Sunday, March 18, 2012

Recent Reads - March 2012

Dickens by Claire Tomalin

Worthy, but more a chronological list of his doings than an attempt to grapple with the man inside. He was obviously a domestic ogre in many ways and he certainly treated his unloved wife badly. He relentlessly pursued his bachelor interests, mostly drinking and eating with male companions, just the odd bit of whoring. What a hard worker though - from his early blacking factory days to the unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood on which he was working up to his death.

Zona by Geoff Dyer

More up its arse than a lot of Dyer’s work. Tarkovsky is a very esoteric dish whose delights are apparent only to a few. A whole book describing a very inaccessible film is a brave move. Especially a film that involves lacunae connected by non-sequiturs. Still there’s his reflections on threesomes that didn’t happen and other amusing Dyer tropes.

Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder

Maybe I’ve been reading too much of this historical atrocity porn (Stalin, Heydrich, Mao, Pol Pot – I’ve read them all and weeped) as this seemed all too familiar to me. Snyder focuses on what happened in Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic states so we hear again of the Katyn Woods massacres, Stalin’s starving of the Ukraine in 1933 and his wholesale slaughter during the Great Terror in 1937-38. Hitler's contribution was the mass murder of Polish Jews and the Hunger Plan whereby he starved Russian peasants and prisoners of war - but he never came near to emulating the scale of Stalin's atrocities. Incidentally Snyder collaborated with the late great Tony Judt on the latter's final work published recently.

Larkin’s The Complete Poems edited by Archie Burnett:

A book for dipping into. Purists may complain about the inclusion of juvenilia and pieces extracted from letters. These are often sub-standard, scatological, and politically incorrect but there are some choice lines. The very detailed annotations were revealing. I unearthed such gems as as the fact that the Dolmen Press in Ireland turned down his masterpiece collection “The Less Deceived”. While the founder Liam Miller liked it, Thomas Kinsella found it “too sexy and too self-pitying”. For shame Tom, and you not worthy to lace his brogues.