Thursday, 4 June 2015

What I've been reading

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The Miniaturist
by Jessie Burton
"On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. Her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. But Nella's world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home."
This started well - it has been a while since I read a book that felt so much like a novel, set in an unfamiliar place and time with proper characterisation. In fact until I found the summary above I hadn't realised it was in the 17th century; it felt more like the 19th (but that's a small point). Anyway, on the whole it was a good read, my only criticism being that the mystery of the cabinet and the miniaturist was never resolved to my satisfaction; other readers may find the lack of resolution perfectly fine.

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Paradise Postponed
by John Mortimer

narrated by Paul Shelley
"When Simeon Simcox, a socialist clergyman, leaves his entire fortune not to his family but to the ruthless, social-climbing Tory MP Leslie Titmuss, the Rector's two sons react in very different ways."
I wasn't sure I liked this book when I was half way through, mostly because of the way that he writes the character of the aspiring, calculating and cynical Leslie Titmuss. A perfect politician, Leslie is quite open about how he manipulates the family of the chair of the local Conservative association - for example, he marries their daughter by the ruse of pretending that she is pregnant. The Rector's family is equally well described but slightly more attractive, and the mystery of the will was just enough to keep my interest alive in the face of the unattractive characters portrayed.

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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

narrated by Simon Vance
"A colonel receives five seeds in the mail, and dies within weeks. A young bride disappears immediately after her wedding. An old hat and a Christmas goose are the only clues to a stolen jewel. These mysteries - and many more - are brought to the house on Baker Street where detective Sherlock Holmes resides."
A nice set of short stories, some well-remembered (the speckled band, the copper beeches) and others I'd forgotten. Have I mentioned that the narrator is rather good? I've listened to only 18 hours of the massive 58-hour set of books; plenty left to enjoy!

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The Return of the Soldier
by Rebecca West

narrated by Nadia May
"Captain Chris Baldry, a World War I soldier, is sent home with a severe case of shellshock amnesia. Recoiling from the horrors of war and disillusioned with years of superficial married life, his mind has regressed 15 years into the past."
This is a short book, but beautifully and poetically written, The soldier in question has returned from war with shell shock in the form of amnesia, and remembers nothing of the past 15 years in which he lost the love of his life, married a different woman, and had a son who died. His wife is appalled at his wish to be reunited with the woman he had loved before her, not least because she is dowdy and ugly. But it isn't the story that drew me in, it's the gorgeous quality of the writing; words to conjure sunlight, shade, beauty, love and war.

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