Six Favourite First Lines

‘Ennis Del Mar wakes before five, wind rocking the trailer, hissing in around the aluminium door and window frames.’ Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx.

‘All night long he would walk the ship, from bow to stern, from dusk until quarterlight, that sticklike limping man from Connemara with the drooping shoulders and ash-coloured clothes.’ Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor.

‘While I was still in Amsterdam, I dreamed about my mother for the first time in years.’ The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

‘”All good things must end,” said Frances Price.’ French Exit by Patrick de Witt.

‘It was love at first sight.’ Catch 22 by Joseph Heller.

‘The idea really came to me the day I got my new false teeth.’ Coming Up for Air by George Orwell.

I think that last one is my favourite but then, I’m a big Orwell fan!

What are your favourites? Tell me in the comments – I may discover more great books to read!

A Review of Ablutions by Patrick de Witt

“Discuss the regulars.”

So begins “Ablutions”, the first novel by Patrick de Witt. Reviewers have said that it is not as good as the two subsequent books – but it is.

It is written in the second person which isn’t always appealing but in this case it suits perfectly. The blurb on the back cover describes the book as “Hilariously gloomy”; neither word is correct. Certainly there is plenty of black humour in the book but it is not hilarious, and gloomy is too slight a word to describe the terrible sadness which runs throughout.

The prose is wonderful:

   ” . . . before settling into a life of wealth and flashbulbs.

   ” . . . the desire to celebrate the rhythm of your own beating heart.”

The premise is this: a barman, in a bar off Hollywood, is making notes for a novel so there is no narrative as such – each episode takes place in the present – but now and then the reader becomes aware of time passing with the detieration of the barman’s health. He studies the failed actors and writers who people the bar every day and the characters are wonderful, (if people so bereft of hope and joy could be described as wonderful), the ageing child actor, the crack addict, the unhappy doorman, among them. A temporary bar manager is the only one to escape into glamourous Hollywood, a flash of light in the dim room.

The amount of alcohol and drugs consumed is staggering – causing terrible hangovers and punishing the poor, malnourished bodies. And sex: there’s plenty of sex in the backroom, and there’s a scene where a sort of orgy takes place, not like a penthouse orgy with champagne and nibbles and beautiful bodies; no, it’s a sad, woeful, cold occasion, not even lively enough to be called sordid.

Throughout the book there are snatches of empathy and snatches of vicious, casual violence, but loneliness pervades all. The barman, afraid to give in to tears in case he could never stop, hurts himself to deflect the feeling:

   “Once this starts you believe you will not be able to stop, or will soon reach a point from which you will not return without damaging your mind . . . you draw back your hand and punch the brick wall as hard as you can.”

There is very little direct dialogue but this is not noticeable as the barman is always addressing himself so it reads like conversation. The pace and shape of the book is perfect in the way that “Of Mice and Men” is perfect, no part too long, none too short, the last line as important as the first.

In reply to Becky’s Would You Rather Book Tag (A Couple of Bees) https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/180580439

Q. Would you rather read classics for the rest of your life or Y/A novels?

A. Classics please, I’m way too old for the latter.

Q. Would you rather have a kid like Holden Caulfield or Huckleberry Finn?

A. Huckleberry Finn, I wouldn’t be able for the other fellow!

Q. Which Hogwart’s House would you rather be placed in?

A. Ravenclaw – they have the nicest colours – blue and bronze.

Q. Would you rather live in the world of 1984 or Fahrenheit 451?

A. Fahrenheit 451. I couldn’t bear to live in the world of 1984.

Q. Would you rather live in the world of Narnia or a kingdom in Game of Thrones?

A. I’d prefer Narnia. The world of Game of Thrones would be too dangerous!

Q. Would you like to have unlimited money for e-books or a $5,000 Barnes a Noble gift card?

A. The gift card. I got a book token for quite a lot of money many years ago. I had a ball!

Q. Would you rather live in your favourite fictional world for a day or be able to visit said world whenever you want but only as an invisible observer?

A. The latter, I think. I always fancied a cloak of invisibility – and I’d like to visit Winterfell.

This was a lot of fun, and thanks to Becky of A Couple of Bees for thinking it up. Anyone else like to answer these questions?

From POEMS OLD AND NEW

Looking through my old book again, I noticed the title, as above; then I checked the publication date – 1933! Some of the poems are so deliciously old-fashioned that I am moved to share them – here’s a couple of short ones (some very short).

To Celia by Ben Jonson

Drink to me only with thine eyes,

And I will pledge with mine;

Or leave a kiss but in the cup,

And I’ll not look for wine.

The thirst that from the soul doth rise,

Doth ask a drink divine:

But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,

I would not change for thine.

Waste by Harry Graham

I had written to Aunt Maud,

Who was on a trip abroad,

When I heard she’d died of cramp

Just too late to save the stamp.

Epitaph on Charles 11 by Earl of Rochester

Here lies our sovereign Lord the King,

Whose word no man relies on,

Who never said a foolish thing

Nor never did a wise one.

I hope these made you smile at least. More anon . . .

SHE WALKS IN BEAUTY by Lord Byron

I was leafing through my very old school poetry book and came across this one, which I had long forgotten. It’s so gorgeous I had to post it here. I hope you enjoy it.

She walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies,

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes,

Thus mellow’d to that tender light

Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,

Had half impair’d the nameless grace

Which waves in every raven tress,

Or softly lightens o’er her face,

Where thoughts serenely sweet express

How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek and o’er that brow

So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,

The smiles that win, the tints that glow

But tell of days in goodness spent,

A mind at peace with all below,

A heart whose love is innocent.

The Top Three!

Last week was a strange one for me with various family situations, now resolved. Today I resume my routine. This morning I was out for my walk along the river and I thought very hard about which three books I loved the most; I came up with these three. David Copperfield, Catch 22 and Redhead by the Side of the Road. Which surprised me a little as my favourite writer for some years now is Patrick de Witt.

I first read David Copperfield when I was at school and I’ve read it at least twice since; so many wonderful characters, so many quotes still in my head. There was Peggotty, who worked as cook and maid in his mother’s house until she agreed to marry Mr Barkis, who signalled his intentions with the phrase,”Barkis is willin’.” And the wonderful Mr Micawber who was always sure that “something will turn up” and his wife declaring that she “would never desert” Mr Micawber. I’m going to stop with quotes here or I’ll be writing all day! I will just mention David’s cousins who lived in an upturned boat on the beach in Yarmouth; the boy he met in school called Steerforth who was a bad ‘un and became involved with Rosa Dartle. I can’t leave out his Aunt Betsey who took him in and cared for him and called him “Trotwood”. David’s first wife, Dora, made very little impression on me but apparently she was based on Dicken’s real-life first love. There are many more I could include and many, many quotes but – enough!

Catch 22 I first read in my twenties and again, I’ve read it many times since. It makes me laugh so much. Sometimes I stand at the book case and open it at random . . . I could be standing there for a long time! And sometimes I remember various passages when I’m on a bus or a train and I have to keep myself from laughing out loud. The first chapter sets the tone; the chaplain appears at Yossarian’s hospital bedside and begins a conversation. Yossarian doesn’t realise he is the chaplain and thinks he’s another mad soldier but he is happy to continue the conversation:

“Oh, pretty good,” he answered. “I’ve got a slight pain in my liver and I haven’t been the most regular of fellows, I guess, but all in all, I must admit that I feel pretty good.”

“That’s good,” said the chaplain.

“Yes,” Yossarian said. “Yes, that is good.”

The conversation continues in this vein with many – that’s good, yes that is good, and that’s bad, yes that is bad – until Yossarian realises he’s talking to the chaplain and is disappointed that there is a sane reason for the visit.

And what about Major Major Major Major whose father marches along the hospital corridor and register’s his son’s birth in the name of Major Major, unbeknownst to his resting wife. And the episode where the soldiers are listening to a speech by one of the Generals and they begin to moan at the sight of the General’s bosomy nurse, started by Yossarian of course. Ah yes . . .

Finally, Redhead by the Side of the Road. I won’t say much about this book as I recently posted a review on it. Suffice to say, when I was reading it, I carried it about with me and had many conversations with the main character, Micah Mortimer. Happy days!

An excerpt from the wonderful book – The Grapes of Wrath.

This page from The Grapes of Wrath has stayed with me for forty years at least. I could feel the heat, smell the dust, see the insects going about their business, and most of all, the land turtle, star of the scene.

The sun lay on the grass and warmed it, and in the shade under the grass the insects moved, ants and ant lions to set traps for them, grasshoppers to jump into the air and flick their yellow wings for a second, sow bugs like little armadillos, plodding restlessly on many tender feet. And over the grass at the roadside a land turtle crawled, turning aside for nothing, dragging its high-domed shell over the grass. His hard legs and yellow-nailed feet threshed slowly through the grass, not really walking, but boosting and dragging his shell along. The barley beards slid off his shell, and the clover burrs fell on him and rolled to the ground. His horny beak was partly open, and his fierce, humorous eyes, under brows like finger-nails, stared straight ahead. He came over the grass leaving a beaten trail behind him, and the hill, which was the highway embankment, reared up ahead of him. For a moment he stopped, his head held high. He blinked and looked up and down. At last he started to climb the embankment. Front clawed feet reached forward but did not touch. The hind feet kicked his shell along and the horny head protruded as far as the neck could stretch . . .

For a moment the turtle rested. A red ant ran into the shell, into the soft skin inside the shell, and suddenly head and legs snapped in, and the armoured tail clamped in sideways. The red ant was crushed between body and legs . . . For a long moment the turtle lay still, and then the neck crept out and the old humorous frowning eyes looked about and the legs and tail came out . . .

Now the going was easy, and all the legs worked, and the shell boosted along, waggling from side to side. A sedan driven by a forty-year old woman approached. She saw the turtle and swung to the right, off the highway, the wheels screamed and a cloud of dust boiled up. Two wheels lifted for a moment and then settled. The car skidded back onto the road, and went on, but more slowly. The turtle had jerked back into its shell, but now it hurried on, for the highway was burning hot.

And now a light truck approached, and as it came near, the driver saw the turtle and swerved to hit it. His front wheel struck the edge of the shell, flipped the turtle like a tiddly-wink, spun it like a coin, and rolled it off the highway . . . Lying on its back, the turtle was tight in its shell for a long time. But at last its legs waved in the air, reaching for something to pull it over. Its front foot caught a piece of quartz and little by little the shell pulled over and flopped upright. The wild oat head fell out and three of the spearhead seeds stuck in the ground. And as the turtle crawled on down the embankment its shell dragged dirt over the seeds. The turtle entered a dust road and jerked itself along, drawing a wavy shallow trench in the dust with its shell. The old humorous eyes looked ahead, and the horny beak opened a little. His yellow toe-nails slipped a fraction in the dust.

Isn’t this wonderful? I left out a few bits – it’s very long, but unforgettable – for me anyway. Steinbeck rocks!

Part 1 of “Myrtle” from We All Die in the End.

Myrtle studied the label on the tin. She didn’t particularly like the cat’s face only it was a nice, mustardy colour.

            “Same as my coat.”

            A child stared at her when she spoke – a small girl with badges on her jacket. She stared at Myrtle and Myrtle stared back, leaning forward and making her eyes bigger until the child turned away, reaching for her father’s hand.

            “Recipe de Luxe,” Myrtle read in a whisper. “Trout and Tuna.”

            That was a new one and it didn’t say Trout and Tuna flavour – it said Trout and Tuna. She lifted two tins and went to the check-out. The man in front of her turned around and the child with the badges on her jacket was beside him.

            “Not very quick are they? They must think we have all day to stand here.”

            Myrtle blinked away from his busy eyes.

            “Yes,” she said.

            She clamped her teeth and lips together and looked at the man’s feet, the thin legs in tight jeans.

            “Da, what’s wrong with that lady?” the child asked.

            Someone moved in behind her and her shoulders twitched. She held the tins tightly, willing the queue forward.

            Outside the sun shone, the sea so bright Myrtle had to squint. She walked home, stopping sometimes to lean against the railings, to watch the tide rushing in, to follow with her eyes the black mass of seaweed beneath the waves. She looked across to Carrickfergus. One of these days she would go – she would! She’d go on the bus and have a look round, and a cup of tea maybe, and she would talk to people, make friends . . .

            “I wish I was,” she sang, “in Carrick-fer-er-gus . . . “

            And then she stopped; that was all she knew.

            She went into the house, dropped the tins on the kitchen table and put the kettle on. It was a long time since breakfast. She adjusted the waistband of her tracksuit, rubbing at the red marks on her skin. She read the labels on the tins of cat food and wondered where to put them. There was hardly room to put them anywhere.

            She had every flavour – Chicken, Rabbit, Veal, Beef, Veal and Beef, Chicken and Rabbit, Salmon with Crab. The tins covered the worktops; there were rows of them on the floor. She balanced the Trout and Tuna near the front because they were new. She stared at them until the kettle boiled.

            In the sitting-room she sat with her feet to the radiator, warming them and drinking her tea. She stretched, leaning back in the chair, and wondered would she eat the doughnut or keep it for lunch. Ah . . . she’d have it. There was a frozen tart – she could have that for lunch. She bit into the doughnut with her eyes closed; her tongue poked at the jam and she grunted softly.

            The car door slamming in the street made her climb slowly out of the chair. She gripped the edge of the curtain and stared at the sleek, black car, shiny with polish. A man with sleek, black, shiny hair stood beside it holding a small suitcase. Myrtle watched as he went to a door across the street, knocked and waited. May’s house, May Toal she was called. She always wanted to chat and Myrtle had tried to chat back but all she could manage was yes and no and it might rain. May spoke so fast, jumping from one thing to the next . . . ah, there she was, holding the door half-open.

            The man set down his case and opened it, then closed it as May shook her head. He went to the next house and the next, the drove to the top of the street and turned the car.

            Myrtle watched him get out again. He would come here – knock on her door – expect her to talk. Well, she wouldn’t – she wouldn’t even answer the door. Just let him . . . no . . . wait! This was a chance – she could try at least. She could say hello, make friends with him.

            She went in and out of the hall, waiting, listening . . . anyway, she wouldn’t have to say much; he would do the talking: he was selling things. Myrtle looked into the mirror on the hall stand; when she smiled there were bumps on her cheeks. She lifted a hand to her hair; the long ponytail was untidy. Vaguely she patted the loose bits then went back to stand at the window. The car door banged again and there he was.  He straightened the edges of his jacket, pushed the shiny hair down behind his ears, and then he smiled and walked up the steps.

            The knock made her jump all the same. She wavered in the hall, wondering if he would knock again if she didn’t answer, and then she moved quickly.

            “Good morning, Madam, good morning. Isn’t the day great?”

            He lifted his head and sniffed deeply at the salty wind and smiled at Myrtle. His hair shone in the sunlight; his teeth glistened, shining at her. He seemed to have teeth everywhere. Myrtle stared, motionless.

            “Could I interest you, Madam?”

            He moved his right foot forward.

            “Something for your pet?”

            Swiftly he bent, set down the case and opened it.

            “Does Madam have a pet? A little dog maybe, or a cat?”

            “Cat . . .   “

PART 2 TOMORROW . . .

A review | Broken Heart Attack by James J Cudney

Broken Heart Attack is the second in the Braxton Chronicles Series. When I read the first one, it was my first look into the world of Cosy Mysteries and I enjoyed the book very much. But this second one I loved.

The plot centres on the death of Gwendolyn Paddington, a friend of Kellar Ayrwick’s grandmother, Nana D. It’s a classic whodunnit involving several relatives and a will. Or were there two wills? And what about the rumours of an unknown child? Nana D insists that Kellar investigate as he has solved mysteries successfully before.  

Kellar is the main character and the story is told in the first person which always makes any  story more immediate. He comes across as warm and witty, a college professor and a family man, but also someone who doesn’t take life too seriously. His tone is jocular but as the story unfolded I began to wonder if this was all a front, if it was Kellar’s way of keeping the world at arm’s length. He has terrible problems to deal with in his family life and impossible decisions to make and I worried about him a lot.

His grandmother, Nana D is my favourite character; in fact she’s my new role model! When faced with situations in future I shall ask myself – what would Nana D do? (But I hardly ever get faced with situations!) Kellar also has an ex-wife and a little daughter, and parents and siblings.

(You hardly ever hear about a hero’s family. Who were James Bond’s parents? Did he have siblings/cousins/grandparents? It’s as if heroes arrive on earth wearing tuxedos and drinking martinis “whole and entire unto themselves”.

The other characters in this book are distinct and easy to remember. There’s a handy who’s who at the beginning of the book but I only used it a couple of times. There are plenty of plot twists and turns and the narrative rolls along with ease, keeping the reader on edge but making you smile at the same time:-

“Hints of a ferocious dog came to mind when his alarming expression and cold, dark pupils centred on his unsuspecting mother.”

“… and kept her short, spiky grey hair perfectly styled. I’d suspected at one time it was a wig, and if I ever had the chance I’d rip that sucker off to test my theory.”

 The dialogue was terrific especially between Kellar and Nana D:

“This better be important. I love you to pieces, Nana D, but I was dreaming about a warm, sunny beach full of calming waves and palm trees.”

“Get your patootie out of bed. The sun is on its way up and you’ve got a nurse to grill . . . “

They teased each other but they also relied on each other, not least for Nana D’s delicious desserts which Kellar relished.

The story is well paced and shaped, and I believed every word of it. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. It’s great when you enjoy a book and really like the characters, to know that you can spend more time in their very pleasant company.

Re-launch of “We All Die in the End”.

I had to republish the paperback edition as the first one looked awful. My own fault but I have learned now how to do it properly with the help of some knowledgeable friends. It will be available from Tuesday 13th October in its new improved form. Here is an excerpt from Scene 9: “Siblings”

“We’ll have to tidy up, girl. I mean – look at the place. Could you not have washed up the dishes or – “

            He stared around, helplessly.

            “And did you get the ham? I thought you’d have done something by now. Dicky bird said evening. What’s evening? What time is evening? Six? Seven? Eight? And do you know what I thought of as well, they might want to use the new bathroom.”

            “But – ” Sarah turned to the stairs. “But – oh . . . “

            Barney moved quickly, went up and pushed at the stiff door of the bathroom. He heard Sarah coming up behind him and he pushed harder.

            “There’s something in here,” he said.

            “Push it, push it,” Sarah said, pushing at his back.

            And then the door gave way and they tumbled inside. Barney sniffed, raising his eyebrows at Sarah. The sink and toilet and bath were black with dust. Sarah touched a tap and quickly withdrew her hand.

            “Here, look at this,” Barney said.

            In the corner behind the door was a roll of wallpaper, brown along the edges, black across the top, and sticky when Barney tried to open it.

            “Do you mind, Sarah? Do you mind I bought that when we got this put in?”

            “Well, they can’t use it, so they can`t, and that’s all about it.”

            Barney dusted his hands on his trousers.

            “They’ll have to use the downstairs like everybody else. It`s good enough for us, isn`t it?”

            The door of Martin’s room was shut and they could hear him sniffing and moaning.

            “What’ll we do about him?” Sarah nodded towards the door. “He’s been crying since you left. I couldn’t get a thing done with him like that.”

            “I’ll give him a drop of whiskey maybe. Look.”

            Barney took a half-bottle from his pocket.

            “I got it today – it’ll come out of my wages – for Dicky bird, you know. Nobody can say we don’t know how to treat our visitation. I’ll give Marty a drop in hot water and he’ll go asleep.”

            Sarah sighed and followed him downstairs.

            “We’ll have a drop ourselves, Sarah – what do you say? Sure isn’t there plenty? Dicky bird won’t want all of it.”

            Sarah filled the kettle, her eyes beginning to gleam.

Thank you for reading this. If you enjoyed it you might check out the 5 star reviews on Goodreads.