Book review: You Can’t Do Both, by Kingsley Amis, 1994

‘You Can’t do Both’ was published in 1994, a year before Amis’s death. It is strongly autobiographical, in particular the central scene when the main characters, Robin Davies and his girlfriend, Nancy, decide at the last moment not to go through with a planned illegal abortion. It is constructed in four long chapters, each representingContinue reading “Book review: You Can’t Do Both, by Kingsley Amis, 1994”

Book review: All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren, 1946

‘All the King’s Men’ is the story of the rise and fall of Governor Willie Stark in 1930’s America. The novel is narrated by Jack Burden, one of Stark’s assistants and “fixers”, who offers a detached, sardonic commentary on Stark’s progress to become Governor of his State. Stark starts his political life as a honestContinue reading “Book review: All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren, 1946”

Book review: Murphy, by Samuel Beckett, 1938

In a recent article about Beckett’s prose, the Guardian called him the “maestro of failure”, and described his work as being “a hypnotic flow of words, the meaning of which is initially utterly obscure…. but persevere and patterns emerge:” Or as one of his character says in this novel “It was like difficult music heardContinue reading “Book review: Murphy, by Samuel Beckett, 1938”

Book review: Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry, 1947

At the heart of Lowry’s dark complex masterpiece, ‘Under the Volcano’, is his portrait of the physical, mental and psychological collapse induced by alcoholism. Geoffrey Firmin, former British Consul to a small Mexican town sitting in the shadow of two volcanoes (thus ‘Under the Volcanoes’ surely?) spends the last day of his life disastrously staggeringContinue reading “Book review: Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry, 1947”

Book review: Party Going, by Henry Green, 1939

‘Party Going’ is, if we are to believe what we are told by many senior literary figures, a masterpiece, and Henry Green is a genius. Sebastian Faulks, in his introduction to this Vintage Clasics edition, cites Green as a personal inspiration; W.H. Auden called him “the finest living English novelist”; Emma Tennant in the IndependentContinue reading “Book review: Party Going, by Henry Green, 1939”

Book review: Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, 1961

I was slightly nervous on approaching a re-read of ‘Catch 22’. We are all familiar with the experience of a much loved book, television programme or film being much weaker when revisited (for some reason this is particularly true of television programmes – some iconic series such as The Prisoner, or Monty Python, utterly brilliantContinue reading “Book review: Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, 1961”

Book review: Breathing Lessons, by Anne Tyler, 1988

The title of Anne Tyler’s 1989 Pulitzer prize-winning novel refers to the lessons given to pregnant women to help cope with labour pains. As with many other themes in this novel, there is a second, subtler meaning – lessons in breathing are the lessons life teaches us. This is a novel about middle age, aboutContinue reading “Book review: Breathing Lessons, by Anne Tyler, 1988”

Book review: ‘Of Human Bondage’ by Somerset Maugham, 1915

Customer in hairdressers: “What’s that book you’re reading, love?” Rita: “Somerset Maugham, ‘Of Human Bondage’“. Customer in Hairdressers: [knowingly] “Ohh, my husband’s got loads of books like that.” (Educating Rita (film) 1983) Somerset Maugham isn’t read very widely nowadays, despite having been a central figure in English writing for a large chunk of the twentiethContinue reading “Book review: ‘Of Human Bondage’ by Somerset Maugham, 1915”

Book review: Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, 1847

I think a case can be made for ‘Jane Eyre’ as the definitive nineteenth century novel. It has it all: Romance – the scene in chapter 22 when Rochester teasingly proposes to Jane, and she slowly comes to realise he is serious, is as touching and effective as anything in Austen, and the final reconciliationContinue reading “Book review: Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, 1847”

Comment: 12 Books of Summer

I know I am coming to this a bit late, but having been encouraged by some fellow bloggers to join the 20 Books of summer challenge hosted by 746 books. I was hesitant about joining – 20 novels in three months might not seem too much of a tall order, but I am working myContinue reading “Comment: 12 Books of Summer”