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THE TWICE TOLD TALE (Recent Reads)


My  BFF is aghast : “You did what ?  You read it twice  ??  A trashy vampire novel?  Surely not! You:  the reader who embarks on literary giants like Orhan Pahmuk – he of the 750 page saga of lost love in Istanbul; you’re the reader who read, with great appreciation, Pulitzer Prize winner Marilynne Robinson’s two linked novels Gilead
and Home.  What is this?  Some mental aberration?  Some  winter-gloom inspired descent into the trough of mid-winter blues?  You read The Radleys  – author Matt Haig –  twice,  in less than a year?  Explain yourself!”

Okay.  I will. Not that it is anybody else’s business.  And I don’t have to justify my reading habits to anybody else.  If I choose to read wildly disparate books that seesaw madly from one end of the  literary scale to the other, that’s my business.  We all have our little quirks, don’t we?  It’s just that mine don’t fall into the  chocolate bingeing category, don’t fit neatly into the seventh blue handbag bought because it was such a sale bargain, don’t gel with the ‘only cut your toe nails when its full moon’ school of thought.  We all do things our own way.  My particular way includes a very eclectic  choice of reading material, from the sacred to the profane, and absolutely everything else in between.  On my shelves I have earnest  Buddhist books, and in another room, safely out of range of  contamination’s tendrils, three biographies of Aleister Crowley.  But he’s a tall tale for another time.  Not today. Today I want to tell you about that fascinating family – The Radleys.

I read this book about a year ago.  Devoured it, dare  I say.  I loved  it.  I loved the stylish black and white  cover.  I loved the unusual spin that Matt Haig put on a tired old theme: vampires.  Imagine a novel about a family of vampires, Mum, Dad, teenaged boy and girl, living in a quiet country village, deep under cover as normal human beings.  They are Abstainers.  Vampires who have signed The Pledge, as it were, and don’t drink you-know-what.  So  this is a What If …… story, that takes off from an interesting departure point.  And develops in some very unexpected directions before it ends.

So why did I read it again?  I was looking  for light relief, an easy read, something which would engage my interest without taxing my eyes or my brain.  And this book had blissfully short chapters,  sometimes only a page in length.  You could say the format was short, bite-sized (sorry – bad pun) chapters.  The family characters immediately engage the reader’s sympathy.  They suffer so, poor  things, deprived of what really would be their life’s blood, if they would only weaken and drink it. But no, they staunchly abstain.  There are wonderfully deadpan excerpts from the fictious Abstainer’s Handbook which instructs the  abstaining vamp on how to cope with life’s little difficulties (Factor 60 sunblock, for instance).  These useful hints, tips and sermons are sprinkled throughout the text and provide a  sober counterpoint to the increasingly dramatic action that is building towards the end of the book. Which has everything, I must tell you, from tender, innocent first love, school bullying,  betrayal, amoral relatives, obsessed victims seeking vengeance from previous slayings, and the climax is pure Greek tragedy.
Oh, go on … read it …. you know you want to ….. just a page  … it can’t hurt … you won’t get hooked , or bewitched …. not much , not at first …..

Actually, I turned to The Radleys in sheer exhaustion after slogging through some of the 668 pages of teeny-tiny print from Sarah Bradford, on the topic of (King) George VI.  What a relief to abandon those long, detailed, meticulously researched accounts of matters of State,  World War II events, dissolute Royal relatives,  scheming American women, abdicating brothers, labyrinthine family connections throughout  European royalty, Queen Victoria and her vast brood of children, (how anybody can possibly map out a comprehensive Family  Tree of that lot  is beyond me, you would need a tablecloth sized piece of paper to do it justice); Palace etiquette, Royal courtiers, the weight of history and tradition.  It’s an exhaustive –  and exhausting – account of King George VI. Trust me, just go to the movies and see The  King’s Speech.  You’ll actually enjoy that.  Sarah Bradford’s book is  definitely one for students of the British monarchy and/or history enthusiasts. And whilst I have boundless admiration for HM Queen Elizabeth II,  I am not in those categories. Now can you see  why I re-read  The Radleys?

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RECENT READS


TWILIGHT by Stephanie Meyer

My bookish friend Norma and I were discussing the popular series of vampire novels for Young Adults, written by Stephanie Meyer. Neither of us had read any of her books, and were wondering what made them such a huge success. So I read ‘Twilight’ for research purposes. My curiosity is now satisfied. However, had I not seen the movie version, I don’t think I would have persevered with the book. I enjoyed the movie, which I saw prior to reading the book. There were pages and pages of dialogue consisting of vapid teenage mumbling or angst, which didn’t advance the plot one iota. Teenage preoccupations and obsessions are not very interesting at best. But then, I’m not a teenager. The dialogue reminded me of murky marine encrustations on a sunken ship’s hull. The best thing about the books are the covers. They are dramatic, sexy and striking in their black, red and white artwork. In fact, the book covers are absolutely brilliant. What a pity the contents don’t follow suit. Again and again the author has her characters sighing, or (worse yet) smirking, followed by numerous repetitive descriptions of the Vampire’s marble beauty, perfection, glorious eyes, etc. etc. I discovered to my utter amazement that the author is a Mormon, and attended BYU (Brigham Young University). I wonder what the Mormon position is on the topic of the Undead? Much has been made of the Abstinence Factor in her novels, it’s been hailed as a bright beacon of purity in the hormonal swamp of teenage lust. If we’re talking about lust and the Undead I’m much more enthusiastic about Anne Rice’s vampire novels – they have a lush, erotic sensual quality which is truly bewitching. And the quality of the writing is a hundred times better. No more Stephanie Meyer for me. Lead me to the Vampire Lestat, please ..

THE GIRL OF HIS DREAMS by Donna Leon

Another Inspector Brunetti detective novel, set in Venice. It’s as much about the city, its streets and canals, its citizens, its food, as it is about the actual crime. In fact the crime only appears on page 99 of this 276 page book, which is an interesting approach for a crime novel. A sub-theme to the murder of the gypsy child was a religious fraud scam, which I thought was quite daring for an Italian based novel. The info and the chapters on the “nomads” (PC-speak for Gypsies) was fascinating. They really are a tribe outside of middle class European life, and slip like water through societies’ nets of rules and admin. I loved the portrayal of Brunetti as a family man. He’s always nipping home to lunch, and the reader is given a rundown of the dishes prepared by his wife. We also hear about his kids’ homework, and school life. Donna Leon gives plenty of domestic and local detail which give her novels authenticity without the ponderous thoroughness of Stieg Larson. It sounds as if I’ve really got it in for poor old SL : not so – I thoroughly enjoyed his Millenium Trilogy, but phew! they can be hard work.

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