Archive for the ‘Warm and cosy’ Category
Nora and I do not usually give each other expensive presents but I made an exception at Christmas when I bought her a Kindle. It was getting embarrassing because she kept borrowing mine and commenting on how much porn I was reading.
I asked her all through January and February, “Have you used your Kindle yet?”
“No, I’ve been too busy.”
“Too busy even for my shorter stories?”
“I haven’t figured out how to download any yet. What I want to read isn’t on the Kindle.”
She was reading the letters of the Mitford sisters. It was taking her an age. So in March I stopped asking. I never expected that in April she would go behind my back and figure out how to download Fifty Shades Darker. A paid version. Not like the free Fifty Shades of Grey I gave her.
“I hope you’re not becoming addicted to bad writing,” I told her.
“Is it bad writing?” she asked innocently.
“Susan Hill says so.”
“She’s an English novelist. She says women who read it should be ashamed of themselves. It’s not just porn. It’s badly-written porn.”
“I don’t think anyone should feel ashamed. All women have desires. But the sex in this one isn’t arousing anymore.”
“What? You’ve grown tired of it already? You need something more hardcore now?”
“Well, it’s like in a horror film that starts off with a very scary image. But then you keep on seeing it and it stops being scary.”
“Isn’t it also because it’s badly written?”
“No, I don’t think it’s badly written. Well, I can’t judge. I can’t write English. I can’t write a sex scene. I can do it but I can’t write it. How do you write it without repeating any words?”
“But you’re still enjoying it?”
“I enjoyed the story. I wanted to know what happened.”
“Enjoyed? Have you finished it already?”
“I’m reading the next one now.”
“I’m a very quick reader.”
“No you’re not. You were reading that Nancy Mitford book for months.”
“Well, this is different. It’s full of clichés but you want to know what happens next. Every chapter ends on a cliffhanger.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll read another of your stories eventually.”
I ran straight to my room, fell onto my bed, shoes and all, and howled. I curled up, desperately clutching my black silk blindfold, and surrendered myself to my grief.
I took a week off from the tough business of writing explicit sex stories last week and went to the London Book Fair. I was hoping to forget about sex completely and meet a suave, European intellectual who could talk to me about concertina folds, bump exposure and blind embossing. Instead I was handed a free copy of Fifty Shades of Grey.
Naturally I started reading it as soon as I got home. Not at the beginning, of course. I’m far too impatient for that. I wanted the sex.
It didn’t take me long to discover that the book was a page-turner.
Disturbed by the wails coming from my room, my flat-mate, Nora, banged on the door and burst in. “What’s wrong?” she demanded.
“Holy cow!” I cried. “Take this book away from me, please!”
“Is it that bad?”
“No, it’s that good! I can’t waste time with this shit, I’ve got my own shit to write.”
That was six days ago. Tonight Nora came into the kitchen. “I’ve finished that book,” she said breezily.
“Yes. I’ve never read a book so quick in my life!” (Nora is a slow reader.)
“And? What’s your opinion? It was crap, wasn’t it?”
“No, actually it was quite good.”
“You enjoyed it?” (Incomprehension.)
“Well, the BDSM stuff was a turn-off. I just like normal sex. But the normal sex was not bad, actually.”
“Tell me more. I promised Random House I’d write a review.”
“Well, there is nothing new in this novel, but it brings together many things from elsewhere that I think readers want. I’m a reader, after all. I’m not a writer. So, as a reader I have to say it’s not bad. I mean, many women, I would say, have the fantasy that a handsome man, a rich man, quite a clever man, actually, falls in love with her and pursues her. It may be unrealistic, but it’s a common fantasy, and, well, my first boyfriend was handsome but it didn’t work out with him and my next one — “
“Yes, yes, people don’t want to hear about your love life, Nora. Stick to the novel. Was it a good plot?”
“Yes. I thought the story was very well done.”
“Would you read the next one?”
“There are three!” I told her. “Would you read number two in the series?”
Her eyes lit up disconcertingly. “Yes, probably.”
“You would?” [Disbelief.]
“Yes, why not?”
“How many stars would you give it?”
“For Goodreads. How many stars out of five?”
“Oh, four at least.”
“Really? Not three?”
“Oh no! Four.”
“No, it wasn’t that good! Four.”
“Phew, but my books get five, don’t they?”
“Oh yes, she can’t write as well as you.”
Thank goodness for that! My inner goddess was doing the merengue with a zumba shimmy.
I felt supremely intellectual and sensitive while I was reading this book, all the more so because I read most of it while standing in the queue for the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. Not that David Hockney is an intellectual. But the standard of badinage in the queues at the Royal Academy is generally pretty high.
I should also point out that the edition I was reading was not chosen lightly. I settled on the translation by Robert Westhoff only after a protracted internal struggle.
Nevertheless, although I liked this book and couldn’t fault individual sentences, it didn’t hold my attention as much as I’d hoped.
The dialogue is a bit precious. There is some wan and winsome philosophizing. The characters drift along in a haze of amorality, without too much to do. But there are some very sensual descriptions, which I adored. Chapter 7 is very good, for example. It’s only a page and a half but it has sentences like this:
I’ll never be able to meet you without blushing,” said Lucile, “or see you leave without feeling pain, or speak to you in public without turning my eyes away.”
As she turned, he closed his fingers and held the lower part of her face, almost fiercely for a second, her mouth pressed to his palm. Gazing at each other, they wordlessly promised to have thousands of such moments together, no matter what happened.”
Even in English this is very French: classic, simple, understated and intense.
The English have more words but, as one of the characters states in the (very short) closing chapter, “where poetry is concerned, France reigns supreme.”
Françoise Sagan is perhaps not the greatest French writer but she does justice to the tradition of beautiful, clear, poignant love stories into which she was born.
English men can be very complicated, especially if they’ve had a good education, as Julian Barnes proves in this short, pithy, ironic story of an English man looking back on his life.
The language is exemplary. The jokes are elegant. The sensibility is refined. The wanking is furious.
And then there’s the philosophy…
Julian Barnes’s real-life English teacher once said, “Of course everyone’s worried about what happens when Ted Hughes runs out of animals.”
“We thought it was the wittiest thing we had ever heard,” Barnes confessed in an interview in the Paris Review (Winter 2000).
The fictional Tony Webster’s English teacher says the same thing and Tony finds himself thinking about it often over the years. But Ted Hughes never did run out of animals. That’s the really funny and wonderful thing.
Our lifelong concerns are often misguided, aren’t they? The things that impressed us when we were young turn out to be facile in the end.
In fact this story is a kind of meditation on how our memories distort reality, if reality is, indeed, ever in a state that could be said to be undistorted. How much of what is passing for reality do we actually understand? How much is fact, how much is fiction, how much is simple ignorance? Or complicated ignorance, if you’ve had an English public school education.
Is Tony Webster Julian Barnes?
Probably not. Tony Webster is bald and Julian Barnes has a full head of hair. Or so it seems.
But the questions go on.
Do the people who read this story understand it? Some of them do. But if you take a look at the reviews on some websites, you will see that a lot of people missed the point. Some have even made up completely different stories based on an unfathomable logic all their own.
If I were Julian Barnes I would probably sigh and hold my beautifully coiffured head in my hands and wonder if it was all worth it.
And then I’d probably write an elliptical, poignant, ironic novel about how elusive philosophically self-evident truths can be.
Life is a lot funnier than a TV sitcom. It’s all a question of attitude.
Stella Deleuze has oodles of attitude.
Take her little piece on cycling. Cyclists are a pest. Cyclists ignore traffic lights. Cyclists hiss at you and speed up in situations where motorists would brake. Cyclists don’t have brakes. They have SOMETHING TO PROVE. German cyclists are the worst because they always have the right of way, even on the pavement, and especially on the piece of pavement that you happen, in your ignorance, to have strayed onto just before they hurtle into you at 25 miles per hour from behind.
Stella is a German cyclist but does this bother her? Not at all.
“Pedestrians are worse than tanks,” she writes.
But she is also lovely. Because Stella doesn’t behave like a cyclist. She behaves like a human being.
She uses the brakes for the bloody idiots. She actually stops at traffic lights. She admits her failings. When she is nearly killed by a bus it is, of course, her fault. When a confused Frenchman stumbles out of a taxi straight into her path, she forgives him. “He’ll have the bruises after all,” she concedes.
Which is why you can’t stop laughing.
But humour is a personal thing so I gave this book the acid test. I read some of it aloud to my flatmate.
Howls of laughter.
Kindle stolen again while I was out.
It’s really hard to find a book that makes you split your sides laughing. Especially when you share it with someone. Keep this one to yourself. Don’t read it in public. And don’t read it out loud.
I wasn’t expecting much of The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, to be honest. I listened to a quite well written introduction by, I presume, John Joseph Adams, which was read by someone who insisted on pronouncing Moriarty as Moriarity about fifteen times, which didn’t bode well.
But the stories themselves were surprisingly good. I haven’t listened to them all yet but I really look forward to them and most of the time I’m not disappointed. I like listening in the dark. Some of them are very spooky. They are also witty in a way, playing upon our expectations. They’ve all been published before in some form so they have a pedigree. There are some great writers here and some Victoriana specialists, so the standard is generally very high.
So if you like Sherlock Holmes (I love him!) and you’re open-minded, give it a try. The stories are a little improbable but that’s why they’re fun. Even die-hard fans of Sir Arthur (I’m one!) won’t be disappointed by these re-workings of the famous Conan Doyle canon.
(Everyone who reviews this book has to mention the Conan Doyle canon.)
In a sense this book gets my highest recommendation because I lent it and my Kindle to my flatmate when she asked me to suggest some light bedtime reading. I don’t like recommending books and especially not dirty ones so I hope you appreciate what a rare gesture this was.
Did my flatmate like it? She did. She agreed that it was funny, light, charming, and erotic. It’s sexy without being shameful and clever without making any demands.
It reminded me of the works of P.G. Wodehouse, which are likewise peopled with charming eccentrics, deftly plotted and perfectly paced. I was tempted to dub Jeremy Edwards the P.G. Wodehouse of porn but this story is too innocent to be porn and if it’s like P.G. Wodehouse, it’s P.G. Wodehouse not quite at the top of his form.
Of course, the comparison with a writer of genius is unfair, but, like The Pleasure Dial itself, ultimately irresistible.
So, go on, give Jeremy’s Pleasure Dial a twirl!