Saturday news: two abandoned books, a missed literary escapade and a sugar-without-cellulite read.

September 22, 2018 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’ve been away for work, weekends have been busy and my TBW (To Be Written) pile has not decreased. So far, September has been made of two abandoned books, a missed literary escapade in Moscow and a sugar-without-cellulite novel as comfort read.

The first abandoned book is The Secret River by Kate Grenville (2007) and it starts like this:

The Alexander, with its cargo of convicts, had bucked over the face of the ocean for the better part of a year. Not it had fetched up at the end of the earth. There was no lock on the door of the hut where William Thornhill, transported for the term of his natural life in the Year of Our Lord eighteen hundred and six, was passing his first night in His Majesty’s penal colony of New South Wales.

Follows the story of William Thornhill and his wife Sal from London to the newly founded Sydney. The Secret River is a famous and well-beloved Australian book but I couldn’t finish it and I abandoned it after reading one third of it.

I thought that the part in London where Grenville explains how Thornhill was deported was way too long. There were too many details about a poor man’s life in London, his job on the Thames and how misery led him to steal goods from boats in order to feed his family. Grenville could have made her point in a lot less pages and it could have been even more powerful.

Then there’s the arrival in Sydney and the story progressed slowly again, with details that were useless to me while others were missing. I would have liked more information about how the Thornhills dealt with the strange land and the workings of the colony.

William Thornhill has no flaw: he’s hardworking, doesn’t drink, doesn’t gamble, loves his wife and was a good apprentice. There were too many pages about this in the London part, as if Kate Grenville was trying to prove that Thornhill was a good man. I had the feeling she was trying to buy respectability to the convicts that were sent to Australia and by transitivity to all the white people who founded the current Australian society.

I stopped reading when I reached Part III. I was still not interested in the Thornhills’ fate and I thought that if Grenville had failed to engage me by then, it was a lost cause. In my opinion, she was trying too hard to make of this book an homage to the white ancestors of Australia by telling an uplifting story about how honest hard work will make you successful.

The Secret River felt like a book that had already been done, about “pioneers” who arrive to a strange land, have a successful life and participate to the foundation of a new country. But it doesn’t have the power of Cather’s My Ántonia and it didn’t work for me. I can’t believe it’s a trilogy! If you’ve read The Secret River, what did you think of it?

I’ll spend less time on the second book I abandoned since it’s L’homme qui marche by Yves Bichet, a French novel that has not been translated into English.

The main character is Robert Coublevie and he spends his time walking with his dog Elia on the border between France and Italy in the Alps.

His wife has left him for another man and he sort of replaced her by a dog named after her. Sometimes he goes back to town and spends time at the Café du Nord. The owner has a teenage daughter named Camille and when he’s back on the mountain, he realizes that Camille is there, walking with a stranger.

The blurb was crime-fictionish, which attracted me in the first place. But in the end, I didn’t like Bichet’s style with all the descriptions of the mountains and of his walking.

Again, I wasn’t engaged in the story.

These were the two first sad experiences of September but the most frustrating one was a missed opportunity for a literary escapade in Moscow.

I was there for work and all I could think about was that out there were the houses or apartments of Pushkin, Chekov, Lermontov, Bulgakov, Tolstoy and others.

I’ve only seen Moscow by night and the closest to any literary thing I went was the Pushkin square and seeing bookshelves in all the restaurants I went to. I am so frustrated.

I also read Pike by Benjamin Whitmer (more of this one in another billet) and after this gritty noir and the busy weeks at work, I needed something sugary and I turned to Wonder Cruise by Ursula Bloom, a book I’d downloaded after reading Caroline’s review.

The kindle cover is dreadful and I’m glad you don’t see them when you read on the kindle. I picked the paper book cover for your eyes. It’s a bit like Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson.

Ann Clement is 35, unmarried and works as a secretary in a London office. She’s bored with her life, spent between work, chores and visits to her brother’s family. Ann was brought up in a corseted family who denies pleasures in life and is narrow-minded but she yearns for more.

Her brother’ name is Cuthbert and his way of thinking and his behaviour is are as medieval as his name.

Cuthbert had the usual outlook of an Englishman, with the beautiful belief that though the Almighty had made the British Isles, with the possible exception of Ireland, which was Popish and Sinn Fein, the devil had undoubtedly made every other part of the world. And that was that!

When Ann wins a large sum of money in a sweepstake, she decides to embark on a cruise on the Mediterranean.

We follow her on the ship and in her excursions in Gibraltar, Marseille, Venice and more as she discovers the world outside of England, observes her contemporaries and finds herself. It was written in the 1930s and it shows the condition of single women of the time, trapped in a narrow choice of employment and living under thumb of relatives. I enjoyed watching Ann coming out of her shell and learning how to let go of old-fashioned life principles.

Besides Ann’s awakening, Bloom draws a funny picture of Brits abroad and of the misfortunes of mass tourism. They go on tours like sheep, complain about the hot weather and compare everything to some place back home. Ann is a keen observer of her surroundings, she basks in the beauty of the landscapes and points out the ridicules of her travel companions.

I found some of the comments about France and French people quite funny. Here’s Ann’s vision of Paul Vallé, one of her diner companions.

Monsieur Paul Vallé came next. He was twenty-four and he spoke extremely bad English, but thought that he spoke it very well. He sat the other side of Ann, and before the meal started she realized to her horror that he was a distinctly French eater! He spiked her with his elbows as he ate; he was very noisy; he masticated freely and thoroughly. He was little and rotund, with small dark eyes peering at the red-lipped Ethel through goggle glasses. She intrigued him ‒ he called her Mees ‒ if he had been the girl sort probably he would have had an affaire du coeur with Mees. But he wasn’t the girl sort. He was the food sort. He had come for the menu, and he wasn’t going to allow Mees to distract him from that menu.

I wondered in which alternate universe Ann Clement was living because it’s one where a Frenchman books a cruise solely to binge on British food. 😊

It’s definitely a Sugar-Without-Cellulite and Beach-And-Public-Transport book. It’s light, the comments about other people on the ship are funny and Ann is a nice character to spend time with. It’s not the literary work of the century but it did the unwinding I needed.

Here’s another review by Hayley at Rather Too Fond of Books.

That’s all for today, folks. I hope I’ll have more time for blogging and reading your reviews in the coming weeks but I doubt it.

  1. joejamchicago
    September 22, 2018 at 1:32 pm

    I find your reviews thoughtful, amaziing, and, best of all, personal. Do you have any idea when you will get around to A PLACE CALLED SCHUGARA?

    Like

    • September 22, 2018 at 5:03 pm

      Thanks.
      Sorry to disappoint but it’s not happening any time soon, my TBR is in a competition with the Eiffel Tower.

      Like

  2. September 22, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    That’s such a shame about your Moscow trip! What you write about The secret river actually makes me want to read it. Wonder cruise sounds fun too. I hope you’ll have more time for reading/blogging (I wish for that for myself too).

    Like

    • September 22, 2018 at 5:05 pm

      I wish I could have stayed in Moscow to visit it properly.
      I’ll read your review of The Secret River.

      Like

  3. September 22, 2018 at 5:08 pm

    I, too, abandoned ‘The Secret River’ – I found it exhausting and couldn’t warm to the characters at all. And yet, I loved Grenville’s ‘The Idea of Perfection’, which I read just after it was published, in 2002: I distinctly remember thinking that it was one of the best books I’d read that year. Thank you for the ‘Wonder Cruise’ recommendation: I have added it to my Must Read list: it sounds exactly the kind of tonic that is needed on this grey, autumnal day!

    Like

    • September 22, 2018 at 5:13 pm

      I felt exactly the same about The Secret River. It’s a pity because it’s the kind of book I could have liked.

      Summer is doing an encore here, it’s still sunny and warm. I hope you’ll enjoy Wonder Cruise.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. September 22, 2018 at 5:09 pm

    OMG!!!! If I had been to Moscow and not seen literary places I would have died. Literally. I sympathise… 😟😟😟

    Like

    • September 22, 2018 at 5:16 pm

      I was so disappointed. And there are so many of them you need two days to do them all.
      *sigh*
      I need to put it on my bucket list for future trips.
      I imagine that you, of all readers, understands my frustration. Have you ever been to Russia?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. September 22, 2018 at 5:57 pm

    I think I tried a Grenville novel and wasn’t keen. I’ve eyed the cruise book for some time and yes the cover is dreadful. I think they changed the cover at some point. Not an improvement. But if I remember correctly the first cover was awful too.

    Like

    • September 24, 2018 at 8:44 pm

      So I’m really not the only one who had trouble with Grenville.

      This cover of Wonder Cruise is an incredible improvement compared to the kindle one with the awful photo. I let you imagine how dreadful the first one was.

      Like

  6. September 22, 2018 at 6:37 pm

    Shame about the Secret River. I read it earlier this year and enjoyed it – it didn’t feel over elaborated to me sorry.
    What a shame about that Moscow escapade. It’s a fascinating city. I went there in 1979 before Glasnost etc and it was so gloomy. The famed Gum store was little more than an indoor market selling cheap products (black shoes and very large pairs of ladies knickers….). I went back twenty years later and couldn’t believe the transformation – lights everywhere, loads of restaurants and mega traffic jams

    Like

    • September 24, 2018 at 8:42 pm

      The Secret River has a lot of admirers, I’m not surprised you enjoyed it. I didn’t think it was too elaborate, just that it was too long. It was a Book Club read and while the others managed to finish it, they also thought it was too slow, that the story lacked pace.

      It must have been something to be in Moscow during the Soviet Era.
      I walked around at night and was very surprised by all the lights. The building show off with all the lights in the right places.

      Like

      • September 25, 2018 at 10:16 am

        hope you get a chance to see more on your next trip, I highly recommend the crown jewels collection in the Kremlin armoury

        Liked by 1 person

        • September 25, 2018 at 1:24 pm

          thanks. That’s good to know.

          Like

  7. September 23, 2018 at 12:42 pm

    It’s a shame you didn’t get to see what you wanted in Moscow, you’ll just have to go back!

    Like

    • September 24, 2018 at 8:38 pm

      I guess I’ll have to put Visit Moscow on my bucket list!

      Like

  8. September 23, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    Thanks for the link. I’m glad you enjoyed. The sad thing – this cover is way better than mine but still nothing you want to be caught with. I remover telling the edito about the reactions of me and my blog readers and they were rather miffed. It is an improvement. Once upon a time a was on a train in France. An English couple got wine from a guy with a little trolley, upon drinking the can of wine!, she said:”Not bad for a French wine.” What you said about the food on the cruise reminded me of that. 🙂
    Too bad about the Grenville and Moscow, of course.

    Like

    • September 24, 2018 at 8:37 pm

      This cover is beautiful compared to the other with the awful photo.
      Funny anecdote about wine on the train, probably not the best place to pick wine anyway. I’m always surprised that people feel the need to consume alcohol on the train or on planes.

      About Grenville and Moscow *sigh*

      Like

  9. September 23, 2018 at 10:02 pm

    Ha, ha, alternative universe indeed about the Frenchman booking on a British cruise to eat English food. Also, French table manners are impeccable on the whole…

    Like

    • September 24, 2018 at 8:48 pm

      It made me laugh, to be honest. What a strange idea to create such a character.

      Like

  10. September 23, 2018 at 10:03 pm

    And I hear you (and feel sorry for you) about the business trip to Moscow. I remember quite a few of those trips, often without leaving the meeting room at all…

    Like

    • September 24, 2018 at 8:34 pm

      It’s frustrating. I wish I could have come the weekend before and visit the city.
      What’s the English for “J’aurais aimé en profiter pour…”. It feels like there’s no real equivalent, in the sense of “make the most of” and not in a negative way.

      Like

      • September 25, 2018 at 9:15 am

        I know exactly what you mean. We have the exact same expression in Romanian. I am finding more and more untranslatable terms which I am almost tempted to use in the original language, except it would sound pretentious.

        Like

  11. September 25, 2018 at 7:17 am

    The only business trip I ever did to Europe was to Copenhagen. I’d studied science history and walked from the city to see Tycho’s house/observatory but it was Feb and closed for Winter. I did take a day trip to ‘Elsinore’ though. I’m not a fan of Grenville. Try too hard is right. The criticism she got in Australia was for imposing a C21st viewpoint on C19th black/white interactions. Still, I think it’s often a set text in schools.

    Like

    • September 25, 2018 at 1:23 pm

      Bill, your current worklife is a permanent business trip! 🙂

      I’ve been to Elsinore too, there’s a Literary Escapade about it on my blog.

      Re-Grenville. I’m not surprised it’s read in school: I suppose it’s meant to be educational. And its political correctness is perfect.

      Like

  12. September 25, 2018 at 11:56 am

    I’ve been to Moscow for work but only got one stroll late at night which I took to Red Square. A solitary drunk slowly marched across it, feet swinging high. The guards didn’t react, possibly because it was far, far below freezing.

    So I sympathise.

    Sometimes one does just get a bad run. I often find a bit of light relief quite useful if I’ve had a couple of books one hasn’t taken to. It’s necessary just to refresh oneself I think.

    Love the idea of the Frenchman taking an English gastronomic trip. The London food scene is very good these days, but that’s a this-century thing and most of it isn’t actually English food (the home food having got so bad left room for other, better food to come in).

    Like

    • September 25, 2018 at 1:30 pm

      I figured you’d been to Moscow given your line of work. Lots of gaz related contracts, I suppose.
      Like you, I’ve done a stroll at night and that’s it. There were more people though as the weather was lovely.

      Re-English food.
      The traditional one has a terrible reputation, I’m afraid. I don’t think this Frenchman got to eat Indian cuisine on this ship. There’s a good chance it was all stews and jelly. 🙂 English cakes and pies are usually very good though. Maybe this character had a sweet tooth.

      Like

  13. September 26, 2018 at 4:52 pm

    Sorry to hear about Moscow, Emma!

    Hmm, I’ve never thought of free and thorough mastication or elbow-spiking as distinctly French eating traits. Maybe the French people I’ve eaten with in the past are not distinctly French enough 😉

    Like

    • September 30, 2018 at 8:55 pm

      Me neither, I have to say. Who knows where she got this idea?

      Like

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