Hello and welcome to Thursday Thoughts in
which I present my November Month-End Wrap-Up and December TBR. The first book I finished reading for Non-Fiction
November was The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom.
I rated this book as a B, a book that is worth reading and to be kept on your bookshelves
as a reminder and possibly to re-read at a later date.
The second book I read for Non-Fiction November was Casanova’s Women by Judith Summers.
I rated this book a C, an OK book to be read and re-Cycled, therefore borrow it from your
public library or buy it cheaply from a book sale.
I also fished reading The Last Cavalier by Alexandre Dumas. I have already spoken about
the first half in my November Mid-Month Wrap-Up which deals with Bonaparte in his role as
the First Consul. The second half covers the adventures of the
Comte de Sainte-Hermine during the period when Napoleon was Emperor of the French from
1804. I rated the first half of this novel as A,
one to be read again and to be bought in hardcover. Did the second half live up to the promise
of the first half? Yes, it certainly did. But, to do this novel
justice I would have to review every single one of its 120 chapters, as nearly every chapter
is a gem in and of itself. It is a book of thrilling adventures involving maritime battles,
tiger hunts, danger from leopards, a monstrous Boa Constrictor, a journey to Burma with two
beautiful women, political intrigue, escape from prison and encounters with bandits. There
is a marvellous chapter on Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar and so much more that
it is impossible to mention everything that Dumas packs into this rich and rewarding novel.
I absolutely loved it and I highly recommend it if you like adventure, characterisation,
history, a thrilling story and brilliant writing. Dumas portrays the Comte de Sainte Hermine
as a superhero rather than as a hero, as a superhuman rather than as a human, so do not
expect any character development, because Sainte Hermine is endowed with all the superhero
qualities which means that he excels at everything. He is stronger than anyone else, he is more
courageous, more successful, a better swordsman than even a fencing master, a crack shot who
can kill a tiger with one shot every time, can fight with sharks and rip them open, he
can charge into a skirmish with the English who are so inspired that they provide him
with safe conduct back to the French camp. This and much more attaches itself to the
Comte de Sainte Hermine so that it is impossible to see him as a normal human being with flaws
or weaknesses because Dumas doesn’t give him any. So, there is a certain amount of
suspension of disbelief required to follow his adventures, but they are told with such
compelling force and interesting detail that it is worth doing so.
And overall, I rate this book as A to be read Again. In the last half of Non-Fiction November,
I read How Far from Austerlitz: Napoleon 1805 – 1815 by Alistair Horne.
After the first couple of chapters which serve as an introduction, the rest of the text deals
with the ten years in which Napoleon was Emperor of the French and the scourge of Europe. There
are precise details of campaigns and battles and political alliances and strategies, some
of which were successful and some of which failed.
As a military biography it contains everything anyone would want to know about Napoleon as
a military figure and is excellent of its type. It is worth reading once and thus I
rate it a B, to be read and kept on your Bookshelves as a reminder. I have read 93 pages of Wolf Hall by Hilary
Mantel. My initial reactions to this novel are far
from favourable. And there are three reasons for this.
First, is the style. Mantel employs short staccato sentences, often of one, two or three
words. I have only ever seen this style used by US authors who have been through the sausage
machine of a Creative Writing Course. I don’t know whether Mantel has taken such a course
or if she has been influenced by reading US authors, but it is a style which I detest.
Second, is her approach to her story which is to tell it obliquely, in which she suggests
rather than explains, so, that it is not always clear who is speaking or what is being spoken
about. Also, the use of ‘he’ without any indication which ‘he‘ is speaking is confusing
until it begins to dawn that ‘he’ is Cromwell, except when it isn’t.
And third, from a great opening in which Cromwell is being kicked about the head by his father,
prompting him to run away to sea at the age of 15 I was full of anticipation that Mantel
was going to tell us some thrilling adventures and provide some character development. But
in the next scene Mantel projects us forward 25 years to when Cromwell is a 40-year-old
lawyer working for the second most powerful man in the kingdom, Cardinal Wolsey, the Lord
Chancellor. What happened in the 25 years to bring this about? Mantel is silent and
I was left wondering how this could possibly have happened.
So, Wolsey and Cromwell are chatting away about this and that when suddenly out of the
blue and without any preceding action or exposition, or any interaction between Wolsey and the
King, it is two years later and Wolsey is being turfed out of his house by the King’s
men. Why is Cardinal Wolsey being ejected from his house? What has happened to bring
about the King’s displeasure? We don’t know, because Mantel doesn’t tell us.
The review extracts contained in the first five pages of the book have the following:
‘Risky with its narrative.’ ‘consistent originality.’
‘intricate construction.’ ‘brimming with invention.’
‘delightfully poetic, vivid in image and phrase.’
‘Mantel is one of our bravest as well as most brilliant writers.’
‘breezily poetic.’ ‘Lyrically yet cleanly and tightly written.’
You will notice from these extracts that Mantel is being praised for her experimental writing
which borders on a poetic form of writing in the modern style, quirky, jagged, staccato,
suggested, implied rather than stated, oblique. The most noticeable absence from all these
words of praise from the reviewers is that they do not say that her novel was either
delightful, entertaining or enjoyable. Instead they used words like brilliant, indisputably
great, an extraordinary trick, bold and sweeping, expert.
The fact that it won the Booker Prize ought to have been a trigger warning, because with
its experimental writing, Wolf Hall is typical Booker Prize fodder. I did not enjoy reading
theses 93 pages and although I had a particular purpose in mind when I began reading Wolf
Hall, I have decided to DNF Wolf Hall together with its sequel Bring up the Bodies which
I had planned to read in December. So, I rate the 93 pages I have read of Wolf
Hall as E which equals Early Exit. However, to be fair, I would have to say that I am
not Mantel’s target reader, as I prefer a narrative driven style with clear character
development and a straight-forward traditional linear plot.
I am planning to read The Passionate Enemies by Jean Plaidy in preparation for the fourth
episode of my Series on the Normans and Plantagenets. And my Non-Fiction pick for December is the
two-volume Biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge by Richard Holmes. The first volume is called
Early Visions and in November I have read 106 pages of 364, so far. When I have finished
this I will read Volume Two which is called Darker Reflections.
Now for my two-book haul. I bought True Grit by Charles Portis after
watching the movie with Jeff Bridges, Mat Damon and Hailee Steinfeld. Joey of Game of
Authors chose it in his tag I love the Book! I love the Movie!
However, in spite of the fact that the bookseller said that they had despatched it, the next
day I received a notice that my money had been refunded and they quoted Account Adjustment
as the reason. So, I can only assume that they did not have the book even though they
said that it had been despatched. So, I have had to order it from another bookseller.
The second book I bought was Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. David Murphy among several
others have spoken about this book and so I decided to buy it. And it has arrived. And
so, I am going to read this in place of Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies. So far in November
I have read 48 pages and what I have read so far is excellent.
Lonesome dove won the Pulitzer Prize in 1986. Unlike the Booker Prize, the Pulitzer Prize
actually chooses books that are readable. Four previous Pulitzer Prize winners that
I have read and thoroughly enjoyed are: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields, The Killer
Angels by Michael Shaara, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Old Man and the Sea
by Ernest Hemingway. Contrasted with that list is my list of Booker Prize winners that
I have DNF’d. They include: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Sanders, The Line of Beauty
by Allan Hollinghurst, The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, Possession by A S Byatt,
Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally and Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. I could only find
one novel on the Booker Prize List that I have actually enjoyed and that is The Remains
of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. They actually got that one right!
And now here is a quick recap and I’ll be back on Tuesday with The Doughnut Book Tag.