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  • Some Thomas Hardy Books - March 2009

    Far From the Madding Crowd (1874)
    This novel was the first of Thomas Hardy’s major works, and this Penguin Classics edition is the first time it has ever been published in its original manuscript form, without the zillion cuts and corrections made by the editor of the original serialized magazine version to the many parts that were considered in those straight-laced times to be too suggestive or irreligious.
    As the title (from Grey’s Elegy - but not from its beginning, as the editor of this (...)

  • Some George Eliot books - March 2009

    Adam Bede (1859)
    A rich, complex, indubitably well-written tale of seduction and disappointment in a bucolic, pastoral setting that has its charms, even though one could find the almost ethnological concentration on the ways and manners of the village people herein portrayed not quite as fascinating as the author and indeed most of the critics seem to do. Hugely impressive as a first novel though, even though George E. in no way rushed into print in the flush of juvenile enthusiasm, but (...)

  • Some Ismail Kadare books - March 2009

    Chronicle in Stone (1970)
    A homely and almost nostalgic evocation of life in a sleepy provincial Albanian town in the 1940s before, during, and after its occupation by Italian, German and partisan forces (in that sequence) during the Second World War. The politics are almost surprisingly non-committal, a characteristic of all Kadare’s oeuvre, and not at all as engaged as one might have expected in a text about the wartime published in 1970 in that rigorous people’s democracy. The part I (...)

  • Some E.T.A. Hoffmann books - March 2009

    The Devil’s Elixirs (1815)
    Hoffmann is one of the masters of the romantic movement in Germany, he is one of my favourite authors, and this book is usually considered to be his masterpiece, so Achtung!
    This novel, his first, about the doings of a strange monk who guards a mysterious elixir of the devil’s own making, is as wild and extravagant and complex as anything he ever wrote, which is saying a lot. In Hoffmann’s inimitable manner he adroitly introduces supernatural elements, or rather (...)

  • Some Mario Vargas Llosa books - March 2009

    The Cubs and other stories (1959)
    This was Mario Vargas Llosa’s first published story, about growing up and learning about life on the streets in Lima, a theme he developed extensively in his impressive first full-length novel The Time of the Hero (La ville et les chiens). Darned interesting.
    The Time of the Hero (1963)
    His first novel, a superb Bildungsroman (novel about the growing-up-and-learning experience on the model of Goethe’s Werther) centred on the learning-about-life experiences (...)

  • Some W.G. Sebald books - March 2009

    Vertigo (1990)
    This is a literary essay on memory and the tricks it plays on us by a modern master of evocative, erudite, clear-sighted prose. Sebald takes us in the superb opening chapter with Stendahl through the Alps during Napoleon’s Italian campaign to meditate on the contrast between Stendahl’s vivid memories of the events he lived through and their objective, photographic realities, and continues to wander around Verona, Venice and Vienna in company with Casanova, Kafka and his own (...)

  • Some P.G. Wodehouse Books - March 2009

    Very Good, Jeeves!
    Although I have always been a P.G. Wodehouse fan (how can one possibly not be?), I have tended to avoid the Jeeves books on the (foolishly mistaken) grounds that they would be too predictable, preferring the almost-always-wildly-funny collections of stories about Archie (Indiscretions of Archie, Eggs, Beans and Crumpets, …) and Blandings Castle (Summer Lightening, Heavy Weather, …) or the Psmith books or, well, anything, really, by the funniest writer - in any language, (...)

  • My Fifteen-Year Booklog 1994-2008 (by author) - March 2009

    All of the 794 books that I have read over the past fifteen years (1994-2008) [1] are commented upon and rated [2] in this booklog.
    Lots of good stuff here!
    The layout has been improved over previous versions:
    a first section contains the works of fiction (as well as memoirs and essays on literature), listed in alphabetical sequence by author and title;
    a second section contains all of the works of non-fiction, grouped by genre and title;
    overall summary statistics are shown (...)

  • Pepe Carvalho: a Spanish Hercule Poirot - September 2007

    The Quintet of Buenos Aires by Manuel Vasquez Montalban is a big, rather verbose, but all in all quite captivating plunge into the darker side of life in contemporary Argentina as we follow the investigations of an odd-ball but very distinctive detective from Barcelona named Pepe Carvalho, who is apparently about as well known in the Spanish-speaking world as Hercule Poirot is elsewhere.
    He is fiftyish and as disillusioned and cynical as one could wish, but he is aware and even engaged (...)

  • "The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus", edited by Brian Aldiss - July 2007

    This is a really outstanding collection of science-fiction stories from the late forties and fifties, the golden age of sci-fi in my humble and no doubt biased opinion, that being the period when I first discovered the genre, which was all the rage then, in my youthful days. But it was undeniably a period when many of the great names were first exploring their talents to the full, it was an age when rocket science was opening up vast new previously-unthought-of vistas, an age when the (...)

  • The Irish Civil War - March 2007

    Like I think many other people I have always had a very confused understanding of the events that led to the establishment of an independant Ireland after the First World War: I knew that there had been an uprising in Dublin in Easter 1916 and that there had been fighting as well as internecine strife in the twenties, as any reader of Sean O’Casey’s plays knows, but what exactly happened and what role the IRA and national heroes like Michael Collins and Simon de Valera had played were to me (...)

  • "The Art of Travel", by Alain de Botton - February 2005

    This is a very engaging book about the mental and aesthetic aspects of travel, of particular interest to those unhappy few of us who are not really as enthusiastic about the subject as everyone else seems to be.
    Alain de Botton, author of the quite memorable How Proust Can Change Your Life, is not particularly trying to encourage the reader to travel more or even differently, but rather to approach travel and new experience in a more thoughtful way, to better prepare for and benefit from (...)

  • "Quiller KGB", by Adam Hall - December 2004

    This is a book for the grown-up versions of those who enjoyed playing with Action Man and toy soldiers at an earlier age, so any ladies in the audience can click now on another subject - this one is not for you, sorry.
    An undercover agent on an urgent mission of the utmost importance for his country. An utterly ruthless and efficient opposition organisation with almost unlimited ressources. Safe houses, a brilliant but heartless director in the field providing liaison and material (...)

  • "Love and Garbage", by Ivan Klima - December 2004

    An arresting title - always a good sign, in the way that a book with a memorable first line or paragraph generally tends to live up to the promise of that enticing beginning. But like much of this rather dense work, it needs to be read carefully: the author is not associating love with garbage - those are but two of the many diverse themes that are intricately interleaved in this work by one of the foremost modern Czech writers, first published in 1986. Kafka and art and language and the (...)

  • "Disgrace", by J.M. Coetzee - December 2004

    A 52-year-old professor of literature gets into big trouble by having intimate relations with one of his female students. So he abandons his university life in Cape Town to settle in for a while with his ex-hippy daughter on a tiny homestead in the wilds of Eastern Cape province, where he helps out with the chores and thinks about writing an opera about Byron. And where he learns about how the balance of social power is changing in rural, post-apartheid South Africa. As we have come to (...)

  • "Runaway", by Alice Munro - December 2004

    This is the latest collection of short stories by Alice Munro, one of Canada’s foremost writers. It was published in the fall of 2004, when it received exceptionally warm reviews from the main Canadian papers, or at least the ones I read during my visit there at the time (The Globe and Mail and The Montreal Gazette). These stories are about people who live in small Canadian rural communities in Ontario and British Columbia. The people whose lives and loves and psyches are depicted in these (...)

  • "Fiesta (The Sun Also Rises)", by Ernest Hemingway - December 2004

    This was Hemingway’s first major novel, published in 1927, better known under its later title The Sun Also Rises. It’s set essentially in the Paris of 1924 and in Pamplona, Spain, during the 7-day bullfight fiesta there. The narrator is an American journalist-writer based in Paris (like Hemingway) who had participated in the first World War on the Austro-Italian front (like Hemingway), where he was wounded in a way most unfortunate for his future lovelife (unlike Hemingway, at least not (...)

  • "The Blind Assassin", by Margaret Atwood - November 2004

    This was a rather disappointing book for the Atwood fan which I am, as I had been quite offput by an earlier (1985) Atwood book - The Handmaid’s Tale - which I had just finished reading, and I was hoping that this much more recent (2000) work would restore for me the image I have had of her for quite some time now as not only a master craftsman (whoops, I meant to say craftswoman), but also and especially as a powerful storyteller who can scale some impressive heights.
    So I did find this (...)