Books on the Go.

15 Apr

I have taken to reading four books at once. Pretty pretentious, you might say. Hear me out.

Till recently I had never read Harry Potter. Shame! (Indignation) Shaaame (Sympathy). Well The Philosopher’s Stone sits snugly in my downstairs loo awaiting my next motion – or at least when I decide to use that particular venue. Inevitably, I suppose, I will link the young wizard with my basic functions but most books get lost in a different ether. At least HP is contextualised. After 50 pages I am still reserving judgement.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (bedside), riding high with nearly 250,000 sold, is an odd tale of a very odd couple – particularly the young wife whose mysterious disappearance is explained in the manner reminiscent of early Ian MacEwan: completely unbelievable…but plausible. It’s a Tom Sharpe maquerading as a Stephen King (quite a stretch) but this is bedside stuff. I admit to skipping Question Time to curl up with it. I didn’t skip anything but my Kindle pages for Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles (three down and still two to go…I won’t make it zzzzz___) To be fair I was reading this for the sake of literary breadth; like reading the Mail and the Sun and the Guardian all in the same week. Archer doesn’t speak to any little bit of me, really but I am reminded of the speed reading course I did in 1971 and I can flash through 50 pages in as many seconds.

Aware now that I am sounding patronising – a development from pretentious – the quid pro quo for Jeff is Julian. Barnesie, as I like to call him, is my ‘go to’ man in a tricky situation. He makes me feel clean again; he dusts me down, engages me, surprises me, moves me. His latest, Levels of Life culminates in an extraordinarily touching examination of his grief for Pat Kavanagh, his wife. It’s a literary non-fiction, a documentary novella. The stories are imbued with a sort of giant metaphysicality which moves the reader intellectually as well as emotionally, to a place where he enables our view of human experience- love – via acute angles and towering perspectives. He begins: ‘You put two things together that have not been put together before. And the world is changed.’ So Part One (The Sin of Height) is the tale of early balloon flights coupled with the development of aerial photography. Then follows the improbable pairing of the stiff-upper-lip British adventurer, Fred Burnaby with the vampish actress Sarah Berhardt (On the Level). Finally we are alone with Barnes and his grief (The loss of Height). ‘When we soar we also crash; there are few soft landings,’ he says – and of his wife, ‘..the heart of my life; the life of my heart.’ It’s both poignant and invigorating – with a characteristic detachment as if he is viewing his beravement from a balloon drifting over the Channel.

At 116 pages Levels of Life is a handy volume for all public transport. Who wouldn’t  want to pull JB out on the tube?  I  certainly wouldn’t take Jeff. on the Picadilly Line. One has to be so careful in London. You can see that four books could easily become a minimum to have on the go. Crime/thriller novels are excellent palate-cleansers for higher and lower brow reading. And the effort of picking yourself up after that final page is softened by what’s in the toilet or your overcoat pocket. A friend’s wife used to carry three novels with her at all times and read, one page from each in rotation. She even chose novels of similar lengths. She argued, apparently, that the enjoyment of reaching the climax three times in quick succession…let’s not go there.

I shall be in London tomorrow and will report on my experience of Susan Hill (The Pure in Heart). I haven’t read much of SH but I’m a bit disappointed that she appears to have her tame regular ‘DCI’ Simon Serrailler. I am thus expecting to follow the well-trodden road of Banks, Rankin, PDJ, Val McDermid and the rest who latch on to a character and shake them till they’re dead. Mind you I quite enjoy the vibrations.

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