March in Review: Much more reading, many more books. That’s more like it.

I had faith March wouldn’t let me down, unlike my crappy January and February. Lie: I had no such faith, but told myself things could hardly go further south. And there were no Olympics, no television distracting me. The TV reverted to its usual function: background noise for napping and covering the surface of my TV stand, while looking impressively large.

Size matters, friends.

Of course, March brings out my Irish. It’s also my birth month, meaning I have an excuse to binge buy books. This year, March threw in a nasty virus, gratis, getting me three days off work in which I was too sick even to read.

Still, I managed to fit in a few.

I’d hoped to take a short vacation in March. SPOILER: that didn’t happen. I was too ill, no desire to leave the warmth of my home and comfort of my sofa. It’s still cold here in Chicago. Distressingly so. On this April 1, it’s the coldest it’s been in years, hovering around freezing.

Will spring ever come. I’m beginning to wonder.

Books Read March 2018:
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (for library classics book group)

I’ve been putting off reading this one since the upset wrought by the first few minutes of the Kubrick film. Not a fan of random violence and rape, I wrote this off as not for me.

It’s about a young man literally addicted to violence, the leader of a pack which wreaks nightly havoc on an English town. The first part was difficult to read, partly for the made-up language Burgess creates (which wore on me) and constant, gratuitous violence. The second part is much more interesting, once main character Alex is finally arrested for his crimes, and re-programmed, for lack of a better term.

The best thing I can say about ACO is I finished it. Not a fan.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (Women’s Prize for Fiction, longlist)

The lovely Jesmyn Ward has written another moving story set in Mississippi, this one about a family ripped apart by the slow death of the matriarch from cancer. Told from shifting perspectives, including that of the ghost of a young black boy lynched decades ago, it’s a short and rich novel.

It deserves to be shortlisted.

Ruby by Cynthia Bond

This one, good God. Absolute brilliance, beginning to end. It’s been a while since I’ve read a modern book I believe has the staying power to become a modern classic. Ruby is it and then some.

The story, the brilliant and sensuous language, the characterization and use of magical realism… It’s huge in scope, so difficult to summarize.

The title character is born a beautiful young girl, her life of poverty dooming her to prostitution starting from a very early age. Having escaped the South for a privileged life with a relative in New York City, upon the death of a woman she’d loved she makes the fatal mistake of returning home. Ruby loses her mind, becoming feral, as she’s again pulled back into sexual abuse and violence.

Love enters, and Ruby resists, unable to believe anyone could truly love such a damaged, broken woman.

I can’t recall the last time I finished a book and wanted to turn back around and re-read it immediately. If I weren’t engaged in other projects, I’d have done so.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt (Women’s Prize for Fiction, longlist)

Schmidt’s book is a novelization of the story of possible murderess Lizzie Borden, she of the axe murders of her father and step-mother.  Generally, I don’t care for historical fiction, but this was an exception. What bothers me about it is the inability to know what’s true and what’s imagination. I’d far rather read non-fiction, getting to the truth of the matter.

 

The Notorious LB

 

I enjoyed Schmidt’s approach, telling the story from different perspectives. And while the case remains unsolved, she lets the reader know what she believes truly happened. It’s what I’ve always believed, as well, minus a few suspicions on the details.

Though an enjoyable read, I’d be surprised if this one makes the shortlist.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar (Women’s Prize for Fiction, longlist)

Merchant shipman Jonah Hancock, one of his ships lost on a voyage, is handed a small, shrivelled “mermaid” as recompense. His only choice to help re-coup some of his losses is to display it as a curiosity, in PT Barnum fashion.

In the course of its travels, it lands in an upper class whorehouse, at which Mr Hancock meets the lovely courtesan and former mistress of a nobleman: Angelica Neal. Struck by her beauty, he’s lost.

Later, in order to win her love, she demands he bring her another mermaid, this one genuine. Believing it impossible, she believes she’s seen the last of him. When her fortunes change, however, Mr Hancock becomes much more desirable.

Ultimately, the creature Mr Hancock presents her with induces a terrible melancholy on everyone associated with it, begging the question what is the price to be paid when you get everything you think you want.

Not a candidate to win the Women’s Prize by any means, it’s an overly long book I nearly gave up at the 3/4 point. It meanders, interesting lesser characters never fully fleshed out. I finished it to find out what happens, and because I’d ordered it from Ireland and paid enough in shipping I didn’t want that to be for naught.

 

Books Bought March 2018:

In addition to a couple from the Books Read in March list (See What I Have Done and The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock), there were these:

Happy by Nicola Barker (Women’s Prize for Fiction, longlist)

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg (for review)

And these:

And, for my birthday:

 

Nothing new read for the Muriel Spark project, unfortunately, but I’ll resume that in April. I thought I owned a copy of The Bachelors – next up chronologically – but can’t find it anywhere. Hesitant to buy more books after my slutty indulgence this month, I may have to skip over it for the next, bite the bullet and order it, then read it out of sequence.

I hate doing that, but needs must. One last search of my library, then I’ll do what must be done.

 

Such was my March. I’m happy with what I managed to read, definitely happy with the stream of new books. April needs to be a less expensive month. I went a little crazy, and need to re-coup. Still searching for that elusive sugar daddy to support my habit. Ah, but rare as mermaids are they.

April will hopefully herald spring, lifting my mood. I’d be lying if I said the first quarter of the year hasn’t brought me down. Still too early to plant flowers in the Chicago area – we’ve had frost as distressingly late as May, in years past – a warm-up, at the least, would be more than welcome. At least the days are lengthening, so there’s that. Sorry not to be more perky. I just don’t have it in me at the moment.

Spring’s hope’s eternal.

 

The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark

 

The Ballad of Peckham Rye (1960)

 

 

 

What a wickedly delightful novel. Who’d have expected it from a book about the devil?

Dougal Douglas, a Scot claiming to be one of the devil’s minions, shows up one day in the village of Peckham Rye. Insinuating himself into a carefully balanced society, he quickly but stealthily begins pulling strings and wreaking havoc. Squirming his way into the dubious position of an “artsy” man in charge of conducting a sociological study of the workers of not one but two factories – neither realizing he was employed by the other, as he’d managed to work out a deal in which he worked off-site in the village – he proceeds to encourage the employees to call in on Mondays.

Ironically, his job was to figure out why absenteeism was such a big problem. Why did he do it? Because being wicked is fun.

 

Other Books Published in 1960:

Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird

John Barth – The Sot-Weed Factor

Roald Dahl – Kiss Kiss

John Updike – Rabbit, Run

Flannery O’Connor – The Violent Bear it Away

Scott O’Dell – The Island of the Blue Dolphins

Nancy Mitford – Don’t Tell Alfred

Ian Fleming – For Your Eyes Only

Sylvia Plath – The Colossus and Other Poems

Dr. Seuss – Green Eggs and Ham

 

He meddles his way into the lives of several residents, sewing despair. One of his bosses, Mr. Druce, is having an affair with the head of the typing pool. Already a miserable man stuck in a loveless marriage and impossible other relationship rapidly crumbling, Dougal reduces him to tears. Later Druce will do something unspeakably awful, but I won’t spoil that.

So many sinister little details about Dougal Douglas, including the stumps of horns on his head he loves pointing out to people as proof he’s some sort of evil entity. Is he, or is he not? Spark never explicitly proves either way, but you have to wonder. He also sees into people and situation, knowing things there’s no way he could or should have. He claims second sight. Of this there seems little doubt.

 

“… Do you believe in the Devil?”

“No.”

“Feel my head,”Dougal said.

“What?”

“Feel these little bumps up here.” Dougal guided Humphrey’s hand among this curls at each side. “I had it done by a plastic surgeon,” Dougal said.

“What?”

“He did an operation and took away the two horns.”

“You supposed to be the Devil, then?” Humphrey asked.

“No, on, no. I’m only supposed to be one of the wicked spirits that wander through the world for the ruin of souls.”

 

It goes on and on, the trail of broken lives and misery, until eventually he’s run out of town.

Literary Births & Deaths in 1960
Births:

Helen Fielding

Jeffrey Eugenides

Ian Rankin

Tim Winton

Neil Gaiman

Deaths:

Albert Camus

Nevil Schute

Zora Neale Hurston

Boris Pasternak

Richard Wright

Etc.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover sells 200,000 copies in one day following its publication in the U.K. since being banned in 1928.

 

It is a very funny book, in a dark way. It sounds mean-spirited, and it is, but Spark is so deft and light with her touch it’s fun reading. It’s also complex, for such a short book. I wound up reading it twice, partly because I was having attention difficulties, partly because it’s so sneaky you can’t catch everything the first time around. I’d gladly read it a third time in future.

So far, this is my favorite of Spark’s novels in this celebratory read of all her books. Jean Brodie had been my fave previously. I’ll be interested to see how it holds up this time around.

Next up, The Bachelors (also 1960).

February in Review: A whole lotta nothing going on.

Month of Kahlua and cream

 

That deafening sound is the huge, sucking vortex that was my February. Where the ever-loving hell did it even go? It went to the Olympics and my new obsession with curling, I suppose. Figures, it’s a Scottish sport. I can’t get by a week without something Scottish grabbing my ankle, interrupting me, disrupting my attention.

I hate to say it, but mostly I frittered the month away. I didn’t finish one, single book this month. Not even The Ballad of Peckham Rye. I was, and am, at most 20 pages from the end, but have I turned that last page?

Why no. No, I haven’t.

I’ve re-engaged with it, though, started over and I’m enjoying it more – probably because I’m paying actual attention. It’s funny, quirky Muriel Spark, no trace of the nastiness of Memento Mori. Did I mention I didn’t like that book?

Because I really didn’t like that book.

Peckham Rye features a Scot who may or may not be the devil. On his head are the stumps of horns. He jokingly – or is it joking? – tells people he is the dark one. Is he? Give me 20 pages and I’ll tell you.

Oh, Jaysus. More Scots.

 

Books I Was Reading, but Did Not Finish, in February:

The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Ruby by Cynthia Bond

Other stuff I touched but didn’t get far enough to include in the count.

 

New Books

Here’s one!

Previously unpublished NF by Hurston

 

Barracoon is about one of the last surviving slaves to cross the Atlantic, written by one of the greatest southern writers of all time: Zora Neale Hurston. I’m full to bursting thinking about it.

There’s more, but pacing. Pacing, as in they’re all over the house, and I’m sitting comfortably. Or, not so much comfortably, but settled. I’m old; it takes effort getting off the floor. Do you mind if I tell you later?

Thanks! Appreciated.

 

February was pretty much the month of who cares. The black dog came sniffing at my door, bringing a thing that’s very much occupying my mind. A thing I cannot control, which is usually where depression gets you. If it were something I could control, I’d have done something about it. As it is, my hands are tied.

I know, I know. It’s not fair teasing. Uncharacteristically, I’m not forthcoming. That tells you it’s something that really matters, that’s precariously perched.

Something I hope will resolve in my favor – for the best, rather.

 

Whitby Abbey, England – July 2017

 

The reading thing, though. That really bothers me. Reading is my refuge, and when I can’t retreat to that I go a bit crazy. Instead, I filled my time with volunteering (a good thing), TV (not great, but forgivable for the Olympics) and hanging framed photo prints on my walls. The majority are from the UK, but a couple from Paris and Brussels, even Niagara Falls, made the cut. I culled my hard drive.

I really did diddly squat in February.

 

Edinburgh Castle: painting effect

 

How can I turn all this around in March? Well, the days are lengthening. That helps the mood. The fire is rekindling, that’s crucial. The Olympics are over… no more curling. And, I’m again losing myself in books, if only for short spaces.

March will be better. Not perfect, but better. Three steps forward, 2.5 steps back. That’s still progress.

For one thing, I have five days off at the end of March, my birthday through April Fool’s Day, and oh my god that just occurred to me HOW IRONIC. I’m going somewhere, I just don’t know where. When I go, you’ll know. I’ll photograph the living hell out of it.

I will finish some Muriel Spark, A Clockwork Orange, Ruby and Barracoon. I’ll read more about Muriel Spark in the bio by Stannard, and finish or make peace parting with the stragglers. I’ll start outlining an Ian Rankin novel, which I mentioned months ago, to study its innards. Then, I’ll start planning the next crop.

I’ll volunteer, I’ll write, I’ll engage in activities that don’t involve TV.

So long, February. I can’t say I’ll miss you.

Welcome, March. I have a feeling you’ll bring much better things.

x

Muriel Spark on Mary Shelley, and the sport of curling

I’ve become one of the cheapest people I know. I have the lowest cell and internet plans, buy my clothes either thrifted or at the cheap stores, and I try to keep my grocery bills under $ 40/week. It was $ 30, until I realized that wasn’t sustainable. There’s always some non-grocery item, like laundry detergent or shampoo or a new dog toy, that rolls me into the next ten. So I upped it to release myself from the guilt.

Isn’t that cheating, you ask? I don’t need your attitude, Judgey McJudgekins. You’re not the boss of me!

When the Olympics rolled around, I had to either cough up the extra cash and buy an upgraded TV package or totally miss the action. I love the Olympics, so I bought the package. I’m now paying double, but when you’re doubling $ 20/month it’s still way cheaper than cable or satellite. It’s a mere one-week’s groceries! And, when that torch is extinguished I’ll have my finger on the button ready to take it back down to bare bones again. I hardly watch TV, anyway. I don’t need no fancy plans.

 

 

Since the upgrade, the TV’s been on NBC every minute I’m awake. Don’t remind me what that will do to my electricity bill. Yesterday I saw ski jumping, speed skating, hockey, and about 500 hours of curling.

Yes, curling. It’s kind of transfixing. I like the gentle glide and release of the stone, the sound of the sweeping. It has that weird brain effect on me, like hearing pages of a book turning, a gentle whish! whish! whish! that makes me feel all safe and comfortable.

And you’re judging me again, aren’t you.

Did you know the stones used in curling come from an island in Scotland? Well, now you do! They come from Ailsa Craig in the Firth of Clyde, which is up for sale (Ailsa Craig, not the Clyde), or was as of 2013, according to Wikipedia. You could snatch this baby up for a mere £ 1.5 M back then, and totally clean up selling curling stones!

Whish! Whish! Whish! I’d be putty in your hands.

 

Ailsa Craig: I’d totally buy it if I had the money.

 

Lest I sound thoroughly lazy, in between events I put this together:

 

Freebie Amazon Product Review – not bad, eh?

 

The package had been sitting in my hallway about two months, so I’m feeling totally great about myself right now. Plus, it was the first time I’ve put together both a drawer and hinged door. Never mind the drawer has to be jiggled and coerced to close, and the door isn’t quite flush. I pronounce it adequate, per my family motto:

 

 

When my son came over for dinner, I even got my chair assembled with no effort on my part. It was done in exchange for pizza and the editing of his student teaching application:

 

Another Amazon product review item!

 

Not a bad deal. If I’d have attempted it, judging from my success with the desk, I’d have a broken tailbone by now. I’ve had quite enough injuries for one year, thanks.

Spark on Shelley

Speaking of Scotland and Scottish sports: Muriel Spark. She may never have visited Ailsa Craig, but she was from Edinburgh. This qualifies as your segue.

Also, Mary Shelley spent a good deal of time in Scotland as a child. Family friends from the Dundee area hosted her regularly, partly because she couldn’t stand her step-mother. The poor child despised her father’s new wife so much she developed a strange arm pain that’s never really explained in the biography – mostly likely, it was psychological.

 

 

According to Spark:

 

Godwin, of course, should have been more discriminating; this woman, who might have had made a tolerable companion to the ordinary man, felt her inferiority and in her muddled way compensated in doing all the damage she could. She left her mark on Godwin, on his children, and on her own children.

 

Her biological mother’s death would cause Mary a lifetime of guilt and a sense of desertion – a very sad thing. Her father, earlier in life strongly against marriage, couldn’t bear being alone after his first wife’s passing. For one thing, there were the children to be considered. Not considered all that well, apparently. He wooed and married his next-door neighbor. Convenient, I guess, if not particularly advisable.

 

Novels of Mary Shelley:

Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818)

Valperga (1823)

The Last Man (1826)

The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck, A Romance (1830)

Lodore (1835)

Falkner (1837)

Mathilda (1819)

 

Spark’s book asserts Frankenstein stemmed largely from a sense of alienation Mary felt, partly because she missed her mother and partly because her father shunned her after she moved in with the already married Shelley. The only reason Godwin kept in contact was to ask for money. What could make a young woman feel more used than that. If this novel is partly autobiographical, as Spark asserts, this would make Mary the monster.

 

What hopes for the future she entertained were not passionate ones but were none the less forceful in a practical, driving and obstinate way; for she was not allowed to vegetate: the battery of misfortune which had seemed so peculiarly to have singled her out, still held her marked; but as she had come to expect less of life, so she was less prone to disappointment. – Muriel Spark, Mary Shelley

 

The last decade of Mary Shelley’s life was plagued by illness. She would die, age 53, of a brain tumor. A sad – and premature – death for a woman so beset by tragedy.

The rest of the Spark biography contains deeper criticism of Shelley’s works, specifically for my purposes, Frankenstein. I’ll talk about that more as I’m reading the novel, which is the next course in my reading meal.

I’m still not ready to talk about The Ballad of Peckham Rye. I’m not quite finished, and need time to cogitate its complexity. Again, it’s a very funny book, but deep in meaning. Yes, I know I promised I’d talk about it this weekend. Mea culpa.

Blame it on the Olympics.

So, strike off another Spark book for me: the bio of Shelley. I recommend it, though it doesn’t go into the depth I’d hoped. If you’re looking for something more comprehensive, try a different title. I would and gladly, if I had the time. My schedule’s just too tight.

My goal was to get a general idea of Mary Shelley’s life before heading into Frankenstein. I accomplished that, so I’m happy. Next up, finishing Muriel Spark’s The Ballad of Peckham Rye and starting on The Bachelors, all queued up and ready to go.

At the end of March I’m hoping to write up a quarterly review, thoughts on three months’ worth of reading books by and about Muriel Spark. I’ve blown through these books so quickly, my primary intent to get through all her novels in 2018. This doesn’t allow for much absorption or contemplation. A quarterly review should help.

Have a lovely weekend, what’s left of it where you are.

 

Early February check in: Spark & Shelley & Bowie (and abject misery)

 

Screw April; February is the real Cruelest Month

 

February heard me telling it to sod off. It’s only the 10th, and it’s already wiped the floor with my pasty arse. Hell, so far all of 2018 hates my guts. Yes, I said I wanted an exciting year. But my definition of “exciting” is not being medicated with a variety of different pain killers.

Counting down to a life abroad, yes. That was exciting. This, not so much. GET IT RIGHT, 2018!

The fractured rib is old history. A week ago, I also broke a toe by accidentally kicking a wall while getting dressed (don’t ask). Ever broken a toe? Tried wearing shoes after? Every step is excruciating, like pardon me while I sob excrutiating. I’ve been clomping around in snow boots two sizes too big, just to walk at all. It’s not the best look.

And last night, a crown fell off my tooth, leaving an exposed root. You can’t put big snow boots on a tooth missing a crown. It hurts like son on a bitch. A friend recommended trying a temporary crown compound. Having no choice, I ventured out in a driving blizzard to find it. The plan was to shove this stuff in my tooth hole, then call my dentist the next morning for an emergency appointment. Satisfied the pseudo-crown wouldn’t fall out and choke me, I went to bed.

With big snowstorms come very loud snow plows. Waking in the middle of the night to the ear-splitting sound of metal scraping cement, I peeked out to see at least four to five inches of white, fluffy, frozen are you even kidding me on my balcony. Tapping the  fake crown with my tongue, I jiggled it a tiny bit. A piece fell off. Trying not to panic, I told myself maybe it’s just a little extra material. Half an hour later, another piece fell off. Then another. HOLY MOTHER OF GOD! By morning, out it popped, right in my hand.

 

Snowmageddon: February 2018

 

You know those nightmares about your teeth falling out? How horrifying they are? That’s for a reason: it IS horrifying. Fortunately, my dentist was able to fit me in at 9 a.m. While working on my tooth, he said, “You know, to fix this right I’d need to remove part of your gum. Or you may lose the tooth.”

What.

Long story short, I’m sitting here now with a swollen, throbbing mouth, a temporary crown atop the gaping chasm, disposable sutures holding stuff together – stuff I really need to not picture in my mind’s eye right now. In a month, another two-hour appointment will find the permanent crown installed, one long nightmare ended.

You really do suck, February.

And 2018.

 

Spark & Shelley

 

Credit: The New Yorker

 

Muriel Spark’s bio of Mary Shelley nearly read, I went ahead and jumped into The Ballad of Peckham Rye. I couldn’t wait, sorry. I’m already ahead of heavenali’s reading schedule, but the way my luck’s going god knows what may happen to derail me. May as well take advantage while I’m upright and conscious.

Now this is the Muriel Spark I enjoy. I’m not ready to discuss it since I haven’t finished, but there’s a fascinating Scottish main character – Dougal Douglas – a very funny, very mischievous man. Up ’til now she hasn’t written any Scottish characters, not any central to the plot.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Why now, and why Dougal. And why Dougal Douglas, the humanities man.

I love village stories like this, character-driven tales of living in small towns. This one’s wonderfully funny; the taste of Memento Mori has been washed from my mouth – along with a lot of blood and some gum tissue. Sorry for that grotesque image. I’ve been so careful with it, haven’t I.

Sorry to the squeamish.

Anyway, I’m enjoying it immensely, and should finish over the weekend. I’ll talk about it then.

 

The Ballad of Peckham Rye (1960)

 

As for Mary Shelley, my sympathy for her continues to grow. I didn’t realize she’d only had eight years with Percy. How sad she lost him so early, but then reading about his possible affairs with other women, I don’t see this as the grand romance I’d once imagined.

Of course it’s still sad he died tragically, even if he was kind of a mooch, as well as a lech. Kind of? Very much so. Not long before his death, he fell hard for first an Italian woman named Emilia, then a mutual friend of Mary’s. Only after he was gone did Mary learn the truth about the second woman. The first he didn’t bother concealing. She was his muse, of sorts, for a brief while. Now, what kind of man does that to his wife, especially one who’s given birth to and buried three of his children. Not just that, her devotion to him knew no bounds.

Did he love Mary? No doubt, of course he did. Still, that doesn’t give the spoiled genius another reason to act badly. I’m just not a fan of this man, am I. Let’s leave Percy for now.

What’s very saddening is how lonely she was after her husband died, how almost desperately she searched around for someone to love. A man whose love she rejected, but wanted to see her happy, tried pairing her with Washington Irving, of all people. Washington Irving, the American author of – among other things – “Rip van Winkle”. Sounds so odd, I can’t even say why.

The whole story is embarrassing, or would have embarrassed her, had she known. She really did seem to have a crush on Irving, and her would-be suitor knew it, so he showed Irving letters in which she’d “jokingly” made vague reference to her esteem for him. You know how 19th C letters go. Something as simple as, “Weren’t his boots so shiny, though! La! How well-dressed and mannered he is!” is like today’s “God, he has the tightest ass!”

SPOILER: It didn’t work out. Irving ignored it.

I’ll talk about the bio over the weekend, as well. Both books should be finished by then.

Bowie 100

 

Bowie 100 Read: The Fire Next Time

 

In Bowie reading, I already admitted Hawksmoor wasn’t to be. I bought a copy of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time to read for March. Thing is, I haven’t seen Duncan Jones actually discussing Hawksmoor. Maybe I’ve missed it on Twitter, but it hasn’t been obvious.

Mental note: CHECK, FFS.

If he hasn’t, and needs help with Baldwin, I wouldn’t mind stepping it up a bit. It is a short book, after all, Baldwin’s a masterful writer, and February (ahem) is Black History Month. A few discussion tweets wouldn’t kill me.

I honestly don’t know if I’ll continue reading the Bowie 100 if Duncan isn’t talking about what the books meant to his father. That was the interesting hook. But, again, I need to actually check on that.

I’ve been busy, what with bleeding and all.

Book Haul!

I still haven’t caught up with purchased, but here’s one recent haul:

 

 

I’m kind of also showing off my mid-century modern chair, too. And impeccable taste. But mostly, the books.

 

 

So, we have two Brontes, a Spark novel and work of criticism, and replacements of my Julian Barnes and Eudora Welty titles. Not in the detail are the wee Penguin books I love so much, and am slowly replacing.

 

This is what’s been keeping me so busy, not all of it pleasant. Truly, this year has been a downer.

I hope it turns around, I really do.

I’ll talk to you all this weekend, February willing.

 

Frankenstein 200: Muriel Spark on Mary Shelley

2018 marks not just the 100th anniversary of Scottish writer Muriel Spark’s birth, but also the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s science fiction classic Frankenstein.

Time flies, friends.

 

 

Spark admired Mary Shelley. Extra exciting for me, her biography of the English novelist is where both my Muriel Spark project and participation in the Frankenstein 200 festivities intersect.

In other words: I get twice the bang for the buck, bishes!

Frankenstein is one of those novels you think you know, until you actually read it. It’s so different from the film adaptations. Those are fun, but the book goes far deeper. It’s also stranger, and that’s saying a lot. Same for Dracula. Neither book should be judged by the films. The resemblance is at best vague.

 

I went there.

 

I’m heading into my third reading of Frankenstein after Spark’s bio about its author. The background is fascinating, since I’ve never known much about Mary Shelley except she wrote an iconic novel as the result of a bet.  Almost as impressive, she felt no intimidation going up against literary heavyweights Lord Byron and her lover Percy Shelley, also in on the bet. She was only a kid, a mere teenager, while the two men already had staggering reputations for genius.

You go, girl. You go.

I have to be honest, here. The behavior of the Romantic poets – especially Shelley and his pal Lord Byron – is spoiled and distinctly lacking in ethics. Sure, I wish I had a patron to take care of my bills, so I could spend my time drinking and having picnics with my erudite friends. But honey, other writers bust their arses producing not when the muse strikes, but when the rent is due.

Grow. Up.

 

Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.

– Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

 

 

Percy Bysshe Shelley pimped Mary out for money. He pimped her out. A wealthy lawyer friend of his had an unspoken arrangement; love letters from Mary to this man imply she was just waiting for her baby to be born so they could get it on for cash. Shelley and Mary kept no secrets. She wasn’t running around behind his back. Percy was just that classy.

Ironically, that baby died.

Shelley was forever running from creditors, yet, on at least one occasion when a friend felt sorry enough to slip him a fiver (most likely to shut him up), he and Mary went to see a play before spending the remainder on food and accommodation. Bitch, please.

I don’t want to paint them all with the same brush, but between Shelley’s bad behavior and Lord Byron’s even worse, it leaves a bad taste. The two men left women and children along the side of the street, because geniuses cannot be bothered. Byron was okay for money, but didn’t hesitate knocking up Mary Shelley’s half-sister, dumping her at Mary’s, and prancing off to Italy. The result? Mary was left feeding both her half-sister and the child, while George merrily spread his seed elsewhere.

And Percy Shelley? The estranged wife he left for Mary committed suicide from despair, leaving their two children orphaned. Hoping to gain custody, he finally married Mary to make himself appear more respectable. Unfortunately, the courts gave him a big ol’ dose of nope. His children were adopted out to another family.

 

 

Mary’s own mother – iconic feminist Mary Wollstonecraft – lived with her lover William Godwin (Mary Shelley’s father), yet Godwin all but disowned his daughter for shackin’ with Shelley. The apple didn’t fall far from that tree, but it didn’t look so appetizing held by his 19-year old daughter.

These people did hypocrisy well, too.

I don’t mind being in the minority when it comes to these poets. I cannot muster patience for elitists, much less elitist bed-hoppers. Makes you wonder why I love Virginia Woolf so much. She and her group were no different. Good lord, she was a snob, and a brilliant one, but you’d need a scorecard to figure out who slept with whom in that bunch. Maybe I can do hypocrisy, my own self.

Shrug.

I’d better get back to it. I want to polish off the biography, move on to Frankenstein, then read Spark’s The Ballad of Peckham Rye by March. But first, sleep. Because some of us who love reading and writing must still get up and go to work in the morning.

Right, Percy?

Psssh. Slacker.

 

January in Review: Books and Bitchery

 

Snowy January night

 

The only thing worse than January is…. drum roll… February!

The second month of the year tends to be colder in Chicago – colder and snowier. Plus, you think hey, March is around the corner, so it’s almost spring, right? Nope and nooooope. March may have stray warmer, sunnier moments here and there, but it’s nowhere near actual spring. Neither’s April. Nor at least half of May. True spring arrives in Chicago in June.

Yippee! Four months to go.

January was pretty much a pisser. I fractured my rib on New Year’s Eve, my mood took a deep, dark dive, I found out my cracked crown (I didn’t even tell you about that!) is hiding unadulterated evil in its depths, and I may lose the tooth – or the periodontist will drill into my jaw, in an attempt to save it, and my job has become a cesspool of stress.

Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

Books Read: January 2018

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

Miss Jane by Brad Watson

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

It’s All Relative by AJ Jacobs

The Comforters by Muriel Spark

Robinson by Muriel Spark

Memento Mori by Muriel Spark

The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

 

Reading was a saving grace. Well, except for Memento Mori, which I disliked intensely. My new home library grows apace, expanding past the three bookcases I bought initially. It’s time for a couple more; I have so much space here it’s insane.

For the Bowie project, I had to bail on Hawksmoor. I’d joined Audible for the first free month to have a crack at it, but was so afraid I’d forget to drop it and wind up socked with a $ 14.95/month bill I panicked and dropped it.

I do a lot of panic dropping.

The next Bowie book is James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, very readily available. I’ll try to catch up with them in March, schedule allowing.

I watched a few good films, binged a Netflix series or six (Stranger Things (season 2), Glow, The Magicians (gave up),  Black Mirror (I’ve seen all the seasons – OMG!), Alias Grace (OMGG!), Portlandia, re-watched The Office for the five hundredth time – it’s great to sleep to since I practically have it memorized). I’m going to sign up for Hulu, at least for the free month. I never got to see that last episode of The Handmaid’s Tale.

My inability to get going on my 2018 journal is a scourge. Aside from Bluestalking, I haven’t done much writing. My Moleskine notebook and custom-made leather-bound journal barely made it off the ground. I refuse to beat myself up about  that. Looking back at January, I’m fairly impressed with myself. I’m adulting, getting things done. Gainfully employed, my bills are paid. My home is warm and inviting – the downstairs, at least, the upstairs has no furniture but beds – and my life has decent balance.

I am a work in progress.

Realizing I’ve spent long enough at my current job, my resume has been cast to the winds. One preliminary library interview under my belt, I’m hoping for a call back next week. If I get this job, I’ll burrow more deeply, putting down roots. Uncertain I want to stay in Chicago for good, that would absolutely ensure I’m here at least a couple more years. Longer, if it pans out.

Restlessness is my Achilles heel. Still a little de-stabilized, I get that. Presented with a wide-open world, I want to grasp it all. Trouble is, you’ll never be happy if you don’t learn not to always want the other.

I need to bloom where I’m planted.

Chicago is no slouch. There’s much here I’ve yet to explore – the American Writers Museum, for one. How have I not been there? We have our share of literary history, including: Hemingway, Richard Wright, Dreiser, Carl Sandburg, Upton Sinclair. Bereft we’re not. And the architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright!), the symphony and opera houses, the museums and ebullient spirit of one of the world’s great cities.

 

Oak Park, IL

 

It’s not impossible I’ll move away. But for now, word is a person can take vacations to beautiful places without putting down roots there. Or marrying natives. That great, wide world isn’t going anywhere.

Maybe January wasn’t such an awful month. Challenging, sure. But looking back from where I sit, I’m feeling oddly satisfied.

Bring it, February.

 

Memento Mori by Muriel Spark

 

I hardly know what to say. I disliked the book – at times, loathed it.

The cover is splashed with blurbs saying this is Spark’s best novel to date, at the time of its publication in 1959. I couldn’t wait for it to be over. If I’d have read Memento Mori first, I might never have read anything else by Muriel Spark.

 

Memento Mori (1959)

 

I have a soft spot for books about elderly people summing up near the ends of their lives, regretting missed opportunities, dreaming about lost loves, etc. Vita Sackville West’s All Passion Spent is that sort of book. Margaret Atwood has written in that vein, as did fellow Canadian novelist Margaret Laurence. Loads more, of course: Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Pym…

Memento Mori couldn’t be further removed. Its message is old people are irritating, naive objects to be manipulated, then pushed out of the way to die.

This book depressed me very much.

Memento Mori falls into a certain category of books I can’t appreciate. I love grim humor, sarcastic humor, biting humor. I just, plain love humor that’s well done. I see none of that in this book. I find it mean and disrespectful. Elderly women are terrorized in a nursing home, depressed and distressed, eking out their lives largely forgotten as they die, one by one. As the group shrinks, slowly but surely, the rest are left knowing it’s only a matter of time.

A woman in her 80s is murdered in her home, no one realizing for days because not a soul checked on her. Her death is calculated, an act opportunism, taking advantage of an old lady’s paranoia. The way it happens is beyond sad.

The thing is, there’s no redemption in this book. There’s no sense of lives well-lived, no satisfying closure.

There’s no compassion.

At the beginning,  I loved the set-up, the conceit about a woman getting anonymous calls from a creepy man who only said “remember that you can die.” I expected a mystery, an unravelling, a working toward something. No, not really. That plot twists in and out, but mostly the book’s about a group of elderly people made to look ridiculous.

It left me feeling a bit ill.

Yes, there are a few memorable quotes, flashes of wisdom, but honestly I didn’t like Muriel Spark the person when I closed the cover, never mind Spark the writer. I’m putting Memento Mori behind, heading into The Ballad of Peckham Rye. 

I wash my hands of Memento Mori. The less said the better.

 

My generally crappy week in review: reading and other complaints

Books mentioned in this post:

Muriel Spark – The Comforters

Muriel Spark – Robinson

Muriel Spark – Memento Mori

AJ Finn – The Woman in the Window

Peter Manseau – The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln’s Ghost

Michael Wolff – Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House

All the Louis Penny

Charles Dickens – Nicholas Nickleby

Peter Ackroyd – Hawksmoor

Martin Stannard – Muriel Spark

 

A combination of seasonal depression, big changes at work, and a slew of exaggerated, looming negative thoughts combined to bring back insomnia with a vengeance.

The general rule is I tire myself out mentally every day, so when my head hits the pillow I’m out like the dead. A couple nights this week I lay wide awake until 3 or 4 in the morning, dropped off abruptly, then woke an hourish later, up for the duration.

At that point, you may as well say screw it.

I made good use of time knocking out household tasks that wouldn’t piss off the neighbors who share walls with me, enjoyed a decent breakfast, and treated the dog to extra outdoor adventures.

Of course, I felt like shit by evening.

What’s nagging me is a confluence of small things blown out of proportion by virtue of an ongoing battle with depression. That’s how it works. Grounding is a practice useful to combat insomnia. Lying in bed, notice and be grateful for the warmth, the roof over your head, the food in your kitchen, the clothes on your back. You’re safe, nothing’s going to happen in that moment. Then, the next moment, then the next. I’ve had days it’s been necessary to practice that moment by moment for hours, very dark days in the grip of a serious and dangerous slide into the pit. I’m not there anymore, thankfully. It’s not that dark.

Routine is equally important. Rituals are a good thing, training mind and body that sleep is preceded by set steps.

I know all these things, but threw them out the window.

 

Memento Mori (1959)

Moving on … Reading!

In Muriel Spark news, after recently finishing her first novel The Comforters and second astonishing Robinson earlier in the week, I’m working on her third novel, Memento Mori. Funny, when you think about it. I had this grim week, and the literal translation of memento mori is “remember you can die.”

Uplifting, that.

I won’t talk a lot about it now, but thus far it’s extraordinarily depressing, wickedly sniping at older people. It deals with, among other things, the dismissive way they’re treated, and the horrors of dementia.

I need to see where she’s going with all this before I decide if I’m enjoying it. Then, I’ve not been reading it with full attention. Once I’ve finished I’ll go back through and re-read parts I haven’t granted full justice.

Sometimes that happens. Readers get it.

In general Spark news, I asked the incomparable Ian Rankin which were his favorites of her novels. Here’s his reply:

 

The undeserved IT book of 2018

 

Also knocked off this year’s Gone Girl, the big-ass book and film adaptation combo of 2018. SPOILER: Unimpressed.

It’s an extremely fast read, very unsubtle and undemanding. A thriller needs to be razor-sharp, lean and menacing. The Woman in the Window is none of these. Yes, it’s a great premise. A woman with agoraphobia spies on her neighbors, sees a horrific crime, and no one will believe her because she’s a drunk who mixes heavy depression medication. Her erratic behavior soon brands her as unreliable.

It would have been a wise move to leverage that a bit more than Finn did, to do so with stronger writing.

 

I know what I saw.

 

 

The problem was the plot played on a loop, dragging on without much advancement for more than 100 pages. It should have been at least that many pages shorter.

Good thrillers aren’t repetitive. Hence “thrill.” They’re lean and mean, menacing and horrifying. Finn never quite managed to hit these notes, though I’ll grant him at least one decent revelation. Despite a promising start, the main character’s love of old thriller movies hinting at use of Hitchcockian understatement, it didn’t deliver.

The writing wasn’t bad. It was actually better than average, and his outline has merit. It just lacked urgency, for which major points are deducted. I wasn’t on the edge of my seat, and I should have been. I wasn’t cringing, worried about the main character’s safety more than a brief moment. I should have been.

I haven’t even touched on the worst part. The denouement is related flatly, almost in monotone. Don’t set up a book with the promise of nuance then deliver bland prose. The last 75ish pages twisted and turned so quickly it was like watching a tennis match, after not much happening for ages. While you want twists in a thriller, you also want more development, more doubt put into the reader’s mind this could be true, before yanking the rug out from under again.

Stephen King loved it? Gillian Flynn? I gotta read this! Sigh. It’s all part of the game.

 

Read this in place of The Woman in the Window…

 

No one will ever know what I went through to secure those negatives. The world can never appreciate it. It changed the whole course of my life.  – Mathew Brady

 

In recent nonfiction, The Apparitionists is an utterly fascinating book about the early history of photography as well as its use in spiritualism: the hoax perpetrated by a certain group of 19th century photographers purported to have the ability to capture images of the dead in photos of the living.

It also covers Mathew Brady, famous Civil War photographer, and his peers, explaining how they got the images they did. Shockingly, many of the images we’ve grown to associate with the Civil War dead were staged. Some were live soldiers posed dramatically, borrowed from the war then sent back to fight. Begs the question if any of them wound up legitimate subjects later in the war.

Gruesome thought.

 

Photographer Mathew Brady

 

Photojournalists of the time were attempting to convey the war’s true horror and devastation. Those without family or friends on the front lines saw only lists of the dead. In cities like New York, especially, it was an irrelevant, far-off happening. Photos brought everything home.

It’s gripping, packed full of fascinating detail. Love the photos, as well, though being a proof copy they’re not the sharpest. I expect I’ll be back to it this evening.

 

Playing on desperation of the grieving

 

The principle of the thing

 

God, I hate seeing that face on my blog.

Do I think this is totally nonfiction? No. Do I believe it’s politically motivated? Absolutely. But I hate this man with a vengeance. He tried to censor the book, threatening to sue to stop publication. Then the publisher moved up the release date…

Superb!

I don’t know that I’ll read it. We all know he’s unbalanced, stupid, inept, a lech. I see enough of him in the daily news. I bought the book because he didn’t want me to, because it’s my First Amendment right.

I have enough on my reading plate. It can sit on my Kindle.

 

Cha-ching!

 

This is what happens when you hobnob with editors and other literary folk. I regularly bump into Louise Penny’s US editor on Twitter, largely because we share the same political views. I mentioned I’d owned several Penny titles, but had to sell them when I moved to Scotland. She said, well, then, let me fix that.

Swoon!

If you’re bookish you won’t ask the question. The answer: when I can get to her.

Etc.

Some books have slipped by the wayside, as tends to happen when you’re a greedy binge reader. I didn’t make this month’s meeting of the classics group at my library, and hadn’t finished Nicholas Nickleby, anyway.  I intend to, mind. I’m largely enjoying it, though unusually frustrated by some of the side-track plotting.

Also languishing are Hawksmoor, for the Bowie read, and Stannard’s bio of Muriel Spark, which I’m reading but slowly.

Then there are two books I’m overdue in reviewing. Glasgow Review needs a date from me regarding a book I’ve had since my summer in Scotland, and NYJB hasn’t asked, but I owe them one immediately, as well. It’s timely, so I need to get off my arse. Another in the NYJB queue awaits, partially read but nowhere near reviewed.

 

That’s a wrap on the basics of my reading week. I have today’s New York Times sitting beside me, which is a good slow simmer guilty pleasure. Unfortunately, I also have a headache from hell (allergies), and work I need to get done.

Ah, but it feels good firing off a summary post.

Next post will likely be personal again. Much to say that doesn’t fit well in the scope of a bookish theme. Until then, good news is the days are lengthening and I have so much exciting stuff ahead.

x

Robinson by Muriel Spark

 

I’ve just finished Spark’s second novel, Robinson. Still reeling. I want everyone who picks up this book for the first time to be as shocked and riveted as I was; so much depends on not knowing the next twist.

Brilliant as her first novel was, she blows away all competition with her second. Anyone else writing in 1958 may as well have put away their typewriter.

Girl got some serious range.

 

Robinson (1958)

 

An homage to Irish novelist Daniel Defoe’s 1719 Robinson Crusoe (considered by most literary scholars to be the first novel), in Spark’s second work three passengers survive a plane crash on a remote island while en route to the Azores. Pulled to safety and nursed by the owner of the island – a man who’s re-christened himself “Robinson” – and a young boy he’s taken under his care – Miguel – the three learn they have several months until a crew coming to harvest and take away the island’s pomegranate crop will call for rescue.

A writer on assignment, sent to research three islands, January Marlow narrates. Handed a notebook by Robinson, who figures this will keep her occupied and her mind off the horror of surviving a crash dozens didn’t, she begins recording what will come to be an increasingly strange and menacing life on the island.

 

… without any effort of will, my eye recorded the territory, as if my eyes were an independent and aboriginal body, taking precautions against unknown eventualities. Instinctively I looked for routes of escape, positions of concealment, protective rocks; instinctively I looked for edible vegetation. In fact, I must have been afraid.

 

Widowed after the death of a much older husband who married her on a bet when she was a schoolgirl and he aged 58, January has a young son back home in England. It crosses her mind he and all her family will assume she’s dead in the months before she returns. She carries on, knowing rescue will come eventually. There’s nothing more she can do but record the experience.

Tom Wells, huckster salesman of pseudo-mystical trinkets, suffered the worst injuries from the crash, breaking several ribs. Confined by a make-shift brace ingeniously constructed by Robinson, he spends weeks in recovery. Once he’s up and around, what an irritating character he becomes. Honestly, you’ll want to slap him.

The third survivor, Jimmie Waterford, reveals to January he’s been sent by Robinson’s family to bring him back to run the family business, which he’s inherited – a motor-scooter business headquartered in Tangiers. Only concussed by the crash, Jimmie suffered the least physical damage. Aside from companionable time spent with Robinson, Jimmie will come to be January’s most trusted friend and confidante.

 

Other books published in 1958:

Chinua Achebe – Things Fall Apart

Truman Capote – Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Graham Greene – Our Man in Havana

Barbara Pym – A Glass of Blessings

Ian Fleming – Dr No

Jack Kerouac – Dharma Bums

Mary Renault – The King Must Die

Nobel Prize for Literature: Boris Pasternak

Born:

Roddy Doyle – Irish novelist

Cornelia Funke – German children’s author

Died:

Rose Macaulay

Dorothy Canfield Fisher

 

Other Literary Events in 1958

 

Having established a well-appointed home in a pre-existing 19th century house, Robinson lives a mostly solitary life on the island, surviving on tinned provisions brought once a year by the pomegranate men. Young Miguel was the child of one of these men, taken in by Robinson after the boy’s father died.

Not a native English speaker, naive from lack of life experience, Miguel is Spark’s child version of the character “Friday” from Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. He serves as a guide around the island, as well as a handy extra set of hands when there’s work to be done.

Settling in, January finds it annoying that Robinson has a beautiful, well-stocked library in glass-enclosed bookshelves, because they’re mostly uncut first editions, for display and obviously unread. At home, she recalls, her books are all a mess, thrown about, edition be damned. When he generously offers up his books for her use, she barely looks at them. Mostly classical works, none appeal.

For modern readers, the uncut bit refers to the 19th century and prior publication of books containing pages that weren’t cut in production. Readers would need knives to separate the pages as they read. Cutting the pages was an added expense for the publisher.

A former bookseller myself, I’ve owned uncut books. Believe me, I felt the same about their previous owners as our heroine January, though the fact a 19th century book was uncut increases its value. It’s like owning a rare car that’s never been driven. A bit of trivia thrown in as a bonus, you’re very welcome.

Here’s a short video for your, in case you own or purchase a book with uncut pages and need to remedy that:

 

 

Robinson is a linear novel, told from January’s perspective.  The banter between the characters has a tense quality, always a bit of unease to keep the reader from becoming too confident s/he knows precisely what’s going on, who’s a goodie or baddie. Distrust is sown and fed. Spark keeps us on our toes. It’s difficult to know who can be trusted, if anyone’s being sincere or what’s motivating them.

Except January. Maybe I should say it’s the men you aren’t certain you can trust. But then, it’s January keeping the journal, isn’t it.

 

On the way back, Robinson once more referred to my journal.

Keep it up. You will be glad of the notes later on. After all, you did intend to write about islands.

Not this island, I said.

Man proposes and God disposes, he said.

 

 

The book is filled with Spark’s imaginatively descriptive exploration of an island richly varied, containing sandy beaches, volcanic formations, secret tunnels and caves, even an active volcano referred to as the Furnace. The Furnace sighs, even screams, when things are thrown into it. It’s sulphurous and powerful. In the midst of a beautiful island paradise, there’s palpable menace.

The rest of the island sounds like a paradise. I have to wonder if she used a real location, if she drew from personal experience. It’s so vivid:

 

In direct sunlight a variety of greens twinkled suddenly, glimpses of mossy craters. Curious red lights appeared, which I later discovered were caused by vapours rising from the soil like rusty dew … The shallower pits were filled with iridescent blue and green pools. This was the moonish landscape of which Robinson had spoken. The feel of the earth underfoot, the colours, even the air, were strange.

 

The plot pivots past the halfway point, becoming much darker, when one of the characters disappears in a way suggesting great violence. From here the characters actively begin to turn on each other, suspicious. January, as the narrator, analyzes the situation in her notebook, trying to crack the case. There are only five people on the island. Of that she can be reasonably certain. Might one of them be a murderer?

But who?

And why?

Each one of them has some motivation for wanting the missing person dead, some conflict that could appear damning if twisted just the right way. Each has had a run-in the others have witnessed.

I’m sorry. You’re not getting any more spilled beans out of me.

The Catholic Element

Similar to Caroline Rose from her first novel, The Comforters, and an autobiographical tip of the hat to Spark herself, January Marlow is a Catholic convert. Religious discussion crops up between the characters, culminating in January’s determination to introduce young Miguel to the rosary, partly to counteract Tom Wells and the ridiculous stories he tells the boy about his “miracle” artifacts.

Robinson is adamant the boy receives no religious instruction. A born Catholic who left the faith while in the seminary, he orders her to leave the boy alone and Tom Wells to stop feeding the boy nonsense. Mystified, Miguel is drawn to what seems magical and otherworldly, yet he’s easily distracted by pretty much anything, so there’s not much danger either side will influence him. He is a very simple soul.

Muriel Spark’s conversion to Catholicism had a strong influence on her novels. She used the topic of Catholicism in her first two books, and no doubt will later, but interestingly there’s no effort to expound on dogma. It’s more peripheral than concrete, and so far in her books leads to conflict between characters. I haven’t seen anything overtly positive coming from religion in either The Comforters or Robinson.

In both novels, Spark also refers to superstition and the occult. It isn’t clear to me yet what, precisely, she’s trying to say. Or perhaps she isn’t making any judgment, just presenting both.

I’m looking forward to learning more about her own life as I get further into Stannard’s biography, noting how she uses religion and what message she’s trying to convey. Why did she convert, and what did religion mean to her? I’d like to know.

 

Robinson really staggered me with its depth of detail – natural description and plot-wise – as well as that madly twisty-turny storyline. I didn’t see her wicked humor as much in her second novel, but it would have been obvious she had one hell of a career ahead of her if she was turning out books like this so soon.

I could turn this into a lengthy piece of literary criticism if I deconstructed the book, but honestly, I just want you to know it’s a damn fine read. Sometimes you’re just not in the mood to be a literary critic, you know?

Just read Muriel Spark.

I’ll talk to you later, after Memento Mori.