Passing Through

I am still somewhat brainless with chronic fatigue and turgid in spirit (isn’t turgid a good word?), though I don’t know what Mr Litlove’s excuse is. This is an exchange we had just the other evening:

Me: And how were your sandwiches today?

Mr Litlove: Very nice, very tasty. I do like that cheese. And the mayonnaise.

Me: That’s interesting. Considering the sandwiches I made you were ham and tomato.

Mr Litlove: (eyes darting from right to left in concentration) But there was mayonnaise in there… wasn’t there?

Me: You don’t have a clue, do you?

It’s a wonder they still let us drive. The only thing I’ve been doing with any consistency and engagement is, as usual, reading. But so many of the books that have passed through my hands lately have been for the magazine, one way or another. You’ll note the Monique Roffey in my sidebar, and the recent half-review of Archipelago I wrote. I’m actually putting together a special feature about her writing for our next edition because I think she’s an amazing author, fearless in her approach and so clever in her storytelling. She’s asking questions about power and politics, risk and catastrophe that no one else has the guts to tackle.

in love and warI’ve also just finished the new novel by Laurie Graham, who is a writer who really should be better known than she is. Several years ago now I read and loved The Importance of Being Kennedy, and since then she has produced a series of historical novels that focus on a sprawling dynasty at the height of a crisis. Only she is a wonderfully comic author who gives her characters the sort of lines that Maggie Smith would punch the air to have in Downton Abbey. This latest was a joy and my love of her continues unabated. I’m also at the start of a novel by Alex Preston set in the late 30s when a young man is sent (in disgrace) to Florence by his powerful father in order to set up a wireless station for the Faschists. It’s been wonderful so far. Honestly, if any idiot decides to proclaim the death of contemporary fiction, I shall be unrestrained in my scorn. I’ve read – and have still to read – a stream of brilliant books for the magazine.

Given my under-par nature at the moment, I’ve also been reading solidly comforting crime fiction. Last year, thanks to Danielle, I discovered Elizabeth Daly and her gentleman detective, Henry Gamadge. I read Any Shape or Form, set as usual in the grand houses and crazy families of New York in the 1940s and absolutely loved it. Gamadge is visiting his elderly Aunt Alice and obliged to visit the neighbours with her. There, two conflicted sides of a family – the stepmother and her stepchildren – are being brought together by Johnny Redfields, a friend to all concerned, in the hope of effecting a reconciliation. Before the end of the afternoon, however, the stepmother is dead. It was the sort of book that makes me think of Bertie Wooster who, when interrupting Jeeves in his reading of Spinoza, commented guiltily that he bet Jeeves’d just got to the place where they found the second body.

deadheadingI’ve also recently discovered Catherine Aird, though her books are a bit harder to get hold of. She has a hapless Detective Inspector C. D. Sloan (‘Seedy’ to his work colleagues) squashed between a boss half in love with the ill-digested propositions of whatever recent training course he’s been on, and the only reinforcement he can ever lay hands on, Constable Crosby, who no one believes will ever make a decent detective as he is so immune to the niceties of police work. They all take place in the fictional county of Calleshire and are sort of halfway between Caroline Graham with her Midsomer Murders and something a little older and gentler, Margery Allingham perhaps or Ngaio Marsh. I like ‘em.

the last asylumThere have also been a few new arrivals over the threshold, cough. I couldn’t resist historian Barbara Taylor’s memoir, The Last Asylum, about the four years she spent there recovering from a nervous breakdown. Nor The Private Life: Why We Remain in the Dark by Josh Cohen, which draws on psychoanalysis, literature and life to argue that we cannot lose our basic privacy because we have parts of ourselves that even we can’t access. (Mr Litlove skim-read this one weekend morning and said he found it a bit academic, but I don’t suppose I’ll mind that too much). I’ve also picked up copies of Sue Gee’s Coming Home, about colonial Brits returned from India, and D. J. Taylor’s The Windsor Faction, an alternative history novel which begins with the death of Wallis Simpson. Cleopatra had her asses’ milk, I have creamy pages of vanilla-sprinkle words to bathe in; I can thoroughly recommend it as a treatment. But what do we do about Mr Litlove??




13 thoughts on “Passing Through

  1. Sorry to hear about the turgidness – but the sandwich exchange made me laugh! I discovered Henry Gamadge fairly recently too – aren’t the books great? And it’s funny you should mention Catherine Aird, because I’ve ordered one of her books following a recommendation on Furrowed Middlebrow. Ain’t it a small world!

  2. I’m fond of ‘turgid’, too, also ‘putrid’ . My aunt says that with a wonderful spitting force about things she loathes. I read and enjoyed Alex Preston’s first novel and will be looking out for In Love and War Now. Also looking forward to your piece on Monique Roffey.

  3. What a variety of books! I’m so glad I discovered blogs and the sheer number of recommendations of really great books out there. As you say, the modern novel is alive and well, which is more than can be said for Mr Litlove’s tastebuds? Memory? Sense of observation?

  4. I love Catherine Aird, I think I’ve read them all from local libraries and as far as I can tell they’re still pretty easy to find there – some in audio version. I believe Calleshire is pretty close to Catherine Aird’s home county of Kent.
    Would it be very cheeky to point out that you seem to have mixed up ‘turgid’ and ‘turbid’ (in common with most of the population and all journalists), if you’re feeling slow and sluggish, and I really hope you’re better now, then the word is turbid.
    And after all that bossiness, may I say how much I enjoy your blog and how impressed I am with the way you keep it going when life is so hard for you.

  5. Heh, poor Mr. Litlove, you caught him off guard! You have been reading voraciously by the sound of it and all that while you aren’t feeling quite well? Jimminy Crickets! When you are well you will be a demon 🙂

  6. Well, for somebody fatigued you are certainly doing a lot of reading! I’ve been reading Danielle on Gamage who sounds great, but I never heard of Catherine Aird, who sounds right up my street. Must go and seek her out… Love the sandwiches — but I don’t think this would be confined to Mr L. — sounds like a typical man thing to me.

  7. If you make someone a sandwich the least they can do is recognise and admire the filling!!! woe betide Mr C if he did that. I let him make his own 🙂

    Off to purchase the importance of being kennedy right now.

  8. I like the word turpitude but have no idea what it means. Just like the sound of the word itself. I’ve read only the one Roffey (Archipelego) and did enjoy it. Hope yiu get back on track soon

  9. Question for you about Laurie Graham: Does “sprawling” mean “multigenerational”? Because I like reading about dynasties in moments of crisis, but I don’t like having to keep track of a whole new set of characters halfway through. That is why I never read family sagas.

  10. We live where we do largely because two of our friends from college moved here just ahead of us. Occasionally we have an exchange with them much like the one you had with Mr. Litlove about the sandwich, and then one of us will say “well, I live in a fog” and we’ll all go on as we were.

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