Sunday, 4 January 2009


My goodness. A is reading volume 3 of the collected letters of Benjamin Britten, and I'm reading volume 2 of Dorothy L Sayers' correspondence. Get us.

Sayers is very impressive, though - so clear-thinking and intelligent, and so professional in her work. She's very good on feminism: often with a lovely quizzical air about why anyone should be so silly as to think differently. I wish I could manage that, rather than always getting indignant straight away. And I must read The Man Who Would be King, as it sounds wonderful. She does always make me feel a little sad, though, that I have never really found a proper career. I suppose at least I know what I'm good at, and have always known that I wasn't in the least creative. And I've been very lucky in the jobs I've found, and the people I've worked with (the companies who've paid my salary have generally been nothing special, but there's capitalism for you). But Sayers makes me feel that I should have been more serious about having a profession. I'll have to ponder this, and not at half-past midnight when I've just watched four episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures. Too much melodrama, but I was pleased to suddenly realise that the theme music is based on Erlkoenig - perfect! Ooh, someone's clever.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Books, glorious books

I have been having a lovely Christmas binge. I re-read What Katy Did, What Katy Did at School, and What Katy Did Next - the last of these a hilarious account of her European tour with a widowed friend and her daughter, all of them rather disliking foreigners. England is so soggy that they don't stay long - but then of course they don't like the French much either, and as for Italians.... Great stuff. I've always wondered whether the word game that the SSUC attempt is playable: it seems unlikely that many people can produce poetry to order.

Also William Mayne's A Swarm in May, which is a very odd book, and a lot of it about choir-school politics, very much from the boys' point of view. Oh, and I also read Eleanor Farjeon's story '...And a Pearl in the Myddes', which I doubt anyone has heard of unless they're an Antonia Forest fan (Patrick asks Nicola if she's read it when they visit Wade Minster). It was a perfect Christmas story, wonderfully atmospheric and incomprehensible.

Last night I grabbed a random Iris Murdoch: The Flight From The Enchanter. I like Murdoch more as I get older, and suspect I read a lot of it when I was far too young to know what was happening, though I do think the ones where really posh people fall in and out of love with each other in endless combinations are rather silly. (A Severed Head is my favourite of these, with all its delicious kerfuffle over who gets which of the d'Aubusson prints - or is that the name of the carpet? (Of course as soon as I started typing it the word left my head.) And I do like The Italian Girl, which has similar shenanigans. Nobody ever seems to have to earn a living.) My overall favourite, though, is still her first novel, Under the Net (come to think of it, I've never worked out what the title means), which is about a lovely group of bohemians. The politics are more overt and the relationships simpler, and it has huge youthful joie de vivre and some vividly memorable set-pieces: I love the part where the narrator trails someone through a French park but loses her when he stops to pick up the shoes she's hidden in a tree.

Tonight I read Claire Tomalin's biography of Hardy. Another fine work: I really appreciate how non-judgemental Tomalin is, and how carefully she draws her conclusions. I also had no idea of how many bad novels Hardy had written in between his barnstormers: I think I'd vaguely assumed that titles like The Trumpet Major were early works rather than mid-stream duds. I'm not a huge fan of his, since I like to get immersed in books and don't like to be reminded that the heavy hand of the author is dropping misfortunes on his characters from a great height. I found Jude the Obscure disgusting. But I think I'd like to read more of his poetry.