1984 (George Orwell): I’d read this book a couple of times before – once in the early 1970s and then again in 1982/3 – and decided that it was time for another re-read (but it’s a bit scary to realise that a book you thought you’d ‘recently’ read turns out to be 35 years ago!). Two ‘new’ realisations immediately struck me before I’d even finished the first page… the first was that the book was first published in 1949 (the year of my birth) and the second describes Winston Smith as having a “varicose ulcer above his right ankle” (just like me at the present time!). Spooky! I think I found reading it this time even more powerful/disturbing than before… the world of the internet is now very much a central feature of our existence and, with it, we seem to have instant access to ‘everything’. It’s also a world where facebook and google (for example) know our likes and dislikes; know about our political leanings; know how old we are and where we live… It’s also a world where, for many people it seems, the media controls what and how they think (The Daily Mail and the Sun newspapers, for example!?). It’s also provided us, thanks to social media, with our own artificial world of similar-minded people – whilst, at the same time, there are other artificial worlds of people who have utterly different values and beliefs… not to mention ‘fake news’, of course! Orwell’s picture of an egalitarian Utopia is both brilliant and frightening. Nearly 70 years on, it remains utterly compelling and hugely impressive.
Act of Passion (Georges Simenon): First published in 1947, this is only the second Georges Simenon book I’ve read. The cover of my paperback copy says he’s “deservedly famous for his exact studies of the minds of madmen and murderers”… and the comment certainly applies to this book. It’s cast in the form of a long, pathetic letter addressed from prison to the examining magistrate in a murder case. The prisoner, a doctor, strangled his mistress and struggles to explain just why he was forced to “kill the thing he loves”… why the act was rational and why he must repudiate any suggestion of madness. The magistrate, he is sure, will understand. Believe me, if I’d been the magistrate, I’d have stopped reading the letter after just a few pages! Nevertheless, it’s an intriguing (albeit shocking) account of control, violence and, ultimately, madness.
The Clock Winder (Anne Tyler): First published in 1972 and set in Baltimore, the novel tells the story of a young woman who, while taking time away from college to earn a little money, ends up finding herself, somewhat bizarrely, being taken on by a recently-widowed woman (and the mother of seven grown children) as a handyman. The story, which spans 14 years, addresses the young woman’s relationship with the widow and then the relationship between her and several of the widow's children. They end up changing each other's lives in fundamental ways. Hauntingly impressive… I probably need to read more of Tyler’s books.
Realms Of Glory (Catherine Fox): This is the final book of Catherine Fox’s Lindchester trilogy. Fictional tales about the Anglican Church might not sound particularly appealing but, take my word for it, Fox has the wonderful ability to convey poignant insights about the C of E (warts and all) in a way that are full of grace, kindness and hilarity. This book is set during the months of 2016 (post-Brexit, Trump, Syria, foodbanks etc). She’s a first class writer and I’ve greatly enjoyed all three of her books (thanks to Moira’s initial recommendation). Anyone with even a slight acquaintance of the Anglican Church will probably recognise some of the characters portrayed, but such knowledge is no prerequisite for being able to enjoy her books. I thoroughly recommend all three of them.