More book stuff:The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (James Hogg): This is a strange book. I picked it up under the “Classics” section of the £3 book shop and decided to give it a go. Set in Scotland at the beginning of the 18th century, it was first published anonymously in 1824, as if it were the presentation of a found document from the previous century offered to the public with a long introduction by its unnamed author. Many of the events of the novel are narrated twice; first by the 'editor', who gives his account of the facts as he understands them to be, and then in the words of the 'sinner' himself.
It’s been described as a “study of religious fanaticism through its deeply critical portrait of the Calvinist concept of predestination” – a mix of madness, the supernatural, and religious intolerance! Despite the book’s fictitious nature, it does provide a haunting reminder of the Spanish Inquisition of the 15th century or, indeed, the radical Islamist group, the Islamic State (IS) of today in huge expanses of eastern Syria and across northern and western Iraq.
A Delicate Truth (John Le Carre): This is our next Book Group book. I think it’s only the second Le Carre novel I’ve read. Amongst other things, this book is about the shadowy, apparently ever-expanding world of non-government insiders from banking, industry and commerce who have influence within the UK government. It might be fiction, but you get a firm sense of reality when it comes to descriptions of mandarins within the Foreign Office and dealings with influential, but unethical, private companies – especially those with interests in the arms trade. Morality (or lack of it) and conscience is at the heart of this novel - and a firm sense that politicians are betraying all of us. I enjoyed it, despite being left with a feeling that it was very formulaic in nature and simply the last of Le Carre’s production line (which is probably very unfair!).
Lucia’s Progress (EF Benson): My fifth Benson “Mapp+Lucia” book (written in the 1920s and set in Rye). Beautifully observed. Funny... and all the other things I’ve written about the previous books in the series. Very pleasurable reading.
Italian Ways (Tim Parks): Writer Tim Parks, an Englishman, has lived in Italy for the past 30 years. This is a book about Italy, about Italians and about Italian railways. I’ve not a travel book… and, yet, perhaps it is. More than anything, it’s a charming, really rather lovely, gentle, amusing book about Italian ways… from the very good and the appalling bad barmen serving coffee in Milan station to the unfathomable depths of railway timetables (and trains) in Sicily. I loved it.
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Benedicta Ward): This is a book of sayings of fourth century ascetics who fled to the desert to live out their Christian faith… and who were sought out by admirers for counsel. It’s a remarkable book about the desert fathers’ vision, courage, endurance and integrity. But, at times, it’s also completely bizarre and contains impenetrable (for me) and sometimes completely nonsensical (again for me!) snippets of “wisdom”. One of those books I’ll continue to dip into over the coming years.