Books, Bikes, and Food

Reviews, Recipes, Rides… and some other things, too.


PD James: Cover Her Face (1962)

CoverHerFaceAround autumn and winter, for some reason I start craving English crime novels. It happens quite reliably every year, and last year acquainted me with the Flavia De Luce series. This year, I decided to sink my teeth into PD James, and boy, am I glad I did. I started with her debut crime novel, Cover Her Face, which is also the first in the Adam Dalgliesh series.

As far as “whodunnit” crime novels go, this one is very close to perfection. Dalgliesh is one of those inspectors who does his job thoroughly before gathering all the suspects (and there are plenty of suspects in Cover Her Face) in one room to reveal the results. A young maid, unmarried and with a son, is taken in by the Maxies to work for them. She turns out to be ambitious and not very likeable, but intelligent, and promptly gets killed. Many people seem to have a motive for wanting to get rid of young Sally: the old maid Martha, Stephen Maxie and his sister Deborah, Sally’s uncle who took her in when she was a child, Miss Liddell who runs the home for young unmarried mothers where Sally lived before working for the Maxies… Inspector Dalgliesh has lots of lines of investigation to pursue.

Exactly three months before the killing at Martingale Mrs Maxie gave a dinner-party.

This is the opening line of Cover Her Face, and it keeps its promise. This is post-war Britain at its finest, with many old rules and institutions still intact but starting to crumble, and I loved how PD James picks up on these issues while providing everything you could ask for in a classic crime novel.



Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre (1847)

jane_eyre_smallRecently, I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump. I’ve been exhausted, and it seems to me I tried a bit too hard with my reading choices recently. I’m still working on La muerte de Artemio Cruz, and I think it’ll only be a matter of years until I finish The Book of Disquiet (which is excellent, but I can only take it in small doses). In other words, I needed some palate cleansers. Two books were chosen to perform this task: Jane Eyre and All the President’s Men. The latter is doing an excellent job and I’ll tell you all about it once I’m done. Jane Eyre was a bit more difficult to get into, but about halfway through the action picked up, and it turned into quite a good pageturner, actually!

Jane Eyre starts out a little bit slow with a poor orphan, Jane, who is forced to live with her rich relations. She knows of no other family she might have left, and her aunt and cousins treat her very badly. But Jane is headstrong, and she has a sharp sense of the injustice she’s suffering, so that doesn’t help her standing: she speaks up and gets punished even harder as a result. Her salvation occurs when she’s sent to school. Even though life there is hard, there’s sickness, hunger, and cold, she makes friends and is able to move forward, becoming first a very good student and later a teacher at the school. Jane, you see, loves books (a trait that endeared her to me).

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A.L. Kennedy: The Blue Book (2011)

blue_book_smallElizabeth and her boyfriend Derek are on a cruise. They might be getting married soon, although Elizabeth doesn’t seem to be especially excited about the idea. While boarding the cruise ship, they meet a man, seemingly a stranger at first, with whom Elizabeth turns out to have a past. She’s actually on board because of him, and through a series of mishaps, Derek has ended up there, too.

Interwoven with this backstory there are other narrative strands, one of a couple of psychics who “bring back the dead” for their desperate clients, that of a boy who spends time on an island with his mother, and then there’s also lots of sex, and a strange passage about Rwanda.

All the while, the reader is addressed as “you”, or is it the characters that are being addressed, who knows?

That’s pretty much all I can tell you about The Blue Book, because I didn’t finish it. It seemed to me that Kennedy got carried away by her own infatuation with experimental narration and overdid it not just a bit. The whole narrative set-up was too much and prevented me from getting engaged with the characters. Rather than deeply identifying with Elizabeth, I became really annoyed with her and just couldn’t bring myself to care, so I gave up about halfway through.

The press largely raved about this novel though, it’s supposed to be rather brilliant. I just didn’t quite see it.

German title: Das blaue Buch
Spanish title: No translation found


Mary Shelley: Frankenstein (1818)

Frankenstein is one of those novels that had always intrigued me, but I’d never gotten around to reading it. Now that I finally did, I’m glad I’ve read it, but not in an “Oh my God this was so amazing” kind of way – more in an “Ok been there, done that, let’s check it off the to do list” kind of way. In other words, I enjoyed it and it got me thinking, but it didn’t blow me away either.

So – is it even worth summarising a plot that is so well known? I’ll just do a really quick summary. Guy grows up in happy family, goes to University where he becomes obsessed with studying natural sciences, guy discovers secret of life and in his obsession builds an imitation of a human, gets scared and runs away, letting his creation run free. Creation potters around the place looking for love, finds only rejection, becomes angry, kills guy’s little brother, guy finds out, is devastated, is confronted by his monster, who tells him his heartbreaking story. Guy promises to create a monster-wife to keep his he-monster company, but then decides otherwise because wouldn’t it be horrible if they had offspring (mini monsters!)? Monster becomes really angry, kills everyone guy loves, guy persecutes monster, dies in the process, but not before having told his story to a ship captain on a voyage to the North Pole, who is actually the one writing down the entire tale.

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Sense & Sensibility Readalong IV: The Rest (Ch. 37-End)…

This final stretch of Sense and Sensibility, in my view, is a bit of an anticlimax. So far, Jane Austen has been torturing the reader – and even more so, her protagonists Elinor and Marianne – with the agonies of difficult and seemingly impossible love affairs. As Yvann over at Reading Fuelled by Tea wrote last week, perhaps even for a bit too long. But it was engaging, you know, with this bitter-sweet pang disappointed loves of literary characters provoke in a reader. You feel for them, and you just want to know how it continues.

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Sense & Sensibility Readalong III: Ch. 23-36

Sense & Sensibility Readalong III: Ch. 23-36

While in the previous part, I particularly appreciated the character development, in this part it was the change of scene that in my view contributed the key factor to events. We follow the Miss Dashwoods to London, where lots of diversions await – but unfortunately for Marianne, events in the capital are marked by the awful discovery that her knight in shining armour is much less shiny than anticipated. Vile Willoughby (thank you, Alex, for this lovely description, it fits perfectly!) has forgotten her just as quickly as he had previously lured her in.

As a consequence, she suffers intensely and has no remorse about letting all the world know how terrible she’s doing. As Sense and Sensibility unfolds, I find myself getting more and more impatient with Marianne. OK, you have it tough, but get your act together and stop whining, girl! Before anyone accuses me of being heartless, I do feel for her, but I think it would be so much easier to be compassionate for her if she made even the tiniest effort of self-control. As things stand, I feel much more sympathetic towards Elinor’s suppressed grief than towards Marianne’s over-the-top teenager-y woes. Laura at Devouring Texts also has an urge to slap her – thank you, at least I’m not alone 😉 .

One character I was completely wrong about initially is Mrs Jennings. I really thought she was just a blabbering, slightly idiotic woman, but now I completely coincide with Alex’s assessment that while she’s a gossip and often more well-meaning than well-doing, the fact of the matter is that she is well-meaning. And loyal to the Miss Dashwoods. And lovely in her own, special way of recommending a good sip of Constantia wine to cure Marianne’s lovesickness.

As for the remaining characters, Brother Dashwood is possibly one of the shallowest literary characters I’ve ever met. Lucy Steele is the period equivalent of today’s It-girl wannabe, and her misuse of the past tense is sending the language control freak inside me into hyperventilation. Developments with Willoughby are, in my humble opinion, not hugely surprising – he’s all that Jane Austen has been setting him up to be. Finally, Colonel Brandon is the PERFECT match for Elinor. Could we just get it over with and let them get together now, please?