Thursday, 28 July 2011

Jeffrey Bernard-Low Life

Last night I finished the excellent Inspector van Veeteren novel The Return by Hakan Nesser, reviewed here. An excellent book so I went on the hunt downstairs, looking for something other than a detective book. I'm a recent convert to this genre, tempted into it by Henning Mankell's Wallander books about five or six years ago, and now have to pull myself away sometimes and read other things.

So while searching through our shelves of books I was absolutely overjoyed to find Jeffrey Bernard's Low Life. It is the collected Low Life columns that Bernard wrote for The Spectatator magazine. For years Bernard was the overwehelming reason I subscribed to The Spectator. His style and humour, not to mention his acceptance of his addictions and resultant disabilities made his columns hilarious without ever being mawkish or self-pitying, and his put downs of helpers and lefties alike were legend.

I thought I'd either lost or loaned this book out years ago, and was never to see it again. I was overjoyed to find it again and it was the first thing I thought about when I woke up this morning.

A quote on the back of the book from a Times review sums him up:
'Bernard's unswerving dedication to booze, fags, the horses, unsuitable women, overspending and the law courts, have made him the archetypal Terrible Object Lesson, a Knight in Shining Black Armour who spends his life tilting at Windmill Girls on soft going, missing and landing up in bed with the Inland Revenue and a shoe full of Chinese takeaway.'
Treat yourself, it's the perfect book to dip into and, unless political correctness has deprived you of every last drop of your sense of humour, you will love Bernard and his Low Life as much as I and millions of others have over the years.

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Second Coming-WB Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Holiday Reading

I never read quite as much as I plan too when away on holiday, usually distracted by the interesting places we try and visit, often vineyards and restaurants. But this year I especially enjoyed the books I did read while touring around France from Saint Valery Sur Somme to Limoges to Carcassonne and on to Burgundy. Three weeks of sun (mainly) great sites and good food and wine. Although as usual, I did end up desperately craving an English breakfast and a Chicken Madras.

Heading south to Folkestone I was reading my second Dalziel and Pascoe book by Reginald Hill, Exit Lines. Good, solid, old fashioned no-nonsense police stories set in the mythical Mid-Yorkshire Constabulary. None of your tough policewomen balancing bringing up ten kids, while looking after a waster husband who resents her success, while solving crimes her male colleagues are too stupid to even recognise. Neither are they smooth, politically correct metrosexuals mincing around chasing nasty criminals guilty of smoking in public, homophobia, sexism or any other 'ism'. No, the characters are flawed but warm and the settings are down to earth and gritty. Indeed, if read in the middle of a long holiday in foreign parts their Englishness could bring on a serious bout of homesickness.

My next book was the first Howard Jacobsen I have read, The Making of Henry. My big regret on reading this book was that I had left it so long to read a Howard Jacobson book. Another northern lad Jacobson mixes his northern bluntness with his soul searching Jewish angst. The book is everything I enjoy in the works of Jewish writers, not to mention the films of Woody Allen. "Am I the only one who feels like this?". "Why do they all appear comfortable in their environments, unlike me?".

A highly evocative, sometimes highly amusing, often semi-biographical examination of the human psyche that Jewish writers seem especially adept at, maybe because of their frequent feeling of being 'outsiders'. I often get the feeling that they often have to study themselves, their families and their communities in order to make their way in an often hostile world. Likewise to beat the all too frequent prejudice of non-Jewish society, writers such as Jacobson are extremely sharp in their study and observation of society generally in order to assimilate.  All this comes together to produce a novel full of wry observation of human nature through characters that even now, I would love to jump from the pages of the book so that I could have a chat and a coffee with them.

For somebody with an abiding passion for European history I couldn't go away without a Bernie Gunther novel, wonderfully written by Philip Kerr. The One From The Other is the fourth in the Bernie Gunther series and finds our German detective in Munich in 1949. In this book the character has come of age. Kerr seems much more at ease with Bernie than in the first three, which I also enjoyed immensely, and the novel flows nicely with factual characters and events adding real depth to the colours in the book.

The novel twists and turns and ends, as ever, in a quite unexpected, but highly entertaining way. Where next for Bernie Gunther? I don't know but I can't wait to find out when I start the next episode. But that will have to wait until I've finished, and reviewed, the book I started on the way back to Blighty.

That's all for now. Enjoy the rest of summer!