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About ‘Salem’s Lot:
‘Salem’s Lot is a small New England town. Like so many others it contains the usual quota of gossips, drinkers, weirdos and respectable folk. Of course, there are tales of strange happenings – but not more than in any other town its size.
Ben Mears, a moderately successful writer, returns to the Lot to write a novel based on his early years, and to exorcise the terrors that have haunted him since childhood. The event he witnessed in the house now rented by a new resident. A newcomer with a strange allure. A man who causes Ben some unease as things start to happen…
When did I first read this? 1976 or thereabouts (Genesis had just released Wind and Wuthering which was being advertised on the radio almost constantly as I was reading this so I think the date is about right)
What age was I? An impressionable 14
How may times since then? I can’t believe this is only the fourth time I’ve read this but the stats don’t lie (at least not in this case)
Thoughts about the book:
This wasn’t the first Stephen King book I had read; I had devoured Carrie earlier the same year, enjoying the thrill of unhappy teenager getting her own back and loving the style of the book with its mix of traditional narrative alongside eyewitness reports and newspaper clippings and so on. But ‘Salem’s Lot was the big one for me, setting two things in stone for the future (1) vampires are my monster of choice (even sparkly ones a la Twilight) and (2) I would read anything by Stephen King – and I’ve pretty much stuck to that in the (gulp) 36 years since then though I sometimes come to his stuff a while after publication.
I wish I had been able to keep the paperback version of this that I read as a teenager; if memory serves it was completely black with an embossed (?) head, and the only colour was a drop of blood – who could resist that? Sadly I lent it to someone and never got it back, but I indulged a few years ago in the rather lovely illustrated edition pictured above, with wonderful photographs, a glorious design and loads of additional material (like deleted scenes etc); a real pleasure to read.
I just love this story – a wonderful cast of characters dealing with the supernatural in a realistic setting, a cliché now perhaps but to someone my age at the time a real revelation. Love, horror, bravery, evil – all there in spades. And I can confirm that the feeling of dread about characters you have come to care about is still there even after several re-reads.
Interesting how much of my view of the book was affected by the TV version starring David Soul, for which I have a real soft spot; some of the scenes are still very vivid. Not a bad adaptation though I was still surprised to be reminded in the book that Ben was dark-haired.
This is a real treat for anyone who hasn’t read it before and worth revisiting for those who have, one of my absolute all time favourites.
This is the third book in my Big Re-Read project.
About The Abbess of Crewe:
An election (?) has been held at the Abbey of Crewe. The new Lady Abbess takes up her high office with implacable serenity. She had expected to win – one way or the other
When did I first read this? sometime after 1977 (when the edition I have was published) and June 1980 (when I started keeping a record of books read)
What age was I? between 16 and 19
How many times since then? This is my fifth time of reading.
Thoughts about the book:
I have been a fan of Muriel Spark for almost thirty-five years which is an astonishing thing to realise given that inside my head I am still 17 rather than the batty old dear I sometimes consider myself these days. I can’t recall now when I was first introduced to her; my memory says The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (which I have reviewed here) but another part of me thinks that I may have read some of her stuff before then and that The Abbess was one of the first.
It fascinates me because it is a short and pointed re-telling of the Watergate saga if it had taken place in an English convent, with The Abbess the Nixonian figure and her rival, Sister Felicity, representing the Democrats. And of course it’s not the theft of the silver thimble during the election of the Abbess, it’s the ensuing cover up which causes the problems. I think this has stuck with me not just because it’s another one of Sparks’ perfect little jewels but because it’s about Watergate which has fascinated me since I read All The Presidents Men in the early seventies (I still have the film tie-in edition somewhere in the house with long-haired Redford and Hoffman on the cover) and I have quite a few books on the subject, so some of the fun in reading The Abbess is in trying to identify the equivalents of the real life protagonists such as Haldeman and Kissinger (though the latter is really easy, Sister Gertrude a wonderful character awkays at one remove from political danger).
So almost certainly not a masterpeice but one of my absolute favourites and short enough to be read in one satisfying sitting.
“Why should they trouble themselves about a salacious nun and a Jesuit? I must say a jesuit, or any priest for that matter, would be the last man I would myself elect to be laid by. A man who undresses, maybe; a man who unfrocks, no”
“And it seems to me, Gertrude, that you are going to have a problem with those cannibals on the Latter Day when the trumpet shall sound. It’s a question of which man shall rise in the Resurrection, for certainly those that are eaten have long since become the consumers from generation to generation.”
“Now if you please, Walburga, let’s consult The Art of War because time is passing and the sands are running out.”
This is the second book in my Big Re-read Project; it was also my first Readathon read and would have been part of my contribution to Muriel Spark week if I had been sufficiently organised to (1) read a couple of other Sparks and (b) get around to blogging about The Abbess.
About The Telling of Lies:
On a beautiful hot day off the coast of maine an iceberg looms on the horizon and Calder Maddox, and aged and unprepossessing pharmaceuticals millionnaire is found dead on the beach. Nessa van Horne has photographed the day’s events and as she studies the pictures she draws parallels between her own experience of evil when she was imprisoned in a Japanese concentration camp and the increasingly chilling evidence of Maddox’s murder and a political cover-up
When did I first read this? February 1993
What age was I? 31
How many times since then? This is my first re-read.
Thoughts about the book:
I can’t remember when I first realised I had a thing for all matters Canadian. I think I must actually have been quite small and it may have been because of a visit from some of Dad’s relatives who had emigrated from Scotland to Ontario in the 1920s. Anyhow, it is a real thing for me and although I haven’t yet made it there (I was insanely jealous of the Book God when he went to Vancouver on business and I couldn’t go with him because I had just started a new job, but I will get my revenge, oh yes) I seek out the books and films and music and of course lovely blogging people like Susan. But I digress. In my twenties I worked my way through Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Robertson Davies etc and was looking to widen my horizons a bit, and someone recommended Timothy Findley to me. The Telling of Lies wasn’t the first of his books that I read (that honour probably goes to Famous Last Words or The Butterfly Plague) but it is the one that has stayed with me the longest. It pops into my head every so often and I was completely astonished to find that I had only read it that one time.
I love this book but I’m not really sure that I have got to the bottom of what it’s actually about. On the surface it’s exactly what it says on the cover, murder and cover-ups and so on, but I can’t help feeling that there is something more that I’m just not getting and that’s perhaps why it stays with me. And of course I just love Nessa; I see her as being a sort of Vanessa Redgrave figure (as she was when I was lucky enough to see her in The Year of Magical Thinking, tall and dignified and white-haired), and she is a remarkable character.
Everyone has always known that Lily has a heart of gold; but we have also known it’s a chocolate heart and the gold is only a wrapper made of foil
I asked him if, there being so many more, he intended to read them all. And he said “I’ve read them all before, Miss Van Horne. This time, I’m reading them just for pleasure.” I had no reply for this, not having known there could be pleasure in Henry James.
Memory is like that. It buffets you with stories out of sequence. It harries you with the past and it blinds you to the present. It seems to take all its cues at random – failing to deliver what you want to know, while it offers up data that seems to have no bearing on the moment.
As for me – I saw them both as beautiful and exceptional, until he died. It was only then that I encountered Mother as she really was: a reflection stranded in an abandoned mirror.
If I could only learn to be at peace with the wonderfully simple, scientific fact of life: we die. Surely, how we die is all that matters, when it comes to that.
If online comments are to be believed (and I haven’t been exhaustive in my search for the views of others), I’m one of the few out there who seems to rate this novel. One thing is certain; I’m not going to leave it for another almost twenty years before I pick this up again.
This is the first book in my Big Re-read Project
It is 25th March, the downfall of Sauron and the end of the War of the Ring, and therefore Tolkien Reading Day. Most years I forget to take part, but today I decided to mark the occasion by reading the first chapter of The Hobbit. This was my first exposure to Tolkien; it appeared in a book of children’s short stories (fairy tales etc) given to me by my great-uncle Tom when I was about 9 or 10. It was only when I got to junior high school and saw a copy in the library that I realised that it was properly the beginning of a wonderful book, and my love of Tolkien and all things Middle Earth began there. It is also the 75th anniversary of the first publication of The Hobbit, so all seems very fitting.
And now that I have started it I think I will add it to the list of reads I’m making for the Once Upon a Time challenge; but more of that later!
So this is the third of my planned re-reads for the summer. I’ve enjoyed revisiting these books so much that this is likely to trickle on into the autumn in an unstructured way as befits what I said in this post.
Espedair Street is a great novel about a rock band. I have to put my hand up to say that I would love to have called this one of the great rock novels but to be honest I haven’t read many (actually, I can’t think of another one) so the statement would have been based on no evidence whatsoever. It’s still brilliant, but.
So, the background to this re-read is a random thought that popped into my head on the train into work one morning that Silvery Dude, who shares some of my musical taste, might actually enjoy reading about the rise and fall and possible rise again of Daniel Weir and Frozen Gold because (a) it’s rock’n'roll and (b) more importantly, it’s Scottish rock’n'roll.
So I bought him a copy. I happen to know (because I check regularly in a not-nagging-honestly big sister kind of way, just out of interest, have you got round to it yet?) that he still hasn’t read it (I’m sure he’s saving it for a rainy day or something). Anyway having forced this on him I thought that it would be nice to read along; however, as explained a sentence ago, that very quickly turned into reading it by myself, not necessarily a bad thing.
The surprise for me was that when I went to check my stats (for yes, I keep stats on what I read, have done since June 1980, thirty years and quite a lot of books ago) I had only read this once, back in July 1992. I’m sure this is a mistake because chunks of the book have stuck in my head, but perhaps that just goes to show how powerful a story I found it to be, and besides, the stats never lie.
So, why is this so brilliant?
- a large chunk of it is set in my home town of Paisley, so the setting is entirely recognisable (and in fact when I was a toddler we used to live near the actual Espedair Street, plus my Mum grew up in Ferguslie Park) and when I was a student we would occasionally go to the student’s union at Paisley Tech where Daniel meets his future band mates
- it’s seems to be about the kind of prog rock band that I actually followed (and if I’m honest still do – hello Rush, Genesis, Pink Floyd et al); there are concept albums and drum solos for goodness sake
- I can quite happily visualise Fish from Marillion (another favourite band) as the lead character (although not now that he doesn’t have the hair)
- it has the full panoply of rock and roll excess – the drink, the drugs, the fast cars, the paranoia, the more-money-than-you-know-what-to-do-with – but at it’s heart is just about a bloke trying to come to terms with himself and his past
- Frozen Gold is a great name for a band
I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this, intend not to leave it for another 18 years before I pick it up again.
And at least now when Silvery Dude finally gets round to reading it I can talk to him about with greater clarity than I would have done otherwise.
Laurie Colwin’s Family Happiness is the second book in my planned summer of re-reading.
First read in November 1985 (which is incredibly scary) this is my fourth time of reading it and the second of the two copies I have. It’s another firm favourite and has been a great pleasure to revisit. Why so good? Well….
Polly Demarest is a happily married mother of two from what in anyone’s book would be a very privileged and wealthy Jewish family in New York. Her father is a lawyer, as is one of her brothers and her husband. She is the only daughter and there are expectations on her to be sensible, practical, reliable and basically the rock of her family. But Polly has something missing from her life that she didn’t realise until she met, fell in love and embarked on a relationship with an artist, Lincoln Bennett. If the novel is about anything then it’s Polly’s self-growth.
And writing that down I wonder why I ever picked this up as superficially it’s not something that would attract me (although I suppose I do have bit of a thing for family sagas). But pick it up I did and I fell in love with it, because:
- it’s just so beautifully written – there is a real lightness of touch which makes it a joy to read
- I adore Polly, I think she’s a wonderfully complex character, trying to be a good person and slowly realising that her family just takes advantage of her without really seeing her as an individual
- her relationships with her husband, Henry, and with Lincoln are believable and complicated; she clearly loves them both but in different ways
- her family are gloriously eccentric but not monsters – I enjoyed Paul and Beate particularly (but would definitely not want to be related to them)
- it shows that nice people can get in a pickle too
I don’t normally quote from the books I read, especially novels, but there are a couple of passages that I love:
Family life is deflective: it gives everybody something to do. It absorbs sadness and sops up loneliness. It provides work, company, and entertainment. It makes tasks for idle hands and allows an anxious spirit to hide in its capacious bosom.
It was surely not right to feel this happy, but it was also undeniable. the air outside was smoky with spring rain. The street was gray. The warehouses across the street were wet. Polly put down her cup. The pure feelings one had in adult life were complicated and mitigated, and they were dearly paid for, but worth everything they cost.
This was the first Laurie Colwin novel that I read, and I quickly sought out the others as well as her short story collections and the two books she wrote on cooking. Sadly she died in 1992 so there are no new works to discover, but what she did produce in her career is in my mind absolutely wonderful, and worth seeking out.
Jane Smiley’s Duplicate Keys is part of my summer of re-visiting previous reads.
I first picked this up and read it in March 1997 (astonishingly) and this is my third time of reading. I absolutely love this novel with a passion and will be hard-pushed to explain why but am going to have a pretty good stab at it.
Firs a quick trot through the basic story. Alice is part of a group who moved to New York in the late 1960s/early 1970s following their friends Craig and Denny hoping to make it in the music business and although things hadn’t turned out as planned they have settled there. We are now in the early 1980s and Alice visits the apartment of her friend Susan (away on a trip) to water the plants and make sure all is OK, and finds the two musicians shot dead. The novel tells the story of the impact of the murder on the group and, of course, is all about finding who the killer is.
So much so traditional thriller, but this really clicked with me:
- I absolutely fell in love with the cover (I can be funny that way)
- I really, really like Alice – she is ordinary but actually rather brave in her own way (I’ve tried to think over the years who might best play her in a movie version of this but can’t think of anyone) – she is one of my absolutely favourite female characters
- the initial impact of the murder on Alice is seen at a slight distance – we aren’t with her when she finds the bodies of her two friends but pick the story up as she talks to the investigating detective, and I liked that detachment at the start
- the novel says a lot about the mindset of a certain 60′s type – trusting people who seemed like themselves to the extent of giving out keys to their apartment – to the point that Susan has trouble telling the police who might have been able to get in
This works really well as a thriller but is also a fascinating study of friendship and how it changes over time. The 80′s setting seems slightly historical now but of course this was a contemporary thriller and I wished I’d read it when it came out (it was published in 1984, the year I got married the first time).
This really is one of my favourite books.
So it’s a sunny if windy day here in London after a week of heat and humidity which I always find difficult to handle. And my usual summer grumpiness has arrived slightly earlier this year (I usually wait until August to feel annoyed with heat and my favourite people not being around and travelling on crowded public transport and all that jazz) but is not as intense as in previous years so I may just get through this OK (fingers crossed).
So my thoughts are turning to what I might read over July and August.
The latter is usually Crime Month and I will certainly be reading that sort of thing, but I had the thought that I might do some re-reading of old favourites in tandem with the murder/mayhem thing. Said thought was triggered by purchasing books for friends, a practice I’ve started in preference to lending things to people as (a) it takes the pressure off (no hurry to read the thing just to get it back to the owner) and (b) I don’t get twitchy wondering what’s happened to my precious, precious books.
I recently got Espedair Street by Iain Banks for Silvery Dude and Fifth Business by Robertson Davies for another good friend, the Semi-Scandinavian. So that’s two for the re-read pile, plus I want to read the sequence of four novels by AS Byatt that starts with The Virgin in the Garden, plus I want to re-read all my Laurie Colwin books (especially Family Happiness) and suddenly this look like it might be fun.
But I’m not giving any hostages to fortune so no lists will be posted, and you’ll just have to watch this space……..
I also have a small stack of reviews to catch up on (hurrah, actually managed to finish some books), so hopefully activity on the blog will pick up over the next wee while.