:
Does Bertie escape his Stalin of a mother and get to go to Watsons where he can finally be blood brothers with Jock and get to ride on a train?
Does Mathew actually find a carreer that he could be good at?
Does Bruce get into the wine trade now that he has been fired?
And will we ever find out why Pat is on her second gap year except that something went frightfully wrong with a man with a patch in Australia?
And if that sounds like plot, no, it is character because we wouldn't care at all what happens except that Smith makes us care by his delineation of character.
Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep as a Well (1937)