TBR Challenge 2019 – Decline and Fall – Evelyn Waugh

 

Genre: Classics, satire

Narrative style: third person narrative

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1928

Format: paperback

Synopsis: When Paul Pennyfeather is expelled from Oxford for indecent behaviour, his life spirals downwards. He begins his new life at a boys school and ends it in jail. Non of it is Paul’s fault. Events happen to him as he wanders through his life. Paul is an innocent abroad and Waugh uses his journey as an opportunity to satirise the 1920s society. 

Reading challenges: TBR Challenge

Time on shelf: I inherited this book in 2014 when my husband’s aunt died. 

This was an entertaining read. It was quite different from the only other Waugh I have read – Brideshead Revisited – but was very amusing nonetheless. Paul Pennyfeather is a useful character, wandering oblivious through Waugh’s satirical landscape. He has little will of his own, making nothing happen and, it seems, never truly understanding what is happening to him.

The novel is littered with eccentric characters such as Prendy an ex-vicar plagued by religious doubts or Captain Grimes who is always in the soup. Paul’s first port of call after being sent down from Oxford (after accidentally wandering into the drunken exploits of the Bollinger Club) is a Welsh public school. Here he meets Prendy and Grimes as well as Solomon Philbrick who has told at least three different stories of how he came to be at the school and is one the run from the police.

When Paul falls in love with the mother of one of his charges, his life really starts to take off. Margot Beste-Chestwynde agrees to marry him and immediately sends him off to deliver some women to South America. Paul, of course, has no idea that Margot’s money comes from prostitution and is incredibly surprised when he is arrested on the morning of his wedding for human trafficking.

The novel is very amusing and cleverly mocking of the mores of the time without ever explicitly saying anything. Paul eventually ends up exactly where he started, back at Oxford where nobody recognises him and his life returns to some sort of normality. There is no sense of character development or lessons learned – this is not a bildungsroman. In fact, there is little emotional interest for the reader. Waugh’s satire is clever and funny but I couldn’t help wishing for more emotional depth.

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TBR Challenge 2019 – Thank You For The Days – Mark Radcliffe

Genre: Autobiography / Memoir

Narrative Style: First person with each chapter describing a different day.

Rating: 4/5

Format: Paperback

Published: 2009

Synopsis: Radcliffe picks a series of days that have had an effect on his life, some to do with his career, some family and some just for amusement value. 

Reading Challenges: TBR Challenge 2019

Time on Shelf: Since publication in 2009. 

I’ve been a fan of Mark Radcliffe since listening to Mark and Lard on Radio 1. I loved their daft sense of humour, taste in music and their northernness. One of the most annoying things about starting to teach was that I no longer got to listen to them. When I was on school holidays, inevitably it was some one else in the studio as they were also on holiday. I must admit that I don’t get the chance to listen to the radio much these days but I still catch Radcliffe when I can.

Radcliffe is an excellent raconteur and each episode was well paced and well told. Each “day” covered so much more than the event of its title and sometimes it seemed that he would never get to the point but it always turned out that the information had been important after all. There were amusing tales such as Mark and Lard drunk at An Evening with Kylie, various shenanigans with The Family Mahone and the annual radio one photograph. Radcliffe is quite self-deprecating and is quite willing to laugh at himself which made for a pleasant read.

More serious ground was covered in the chapter about John Peel’s death which reminded me how much I missed listening to his show but for the most part this is an upbeat read full of Northern humour and warmth. It almost felt like sitting down in the pub with Radcliffe and having a chinwag. It was very easy to read and easy to warm to him.

My only criticism is that you don’t really get that close to Radcliffe in any emotional way. At one stage he talks about how celebrities have personas that they put on and Radcliffe’s would seem to be humorous Northerner. Nothing really wrong with that as long as you realise that you would not be getting beyond that outer layer.

TBR Challenge 2019 – The Beetle by Richard Marsh

Genre: Horror

Narrative Style: Various first person narratives

Rating: 2/5

Published: 1897

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: The story starts when down on his luck Robert Holt breaks into a seemingly deserted house. He encounters an androgynous creature who is able to control humans with some strange hypnotism. He is then forced to visit the home of local politician Paul Lessingham, the focus of the creature’s animosity. The narrative becomes a chase with Lessingham and friends on the trail of the strange creature.

Reading challenges: TBR Challenge 2019

Time on shelf: This was an early kindle purchase – about 2014. I downloaded a lot of early horror, such as The Island of Doctor Moreau and The Werewolf of Paris. Not sure why this one didn’t get read then. 

This was disappointing. The first part of the story – told by Holt – is gripping and it isn’t obvious what will happen in the rest of the book. The creature is suitably sinister and the way it controls Holt is disturbing. However, as soon as the narrator changes, the story goes downhill.

The next narrator, scientist and inventor, Sidney Atherton is incredibly annoying, not to mention rather wordy. The narrative tension suffers because of the long winded style. Events are described that have little bearing on the story. His encounters with the creature are unsatisfying as are the romantic machinations between himself and Marjorie Lindon.

With every change of narrator, I lost a little more interest. The story meandered and the ending was disappointing and didn’t really resolve any of the mystery surrounding the creature and where it had come from.

There was also a troubling xenophobic aspect. The creature often took the form of an ‘Arab’ and was attributed all sorts of mysterious powers. It smacked of colonialism and the fear of the other. This would seem particularly troubling when you consider that the men could not decide if the creature was male or female – but suspected the latter. This only added to their disgust. This did not always make for comfortable reading.

Reading Challenge – The 2019 TBR Pile Challenge

Okay so I know I said that I might not do a challenge this year but I really like the TBR Pile Challenge and I haven’t done it for a couple of years. It is hosted by Roof Beam Reader and it challenges you to read 12 books that have been on your TBR pile for more than a year. So it is a good excuse to dig out some of those books you’ve been meaning to read for a while and make yourself read them. No categories to keep to  – just 12 books that are desperate to be read.

So here is my list. I really hope I can get through them all.

  1. Emmaline Pankhurst – Paula Bartley (2002)
  2. The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury (1950)
  3. The Plague – Albert Camus (1947)
  4. The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith – Peter Carey (1994)
  5. A Room with a View – E. M. Forster (1908)
  6. The Virgin’s Lover – Philippa Gregory (2004)
  7. You Really Got Me: The Story of the Kinks – Nick Hasted (2010)
  8. The Beetle – Richard Marsh (1897) 
  9. The Tiger’s Wife – Tea Obreht (2011) – Currently reading
  10. Thank  You For The Days – Mark Radcliffe (2009)
  11. Powder – Kevin Sampson (1999)
  12. Decline and Fall – Evelyn Waugh (1928) 

Extras:

  1. The Shipping News – Annie Proulx (1993)
  2. The Accidental – Ali Smith (2005)