Saturday, 25 August 2012

Lost Book Library Reading Round-Up no. 4

More books that have been read, or not.

Hunting Tigers Under Glass by Mordecai Richler

Status: Completed

When I skimmed this book, I wondered why a collection of essays on such an interesting range of subjects by an esteemed writer should have fallen into such obscurity.  Turns out that Richler's declared interest in seeing things through a Jewish-Canadian perspective makes it all a bit too culturally specific to appeal in the same way Tom Wolfe does, with issues of Jewishness, Canadianness, and Jewish-Canadianness very much to the fore.  Nevertheless, there are some fascinating essays contained within, particularly the travel pieces to the Catskills holiday resorts, Jerusalem in 1962, and accompanying the Canadian hockey team to Sweden.  Probably more Clive James than Wolfe, although he doesn't have the killer lines that James does.  He sometimes comes across as a bit of a condescending jerk when dealing with people younger than him, but they generally deserve it.

The Harry Secombe Diet Book by Harry Secombe

Status: Abandoned p. 27

I didn't work my way through all of this for the simple reason I don't plan on following Sir Harry's diet, although I'm sure it's very good.  The introduction though, is quite fascinating as it explores the psychology of fatness, and is an example of a man's man talking to other men about things men don't normally talk about.  Rather touching, actually.

Eclipse by Margaret Tabor

Status: Abandoned p. 52

This story of a woman who goes home one day to find that every trace of her life no longer exists, including her house, had an intriguing premise, but almost immediately got bogged down in turgid back-story (Dissatisfied housewives are a recurring presence in the Lost Book Library, as feminism filtered its way into the suburbs in the 1970s and early 80s).  I stuck around to see if it got more interesting, and it did for a bit, but then the protagonist ends up convincing herself that her old life might be a false memory, and she's actually someone else.  Enter: new turgid back-story.  Exit: me.

Barometer Man by John Vaizey

Status: Abandoned p. 24

Cambridge University novel by noted economist. Starts off well with a description of people having sex in a toilet, but then gets tedious very quickly once it concerns itself with university politics.  Wants to be witty, but it all feels like a private joke, cementing my view that authors should never write a book about their day job.  Possibly of interest if you're into campus novels, which I'm not, really.

Term of Trial by James Barlow

Status: Completed

 I recently read Notes On a Scandal by Zoe Heller, an enjoyable but fundamentally silly novel about a female teacher who has an affair with one of her pupils.  It's gained the oxymoronic status of an 'instant classic', despite giving no real insight into its protagonists inner life, and papering over the cracks with a creaky 'unreliable narrator' device.  The book everyone should be reading, however, is Barlow's Term of Trial, a 60s kitchen-sink novel in which a male teacher commits the perhaps slightly less serious offense of slapping a girl's bottom.  Its exploration of his heavy-drinking, guilt-drenched life is marvelously grim and vivid, and captures that post-war moment where some working men would have fought, and others wouldn't have, and the tensions that arose.  Meanwhile he rails against the corrupting influence of the media on youth, and the false preparation it gives for adult life, with the phrase 'mediocre brilliance of comedians' standing out and reminding me of Newman and Baddiel for some reason.  Although the range of female characters are wearisomely of their time, and there are a couple of story threads more set-up than followed through, this is very much a novel and author in need of rediscovery.  The James Barlow revival starts here!

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