Sunday, 6 October 2019

Recently Read

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier (2019)
Audio narration by Fenella Woolgar (11 h) 

It is the early 1930s, and the losses of the First World War are still keenly felt. Violet Speedwell, mourning for both her fiancé and her brother and regarded by society (and herself) as a ‘surplus woman’ moves to Winchester - a city rather dominated by its great cathedral. There she lives in a boardinghouse and works in an office, but also decides to join a group of women embroidering cushions and kneelers for the cathedral. She also gets fascinated by the intricacies of bell-ringing - and perhaps one bell-ringer in particular...

I did not find this novel quite as fascinating as some of the others by Tracy Chevalier, but enjoyable all the same. (My favourites are probably Girl with a Pearl Earring, and Remarkable Creatures.)

 Silas Marner  (The Weaver of Raveloe)
by George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) (1861)

Audio narration by Andrew Sachs (6:45 h)

A classic which I have read before (many years ago) but I wanted to refresh my memories of it, and did so by listening to it narrated by Andrew Sachs; but also having access to the text on Kindle.

Silas Marner, a weaver, is falsely accused of stealing money from the Calvinist congregation he belongs to. He loses not only his friends but also his fiancée and his faith, and moves to a remote village where no one knows him. Here he lives an isolated life and focuses completely on working on his weaving (in his own home), and putting aside (hoarding) the money he earns. When that too gets taken from him, he sinks into deep depression. But then a small orphan girl unexpectedly comes into his life, turning it upside down in a different way... There are more twists and turns to the plot before the story comes to an end though. The outcome may be kind of typical for its time, but at the same time the story is perhaps more intricately woven than one might be tempted to think at times.

The Noble Path by Peter May
(1992/2019) (Read on Kindle) 

This book by Peter May was originally written in 1992 but recently re-edited and re-published. The story is set against the background of the situation of south-east Asia in the 1970s. 

I have to say I found it very "tough" reading... To begin with, I found it a bit hard to get into because of the apparent apathy and callousness of some of the characters (but if you keep reading, you will come to understand that there is a point to that); also followed by too much war and weapons and violence and general misery for my general "taste" in fiction... (I'm glad I decided to buy this one for Kindle rather than audio, because when listening it's harder to "skim" parts that get uncomfortable.)

But: Primarily I think it is tough reading, and "gets under your skin", because you gradually come to recognize that there is much more to it than "just fiction"; and it cannot even be shrugged off as history... Today it may be (partly) different countries and borders and ethnic groups etc involved. But the same kind of things still happen, all the time - and even closer to home than the Far East. (And we know that; but don't really want to know that.)

Quoting what Peter May himself says in his foreword:

"[The story] takes place in the aftermath of the war in Vietnam, when the murderous and anarchic regime established by the Khmer Rouge in neighbouring Cambodia systematically annihilated three million people. --- Rereading the book nearly thirty years later, I note with some sadness that one of the primary themes - a refugee crisis caused by the mass migration of people trying to escape war and poverty - is with us every bit as much now as it was then. ---"

So as contrast, absurdly, I felt I had to read/listen to something soothingly whimsical in between, allowing me to pretend there are no worse problems in the world than the kind that may be sorted out by Jeeves (the perfect gentleman's gentleman). (I'm kind of taking for granted that you're acquainted with both him and his employer, Bertie Wooster. If not - look them up!) 

Jeeves & Wooster - The Collected Radio Dramas (BBC) (18 h)

Based on the novels by P.G. Wodehouse   1881-1975
The Inimitable Jeeves
The Code of the Woosters
Right Ho, Jeeves
Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves
Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit
Jeeves: Joy in the Morning

In between all of the above, I've also been listening to:

Language Families of the World
by Professor John McWhorther, Columbia University
(16 h, 32 lectures)

This is not a book, but a series of lectures. Being generally interested in languages, I found it fascinating and enlightening, even if I quickly forget details. But there are around 7000 languages in the world, and most linguists believe they all originate from one original language (just as it is now generally believed that all the people in the world originate from Africa a long long long time ago). But as we can't trace language changes back all that far, that remains a theory. So for now, languages are (still) classified as belonging to various families and groups, based on things they have in common (or not). Language history also ties in with other parts (and conundrums) of migration history - and theories will no doubt continue to change a bit with every new discovery made in those fields. But one thing I take with me from this series of lectures is that "small" languages tend to have a more complex structure than those spoken by larger populations (like English, or Spanish). The "small" languages are in no way "inferior" to the more widely spread ones; just different, and usually extremely hard to learn if you're not born and raised with them - and especially if they are only spoken, and have no writing system. But there are even languages without any alphabet or documents, which can still be said to have their own literature - for example in the form of complex epic poems (of a specific structure and rhythm etc) passed on orally and memorized from generation to generation. 


  1. Why does one not see typos until already published? Lots in this post!! I'll return to correct them tomorrow... (sigh)

  2. You have gotten through a lot, and great variety as well.

  3. I've got A Single Thread waiting for me at the library. Trying to finish Kate Atkinson's new book first. Enjoyed your reviews.

    1. I've seriously struggled with Kate Atkinson in the past (Human Croquet and a couple of others)... Don't think I'll be adding any more of hers to my list just yet... ;)

  4. All of it interesting and fascinating, although if I had to choose, I'd skip the Peter May book. Love Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, and I think "Remarkable Creatures" is my favourite of Tracy Chevalier's books.
    By the way, my parents have exactly one such embroidery scissors as on the book cover.

    1. Meike, it's been an interesting blend... Because the books I've been reading/listening to lately have been so different from one another, I've usually had several of them "going" at the same time. (Not literally at the same time, obviously - but jumping from one to another.) As for Peter May, I enjoyed the Lewis trilogy, and also quite liked some of his later stand-alones. His earlier books (of which I've only tried a few) don't appeal to me the same way, though. Not sure how much that has to do with his development as a writer vs the different settings. - Btw I think you might enjoy 'A Single Thread' for being very British :)

  5. I've always shied away from reading Silas Marner but curiosity got the better of me today and I read the Wikipedia summary (I know - cheating) and am at least content that I know what happened.

    1. Graham, since it's just not possible (for any of us!) to read every book in the world, I for one am very thankful for all the "shortcuts" offered these days... :)


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