Monday, 20 April 2015

What I've been reading

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Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account
by Miklós Nyiszli
"A Hungarian Jew and a medical doctor, Dr. Miklós Nyiszli was spared from death for a grimmer fate: to perform 'scientific research' on his fellow inmates as a research pathologist under the supervision of the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele."
My goodness, this book was difficult to read. The author describes what happened in Auschwitz, what he saw, heard and experienced, and it is more direct and real than any other account I have read. Of course we know what went on, but this brought home the cruelty and the scale of the killing - thousands upon thousands of human beings murdered every day, week after week, month after month. I could only manage to read about two chapters at a time. But we must remember these events, for although it seems inconceivable that such a crime could be repeated, it did happen once, and nobody then thought it conceivable until it was upon them.

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Queen Lucia
by E. F. Benson

narrated by Nadia May
"England between the wars was a paradise of utter calm and leisure for the very, very rich. But into this enclave is born Mrs. Emmeline Lucas - La Lucia, as she is known - a woman determined to lead a life quite different from the pomp and subdued nature of her class."
Unfortunately the village is populated by shallow small-minded pretentious snobs, except for the lovely and sensible Olga who settles in their midst and brings a welcome dose of reality to the ludicrous 'romps' and dinner parties and garden parties with which the residents occupy themselves. There are some wonderful characterisations though, narrated to perfection. I particularly loved Mrs Weston in her bath chair with her long-winded accounts of who said what and when they said it. But Lucia herself is awful, and her friend and rival Daisy Quantock is just as bad, and Georgie Pillson not much better. Time will tell whether I am inclined to read more in the series...

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Maid in Waiting
by John Galsworthy
"The Cherrells are cousins by marriage to the Forsytes. When Elizabeth 'Dinny' Cherrell's brother faces extradition to South America, falsely accused of murder, and her cousin is threatened by her mentally unstable husband, Dinny does everything she can to shield them from harm."
This is the seventh book of the nine in the series, and moves away from the Forsyte family, although Fleur still features. Galsworthy writes very sound women as well as men, and the women in this book are at least as important as the men, and much more interesting. It's also fascinating to read how upper class families of the day had access to powerful government officials if they knew the right people - the Home Secretary in this case - and yet complain how they are not given any special status in the eyes of the law: "... one must be careful not to give an impression of favouring privilege -" "I think that's so unfair," interrupted Dinny, hotly.

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Thank You, Jeeves
by P. G. Wodehouse

narrated by Jonathan Cecil
"The manager of the building in central London has issued an ultimatum to either give up the music or clear out, and Jeeves resigns over Bertie's dedicated but somewhat untuneful playing of the banjolele. In high dudgeon, Bertie disappears to the country as a guest of his chum Chuffy."
I'm gradually working my way through the Wodehouse books - this is the first he wrote featuring Jeeves and Wooster, and it is heart-warming that the relationship between the two seems so strong and yet completely understated. Wooster is an ass as usual, and Jeeves saves the day, and they are together at the end and What Ho! all is well with the world.

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A Study in Scarlet
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

narrated by Simon Vance
"Dr. John Watson, discharged from military service after suffering severe wounds, is at a loose end until a chance encounter leads him to take rooms with a remarkable young man. The arrogant, irascible Sherlock Holmes is a master chemist, a talented musician, and an expert on all aspects of crime."
I've invested in the Complete Sherlock Holmes in one audiobook - 58 hours of narration, and tremendous value when you have a yearly subscription. This is the first of all his books, and I've read it many times before, although it struck me this time that Mormons are portrayed very negatively indeed. I didn't check before I bought the whole omnibus, but Simon Vance is a fine narrator, so that's good.

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The Girls of Slender Means
by Muriel Spark

narrated by Juliet Stevenson
"It is 1945; a time of cultural and political change, and also one of slender means. Spark's evocative and sharply drawn novel focuses on a group of women living together in a hostel in Kensington who face new challenges in uncertain times."
Not a long book, and I was a bit concerned about choosing it because I was so disappointed by Memento Mori, but it turned out well. It is set immediately after the war, when London was a mess of bomb damage, everything was rationed and people were somewhat traumatised. The description of a young ladies' hostel in Kensington was perfect, the characters drawn with care and attention, even if there wasn't much of a story to be told.

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The Sign of Four
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

narrated by Simon Vance
"As a dense yellow fog swirls through the streets of London, a deep melancholy has descended on Sherlock Holmes, who sits in a cocaine-induced haze at 221B Baker Street. His mood is only lifted by a visit from a beautiful but distressed young woman - Mary Morstan, whose father vanished ten years before."
Second of the Sherlock Holmes books, and a little pedestrian in its pace and length. Darkly atmospheric though, reprising Holmes' violin playing and introducing his cocaine habit, Watson's eventual wife, and all sorts of exotic travelling types and natives of far-flung islands. The narrator really is good.

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Arsène Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar
by Maurice Leblanc

narrated by B. J. Harrison
"Witty and urbane, Lupin stole from the rich through elaborate capers and gave to the poor in bursts of generosity. An inventive genius, a master of disguise and an accomplished actor, Lupin operates in the choice chateaux and salons."
I hadn't heard of this character, who might be described as the French Sherlock Holmes except that he is on the side of the baddies. It's not a bad read, and the great Holmes even makes an appearance in the last story - a little surreal, when one fictional character comments on another created by a completely different author.

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