Books of the Month – May 2012
This has been a month where I haven’t really managed to read very much, and I’m not at all sure why. But what I have read has been worth reading.
Towards the End of the Morning by Michael Frayn
Set on Fleet Street during the middle of the 20th century, this book is both highly amusing and rather sad. It shows the newspaper industry at the end of it golden years, seen through the eyes of a few characters who work in an insignificant department, responsible for dreaming up crosswords and similarly cutting-edge parts of their publication (though they, of course, believe themselves to be dynamic journalists). The characters are all deeply flawed, and Frayn draws them in such a way that you laugh at them, then are moved to feel sympathetic for them, even John Dyson, the pompous fool who is trying to make his name on television. The disastrous press trip to the Persian Gulf which takes up much of the final few chapters of the book is a masterpiece of farcical writing. An intriguing glimpse into a different time and world, this novel is decidedly worth reading.
Identity Theft by John Andrews
With the subtitle ‘Finding the missing person in you’, this is a Christian book about personal identity – both the general identity of a Christian as a child of God and individual identity. This latter aspect is welcome, as a lot of Christian writing seems to imply that we are all turned out of the same mould and should be a homogeneous mass of identikit people. This book sets out the reasons, both Biblical and otherwise, why this shouldn’t be the case, and encourages the readers to acknowledge both aspects of their identity. I found the book challenging and encouraging, and have gone back to the beginning to read it again in the hope that I’ll actually remember what’s written here and live it out.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
This month’s book group book (though yet again I missed book group night). I have seen the stage musical based on the book before and caught a mixed adaptation on television recently, but had never got round to reading it. I didn’t find it one of Dickens’ best books, to be honest, though perhaps my feelings would have been different if he had finished the story before he died. The chief problem is that the characters do not, for the most part, feel quite so vitally alive as his characters normally do. Some of them, particularly Mrs Crisparkle and Durdles, are beautifully described, but there is a spark missing. The big question of the book is this – what is the mystery? Dickens made it clear in some letters that the obvious suspect is indeed the culprit, and all the clues are laid out quite clearly (for the reader if not for any of the characters yet). So for me the mystery is how the guilty party will be brought to justice or who the disguised detective Dick Datchery really is (my money is on Bazzard, though that is again the obvious choice). The mystery could be unravelled if everyone sat down and talked to each other, as each person holds a vital clue, but the likelihood of getting such different people as Rosa Budd and Princess Puffer in the same room would be rather unlikely. Reading Dickens is never a bad thing, but there are definitely better ones out there. Oddly, leaving the novel midway doesn’t seem hugely frustrating.
So not the most impressive list of reads this month. In terms of impact, Identity Theft has been my most valued read, but Towards the End of the Morning wins in terms of enjoyment.