Thoughts at the half way point of Stories and Prose Poems

If there is a theme this month, and I guess I’ve just decided there is, then it’s Russia. So in the spirit of that the next book along comes from one of the modern greats Alexander Solzhenitsyn. One of the good things about short story collections is it provides a chance to get a wide flavor of a writers work.

This is no exception so far kicking off with two stories that were both in their time stand alone novellas.

Matryona’s House sums up everything you think of with Russian literature. It is set in a remote village with the main characters living in a broken down house that you can picture so clearly.

But the village is full of the bitchy, selfish and lazy people that populate any society and the story of a widow working so hard for others and begrudged her own good fortune when it comes is one that could be replicated in almost any rural society. What makes it uniquely Russian is the existence of party figures looking for stolen peat and the collectivization that benefits the system but never the individual.

For the Good of the Cause is a great story that rips open the corruption at the heart of Soviet politics. The children in a technical college have given their own time and energy to help build a new building so they can start lessons in a fresh and well sized college. But they have their building taken away initially to a research project but in the end to a corrupt businessman looking for a new place for his works. The inability to use common sense stretches right up to the top with everyone too scared to question a decision that clearly is unfair.

Those that do question it, the teachers and the children, are given a lesson they will never forget in having to come to terms with unfairness, corruption and a political system that is a million miles away from understanding and rewarding its citizens.

Great stuff and there’s more to come…

Another happy time spent in the children’s section

If there is one thing I enjoy as much as buying books for myself it is buying books for my children. A trip to a bookshop now includes a lengthy spell in the children’s section and I’m discovering a wide range of books along with them.

The way a great deal of books for boys seem to be pitched is in a series. So there is Beast Quest, which now runs into 40 plus books, and other delights such as Dinosaur Cove. I guess it was ever thus, thinking of Enid Blyton, but these days the covers are colourful and the experience of buying books is much more fun than it was when I was a kid.

It’s great to see the next generation grabbed by reading and so happy to spend time in a bookshop.

Thoughts at the half way point of 2017

this is one of those great books where underneath on one level there is a fairly straight story going on with some miners trying to make their fortune from illegally taking gem deposits but added to that there is some mystical elements.

The story is haunted by tales of the mistress of the mountain who can enchant those digging for gems, the rock hounds, and that idea of Russia existing in both the past and the present and in this world and a parallel one all at the same time.

There is also a love story developing between the main character Krylov and a woman he meets and gives a nickname to but as the country starts to move closer to the anniversary of the revolution the past catches up with the future and the ghosts reach out to change the lives of the living.

A review will follow on completion…

Reading plans

Having gone through the highlights of the year ahead provided by The Guardian and The Telegraph it looks like I might be spending my limited books budget in the following ways in the first few months of this year:

Pulse by Julian Barnes

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

The Book of books by Melvyn Bragg

The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress by Beryl Bainbridge

Also planning to get some non-fiction as well.

book review: Box of Delights by John Masefield

Christmas time is the perfect moment to choose a story to read that is dripping with yuletide references and a classic battle of good versus evil.

Kay Harker is coming home from school for Christmas and bumps into a punch and judy man and a couple of curates on the train and his adventure begins. The old punch and judy man, Cole Hawkins, asks him to do him a favour telling an old woman in the village that the wolves are running and from that moment on the young Kay is drawn into the protection and magic of the box of delights.

Kay is up against Abner Brown and his gang that are based in an old missionary college and choose to dress as clergymen when not running around the countryside as wolves or flying through the air in quiet mysterious airplane cars.

The Box of Delights contains a way into the past and can help the owner go small or fly through the air, both options Kay uses widely as he discovers the plot of Abner Brown and his gang. Brown wants the box for its magic and having kidnapped Hawkins then starts to work back through everyone the old man might have met taking them captive in the cells in the cellar of the old missionary college hoping they will tell him the location of the box.

He never chooses to scrobble Kay because the boy’s former governess is Brown’s mistress and she informs Abner that the boy was stupid and couldn’t possibly have been trusted with such an important object.

Through a series of magic moments in the present, with mice, fairies and rats all emerging from the hidden places, to adventures in the past Kay is brought to a climatic fight with Brown.

Reunited with Hawkins the magic of the box helps them escape but it is plain and simple greed and double crossing that see off Abner.

Despite snow and the capture of the clergy the box comes to the rescue and the Christmas Eve service, the 1000th at Tatchester Cathedral, is saved.

The story is a wonderful Christmas read and the BBC made it into a drama back in 1984 that is still enchanting despite the dated look of the special effects. One thing sticks in my mind, which is why even when he makes his friends small and they meet fairies etc, why do they never talk about it afterwards? Was it all a dream? Perhaps.

The month in review – December

Reading at Christmas time is always a struggle. Firstly, I take annual leave so there is not the chance to read on a commute and secondly the children are around making calm reading very difficult.

The aim this December was a fairly simple one, to keep the momentum of previous months going, but nonetheless it proved to be a challenge as days went by without more than a couple of pages being turned. In the end it worked out well but the lesson for next year is to read quick and to read early.

books read in December:

The Interrogative Mood A Novel? by Padgett Powell
The Dead Beat by Cody James
The Small Hand by Susan Hill
Rumpole at Christmas by John Mortimer
The Passport by Herta Muller
The Box of Delights by John Masefield