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January 22, 2014 by lucieromarin

Three trustworthy men told me to read some Patrick O’Brian so I began this year with ‘Mauritius Command,’ and am here to tell you that it’s a Boy-Book, and I didn’t finish it.

(One of the trustworthy gentlemen vigorously objected to my classifying books as Boy-Books, Girl-Books or Either-Books, but there it is. This is my personal taxonomy and I’m sticking with it.)

I have no idea what to read now, so here’s what I’ve been re-reading:

1) ‘The 27th Kingdom,’ Alice Thomas Ellis. I wish I could find someone else who’d read this novel! A young postulant is sent to Chelsea to live in the world for a time, and the story follows her impact upon the boarding-house to which she’s sent and the discovery of the reason for her being sent there. After my fifth reading, I’m still unable to decide if it’s meant to be edifying or not; it’s in turn acidic, gloating, bleak, quotidian, magical, restrained and observant, and everything expressed with an economy of phrase that makes me envious. Oh, and it features one of the best cats in English fiction.

2) ‘Rumpole on Trial’ and ‘Rumpole’s Last Case,’ John Mortimer. These are two of several collections of short stories featuring Horace Rumpole, the barrister (Old Bailey Hack) who never prosecutes. When you’ve an appetite for something more substantial than meringue (L.M Montgomery) but you can’t bear to be burdened with any more broken relationships (George Eliot), disjointed existential weirdness (Banana Yoshimoto), or, really, any kind of tragedy at all, the Rumpole stories are perfect. They’re easy enough for public transport, but deep enough for a solitary reading; they won’t give you nightmares or angst, but they won’t patronise you with the shallowness of the comedy, either.

3) ‘Little Men,’ Lousia May Alcott.

Less than a chapter in, I thought, Ah, this is why I didn’t like it the first time round…and I didn’t finish this one, either. Alcott seems to be at her best when she’s writing about children; as soon as they turn into adults, they become two-dimensional and full of platitudes.

Odd to think that by the end of this year we’ll have read all kinds of books that we haven’t even discovered yet. It’s like knowing that by the end of the year we’ll certainly have made some new friends, even though, right now, we can’t possibly guess when and how we’d meet them in the first place.


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