A long overdue update on some books I’ve read and a play I’ve seen (yay! I’ve actually been to the theatre!)
- I saw Benedict Andrews’ adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters at the Young Vic. I’ve seen this play once before – a version by theatre company Filter which featured as part of its soundtrack Madonna’s Like a Virgin. Andrews’ was an equally modern interpretation – there was a rendition of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit before the interval, for example. I loved the inventive weirdness of the first half. I was impressed by the resourceful and imaginative use of small tables. I really liked that the essence of Chekhov was very much present in the characters’ yearnings to be elsewhere, and their poignant, existential musings. But when Andrey appeared in the second half dressed in a tracksuit, pushing his baby in a pram and singing a snippet of All By Myself, it was a step too far from the traditional, for me.
- I’m in a bit of a reading slump at the moment. I was doing well this year: I discovered several new favourite authors. But now I seem to be stuck in the middle of several books that I like, but don’t feel compelled to dedicate a lot of time to. One of these is Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, lent to me by a friend who loved it. I do like it. But it is so long, at over 900 pages, and at the moment it feels like I’ll never finish it.
- One book I did whiz through was Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman. It’s incredibly funny, honest, and refreshing. I laughed heartily; I was moved by her personal experiences of childbirth and abortion; and I felt reassured by her opinions on weddings, having children, and fashion. Reading it was an intense and rewarding chunk of a weekend.
- I went through a phase of only wanting to read funny, light, comforting things. I had some trouble finding books that met those requirements. I read a Wodehouse book, Right Ho, Jeeves. It was great, of course. But I’m not sure it was quite what I needed. Wodehouse is so accomplished. The dynamic between Jeeves and Wooster is perfect. This might sound odd, but I think it was too perfect. And perhaps too light. I’m beginning to think that a comfort read for me might be something completely different that I haven’t figured out, yet.
- At the moment I’m reading another Patrick Hamilton book, The Slaves of Solitude. Hamilton is very interested in and skilled at describing the psychological states of his characters. That’s why I love him. One of the best things about Hangover Square was his exploration of the power of the mind to distort, and the consequences of it. I’m finding Slaves a bit slow-going, though. I think this might be because it cuts too close to the bone, despite it being set in 1943; and I’m not sure I can handle too much of it in one go. This is how the novel begins:
London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in its own obscure, malignant way. Its vital oxygen is composed of suburban working men and women of all kinds, who every morning are sucked up through an infinitely complicated respiratory apparatus of trains and termini into the mighty congested lungs, held there for a number of hours, and then, in the evening, exhaled violently through the same channels.
The men and women imagine they are going into London and coming out again more or less of their own free will, but the crouching monster sees all and knows better.
It’s a marvellous opening, but being a current victim of the crouching monster myself also makes it a little bit painful to read.