Friday, 5 March 2021

February Books

Point Counterpoint by Aldous Huxley. 

I read this novel for the first time when I was, I now realise, a child. It was recommended to me rather grandly by my brother as a "novel of ideas".  I liked the book better that time round and perhaps it might have been better if I hadn't  gone back to it. It is interesting for its portraits of DH Lawrence and John Middleton Murry (Huxley clearly liked Lawrence, although his portrayal didn't persuade me that he wasn't tiresome; he clearly loathed Murry, but over eggs his description to the extent that I began to have my doubts about Huxley more than about Murry). His portrait of a British Fascist leader, is not as I had imagined, supposed to be Mosley, as the book was written before the emergence of Mosley. 

After an opening scene that dazzled me more when I was young than it does now, set at a party in a splendid mansion on Piccadilly, where we meet many of the characters, the book meanders along, switching from character to character and giving the reader a fair idea of literary and artistic London life between the wars. What I had somehow entirely forgotten is that it then develops a couple of quite startling plot twists that left me staggered and faintly sickened.

Slough House by Mick Herron

I didn't actually read this; I listened to Sean Barrett read it for Audible. He has recorded all of the books in the Slough House series, and I think he has done a marvellous job. I love the character of Jackson Lamb, who is a latter day Falstaff. Fat, dirty, greedy, with a great fondness for farting, in this fictional world he is the only senior figure in the British secret service who still retains a little integrity and loyalty.

The Last Word and Other Stories by Graham Greene

Over the last 18 months I have read several novels by Graham Greene and I am having a continuing discussion with a friend who opposes my view that Greene and Somerset Maugham are both highly diverting, very clever but, as Maugham claimed of himself, not first rate, only at the very first rank of the second rate.

My favourite Greene novels so far are:

The Human Factor

Brighton Rock

The Quiet American (once it ended; until I got to the end and saw the clever trick of it, I had been inclined to think it in some way cliched, or senselessly prejudiced about Americans)

The Ministry of Fear

Monsignor Quixote

The Captain and the Enemy

I was ambivalent about The Heart of the Matter and The Confidential Agent, although I liked them quite a lot. I was bored by The Honorary Consul and I thought Our Man in Havana was rubbish, because I thought the character of the daughter did not work. I also thought the characters in England Made Me failed.

I am reading The Comedians at the moment and enjoying it on the whole. 

Of the short stories in the collection called The Last Word and Other Stories, I thought the one called The Lottery Ticket, in which a tourist buys a local lottery ticket in a poor country, wins the lottery and then donates the money to the administration of that country, is a perfect argument against untied overseas aid. In the preface, Greene says he decided to include a detective story he had written in the collection because reading it he couldn't work out who the culprit was; if he really couldn't, he must have been losing his marbles as it seemed obvious from the first page to me, and I wasn't the story's author.

Appleby at Allingham by Michael Innes

An enjoyable light detective tale in a series by Michael Innes about his detective who is called Inspector Appleby.

Operation Pax by Michael Innes

This is another Inspector Appleby story, but he appears very little as Innes was having quite fun trying his hand at a whiz bang, lots of action, gritty thriller, enclosed within his usual sleepy, sub-golden age, Appleby wrapping. Enjoyable and clever.

Memorial Service by JIM Stewart

JIM Stewart is the real name of Michael Innes (see above.) He was my brother's university tutor, which is how he came to my attention. I occasionally wonder whether anyone else reads him, apart from me. I like his tone, which is highly intelligent but entirely un-selfindulgent or showy. His novels are calming, even though some of them aren't entirely satisfactory.

This though is one of the best I have read by him, most particularly the wonderfully funny lunch scene it contains in which the guest is the gentle provost of an Oxford college and the host is a philistine county boor.

The novel is the third in a quintet. I wondered if Stewart was inspired to write a novel series by Anthony Powell, (not that the tone is similar to Dance to the Music of Time). I am wondering whether to go back and read the earlier ones or whether to simply plough on. Maybe I will leave it to the chance of what I find next time I am allowed into some English secondhand bookshops. If I find the earlier ones available, I will buy them. Similarly, if I find the later ones available, I will buy those. As a matter of fact, if I find another copy of Memorial Service, I will buy it as well, as the very cheap and battered paperback I picked up somewhere, came apart at the spine and fell apart as I read it.

Catholicism by Bishop Barron

This is a marvellous book for those interested in the Catholic faith. It is written clearly and beautifully and I loved it and learned a great deal from it.

Shirley by Charlotte Bronte

Having memories from school of finding large chunks of Jane Eyre dull and also having had the recent experience of getting stuck in the middle of Villette, I was surprised and delighted to find that I really enjoyed this, particularly the sly humour at the expense of the young churchmen and the perspective supplied by shifting forward in time at the close.

I also listened to quite a few Phil Rickman novels about Merrilee Watkins, while going for long walks. Although they follow something of a formula and the characters never really develop beyond a few tics, I loved the setting and enjoyed the very faint tinge of the supernatural.


  1. I jumped in at the deep end with 'Appleby's End'. I'd never heard of him before but I am enjoying it thoroughly. Thank you. Mischievous subversion of the genre in this book anyway.

    1. I like him. I'm glad that you do too.