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About nonsuch

  • Birthday 18/03/1932


  • Biography
    reader, editor, reviewer
  • Location
    sutton, surrey
  • Interests
    novels, tennis, writing
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  1. I tried to watch the first episode of Vanity Fair on ITV last week, knowing I would have to endure commercial intrusions. Who else tried it? I can just about manage to endure the commercials on Sky Sport (cricket, and selected football) but VF last week was hopeless.
  2. Liked All that Man IS and His Bloody Project. Hated the ranting The Sellout.
  3. I don't think one needs to like the protagonist to like the book. Nabokov's Lolita, for instance, is a fascinating read (I've recently re-read it and enjoyed seeing the world through Humbert -Humbert's eyes). As for Wuthering Heights, certainly Heathcliff is at times unpleasant and vicious, but he is in a sense a force of nature and he is the book's centre. I like him when he gets angry and says to Edgar Linton, 'You're not worth knocking down.' I like him when he gets hold of Hindley Earnshaw and takes his revenge for the former's cruelty to him as a child. Yes, I do sympathise with Heathcliff despite his being a bastard (in both senses).
  4. It looks as if, Hux, if you follow all the advice, you've got your work cut out for the next 4-5 years. If you opt for self-publishing you have a mountain to climb, competing with hacks and people who take themselves seriously and watch their ratings. I would say concentrate on writing rather than trying to 'build a platform' that'll likely collapse. First try the traditional publisher. Send out 50 or more well-constructed letters and meanwhile be writing your 2nd or 3rd book/novella.
  5. Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary It took Flaubert five years to write the book, coming after he gave up his law studies and his travels through the Middle East (1849-51). When it first appeared in parts, published in the Revue de Paris, the content shocked so many readers that the government brought the author to trial. But he was acquitted and the storm established his reputation and the book was finally published in 1857. He could be said to have opened the floodgates to the progress of the genre as far as subject matter and treatment are concerned. The cool acceptance of Emma’s adultery was unprecedented at the time. Today, 150 years on, it would be quite normal and it is indeed difficult for us, in the wake of Hardy, DH Lawrence and Joyce to see what all the fuss was about. Emma is seen from her own perspective, while Flaubert himself remains neutral, adopting the oratia obliqua or indirect technique of character portrayal. ‘She kept saying to herself over and over again, “I have a lover, a lover.a lover.” And of the church choir, ‘And their voices, their beautiful voices …’ But between these ecstatic outpourings there’s always the regret, the dullness of life alone with good, simple Charles, the rain, the mud, the sheer boredom, until her schemes, dreams and final recklessness almost drive her into the arms of the cunning linen draper, the repulsive Mr L’heureux. But no, no, no, she would sooner die … As ever precise details convince the reader utterly. Realism was now in the ascendency and Flaubert’s friends - Turgenev, Zola and George Sand - shared this obsession, and would have approved Flaubert-cum-Emma’s fidelity to the way things are: the pampered but neglected dog, the path to the cemetary through the wood, and the only dark place for the lovers, Emma’s garden.
  6. Stay in! We are no longer able to stand alone and should be content to be little British. Culturally and geographically we are (almost) linked. Travel and health services are another link.
  7. DJ Taylor. The Prose Factory: Literary Life in England Since 1918 Although the title of DJ Taylor’s monumental study of writing and publishing is misleading (prose overwhelms other forms, but Auden, Eliot and Spender are pre-eminently poets) this is a thoroughly entertaining and informative account. Until Taylor reaches the contemporary publishing scene, he shows a magisterial grasp of trends in attitude towards literature, his writing peppered with interesting asides, such as that at some point in their careers James Joyce, Viginia Woolf and Joseph Conrad each submitted work to Tit Bits. He is especially good as recovering authorial pronouncements in letters and magazines. In Chapter One, for example, Taylor invokes not only Dickens’ Household Words, but Eliot’s Criterion, JC Squires’ London Mercury, as well as long-forgotten reviews such as the Dome, the Pageant, the Chameleon and the Rose Leaf. We move from the passing of Victorian literature, where Vanity Fair (1847-8) sold only a modest 10,000 copies in its author’s lifetime, through the Georgian era where Frank Swinnerton’s novels ‘sold 20,000 copies a year in the US,’ while Eliot, Joyce and Woolf appealed to only a tiny minority. Taylor gives ample scope to analyses of authorial balance sheets, three of his chapters being entitled ‘Making a Living I 1918-1939,’ ‘Making a Living II 1939-1970,’ and ‘Making a Living III 1970- ’. We follow the Paperback Revolution, and not too exhaustively, The Digital Revolution (to date over a million available titles on Amazon Kindle alone). He quotes Francis King’s forecast, issued 38 years ago: ‘Soon the novelist will find, as the poet has found already, that the majority of people even of ‘educated’ people have become totally uninterested in whatever freakish thing he is trying to accomplish.’ The final chapter, ‘Enemies of Promise’ takes us back to the book’s title with its somewhat menacing emphasis on mass production. Taylor invents Hugo Littlejohn, a young man who thanks to contacts soars up the literary ladder, taking an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Loamshire, and becomes a functionary in the technological machine, a necessary evil, presumably producing novels nobody reads, an ‘enemy of promise.’
  8. The Trial is a haunting story of a near-nameless man struggling to come to terms with bureaucracy. He seems to have no friends, no confidants, and is forced into writing, drawing the reader into his every thought.
  9. I'd be willing to read 10 pages for a free book.
  10. Of course you can always try 'Poetry Please' or whatever its new name is on Sunday afternoon, Radio 4.
  11. Hartley, LP. The Go-Between A hot summer in 1900 and Leo Colston, aged 14, is invited to spend it at his friend Marcus’s house at Brandham Hall, a splendid country house replete with 14 bedrooms, servants, guests galore and for Leo the most ravishing girl, Marian. It should be a happy time and in a way it is, for everyone is excessively polite and concerned for the boy’s welfare, but sadly love enters his consciousness, a growing awareness of the mystery of adult passion, concealed and for the boy wicked and puzzling, and ultimately scarring the boy for life. The book was first published in 1953, over 50 years later than the action portrayed. This gap in time allows for a double perspective on the scene, a time of vast social change, during which country houses became historic treasures open to the paying public, servants a rarity and the world became ruled by the internal combustion engine. More important perhaps, the book is penetrated by a nostalgia for a vanished period. The guilty passion however is seen at one remove, for Leo’s respectful love for Marian is essentially non-carnal; he is simply the messenger carrying love letters between Marian, engaged to be married to Lord Trimmingham, a disfigured veteran who befriends the boy, and Ted Burgess, a farmer, one of the servant class. (The title ‘Mercury’ is jokingly bestowed on Leo by Trimmingham.) The characters and above all the plot of the novel are all finely drawn, the dialogue realistic and the tension almost unbearable, as the reader follows Leo becoming enmeshed in a treachery of which he is entirely innocent. The euphemism ‘Spooning’ puzzling to Leo and used by Ted to refer to the sexual act is exactly right, historically and in the context of the boy’s innocence. This is the story of love, guilt and betrayal that only adults know.
  12. Dawkkins is a little heavy-handed, although we agree with almost all he says. Must read sam harris now.
  13. Marks, Kathy. Trouble in Paradise This meticulously detailed account of Kathy Marks’s six weeks on the Pitcairn island in 2004 is as she says in her Prologue to the book ‘a cautionary tale.’ She first read about the investigation in 2000, when as Asia-Pacific Correspondent for The Independent she read about about the 13 men charged with 96 offences dating back to the 1960s. She was accepted for membership of the media team reporting on the trials that followed, reporting ‘on one of the most bizarre court cases imaginable.’ The Pitcairners themselves were almost universally hostile to the enquiry, the offenders appealing to ‘every court up to the Privvy Council in London.’ It seemed that paedophilia, far from being a hated crime was almost a way of life for almost every man on the island, whose population was numbered at a maximum of 50 people, the island of roughly two square miles, not even having an airstrip, being over 3000 miles from New Zealand and Chile. The book (nearly 400 pages) after relating stories of murder and mayhem on the island, ends on a vaguely optimistic note, for Kathy tells of her encounter with Isobel, an abused child who managed to flee from the ‘Paradise’ that to her was absolute hell. Despite scores of appeals against their sentences the men were eventually convicted and imprisoned, but for Isobel ‘the jail out there, to me it feels like a mockery … that’s paradise, what they’re in, they’re laughing.’ But when told that as convicted rapists the men will never be able to enter New Zealand or Australia, Isobel beams and rejoices: ‘So they’re stuck on Pitcairn? That’s brilliant. That’s a real prison sentence for all of them.’
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