Books, cheese, soppy stuff

Books, cheese, soppy ramblings

I’m in Edam, in Holland in the house where my husband grew up. It is a typically Dutch house, with lots of wood, very steep stairs and a canal flowing by outside.

What is slightly more unusual is that it full of books, packed with books, everywhere you turn you see yet more books. Shelves upon shelves. Art books, encyclopedias, history. Whole shelves full of Biggles or Simenon or thriller writers I’ve never heard of.
My father in law who died earlier this year was a bibliophile, a collector. He couldn’t pass a second hand book stall without acquiring something. Even when poor health made it more difficult for him to sell them on, he just couldn’t stop buying books. Continue reading

His, His or Her, Their – Julian Barnes II


‘What should I read first of his other books?’ asked lots of lovely people today about Julian Barnes. I had a wonderful day today. I felt high and happy about the Booker, And lots of people were very nice about my Booker blog post.

The answer, as with all book recommendation, lies in the reader. What is it that you want? Want sexual jealousy? Then go for Before She Met Me. Coming of age? Metroland. France, French stuff? French kissing, French letters, French toast? Well, most of it but Flaubert’s Parrot is the one that most floats my bateau. Short stories? Tricky. I’ve a fondness for Cross Channel (see? It’s that French thing again) but The Lemon Table is good if you’re interested in ageing and fear of death and the last story in Pulse is a very fine thing indeed. (Go buy it. Read the bit about the herbs. If you don’t think it’s a staggeringly good piece of writing then I’ll eat my chapeau.) Continue reading

War, Sex and The Blue Bicycle


The last three nights I’ve spent my dream time being parachuted into resistant France and evading capture by the Gestapo. This is all because when I was in Holland recently helping my husband sort through his Father’s enormous collection of books I came across a Dutch edition of The Blue Bicycle, published first as La Bicyclette Bleu in France.

I told my husband how much I’d enjoyed reading this war trilogy when I lived in France.

‘It’s like Gone With The Wind,’ I said, ‘but set on a vineyard in the second world war.’

Not only did he bring the Dutch edition back to England, possibly hoping that one day my Dutch might be up to it, but also scoured the internet to buy me English translations so I’ve been rereading them this week.

I last read them in French about fifteen years ago when I lived near Caen, a city that had been largely destroyed at the end of the war. Just up the road was Arromanches where the mulberry harbours used to disembark the DDay troops still sat in the bay.

There was evidence of the war all around. There was a tank called Charlie One on the beach near my flat, the next street along was called ‘Avenue du Six Juin.’  Within a short drive were cemeteries, English, Canadian, American and German. All with their own atmospheres and varying degrees of humility and triumphalism. Continue reading

What should (but can’t) win the Booker

I have just read the book that I think should win the Booker Prize and it didn’t even get on the longlist. At Last by Edward St Aubyn is the fifth in a series of books that follows Patrick Melrose through his often very unhappy life. It is, as Alan Hollinghurst said to me in Burton (sorry for the name drop but can’t quite resist, and also can’t resist popping in the location of the conversation as the conjunction of Alan Hollinghurst and Burton was of itself miraculous) excoriating. It is also often very funny. It shifts constantly between despair and hope and the last paragraph is a thing of beauty and a possible way to live for anyone who has done battle with life’s demons. Continue reading

Jamrach and Canaan. Nearly there….

It feels like a million years since I was reading on the beach in Cornwall. I got so involved with Jamrach’s Menagerie that I forgot about suncream and ended up with a sunburnt cleavage – not a good look. Hardly a hardship in comparison to the characters in the book, though, who sailed off to the south seas to find a dragon and ended up in a very sticky situation indeed. It is published by Canongate and feels to me very much like a Canongate book. If, in a dark office, The Crimson Petal and The White snuggled up to The Life of Pi, then Jamrach’s Menagerie would be the result. And very much a cherished love child, I think.

It was another good book to be reading in the company of my father, who left Ireland when he was fifteen as a cabin boy on a German ship. Every so often I’d read aloud a bit about all sailors being mad men and my Dad would sagely nod. Every night I’d eat the dinner my parents cooked and then enjoy the stories my Dad told about his life at sea. Continue reading