So many books, so little time

27 10 2018

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


In a small East Anglian town, Florence Green decides, against polite but ruthless local opposition, to open a bookshop.

Hardborough becomes a battleground. Florence has tried to change the way things have always been done, and as a result, she has to take on not only the people who have made themselves important, but natural and even supernatural forces too. Her fate will strike a chord with anyone who knows that life has treated them with less than justice.

It’s a battlefield in microcosm. Having opened her dream shop Florence comes under sustained assault, polite of course, from the many locals who want it to fail. It’s a beautifully written, precise and compact novel which captures perfectly the petty and mean aspects of village life. Everyone seems to be against Florence and the odds really are stacked against her and her shop. It doesn’t end well.

This has recently been made into movie but I suspect it will struggle to capture the low key impact of this very good story.


Dear oh dear

20 10 2018

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher



Finally a novel that puts the “pissed” back into “epistolary.”

Jason Fitger is a beleaguered professor of creative writing and literature at Payne University, a small and not very distinguished liberal arts college in the midwest. His department is facing draconian cuts and squalid quarters, while one floor above them the Economics Department is getting lavishly remodeled offices. His once-promising writing career is in the doldrums, as is his romantic life, in part as the result of his unwise use of his private affairs for his novels. His star (he thinks) student can’t catch a break with his brilliant (he thinks) work Accountant in a Bordello, based on Melville’s Bartleby. In short, his life is a tale of woe, and the vehicle this droll and inventive novel uses to tell that tale is a series of hilarious letters of recommendation that Fitger is endlessly called upon by his students and colleagues to produce, each one of which is a small masterpiece of high dudgeon, low spirits, and passive-aggressive strategies. We recommend Dear Committee Members to you in the strongest possible terms.


“Hilarious”, “witty”, “I love this novel” are just some of the quotes on the cover of the book. I’m afraid I wouldn’t deploy any of them in describing it. I really, really, really wanted to love this but I’m afraid it was just a bit dull. There were momentary sparks of humour but I just could not get excited about Fitger and his correspondence which seemed to cover most of the bases of academic life but just in a rather predictable manner.

Maybe the sequel will be a bit more fun.

(And no, I know I couldn’t do better.)


She bangs the drums

14 10 2018

Little Drummer Girl by John le Carre


Charlie, a jobbing young English actress, is accustomed to playing different roles. But when the mysterious, battle-scarred Joseph recruits her into the Israeli secret services, she enters the dangerous ‘theatre of the real’.

Set in the tragic arena of the Middle East conflict, this compelling story of love and torn loyalties plays out against the backdrop of an unwinnable war.

What feels like a very long build up eventually delivers on its promise with a pretty gripping thriller. Charlie is a strange choice for a spy but plays a convincing part in an complicated and high-stakes plot to trap and kill a Palestinian. Le Carre provides what feels like an accurate picture of the Middle East at the time and uses it well as the backdrop to a not wholly uplifting tale.

We’ll have to see what the new TV series is like.

%d bloggers like this: