Monday 26 October 2009

Sense and Sensibility

... that sanguine expectation of happiness which is happiness itself.
I adore Elinor Dashwood. Self-possessed and dignified, she does not allow the ghastly Lucy Steele to make a fool of her. Warm and affectionate, she supports Marianne through the bitter blow of Willoughby's betrayal. Perceptive and elegant, she never actually tells her mother to reign it in, but guides her away from her wilder extravagances. Whether the drippy Edward Ferrars deserves Elinor is another question.

I've been out of action with a sickness bug over the weekend. By the time I felt well enough to read again I knew exactly what I wanted. Sometimes, only Jane will do!

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Autumnal reading

I decided to save The Plague of Doves for half-term when I have a week off work and can give it the time and attention it deserves.

Just before my book group got kicked out of the pub at our last meeting (we usually overstay our welcome) we selected A S Byatt's Possession so I need to read that before mid-November. I was also intrigued by this review. I love novels set in academia so I'm going to look for a copy of Admission.

My newly teenage daughters want to see the Twilight movies and I thought I'd read the book to find out what all the fuss is about. It seems the right time of year to read a vampire novel! I'm about half-way through and have mixed feelings so far. I'm not keen on the narrator, Bella Swan, and the writing is a little uneven, but I like the portrayal of the native American Indians and I do want to find out what happens. Anyone read it? I'd love to know your thoughts.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

The Plague of Doves

Death Comes for the Archbishop is an extraordinary narrative about a French Catholic priest and a French bishop who travel throughout Mexico in the nineteenth century promoting the Catholic faith. Encountering unimaginable hardship and hostility the two men gain confidence and resilience from their friendship amidst a landscape of stunning rivers, canyons, sandstorms and tamarisk trees.

Death Comes for the Archbishop reminded me a little of a Louise Erdrich novel Last Report on the Miracle at Little No Horse which I read a few years ago and this in turn reminded me that I still haven't read The Plague of Doves. So I'm re-joining the 21st century with one of my favourite contemporary writers.

Friday 9 October 2009

Death Comes for the Archbishop

Flowers in brown paper and a new Willa Cather novel. What could be nicer?

I find that recently I've been moving away from 'cosy reads.' You know, the kind of middlebrow comfort novels you read with tea and toast on winter evenings. Not that there is anything wrong with comfort reading but at the moment I want to read novels about life and art and poetry. Which is why I find Willa Cather so satisfying. Death Comes for the Archbishop is about two Catholic priests who ride the Santa Fe trail in the nineteenth century. Cather can write of a masculine, brutal world yet still retain a feminine quality to her prose.

The Willa Cather Foundation site has a link to the stunning flowers and grasses of the prairie. Thanks to the excellent Frisbee: A Book Journal for alerting me to the existence of this site.

Sunday 4 October 2009

My Mortal Enemy

Their talk quite took my breath away; they said such exciting, such fantastic things about people, books, music - anything; they seemed to speak together a kind of highly flavoured special language. Willa Cather
Published in 1926 My Mortal Enemy is a short novel - more like a novella. The central theme of conspicuous consumption reminded me of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth. It examines the story of Myra, a local beauty in her southern home town who is set to inherit a fortune. She elopes with a young man she falls in love with and they move to New York where they live in an elegant apartment and entertain the artistic community. Unsatisfied that she can't move in the highest circles of society because her husband isn't wealthy enough she begins to resent him and eventually refers to him as 'my mortal enemy.'

In one chapter, Cather describes a party at Myra's apartment where an opera singer goes to the piano to sing Casta Diva from Bellini's opera Norma. She describes the the beginning of the aria as 'like the quivering of moonbeams on the water.' Intrigued to hear this I found a youtube clip of Maria Callas singing Casta Diva and it is as beautiful as Cather describes it.