June 12th, 2014


15: Lancelot

Originally posted by audrey_e at Book 15: Lancelot
15 LANCELOT Walker Percy (USA, 1977)


From a mental institution, Lancelot Lamar tells the story of his downfall following the discovery of his wife infidelities.

Lancelot is an extremely ambitious novel; too ambitious for its own good. Percy attempts to tell the story of a (failed?) quest for truth in the media age, and from the perspective of someone who has lost faith in humanity. And to compare and contrast Lancelot's downfall to the traditional quest, Percy uses The Knights of the Round Table's names and imagery with as much irony as he can.
The result is unfortunately very clumsy. The theme of the Arthurian quest does not further the main protagonist/ Percy's arguments at all. I was often confused as to how the quest pertained to Lancelot's modern experience.
The novel's format was also flawed. Lancelot addresses himself directly to a friend/the reader, which causes the story line to be unnecessarily repetitive, (as opposed to insightful repetitions).
Considering that Percy's masterpiece The Moviegoer explores the very same themes, and is easily one of the best books I've ever read, I cannot recommend Lancelot to someone  who's not already familiar with the writer. As for me, I still enjoyed Percy's writing and the bubble of depressing emptiness it creates in your mind, but it was not enough to really save the book.

kitty, reading

Books #23-24

Book #23 was "The Hum and the Shiver" by Alex Bledsoe, on audiobook. I didn't know what to expect from this aside from it being sort of in the "urban fantasy" genre and that my husband really enjoyed it. I liked the story very much, more than I expected. I think Bledsoe is really talented. I liked both the male and female reader on the audiobook, as well. The book is set in Tennessee and tells of the Tufa people, who were living on the land before white European settlers showed up. They are brown skinned and dark haired but of an unidentifiable ethnic background and they have their own somewhat in-grown culture. One of their young women, Bronwyn, goes off to war, gets hurt and comes back home a hero, though I physically broken one. She comes home for comfort and healing only to find that ill omens suggest that her mother might be about to die. Meanwhile, a part-Tufa newspaper reporter from the next town tries to get an exclusive with Bronwyn and learns more about his Tufa heritage while trying to get the story. And a new Methodist minister in the next town becomes fascinated with the Tufa generally and Bronwyn specifically. Complicating things, Bronwyn's old boyfriend Duane is up to no good. I found this book really engaging and the ending very satisfying. Bronwyn, whose wild childhood inspired the nickname "The Bronwynator," is a great character, but I also related to the small-town reporter and thought the depictions of his editor and their paper to be spot on - this is something I know a lot about since I was a reporter and editor for a weekly in a small town for five and a half years. Loved this book, highly recommended. It's the first in a series - the next book looks like it follows different main characters but in the same setting.

Book #24 was "Skinny Legs and All" by Tom Robbins. This is a re-read for me, but the first read would have been about 20 years ago. I had forgotten probably the first 3/4 of the book and really only remembered most of the stuff that happens toward the end, but the entire book is a fun romp. It follows the adventures of five inanimate objects - a spoon, a bean can, a dirty purple sock, a conch shell and a painted stick - and several humans, primarily newlyweds Ellen Cherry Charles and Boomer Petaway. Ellen is an aspiring artist who takes her welder husband Boomer with her to New York, only to have him turn into the star of the art world while she ends up waitressing. This takes a toll on their marriage. It also follows the lives of Ellen's employers, a Jew and an Arab who open up a Middle Eastern restaurant across from the UN as a statement about peace in the Middle East. The book is silly in the way Robbins' books always are, but also examines some serious issues, from the ongoing strife in the Middle East to the illusions that underpin our society to the damage that dogma does. I got different things out of it reading this as a 40-something than I did as a 20-something, but I'm glad I re-read it. I've read most of Robbins' stuff, and this is my second favorite ("Jitterbug Perfume" is my favorite). The novel does feel a bit stuck in the 80s but it mostly stands the test of time. Highly recommended if you like a book that makes you think AND makes you laugh.

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Book 118: A Conspiracy of Violence by Susanna Gregory

Book 118: A Conspiracy of Violence (Thomas Chaloner #1).
Author: Susanna Gregory, 2006.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Historical Mystery. Restoration London. Spy Thriller.
Other Details: Paperback. 502 pages.

The dour days of Cromwell are over. Charles II is well established at White Hall Palace, his mistress at hand in rooms over the Holbein bridge, the heads of some of the regicides on public display. London seethes with new energy, freed from the strictures of the Protectorate, but many of its inhabitants have lost their livelihoods. One is Thomas Chaloner, a reluctant spy for the feared Secretary of State, John Thurloe, and now returned from Holland in desperate need of employment. His erstwhile boss, knowing he has many enemies at court, recommends Thomas to Lord Clarendon, but in return demands that Thomas keep him informed of any plot against him. But what Thomas discovers is that Thurloe had sent another ex-employee to White Hall and he is dead, supposedly murdered by footpads near the Thames. Chaloner volunteers to investigate his killing: instead he is despatched to the Tower to unearth the gold buried by the last Governor. He discovers not treasure, but evidence that greed and self-interest are uppermost in men's minds whoever is in power, and that his life has no value to either side. - synopsis from publisher's website.

This is a series that I have wanted to read for some time and am glad that I finally plucked the first novel from the library shelf. It proved an excellent historical mystery as Susanna Gregory captures the sights, sounds and smells of Restoration London along with portraying the lingering tensions between those forces that had torn the country apart before and during the Civil War. The novel opens in December 1662 and Chaloner's unfamiliarity with the social and political make-up of London allows for a degree of exposition that usefully serves to inform the reader. I am not all that familiar with this period of English history and felt that she provided enough background to appreciate the situation Chaloner finds himself in.

The novel has quite a complex plot as well as a large cast of characters and I rather wish that it had included a list of characters or that I'd thought to make a few notes when people were introduced as I found that I had to flip back quite often to remind myself of who was who. Gregory provides notes at the end about the historical figures that populate the pages. I certainly plan to continue with the series.

16: Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf

Originally posted by audrey_e at Book 16: Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf


Brian Boru (941-1014), who died during the battle of Clontarf, is the most famous of Ireland's High Kings.

In this book, Sean Duffy attempts to find the truth about the Irish king and the fateful battle among the annals that have been left to us, and beyond the enduring image of a "nationalist king" in the Irish consciousness.
Let me tell you, this is not a relaxing read. Half of it is a discussion of Brian Boru's complex genealogy. Needless to say, ancient Irish names are not the easiest to remember! But Duffy's monumental work is essential in giving us an idea of what really happened at Clontarf.