Book review: The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan, 1915

This is the novel for which the phrase “what a load of old tosh!” was invented. Buchan, in a short introduction, described it as coming from a genre “which we know as the ‘shocker’ – the romance where the incidents defy the probabilities, and march just inside the borders of the possible”. This is aContinue reading “Book review: The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan, 1915”

Book review: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 1932

Read in a Vintage edition, with forewords by Margaret Atwood and David Bradshaw Set 600 years in the future, Huxley’s “Brave New World” is run by a benevolent scientific despotism. Science has eliminated most diseases and the ageing process, but has also been used to socially engineer society. Many aspects of our present society areContinue reading “Book review: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 1932”

Book review: The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton – 1919

  I went through a long journey with this novel. The opening wasn’t promising, and I wondered if I was going to be able to complete it. By the end I was captivated.   Set in 1870’s New York, although written in 1919, Wharton portrays in miniaturist detail the lives and relationships of a tightly-knit,Continue reading “Book review: The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton – 1919”

Book review: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll – 1865

Why read “Alice”? Isn’t it a children’s book? And haven’t you already absorbed every detail of it, through cultural osmosis. After all, every scene is iconic, every character very well known, (the white rabbit, the mad hatter, the Cheshire Cat, and so on) – even many of the phrases – “off with his head”, “CuriouserContinue reading “Book review: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll – 1865”

Book review: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark, 1961

Read in a Penguin edition Following on from The Maltese Falcon, this is another novel arguably better known for its film adaptation than the original novel. The film was a success, in its own terms, but of necessity made some significant changes to the novel, in structure if not in spirit. Miss Jean Brodie teachesContinue reading “Book review: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark, 1961”

Comment: Spade and Marlowe

There’s no denying the huge influence Hammett had on Philip Chandler’s work. Chandler acknowledges this in “The Art of Murder” when he wrote: “Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with had-wrought duelling pistols, curareContinue reading “Comment: Spade and Marlowe”

Supplementary: The Maltese Falcon (2) – A Different Approach

In this alternative review of TMF I wanted to consider some parts of the text in more detail, rather than the broad sweep of the admittedly complex story line. Sam Spade, the central character and archetype of the hard-boiled American detective, is emotionally stunted. He shows no grief whatsoever at the death of his partner,Continue reading “Supplementary: The Maltese Falcon (2) – A Different Approach”

Book review: The Maltese Falcon – Dashiel Hammett (1929)

Read in Picador edition as part of “The Four Great Novels” Dashiel Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” (1929) is a devastating critique of the American Dream. Often seen as a straightforward detective novel, a closer contextual reading reveals a damning indictment of American capitalism and society. At the heart of the novel is the quest forContinue reading “Book review: The Maltese Falcon – Dashiel Hammett (1929)”

Book review: Scoop – Evelyn Waugh – 1938

Read in a Penguin Classics edition Scoop is, by Waugh’s standards, a fairly light-hearted satire on Fleet Street, Government, and the British upper classes. Nobody dies or gets stranded in remote jungles; instead we have what comes closest to a happy ending, in which everyone gets what they wanted. I usually avoid writing at tooContinue reading “Book review: Scoop – Evelyn Waugh – 1938”

Comment: More on Book lists

Last month the Guardian published another of the “100 best novels written in English” lists that appear from time to time. Quite why they did so, other than to generate more traffic for their website, escapes me. The suspicion that this is no more than clickbait intensifies when you consider the detail of the listContinue reading “Comment: More on Book lists”