Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Death in Venice by Thomas Mann

A short story, more than a novel. A novella, I suppose. Much is inferred and hinted at, though the story is quite simple: rich, successful and cultured man called Gustav von Aschenbach goes to Venice during the Belle Epoque on a bit of a whim and fancies the pants off a young adolescent boy. The ending is in the title, of course.

It quite brilliantly creates a mood of decay and decadence, without ever expressing it or describing it directly. A book to read slowly and savour.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

I was given this book by my wife, who loved it. I loved it too. It is quite captivating, in a way that few historical novels have been, in my reading experience. The characters are brilliantly drawn and the evocation of the period - England in the reign of Henry VIII - is enough in itself to make the book enjoyable.

I also found it threw new and human light on the Reformation and how people were motivated by genuine belief. It also reminded me that speaking several languages was perfectly normal for highly educated people at that time. England became monoglot only in recent times.

A great book.

Hitch 22 by Christopher Hitchens

This is Hitchens's memoir and, like other books of his that I have read, it is very well written. His style is just intricate enough to keep you interested in the flow of the language, without being so difficult that you have to keep re-reading.

It is very much a reflection of the times of his life and his references seem very familiar to people of, well, about my age. Quotes from The Waste Land, ruminations on the enduring impact of the Second World War on the British psyche, stories of political commitment to left wing causes and rethinking them in middle age.

But he is intellectually rigorous and he has integrity. He is occasionally prolix in this book and it could probably have done with some more editing. I enjoyed reading it but sometimes I had to swallow hard before picking it up.