Sunday, 5 September 2010

Four books in brief

Well, once again I seem to be four books behind in my book posts and once again I'm going to do a quick run-down of them for the sake of catching up. Hopefully once I've done this I can return to normal service and do one at a time!

First up it's On Royalty by Jeremy Paxman.

Paxman, as most Brits will know, is a well known TV journalist who works primarily for the BBC. I can't say I like his interviewing technique all that much - he's one of a band of interviewers who think it's clever to ask a question, allow the interviewee to get four words out and then interupt. As someone who often wants to hear what the person has to say I find this infuriating. That said, I still like him. He has a keen, intelligent, brain and uses it in his writing. I very much enjoyed his book, The English and have now enjoyed On Royalty. It's not really a subject I'm all that fascinated by; I'm not a fanatical Royalist, nor even a moderate one to be honest. But nor would I do away with them and I'm interested in as much as I enjoy history. Paxman's book is a mixture of pure facts, opinions and anecdotes and not at all a dry, chronological retelling of the lives of Kings and Queens of England. His lively sense of humour is very apparent and he uses it in the retelling of his weekend at one of Prince Charle's house parties, in the introduction. Truthfully, it's worth reading this book just for that. Not bad.

Next: Moab is my Washpot by Stephen Fry.

Stephen Fry is pretty much accepted in this country as a National Treasure. It would be hard to find anyone who is not a fan of his wonderful sense of humour and intelligence. This is his first autobiography, or memoirs, or whatever you choose to call them, and deals with his life from birth to around the age of twenty. Born to well off parents - his father was a boffin type - he had quite an idyllic childhood and was sent off to prep school in Wiltshire at the age of eight. The book deals exhaustively with his life at both prep and, following that, public school. Interspersed with the facts are Stephen's thoughts on everything you can think of. He is very self-critical of himself and his behaviour as a child and young adult, and very kind and tolerant of everyone else and their actions. The over-whelming impression I came away with was, yes, he made mistakes, but he never blames anyone but himself. It takes a strong person to take that attitude, many would be muttering, 'Poor me...' A wonderful book, probably the best non-fiction I'll read all year. His second autobiography is out in a week or so and my copy is already preordered.

Next Cameron: The Rise of the new Conservative by Francis Elliott and James Hanning.

You'd have to have been living under a rock not to have known that we have a new government here in the UK and that our new Prime Minister is one, David Cameron. Fascinated by the whole coalition thing I sent for two biographies and this is the first. The authors have done a warts and all study of their subject, starting with his childhood - prep school, Eton, Oxford etc. and also revealing a lot about his family, friends, colleagues etc. There's a lot of political history of the last 25 years or so included; this was, at times, a bit dry but never less than readable. I found the personal stuff much more interesting and the chapter on the death of his disabled oldest son, Ivan, actually brought me to tears. All in all, the thing I came away with most was how like Yes Minister! political life really is. All that back-biting, scheming, lying through your teeth, having to know the right people and so on and so on. A fascinating read and I would now like to read more books with a political slant. Mandelson's 'New Labour' book is on my radar but I'm told John Major's autobiography is also rather good. Haven't made up my mind about Blair's book yet.

And lastly some fiction - Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

It's quite hard to know what I can say about this book without giving away any spoilers. Basically, I was reading it because I'd done a search on books set in schools, as the Stephen Fry book had piqued my interest. This was one of the books the search came up with. I have to say, it was not at all what I was looking for! (Joanne Harris's Gentlemen and Players is closer to the mark.) But, nothing daunted, I ploughed on even when I realised the direction in which it was heading. In brief, it starts with a girl looking back on her life in a residential school, her friends and so on. It's clear she is now some kind of carer and that the school was a special school. You get hints and I very quickly guessed the gist of the thing. More than that I'm not going to say. The author writes beautifully, the book is intense, frightening and not one you'll want to pick up if you're feeling a bit down in the dumps. He also wrote the very well known, Remains of the Day, which I haven't read but have seen the very beautiful and poignant film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. I think I'm intrigued enough to read more by him... but not just yet.



BooksPlease said...

What a great selection of books! The only one of these I've read is Never Let Me Go, which I found compelling but frightful. Remains of the Day is much more to my taste - and I enjoyed the film too.

Paxman can be so irritating, can't he? I'm very much like you as regards royalty and whilst I wouldn't read a straight biography I have to say this book does sound interesting.

As for Stephen Fry, I love all of his programmes - did you see the TV documentary he did a few years ago? I can't remember the title, but it was about depression - it was excellent.

I don't normally read political bios but am tempted to look at Blair's book after seeing his interview with Andrew Marr. The Cameron one sounds fascinating, but I can't stand the thought of reading anything by Mandelson.

Cath said...

Morning Margaret!

'Compelling but frightful' describes Never Let Me Go perfectly. I could hardly believe what I was reading and feel that such a thing would not happen, but it's a good thing for someone to air the possibility as a warning maybe.

I think quite a few people find Paxman's interviewing technique annoying. I know politicians avoid answering the question more often than not but he doesn't even give them a chance to do that! I would, however, highly recommend his books. He's done one on political life which I want to read but our library doesn't have it. Will have to reserve.

I missed Fry's doc on er... manic depression wasn't it? Which is a shame because I've loved everything else he's done... his travel docs and his Who Do You Think You Are? etc. And QI of course.

I also missed Blair's interview with Marr because my husband can't tolerate Blair at all. I'm not keen, and the same with Mandelson, but am torn because I like to hear what these people have to say. I'll probably get both books from the library at some stage. I did see the bit of the interview where Blair refused to run down ths coalition and thought that rather magnanimous of him. Having read the Cameron book though I now realise that many Tories at that time felt Blair was not a natural member of Labour and should have been a left-wing Tory. Cameron was an admirer of Blair's apparently. It's all very interesting and I'm now eager to read more - hence the plan to read Mandelson and Blair's books.

Val said...

Lovely useful reviews Cath, Many Thanks. I've never read anything by Stephen Fry but you've made me want to try that one :0)
Thanks for the warnings too ..I'm just not in the mood for a book that the phrase "compelling but Frightful" 'describes perfectly' lol
A Lindsey Davis 'Falco' mystery came home with me from the library last night ..but after that I think we may try a little of Mr Fry

Cath said...

Val: Nope... that Ishiguro book is not for all and I certainly would not be interested in a reread of it.

I loved the Fry book but perhaps I should stress that, as I expect you know, he is gay and speaks quite openly and sometimes explicitly about that. Some might not care for that, so I'll leave it up to you as to whether to try the book or not.

Val said...

What people get up to in their private life (as long as it doesn't harm others) is their business ... Live and let live.. that's my thoughts on the matter.
But it was kind of you to be sensitive to others viewpoints...There are an awful lot of great books some people cut themselves off from aren't there..unless of course they don't realise :0) ignorance might be bliss in some cases lol

Booksnyc said...

Thanks for drawing my attention to On Royalty - I think that is one I would really enjoy. I seem to be fascinated by all stuff Royal!

Cath said...

Val: I completely agree with you. It's a disadvantage to not be open minded enough to read anything. You don't have to necessarily agree with what's written, but it's a real shame to cut yourself off from so many good books out of prejudice.

Booksnyc: If you enjoy all things royal then this is an excellent book to read. So much fascinating information and humour as well, which I was not expecting. Highly recommend it.

DesLily said...

tap tap tap... patiently (?) waiting for photo's !!!!

Cath said...

LOL! I haven't forgotten, Pat. Been a bit busy and also trying to get my first RIP read under my belt. 15 pages to go... Photos soon, I promise. They're uploaded just have to sort them out.

Kelly said...

My sister has been highly touting the Ishiguro book lately. Between that and your reference to "Gentlemen and Players" (which I enjoyed), I may have to read it! I believe my sis said it's being made into a movie.

Cath said...

Kelly: It is certainly a book with some interesting, albeit shocking ideas. I didn't know they were making into a movie!

I loved Gentlemen and Players too, I was knocked out by it as a matter of fact. Some of the detail in Stephen Fry's book reminded me of that book quite strongly.