August 23, 2017

Gigi and the Cat by Colette

gigi and the catAs far as I can remember before reading Gigi and the Cat I hadn’t read anything by Colette.

And now I wish I had.

The book is 2 short stories, “Gigi” and “The Cat”. Both dwell on the change from being a child to being an adult – but in different ways. Gigi is about a girl being groomed to be a courtesan by her mother and grand mother. It’s the shorter story of the two, and the more gripping / has more intrigue. I can’t say much about it without giving away the end, suffice to say she’s more astute than they give her credit for!

Second up is “The Cat” where a boy’s love for his cat gets in the way of his marriage. As well as the whole growing up sub plot we have ones about people marrying the wrong people, and new-money vs old.

A good read.

 

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin

the stepford wivesI picked The Stepford Wives up in one of Amazon’s Kindle sales. I’m really glad I did.

Like many I’ve always understood the phrase “Stepford Wives”, but never really understood the full concept of the book. (I’ve not seen either film, yet, either).

The edition I read has a great intro by Chuck Palahniuk which I found very useful to understand the full scenario in which the book was written.

I was surprised by how short the book is (I think I’d got it a little confused with the tome-like Valley of the Dolls), and it’s also pretty scary.

It tells the story of Joanna Eberhart and her family as they move out of New York to the small town of Stepford. Where something odd is going on, with all the women these perfect wives.

It really gripped me, and I think it’s one I’ll def be reading again, and wishing for a different outcome.

Words Without Borders

Words without Borders is a fascinating short story collection. It’s a rally against the internal-only gaze of America.
words without borders
So we have 28 short stories from 20 different countries, each forwarded by a different great person.

Introduction is very American, noting how the country is very introspection So this book is to try and get Americans to look outside the country.


As with any collection some stories are better than others, but overall I found it rather hard going. One to dip in and out of rather than try to get from one end to the other.

The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James

The Beast in the Jungle
This is a very short story by Henry James, I think it’s the first of his I’ve read and I would like to try something longer. This one didn’t grip me at all – it’s the story of a man who’s always felt some catastrophe awaited him, but didn’t know when or what it owuld be. Then he discovers he’d told someone about it – and falls in love and then along comes the catastrophe.

Intriguing and an interesting take on life – but not a book I’m going to hold on to.

Reheated Cabbage by Irvine Welsh

Reheated Cabbage Reheated Cabbage is a collection of short stories by Irvine Welsh. Almost have previously appeared somewhere else, but there is also the original and new novella I Am Miami.

The book opens with Fault on the Line a sick but fascinating and very short tale about love and football. Then we have Catholic Guilt which will leave your skin crawling – there’s several twists here. Elspeth’s Boyfriend allows us to spend Christmas with Begbie, and Kiss and Make Up provides even more disturbing tales from dregs of society.

Then we get into 3 longer tales. The State of the Party is a night out that goes wrong in lots of ways – but not violently so, this one will leave you pondering. The Roswell Incident will leave you pondering even more – and yes it does include aliens and Scotland! Finally I Am Miami I thought was the weakest of the collection, but a heartwarming (no really) story.

 

Parisian Sketches by J. K. Huysmans

Parisian SketchesParisian Sketches is exactly what it says – a series of sketches of scenes Huysmans saw around Paris in the nineteenth century.

Each sketch is very well written – you really feel the emotions of the subjects, and feel the pressures and activities you’re reading about. These sketches don’t focus on the top of society – it’s what’s happening lower down. So we meet the girls at the dance trying to capture a soldier, the older women trying to leave before the whores arrive. Bus conductors, bakers, chestnut sellers and more.

It’s not just a series of sketches of people, the book is divided into subjects so we have “Parisian characters”, “Landscapes”, and (possibly my favourites, and certainly the most literary) “Fantasties and Forgotten corners”. Then it’s “Still Lifes”, and finally “Paraphrases”.

A great book to dip into.

The Dedalus Book of Russian Decadence: Perversity, Despair and Collapse

A fantastic and surreal book. Russian Decadence is a collection of 53 pieces of prose and poetry written by 7 Russian authors from the late 1800s.

The Dedalus Book of Russian Decadence

The featured authors are:

  • Leonid Andreyev
  • Alexander Blok
  • Valery Briusov
  • Alexander Kondratiev
  • Dmitry Merezhkovsky
  • Fyodor Sologub
  • and the only female Zinaida Gippius

Their works are focused on exploring the depths of the unconscious, and lead some really dark and fascinating areas.

The book is a very strange mix of stories, we visit a cult who are about the brought down in the middle of a revolution; we follow psychopaths around; there’s some sci-fi and explorations of parallel worlds. A weird exploration of excessive fascination with shadows, the intoxication of poisonous plants in an enchanted garden. Suicide obsessions and love in graveyards…

Truly a fascinating mental journey – I think I might have to read some more of the Dedalus collections of European decadence…

 

Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood

Our bookclub book for May.Goodbye to Berlin

Goodbye to Berlin is part of Christopher Isherwood’s “The Berlin Novels” series, alongside Mr. Norris Changes Trains. It consists of 6 short stories which were originally published in different places, and which Isherwood had originally planned to build into a bigger work called “The Lost”.

The 6 sections all relate to a similar time period and set of circumstances. That of Christopher Isherwood experiences in Berlin and Germany during the early 1930s. The central storylines are simply about day to day life and experiences, but the subtext is the battle between the communists and the fascists for control of Germany – and eventually the rise of Hitler.

A Berlin Diary (Autumn 1930)

Tales mainly from his life in a boarding house, very human but with occasional moments where the larger political and social situations seep in. We also learn about his work as a tutor and life in the pubs. This is the most practical of the sections.

Sally Bowles

Sally is phenomenal English girl also living in Berlin. It a little like a love letter after the fact – a missing persons plea. It’s quite a rollercoaster section, and very hedonistic.

On Ruegen Island (Summer 1931)

In this section Christopher Isherwood escapes Berlin for the summer. Lodging in a guest house with Otto and Peter. The overtones of the coming political changes are getting stronger – and there’s a doctor (quite hateful man) who bangs on about the labour camps. But for all that life is still very normal – orphans visiting the beach, fighting over which is the best beach, teenagers playing around at dances.

The Nowaks

This section runs through Isherwood’s poorest phase – where he lives with a very poor family (of Otto from the previous section). A real eye opener into another side of Berlin, learning about healthcare, welfare, and feelings towards the Jews. A fascinating chapter – especially when contrasted with the next one:

The Landauers

Again a section detailing Isherwood’s relationship with a German family. This time from the other end of the social spectrum. The Landauers are a German family who own and run one of Berlin’s greatest department stores.

A Berlin Diary (Winter 1932-3)

This final section is very different to any of the previous ones, it’s very focused on the political situation. It has a very different structure too – basically flitting from incident to incident leading up him finally leaving Berlin shortly after the Nazi’s come to power.

 

Strangely the book didn’t seem to grip me, I wasn’t devouring page after page long into the night – but I would recommend it to others none the less. And I am eager to read more of his work from this period (pending finishing the backlog anyway!)

An old pub near the Angel by James Kelman

An Old Pub Near the Angel was James Kelman’s first collection of short stories. Originally published in the US in 1973, it was finally published in the UK in 2007. The edition I have includes a 1973 interview Kelman gave to The Scotsman, and a long Afterword by the author himself.

The collection of stories is well written and quite enjoyable to pick up from time to time. Each is set among the working classes in Glasgow, and they are distilled down to the minimum number of words – no backstory, we go straight into the narrative. And most is simply conversations between people in bedsits and pubs.

There are 13 short stories in total:An old pub near the Angel by James Kelman

  • The Cards
  • A Roll for Joe
  • Abject Misery
  • He knew him well
  • The Last Night
  • Wednesday
  • Dinner for Two
  • An old pub near the Angel
  • The Best Man Advises
  • Circumstances
  • New Business
  • This Morning
  • Nice to be Nice

Babylon Revisited by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I got this Penguin Mini Modern Classic free in the Telegraph a few weeks ago.

babylon revisited by f scott fitzgeraldI love the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald so I was really pleased to get this copy of Babylon Revisited. It contains 3 of Fitzgerald’s short stories:

  • Babylon Revisited
  • The Cut-Glass Bowl
  • The Lost Decade

Each was originally published in different collections, but they’ve been printed in this format before. And it’s easy to read any of them in one sitting.

So….

Babylon Revisited is the first story in the book. It tells the story of Charlie Wales who’s revisiting Paris to try and get his daughter back – she’s currently living under the guardianship of her mother’s sister.

It seems that everything went a bit crazy for Charlie when he lived in Paris, and during the depression. He’s now living in Prague and has sorted himself out, but unfortunately Paris isn’t a place he should be spending much time.

It’s really well written and VERY intriguing.

The second tale is The Cut-Glass Bowl which opens by telling the reader all about the “cut-glass age” (in comparison with the bronze age, or iron age) fantastic irony.

The story hinges on the lives and loves of Howard and Evylyn Piper. Fairly normal disfunctional lives, then it takes a dark twist (as many of his short stories do).

Finally, The Lost Decade, only a few pages long. About a man meeting a man for lunch who’s lost the last decade. But not lost it. – Pretty good.