Tag Archives: Helen de Witt

Obsessive reading


I wish I’d saved the blog post. I should have saved the blog post. But I didn’t. So this blog post is a bit hazy on the exact details. Dear blogger: whoever/wherever you are, thanks for inspiring me, and my apologies for not  naming you and your blog, as my source.

These apologies are the preamble to my reaction about an obsessive reader.  The blogger cheerfully told his readers that he had read the play Hamlet  and one of P G Wodehouse’s  Jeeves  novels (and there are fourteen of them, so I’m excused on fudging the exact title) OVER 100 TIMES.  And this, mark you, over a period of a few years, when he was a student. It sounded as if the blogger was in his mid-20s’. Apparently he was studying Hamlet  for academic reasons, but Jeeves?  Perhaps after all the dramatic Scandinavian crime and gloom he needed a bit of a respite? What could be a better tonic that P G Wodehouse’s imperturbable, unflappable butler, the immortal Jeeves? I’m a Jeeves fan myself, so I can understand his affection for the man.

But the point is: imagine reading the same work – makes no maybe what it is: a play, a novel,  an essay – over one hundred times! I’m sure we all have a much-loved book that we’ve read, and re-read many times.  For example, I have re-read one of my all-time favourites, The Last Samurai  by Helen de Witt at least four or five times. It’s a wonderful story, and a great read.  But one hundred times?  No.

The blogger revealed that re-reading Hamlet  so frequently made him aware of  the language, the subtleties, the nuances; the phrase ‘close reading’ which is much in vogue, covers this approach.  I don’t know that the Jeeves novels offer the same depth. PG was a master of the neat phrase, the bon mot, dialogue that required no frills or trimmings to drive the story forward and make his characters immortal. I wish I could write dialogue the way PG did! Mind you, Wodehouse lived into his early 90s and was a prolific writer, almost to the end, so there’s hope yet.


His output was prodigious. Encyclopaedia Brittanica tells us:  He wrote more than 90 books and more than 20 film scripts and collaborated on more than 30 plays and musical comedies.

I wonder if any of my readers have obsessively read one of their favourites over and over again? If so: do tell!






I was really looking forward to her second novel with happy anticipation.  The wait has been a long one, since her marvellous The Last Samurai one of my fave books, which I have read at least three times, unusual for me. So I bought it at vast expense, on-line, and gloated over the hard-covered book (not available in paperback), and read it very swiftly – it’s not a long book.

Once I’d got over the shock of this outrageous, bizarre novel which – by the by – should be sold in a plain brown wrapper stamped, Age Restricted: 21 and over only, I realize I’m disappointed.  I know it’s unrealistic to expect a second novel to be a reprise of the first brilliant debut, but that said ….

The two novels could not be more dissimilar. Both in content and style. The first one told an unusual story peopled with quirky, interesting, sympathetic characters; I was spellbound from page 1. Rods has an arresting cover, with a bright blue background, and three sets of bright blue eyes (painted, not photographed) showing an expression of great surprise. Once you discover the contents, you realize why they look so startled.

In short, the book is a satire on modern American marketing and business methods, and the use of sex in the office environment, purveyed in a clinical, conveyor-belt manner, to male staff, the women serving as lightning rods for otherwise troublesome sexual energy which would – under normal circumstances – give rise to endless sexual harassment suits, low productivity etc. etc. The book has a sweetly reasonable tone which reports in a matter of fact way, the success of ex-vacuum cleaner salesman Joe who succeeds in launching, selling and succeeding with his crazy scheme.  It almost sounds like an anthropologist’s report on a sociological experiment, and less like an article from Playboy.

The dust jacket says that the book is irredeemably filthy and parts of it are – we’re full frontal with male fantasies, and some down to earth language and details on fornication.  But oddly, it also outlines in some detail how two former Lightning Rods go on to make glittering careers in the legal field and Supreme Court, all on their LR earnings.

On finishing the book I continued to feel flabbergasted at the theme and the plot – it is galaxies away from the first book and it’s hard toaccept that it was written by a woman . I deliberately didn’t read any reviews of the book mid-read, but will do so now and see what other readers had to say about it. It was much heralded when it appeared.


Filed under BOOK REVIEWS


Cover of "Reading Like a Writer: A Guide ...

Cover via Amazon

BEST READS OF 2012 – Fiction

  • The Garden of Evening Mists –  Tan Twan Eng
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry –  Rachel Joyce
  • The Glass Castle – Janette Walls
  • The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint –  Brady  Udall
  • Battle Hymn of the Tiger MotherAmy Chua
  • Kafka on the Shore Haruki Murakami
  • Sexing the Cherry – Jeanette Winterson
  • The Cat’s Table –  Michael Ondaatjie
  • My Brother’s Book – Jo-Anne Richards
  • Pops and the Nearly dead –  Edyth Bulbring




  • Restoration –  Rose Tremain
  • 29 Gifts – Cami Walker
  • A Wild Herb Soup – Life of a French Countrywoman, by Emilie Carles


  • When Hoopoe Went to Heaven – Gail Goodwin
  • Lightning Rods –   Helen de Witt


Amrita –  Banana Yamamoto

The Finkler Question – Howard Jacobsen

WHAT POSSESSED ME TO BUY THIS? ? From Elvish to Klingon – Michael Adams

Cover of "Kafka on the Shore"

Cover of Kafka on the Shore


Filed under BOOK REVIEWS