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For the past week my friend Kazumi has been visiting from Japan.   She was amazed to see the pile of books beside my bed.   Kazumi is not a voracious reader and was anxious that I did not lose track of what I had read so we searched  and were both delighted to find this journal at a local stationers.

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This should aid my determination to review all the books I read this year!

Edited 10.3.2013 That ‘review’ goal is to be changed to record!

I haven’t read the book but this is a great quote.

At the rate I read will I get to 5000 books??

If you read one book a week, starting at the age of 5, and live to be 80, you will have read a grand total of 3,900 books, a little over one-tenth of 1 percent of the books currently in print. … I’ve had many more thousands of books in my possession than my shelves at home would indicate. At one time, I tried to keep them all, but that quest soon became impossible; I now only keep the ones I’m sure I’m going to reread, the ones I’m definitely going to read before I die, and the ones I can’t bear to part with because of an aesthetic or emotional attachment.

(The Yellow Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee) – thanks to Ria

 

 

 

Chaos theory – the chain of events that commence with a seemingly random act is the basis for this novel.   Charlotte is mugged and breaks her hip, her daughter Rose is unable to accompany her employer to his lecture so his niece Marion must go instead.   Marion’s text message to her lover Jeremy is intercepted by Stella his wife and triggers the breakup of the marriage.   Seemingly small events have catastrophic and irrevocable results.

I found this novel to be utterly absorbing (in fact read it twice and marked with Post It flags all the quotes I wanted to note down) and especially the relationship between Charlotte and Rose.  

Charlotte is an avid reader who after her mugging is compelled to live with her daughter Rose and son-in-law Gerry.   She misses her house but more especially her books ” her familiar walls, lined with language”.  Reading is a vital part of Charlotte and remains so despite the broken hip and the after effects of a violent assault.   “Her life has been informed by reading.   She has read not just for distraction, sustenance, to pass the time, but she has read in a state of primal innocence, reading for enlightenment, for instruction even.  She has read to find out if things are the same for others as they are for her – then, discovering that frequently they are not, she has read to find out what it is that other people experience that she is missing.”

I loved the passages that described old age “You slide, in old age into a state of perpetual diffidence, of unspoken apology.   You walk more slowly than normal people, you are obliged to say ‘what?’ too often, others have to give up their seat on the bus to you, on train journeys you must ask for help with your absurdly small and light case.   There is a void somewhere in your head into which tip the most familiar names; President Obama went into it yesterday for all of five minutes, along with her over the road at home who has just sent a get well card from ‘Sue’ but what on earth is her other name?   You can use a computer, just about, and cope with a mobile, but with such slow deliberation that the watching young are wincing.”

And I empathise with Rose

“She felt nowadays these painful twinges of compunction where her mother was concerned.   Not just on account of the hip but the whole business of age, of what has happened to her, what happens, the way in which a person is pushed into another incarnation, becomes a different version of themselves.   Her old mother was still herself but she was diminished in some way, has lost emphasis, was not the figure of Rose’s childhood and youth and Rose felt in some irrational way guilty.”

I too feel the shifts in negotiation, mother versus daughter and wonder how this has come about.   Has Penelope Lively read my mind or has she personal first hand experience?   This is one book I lived as I read.

 

This enchanting book describes a further chapter in Lillian Beckwith’s adventurous life in the Hebrides.

Her dry wit in describing the characters who populate the island on which she lives provide many a chuckle during the reading of this small paperback.

“Love doesn’t mile the cattle an’ rear the calves an’ work the peats an’ cook the potatoes,” Morag went on to explain.  “In this place a man wants a woman to work beside him.”

From my experience the men of Bruach wanted their women not just to work beside them but to work instead of them if it could be managed but I forbore from saying so.

Or how about this  –  I think I like Murdoch!

‘Ach, the egg’s not worth the cackle’, Murdoch summed up.

Now isn’t that descriptive –  and despite the book having been written in 1978 I am convinced that phrase could be used today.

This book will definitely stay on my shelves.

Eton educated, Simon P Norton is a mathematical prodigy, genius in the making and societal misfit and the subject of this highly unusual biography by Alex Masters.  While we are guided through the life of Simon, who until 1984 was considered by his peers at Cambridge to be a true genius and in collaboration with three others produced the Atlas of Finite Groups, we are left hanging and wondering as to why such an intellect is considered now to be merely eccentric and no longer a genius.  A man gifted with such intellect now lives in squalor in his Cambridge flat and no explanation is given of the event which precipitated this demise?  An error that surprised his colleagues resulted in the light of genius being extinguished? Unsatisfactory.

Master’s gave Simon permission to vet, amend, interject or change his writing and their communication over this, at times vocal and sometimes by email, provides tender but comical moments in the book.  

Master’s attempts to explain group theory and the accompanying doodles are wonderful.   The typography , particularly those passages  descriptive of Simon’s grunts and of the bullying he endured at school provide memorable moments in this book.    However these charming interjections provide little explanation of Simon.   His background (Iraqi Jewish), his family (two brothers) and defining moments in his life fail to provide any explanation of his mathematical genius and the whole book singularly fails to provide any explanation of why such genius is now reduced to a grim absorption in bus routes and campaigning  against motoring.

In many ways this was a highly unsatisfactory book but so fascinating that I find I need to have it on my shelf to re-read and ponder over the mystery of Simon.

A transfer from Oxford to Stepney for DCI Jack Pendragon, the brutal murder of a security guard at a construction site and the skeleton of a man dead since the fifteenth century are the basic ingredients of this crime thriller set in London.  In parallel there is a story set in the fifteenth century, covering both France and London.   An amazing emerald ring on the finger of the skeleton is photographed, before both it and the skeleton disappear.  It is at this point the parallel story makes the necessary connections,  for the ring is actually one belonging to Lucretia Borgia and the reader is eventually provided with an explanation as to how the ring and the skeleton arrived in London.   Two more deaths, equally gruesome, follow in quick succession.  Currently unattached, DCI Pendragon meets Sue Latimer, a tenant in the same building and the burgeoning relationship forms the vague romantic thread through the novel. When the murderer attempts to get at DCI Pendragon through Sue, this is a step to far and the action moves up a notch.  The unexpected twist in the satisfying conclusion to the story elevates this book beyond a mere “undemanding holiday read”.

While DCI Jack Pendragon didn’t have the appeal for me, of Inspector Linley, Morse, Rebus or Lord Peter Wimsey; nevertheless it was interesting to see his interaction with colleagues and the development of his relationship with Sue.   Despite the alternating of the two narratives, this ancient tale is necessary to a full understanding of the contemporary one.  

A gripping read and an almost credible story line gives some credence to the authors claim that this is fiction based on fact.

An intricate tale, this book alternates in almost kafkaesque style between a 12th century Arthurian tale and the modern search by the heroine Ellie and her boyfriend Doug for the elusive Holy Grail.

Headhunted from doctoral studies at Oxford, Ellie goes to work for the ancient, mysterious,  London-based Monsalvat Bank.   Everything is provided for her; top class accommodation, a massive salary, the ultimate in mobile phones and laptops –  everything a girl could wish for –  but before long Ellie is drawn into intrigue, scandal and the immoral world of her boss Blanchard.  She finds her whole life is scrutinised and controlled by the bank, Blanchard and his security sidekick.  Finally Ellie finds the elusive sixth floor vault and discovers a link with the contents of the vault and her own family history.   The consequent chase through much of Europe is as much a part of the fantasy of this tale as the interwoven mediaeval tale, the speed of both become breath taking and nail biting towards the end.

I did not enjoy the alternating stories, finding them quite disorientating (possibly because of my inherent dislike of Arthurian legends) and mostly had to quell my desire to skip those sections and read on to find out what happened to Ellie  and various other nefarious characters.   But, I did like the tender touch that brought the story of Ellie and Doug to a satisfactory conclusion.

Tom Harper has other books which will be added to my To Be Read list in the future