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Search tags: mainstream-fiction
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text 2019-03-18 22:27
Reading progress update: I've read 30%. - what happened to these people?
Quartet in Autumn - Barbara Pym

Letty, the most vibrant of the bunch sees herself as an involuntary maiden, caught on a tide of history. She sees herself as part of a generation of women cheered by war of their opportunity to meet and marry, as if she’d missed a bus and was now doomed to walk.

 

Marcia is mentally ill, a condition either brought on by her mascectomy or worsened by it.

 

Edwin and Normam are so slightly drawn it’s hard to know who they are e c’est that they seem hollow men with low expectations that they still often fail to meet.

 

The flipping from head to head without resting in makes this a little like watching a reality TV show with the quartet of people like animals in a zoo with the author providing the narrative.

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text 2019-03-17 19:29
Reading progress update: I've read 15%.
Quartet in Autumn - Barbara Pym

I haven’t been able to spend the time I intend to on this bk this weekend so I’m only three chapters in.

 

its not fun.

 

I’m not enjoying the shifting points of view. Letty I understand.  The others are harder to empathize with. I get to spend relatively little time in their heads and, apart from the degradations of aging, I’m struggling to connect.

 

These seem to be dreary people living dream lives that will soon be over.

 

The experience of moving from “Ecellent Women” to “Quartet In Autumn” is like moving from “Pride And Préjudice” to “Mansfield Park”: disappointing 

 

 

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text 2019-03-15 17:05
Reading progress update: I've read 9%.
Quartet in Autumn - Barbara Pym I started "Quartet in Autumn" today and already I can feel he kind of resonance that Wanda referred to in her review

 

I'm the same age as these and wondering what I do next.

 

As I followed Lettie to a hurried, solitary lunch in a restaurant crowded with other solitary people in a hurry, I felt a moment of recognition. I've done this often (although, as this isn't 70's England, I haven't eaten in places that serve "macaroni au gratin and chips"). I've never gotten the knack of connecting with people. My first instinct is to act as if I'm all alone in this crowded room. So I felt sympathy for this small incident in Lettie's day. Lettie is seated, eating her meal when a woman takes a seat at her table:

 

She looked up, perhaps about to venture a comment on price increases, pale, bluish eyes troubled about VAT . Then, discouraged by Letty’s lack of response, she lowered her glance, decided on macaroni au gratin with chips and a glass of water. The moment had passed. Letty picked up her bill and got up from the table. For all her apparent indifference she was not unaware of the situation.

 

Somebody had reached out towards her. They could have spoken and a link might have been forged between two solitary people. But the other woman, satisfying her first pangs of hunger, was now bent rather low over her macaroni au gratin. It was too late for any kind of gesture. Once again Letty had failed to make contact.

 

I know exactly what that failure feels like.

 

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review 2019-02-22 23:08
"Travels With My Aunt" by Graham Greene - An amusing entertainment that becomes something more ambiguous
Travels with My Aunt - Graham Greene
My wife and I both had vague but positive memories of having read "Travels With My Aunt" way back in the last century so we decided to give the audiobook version a try and refresh our memories.

 

Tim Pigott-Smith is the narrator and he gives a wonderful performance, providing just the right voices for the very wide range of characters in the book and getting the comic timing absolutely right.

 

The book has a strong, humorous start, as our hero encounters his septuagenarian aunt for the first time at his mother's funeral. She makes quite an impression, her larger than life unashamedly Boheme style serving to highlight the dreariness of her nephew's I-used-to-be-a-bank-manager-but-they-made-me-retire-in-my-fifties-and-now-I-tend-dahlias-and-try-not-to-go-quietly-insane way of life.

 

It's such a long time since I read this that I'd remembered some of the incidents from Aunt Agatha's life as short stories, without associating them with this book. She has some great stories and has had much practice in telling them. They reminded me of sherbet lemons, brittle and shiny on the outside but with a sugary-yet-bitter centre that leaves you wanting more.

 

I suspect my (much, much) younger self also failed to work out what exactly our hero's aunt did for a living until much later in the book than it became apparent this time. I was probably as slow as her somewhat dense nephew to work it out.

 

The first couple of journeys with his aunt, physical journeys and journeys into her remembered past, sparkled. Then we hit the 1960s version of the Orient Express and took a trip to Istambul. The train was drab and dreary and seemed to sap the energy from the chapters describing it.

 

The pace picked up again in Istambul but the novel never really recovered its sparkle. It is from this point on that our hero starts to lose his innocence.

 

In the hands of another writer, this stripping away of innocent assumptions and conclusions could have been joyous for everyone involved, with our hero being liberated from a conventional life by a life-affirming aunt. It seemed to me that Graham Greene decided to story in a different direction. Our retired bank manager has always followed the path of least resistance. Once this meant living up to the expectations of his employer and his clients, now it means living up to the expectations of his Aunt. His level of agency remains the same.

 

While I found the ending quite credible, I also found them dispiriting and slightly sleazy. It's as if Greene couldn't help adding the perception of sin to what could have been innocent fun.

 

I'm glad we re-read the book. I enjoyed listening to Tim Pigott-Smith but I found the book a bit patchy and slightly disappointing.
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text 2019-02-11 22:50
Reading progress update: I've read 51%.
Travels with My Aunt - Graham Greene

The 1960s version of the Orient Express sounds drab and dreary. Sadly, it seems to have sapped the energy from the last chapter or so, which has definitely lost its sparkle. 

 

I'm hoping things get better in Istanbul.

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