Friday, April 28, 2006

Odds and Ends

Having got myself a new job at the other side of the country and found somewhere to live (first rule of flat-hunting: buy a map), I now have to pack for the move, and what books I take are - of course - top priority (I keep telling myself that because the job is book related I need to take as many books as possible, and then remember that I'll end up getting loads of books through the job and won't have any time to read them all...).

Today was book packing day and in the end I had to have a huge amount of will power. So my system was to pack only books which I had not read yet, of which there are too many to list here, but include a number of poetry books - mostly John Burnside, Robin Robertson, Kathleen Jamie, Alice Oswald, Don Paterson, Carol Ann Duffy - a wedge of Borges, a couple of Elizabeth Bowen novels and Lanark which I'm embarrassed to say was very, very dusty when I pulled it off the shelf.
There are a few exceptions to the rule: 2 AL Kennedy books (Paradise and On Bullfighting) , the dictionary (the little one not the multi volume one), Findings by Kathleen Jamie, a book of Brendan Kennelly's poems, and a few I've forgotten. Mrs Woolf is staying behind for the moment as I don't think there is enough room for her where I'm going (she takes up more shelves that AL Kennedy and Ali Smith put together).

Given that I've spent a fair bit of time on public transport with nothing else to do but read my most recent reads have been Carry Me Down by M.J. Hyland and A Jealous Ghost by A.N. Wilson. My brief verdict is read Carry Me Down (just mind the stomach turning bit near the beginning) and leave A Jealous Ghost at the bookshop. These books were the first time I'd read work by either of the writers so I had no idea of what I was going to get. Carry Me Down is original and well written; not dressed up with fussy language and is subtle. It tells the story of John Egan who discovers he is a human lie detector, a discovery that has bizarre and violent consequences. In the end it seems to be a book about the human capacity for love and forgiveness. A Jealous Ghost is a 'reworking' of James' The Turn of the Screw and it is interesting to see how Wilson pulls that off, but the resulting book was too snobby about its roots (problematic for readers not familiar with James' story and annoying for those who are) and the author is clearly disdainful of his central character an American PhD student called Sally, whose thesis is about the James story on which the book is based. From the beginning of the book Sally confuses her situation with that of The Turn of the Screw and the consequences are to be expected. Aside from the academic, literary and social snobbery of the book my main problem is that - in my reading of it - Wilson's story doesn't say anything new about James' story, it doesn't read as something fresh and doesn't make me see The Turn of the Screw in a different light.

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