January, in an attempt to stave off the winter blues (it worked only while reading), I hit the Muriel Spark and Barbara Pym pretty hard. Spark is sharp as a knife and comedic with it, her characters never over-egged but perfectly encapsulated in a few telling phrases or actions. From the alternately fastitious and chaotic batchelors to the careless, slightly ruthless, young women fighting for their place and purpose in the world.
Pym is so often overlooked as a "tea and curates" author, producing the sort of books where nothing much happens, spinsters lose their heads over men of cloth and emotions are kept firmly in check. In truth, she can be as sharp as Spark, unpitying and clear-sighted, her characters in the unyeilding crosshairs of her gaze. A sentence will slip in as cleanly as a blade. There is a reason Philip Larkin rated her so highly.
Cockfosters was disappointing. Not as funny and riotous as Helen Simpson's first collection, Four Bare Legs in a Bed. Now, that's a joyous read.
January Reading: the final chapter of Love of Country by Madeleine Bunting; Cockfosters by Helen Simpson; The Batchelors and Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark; Excellent Women, Jane & Prudence and An Academic Question by Barbara Pym.
More Pym, more comfort, more funny in February as I read my way through the strorms and floods that hit our region. Luckily, we live far enough away from the river to not be affected, and the relentless rain gave a decent excuse to curl up on the sofa and read away. All the way across to America in fact: Armistead Maupin is a big favourite of mine. Funny, irreverent, delighting in shocking the reader but always with heart firmly engaged.
Fish Bowl is hilarious: scenes from a city high rise seen by a goldfish falling from a bowl. Touching, thoughtful, well paced and a thorough joy. Thoroughly recommended.
However, not every book was a joy and I was disappointed in Devil's Day, especially as I had high hopes of it. Hurley's The Loney was utterly brilliant, the tension ratcheted up page by well written page. However, Devil's Day irritated me with the narrator's treatment of his wife. And he was supposed to be the good guy! Finished but was angry for most of it. Doesn't make it a bad book, just makes it an irritating one, like an itchy label inside your top.
February reading: Compton Hodnet by Barbara Pym; Further Tales of the City and Significant Others by Armistead Maupin; The Wild Places by Robert McFarlane; Devil's Day by Andrew Michael Hurley; The Dry by Jane Harper; Fish Bowl by Bradley Somer.