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Warning –  Make sure you’re in the mood for cynicism of the deepest, darkest kind before embarking on this read.  More importantly, if you’re coming to this after enjoying Koch’s The Dinner, you will miss the charm. This will take you to places you may find tasteless and revolting ….

…. but, if you’re like me, you will keep reading regardless.

Why?  A fascination with the medical profession, particularly with doctors behaving badly.

The narrator, Marc Schlosser, is a successful GP, a man with no real interest in his celebrity clients, but he knows how to dispense an illusion of professional care. While he may be hiding his boorish, and even misanthropic thoughts from his patients, he’s not afraid of revealing all to the reader.  That includes medical details that maybe you’d rather not know, together with the chilling ease with which a doctor can make a patient cross the thin line between life and death.

So, when his most famous client dies of cancer, and his wife accuses him of murder, the question to be answered is was this a case of medical negligence or something more sinister?

All is revealed as the story of a shared holiday unfolds: a tawdry tale of hedonistic, celebrity lifestyle, moral ambiguity and dubious motives during which the reader’s sympathometer to Schlosser swings ever lower. It’s not until the inevitable tragedy happens to one of his own, that we begin to see a genuine, kinder side to him.

There will be repercussions and it’s very unlikely that the sympathometer will retain a positive reading, given that Koch specialises in the nasty side of human nature.  Schlosser’s voice is relentless and his pretensions and self-delusion grandiose. I did, however, enjoy the irony that came with an eye injury, details of which are not for the squeamish.  The injury temporarily renders Schlosser sightless in one eye, just as he can only half see the perpetrator of the holiday crime.  When his sight is restored, his inner eye reveals the answer.  He has no idea that he has been hoodwinked and that he is about to make the biggest misjudgment of his life …..

This is a deeply unpleasant tale, possibly – no, definitely – not in the best possible taste, but I did enjoy it.  Life isn’t always sunny, not even in a summer house with a swimming pool.

3stars.GIF

 

If the evidence presented by the picture of books read during the last two months is anything to go by, I’ve been busy!

Highlights – May saw me take part on Kim’s Australia and New Zealand Literature month and I travelled to London to attend the IFFP award ceremony.  I haven’t enjoyed myself online as much for ages (#germanlitmonth excepted) as I did during June’s #bookaday event on twitter.  Further adventure as I made a quick trip to the Hebrides both reading wise and in real life.

July will see me blogging about that – in fact, given that the world’s eyes (well, the Commonwealth’s at least) will be turning towards Glasgow (a mere hop, skip and a jump away from my Lanarkshire base), there will follow an impromptu Scottish lit fortnight in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games.  Starting Monday 7th.  Just because ….

July is also Spanish Literature Month (hosted by Richard and Stu) which gives me a bit of a dilemma.  If you’ve seen the Edinburgh International Book Festival programme, you could almost say there’s a mini Spanish lit fest going on.  I’m hoping to attend events featuring Cercas, Laub, Neuman, Vila-Matas and legendary translator Margaret Jull Costa.  So I will be reading plenty of Spanish lit during July, but may not review until after the events in August. We’ll see whether time permits some none #edbookfest reads.. Surely I can slot in a couple of short stories somewhere ….

Time for the final batch of #bookaday nominations.   I really enjoyed myself this month – taking time out to reflect on some favourites and others  not so much so,  instead of constantly chasing to review the next new thing.  #bookaday will continue as #bookadayuk for the foreseeable future and I’ll continue to play on twitter.  See you there?

For now though, let’s complete #bookaday June 2014 in orderly fashion.  Scroll down for previous entries.

June 23 – Made to read at school

That phrase implies something negative and so, here’s the book that tortured me at German A-level.  Call Don Carlos what you will.  I have. Many, many times.

 

Apologies to Schiller.  The companion play in the pictured volume, Mary Stuart, is superb.

 

June 24 – Hooked me into reading

My teachers didn’t always get it wrong and this O-level English literature choice was inspirational.   It showed me just how great the best literature can be and ensured I became a lifelong bookworm.

 

Of course, To Kill A Mockingbird is now banned from the English Literature syllabus, as post-1914 titles must be British. Parochialism rules! Where would we be without the astute wisdom of our politicians?

June 25 – Never finished it

I was surprised at the shame many tweeters felt at not finishing their nomination in this category.  Not me.   9-pages of that Irish novel, Uly-something, was more than enough. 

 

June 26 – Should have sold more copies

Title changes occur between editions to boost sales, and I hear such is mooted for my favourite from Peirene Press.

 

Please, Peirene. Please don’t come up with something as inappropriate as Witch Hunt, the singularly awful and misleading title that was inflicted on the paperback edition of Susan Fletcher’s superb Corrag.

 

June 27 –  Want to be one of the characters

i’m very specific about this.  I want to be Natasha in Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  Her fiancé, Prince Andrey Bolkonsky, has been my literary crush since forever.

June 28 – Bought at my favourite independent bookshop

“Meandering in Marylebone” has become a euphenism for visiting the legendary Daunt’s Books in Marylebone High Street. I never exit that shop with bank balance intact.  Fortunately I live 387 miles away.  This was the purchase I made in May.

 

June 29 – Most reread

English O-level teacher 5 (To Kill A Mockingbird) German A-level teacher 5 (Effi Briest) 

 

June 30 – Would save in a fire

Me, mine and, assuming there’s time, my photograph albums.  My books can be replaced, memories cannot.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in France lately in the company of Inspector Maigret.  I’m all up-to-date with the Penguin reissues (and my piece will be appearing in the next issue of Shiny New Books).  It seems though that France is a very popular destination with 3 other recently read crime novels set there.  Let’s start at the beginning and if I get my Normandy mixed up with my Brittany, forgive me.  I’m beginning to lose my bearings.

Death In Pont-Aven – Jean-Luc Bannalec

Bretonische Verhältnisse translated from German by Sorcha McDonagh

The first in a new series establishes its literary credentials on page one.  Firstly in the name of its detective – Dupin – it is following in the footsteps of Edgar Allen Poe’s creation, and secondly with a nod to Maigret.  Bannalec’s Dupin is drinking his coffee in the Amiral in Concarneau, the Breton village which appeared in Simenon’s The Yellow Dog.  Where Maigret’s visit to Brittany was fleeting, Dupin’s stay will be longer.  He has been relocated to this remote backwater due to certain disputes. (We never find out why in this volume – perhaps it will become clear, later in the series?) Still there are certain other similarities with Maigret – his bulky physique, his love of coffee, and his modus operandi – he prefers to be alone to work things out.  Dupin’s misfortune is that he is a modern detective and that comes with all the pre-requisite apparatus – a team, forensics, press intrusion.  He is not allowed to operate alone, but he skirts that issue when he can, much to the irritation of his team.

Things are quiet until the day Dupin is called from his coffee and croissants in the Amiral to the scene of the brutal stabbing of the amiable 91-year old hotelier Pierre-Louis Pennec.  Investigations into the last days of the victim’s life reveal that he knew he was living on borrowed time, and he had arranged to change his will.  Motive, motive, motive, except that all suspects and potential heirs are reconciled to the change which involves a precious painting.

Cue link to the artists’ colony in Pont-Aven and the undiscovered Gauguin that lies at the heart of this mystery.  A thoroughly enjoyable seam involving art experts and the mechanisms they use to establish a painting’s authenticity. So too, the details regarding the Breton landscape.  The author is half-Breton, so landscape and cultural detail are lovingly drawn and the nod in the original German title. Just one word of warning – those cliffs can be dangerous as the second victim discovers ….

 

Dog Will Have His Day – Fred Vargas 

Un peu plus loin sur la droite translated from French by Sîan Reynolds

Bannaluc’s second victim shares the same fate as the first in the latest translation from Vargas’s back catalogue.  The second installment in her Three Evangelists series has taken its time getting to the English audience.  It was originally published in 1996! Circuitous too the path to the murderer.  No-one even realises there’s been a murder until a dog does his business in a Parisian park and, Kehlweiler, an eccentric intellectual with a pet toad, spots a bone in it.  Time to bring in a former housemate, one of Vargas’s Three Evangelists, a specialist in prehistoric bones.  He declares it to be a human toe.

Vargas is nothing if not quirky and how this discovery leads to a body at the bottom of the Breton cliffs is both bizarre and surreal, and one you won’t find in any other writer. Nor the characters – one eccentric after the next: the network of old people and tramps that Kehlweiler uses to track down the offending dog, the typewriter restorer plus Kehlweiler and toad.  For all the eccentricity, there is a nasty crime at the centre involving long-hidden secrets … and something even nastier from the days of Vichy France. All of which is uncovered because the dog had his day ….

Cold Winter In Bordeaux – Allan Massie

Talking of Vichy France, the third in Allan Massie’s quartet takes us to the winter of 1942-3.  At the front the war is turning against the Germans though there’s no relaxation of the iron fist in Bordeaux.  Superintendent Lannes is under pressure to collaborate with the deportation of the Jews and the new German supervisor won’t countenance the passive-aggressive delaying tactics hitherto employed.  Lannes is on the edge in other ways also:   One son happily serves the Vichy government,  the other has left home to join De Gaulle’s Free French, his daughter’s romance with a Fully-fledged collaborator  leaves him uncomfortable and his wife’s depression is creating an unbridgable gap in the marriage.  Outside home, the safety of his Jewish friends is under threat and the “rather sweet tart” (as the author described her at Aye Write in March) consorts openly with the Germans.  In the midst of this world gone mad, Lannes tries to remain ethical, particularly during his murder investigations.

This brings us right back to Maigret, who too was concerned with higher justice, not necessarily the law.  Maigret, however, wasn’t operating in Vichy France, and so was not subjected to the external, political and, frankly impossible pressures that Lannes faces on a daily basis – Pressures that create unpalatable realities namely a) it’s not always possible to see justice served (politics gets in the way) and b) Lannes cannot always keep himself on the side of right.

For those who have read the first two in this series (reviewed here), one of the big questions is whether Lannes will actually be allowed to prosecute the murderer of Gabrielle Peniel, who is found dead with a silk stocking round her neck.  His subordinate, Inspector Moncerre, calls it a “pre-war crime”, so there’s every likelihood …..

… provided the events of the war don’t interfere.   As the novel draws to the end, it is becoming increasingly clear that the war has turned, but can it turn quickly enough to ensure the survival of Lannes friends?  And what about those who haven’t exactly struggled against the German yoke?  We know what is to come but Massie’s characters do not.  They really are pinned on the horns of the present and Massie paints them realistically, without judgment, purposely so.  

“I hope so,” he says, “because once you become judgmental, you’re feeling superior to your characters. In novels such as this you are placing your characters in positions that you have never been in yourself, and what you are really asking is, how would you behave in these conditions? And I don’t think you have any right to say I would have behaved much better than they would.” (Interview with The Herald 15.02.14).

Over the course of three novels Massie’s characters have become real and, while they have a growing awareness (hope?) of a German defeat in the offing, we are certain of it and know of the dreadful reprisals that will follow in the Épuration. What I am not sure of is the definition of culpable collaboration, nor how Lannes will fare.  Massie admitted that he was rather worried for his “sweet, little tart”.  Well, I’m terrified on her behalf, and yet, the concluding part of this quartet can’t be published quickly enough.

A Death In Pont-Aven 3stars.GIF / Dog Will Have His Day 3stars.GIF / Cold Winter In Bordeaux 35_stars.GIF

 

The fourth consolidation post for my #bookaday entries on Twitter. (Scroll down for the first three). Are you playing? if so, let me know your choices / leave your twitter handle in comments, so I can follow you.

June 16 Can’t believe more people haven’t read ….

Well, actually I can.  Clara won the 2002 Scottish Saltire Prize and it would appear that it’s not a very well-read prize at all.  I live in Scotland and it took me until 2006 to discover it.  I won’t go into raptures about it again, once is enough.  But if you’re part of #readwomen2014, I recommend you give this a go, both to discover a fantastic Scottish author(ess) and the strong admirable role model of Clara Schumann.

June 17 A Future Classic

What makes a book a classic?  Themes that render it timeless and universal.  I’d say that is true of Ferrante’s novel of childhood and adolescence in 1950s Naples, even if it is firmly fixed in time and place.  When does a book become a classic?  50 years after publication.  If so, then there are still a few years to go for this book, originally published and translated in 2012.  Somehow though, I suspect the 50-year threshold will be relaxed in this case, assuming that hasn’t already happened.

 

June 18 – Bought on a recommendation

I forget who recommended this in a blog comment but whoever it was, please accept my belated thanks.  Sound  the Deep Waters is the coupling of Victorian Romantic Poetry with Pre-Raphaelite paintings. Gorgeous …

 

June 19 –  Can’t stop talking about it 

First read in 1978, in the days when I could read Dutch, and rediscovered in 2007, when it finally appeared in English translation, this is one of the top 10 reads of my life. (Original publication date 1958 – same vintage as myself.  Of course, it’s a good ‘un!)  Only one other Hermans is available in English (Beyond Sleep).  Please, Harvill Secker, could we have some more?  There are plenty to choose from.

 

June 20 – Favourite cover

I love books with lots of books on the cover, and I find books with Cadbury’s chocolate purple covers irresistible.   Most of all, however, I love a luxurious cover.  Cue these splendid brocaded Gaskells from the Folio Society.

 

June 21 – Summer Read

I am most definitely not a swimming pool person, but this is one pool I will be dipping into this summer.  Actually will be diving in right after posting this.

 

June 22 – Out-of-print

I have been searching for a new copy of Little Man, What Now since the beginning of the year.  I’ve searched in Glasgow, Edinburgh and London. Even Daunts in Marylebone didn’t have a copy. They had lots of Falladas, but not this.  It’s a puzzle because I don’t think technically it is out-of-print.  The title is still available for order on the Melville House Press website but $25 p&p is not acceptable.  I now have a copy on loan from the Glasgow Goethe Institute and I need to get cracking if I’m to join in the upcoming discussion on the online book club.

 

The third consolidation post for my #bookaday entries on Twitter. (Scroll down for the first and second.).  Are you playing? if so, let me know your choices / leave your twitter handle in comments, so I can follow you.

 

june 11 – Secondhand Bookshop Gem

Tennyson’s Poems, illustrated by Rossetti.  Bought from @edinburghbooks, one of the best secondhand bookshops in The West Port of Edinburgh.


June 12 – I pretend to have read it.

Pass.  My tweet on this day says it all.  ” I have more than 1500 books in the TBR.  The only pretending I do is that I’ll read them all one day.” 


June 13 – Makes me laugh

Since reading and reviewing in 2009, I have loaned this book a number of times and all readers have reported fits of laughter.  I feel a reread coming on.


June 14 – A Old Favourite

It’s rare for me to keep a foxed edition on my shelves but this 1967 Penguin edition is the one that helped me through my German ‘A’ level. (Cheating?  Maybe, but we’ve all done it.)  Menzel’s cover painting “Die Schwester des Künstlers im Wohnzimmer” is a pure distillation of Effi’s mood.  In fact, when I unexpectedly spotted the painting, which now hangs in the Neue Pinakothek in Munich,  My heart skipped a beat as I thought “Look,there’s Effi!”  The cover has changed now, but I do not like the current one at all.  It lacks all atmosphere.


June 15 – Favourite Fictional Father

How can it be anyone other than Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird?   Loving, principled and courageous. What more can you ask for?

 

 

The second consolidation post for my #bookaday entries on Twitter.  (Scroll down for the first.) Are you playing? if so, let me know your choices / leave your twitter handle in comments, so I can follow you.


June 6 – I one I always give as a gift

Simply because my friends are superheroes …. each and every one.

 

June 7 – The one I forgot I owned

The dangers of double stacking book shelves …. I rediscovered this in the back row during #pushkinpress fortnight as I was searching for the Szerb I decided to read for the event.  Just as well, because I was about to buy it again!

June 8 – I have multiple copies of this.

This category could be renamed the book that launched a new bad habit.    I loved Measuring the World so much that I bought myself Die Vermessung  der Welt the next time I was in Germany.  Since then a number of originals been purchased after reading the translation, to reread in the original.  It’s a good intention, I’m sure.  Though, to date, never realised.  

June 9 – A film tie-in

I hate film tie-ins and was quite surprised to find one in the stacks.  It has been marked for culling a couple of times already, but reprieved because of some excellent reviews.  I’ll get to the book and the film some day.

June 10 – It reminds me of someone I love

 

From Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes – Bird Pie from The Twits.  Baking this, complete with claws, was the only time I ever earned the “cool” accolade from my son.  You bet – I lost count of the number of times I baked it …  actually, it is pretty tasty!

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