elsie katz's blog

The Salterton Trilogy by Robertson Davies

Robertson Davies was a Canadian and the trilogy was published in the 1950's. His style of writing is out of style now. Lots of words, piercing observation of his huge cast of mainly arty, middle-class characters, shocking events- fraud, suicide, unbearable domestic situations, laugh out loud dialogue. I was on a bus going through Budleigh Salterton tittering away and I have no idea what the old prune seated next to me thought. Don't care - she...

Blue Dahlia, Black Gold a journey into Angola by Daniel Metcalfe

Good but not good enough. Daniel is a resilient young Englishman who is interested in Angola and organises a budget travel journalism trip. Starting with the 'easy bit' a stay on the laid back isle of San Tomeo he then travels Angola from end to end, meets lots of snapshot people, has a lot of experiences cf Laurie Lee, Patrick Leigh Fermor and comes back to Blighty and writes all about it. Daniel is strong on information. I now know a lot more...

Lullaby by Leila Slimani

Lullaby is plot, point of view, sharply drawn characters, shock by information. It won the Prix Goncourt. Would it have won a prize from a panel of English-speaking judges? I don't know. I think the mainstream literati prefer books where less happens and more is 'off the page' in nuanced hints, where we are given 'the information' by mannerisms of gesture, and half sentences. Lullaby gives us the pieces of a horror puzzle in a clever, well-...

Letter to AF

These days we're alike. Two calm old tabbies. Hope you are, I've not seen you for over thirty years but I hope you are alive and well in Basingstoke or London. I rejected you when I was 25, thought I was a forest cat with acres of adventure ahead. I called you an 'ignorant Scottish git', it was meant as a joke but it hurt, I never knew where to stop with my catty humour. These days I know I was the ignorant one. Ignorant, a word with two...

Hillbilly Elegy by J D Vance

'You picked a Fine Time to leave me Lucille' - but where's Lucille's song? That's how I feel about Hillbilly Elegy, it's one-sided. JD Vance is an escaped hillbilly. He left Mamaw, Papaw and Ma to their drinking, drug addiction and fighting and escaped to Harvard Law School and wrote Hillbilly Elegy when 31. Well done JD - but he assumes everyone in Appalachia has the same family life that he did. There must be some hillbillies out there who get...

Swallow This by Joanna Blythman

Do you buy supermarket food? Salad, cheese, rolls, vegetables - perhaps meat and fish when they are bargained off because they are on their sell-by dates? I do. This book is none too cheerful but it is important. I don't quite buy 'you are what you eat' - last time I looked in the mirror I did not resemble my breakfast boiled egg on toast, spread with Flora but I feel that what goes into my bod is essential fuel and I like to believe that it is...

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I've come to the party late. I don't read much fantasy. IMO it has its work cut out matching the greatness of Beowulf and The Odyssey. It's an unfair fight- modern genre fantasy against the BIG realities of the Old Days. In truth the only reason I picked up a copy of American Gods was that I was in a hostel in Portugal and it was the only English book on the shelf. And .... It's brilliant! Neil Gaiman has a deft hand with the Gods. He managed to...

As I walked out one Midsummer Morning - Laurie Lee

I love it! A tale of a young man on the road, busking with his violin in England and Spain. The date 1933. So even if Laurie was playing for pennies down the road at the local shops he would be giving me something new. Past times. He's good. Here's Laurie on backstreet Southampton. 'The streets near the water appeared to be jammed with shops designed more for pleasure than for profit, including tattooists, ear-piecers, bump-readers,...

Bloody Snow!

Damn and Hell. I was all set to compete in the Teignmouth Poetry Slam tonight. Looking at the settling flurries outside my window I don't think a single contestant is going to be there. We all live at least 10 miles away, some as far as Bristol and Dartmoor. The contest starts at 8pm, railways, roads, none of its going to be workable. Oh well I've got my act prepared for...whenever.

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano

Brilliant even in translation, Bolano's tale of wandering delinquent Mexican and Chilean poets is based on his own life (Arturo) and his mate (Ulisses). It's nonstop, wide canvas, multiple narrative. Women sometimes take the stage, suffer worse consequences from their rambling life and some emerge alive. Kerouc had 'memere' to go home to after his road trips, half the time Arturo doesn't know where Mum is or if she is Ok, life under General...

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