In this book the characters from Charles Schulz’s Peanuts grow up, get married, have babies, strive, fail, strive again, fail again, take sleeping pills and whisper-fight in the dark….OK, it’s not the Peanuts gang, but there is something in the tone and in the characters of Dept. of Speculation that reminded me strongly of the Peanuts strip at its wisest, most epigrammatic, most Zen.
The novel is a very short read but it lingers long. I read it twice in a row because it felt so good the first time and because, like all small near-perfect things, it’s easy to miss hidden glories at first gulp.
Dept. of Speculation is told from the perspective of a woman whose name we are never told. It covers her early adult to middle-aged years during which she travels, meets and marries ‘the husband’, has a baby, nearly goes demented from lack of sleep and frustrated ambition (she is a writer) and deals in both mad and sane ways with a crisis in her marriage. Not a ground-breaking plot, then, but, my, is it beautiful and funny. Continue reading
This sad and funny masterpiece is about Paul O’Rourke, a hard-working and successful Park Avenue dentist who doesn’t know where he belongs. While working five chairs at once in his insanely busy dental practice he’s also permanently on a look out for that elusive something that could be everything. He’s tried the obvious: a commitment to healthy patients, playing the banjo, streaming movies directly to TV, the Red Sox, golf. Golf had looked promising:
For two months one summer, I thought golf could be everything. For the rest of my life, I thought, I’ll put all my energy into golf, all my spare time, all my passion, and that’s what I did. I don’t think I’ve ever been so depressed.
He knows golf is not the answer when the last ball he ever putts gives him the impression, as it circles the hole, of “my small life draining into the abyss.” (So, no to golf). The Bible was a strong candidate for something that could be everything but Paul had a problem there too:
I never made it past all the talk about the firmament. The firmament is the thing, on Day 1 or 2, that divides the waters from the waters. Here you have the firmament. Next to the firmament, the waters. Stay with the waters long enough, presumably you hit another stretch of the firmament. I can’t say for sure: at the first mention of the firmament I start bleeding tears of terminal boredom. I grow restless. I flick ahead. It appears to go like this: firmament, superlong middle part, Jesus.
Jimm Juree is a thirty-five year old crime reporter in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She’s wrenched from her comfortable life by her mother to go and live in what she sees as a poky hell-hole of a fishing village in the south. Her mother has had the bright idea that the two of them, along with her monosyllabic grandfather and her extremely shy body-building brother, will start a little hotel business in the hell-hole.
Jimm’s mood improves when some long-buried bodies are dug up in the area (sitting in a VW combie, one of them wearing a hat) and she suspects foul play. Not much later a monk is brutally murdered. A monk-nun love tryst seems to be at the heart of the crime. Jimm sharpens her investigative skills and starts to annoy the local cops. There is one competent officer, stuck in the village because he’s gay. Jimm befriends him immediately. Continue reading
Reading this book was like being at a party where there’s loud music in one room and a lot of serious arguing going on in another. You know there are some interesting points being made in the arguing room but all the noise makes your ears ring. When you leave the party you’re not sure what you’ve got in your loot bag. On the whole, you’re glad you went.
The story is about Danny Kelly who wins a scholarship to an elite private boys school in Melbourne because he’s a champion swimmer. From a working class Greek/Scottish background he’s clearly different to the majority of the boys who hail from rich W.A.S.P. families. Continue reading
My name is Jude. Because of Law, Hey and the Obscure, they thought I was a boy.
So begins the story of the magical summer Jude spent on the island of Sark (near Guernsey) when she was 21.
The ‘they’ referred to are the wealthy parents of sixteen year old Pip who hire Jude to live on the island and teach their son. Jude is a graduate but a ridiculous choice to teach the superbrainy Pip anything. Not that it ends up mattering. On her first day Jude meets and is mesmerised by another hired hand, Sofi, from “Poland via Ealing”. Sofi is edgy, beautiful, nineteen. She’s a reasonably good cook but also a breaker of rules and a resentful noticer of the many slights and put-downs inflicted upon her, a working-class girl, by this tiny and class-conscious society. Jude spends most of her time studying Sofi. Pip watches them both. Continue reading
Eva is a mother of twins and the wife of an astronomer called Brian Beaver (and yup, that makes her Eva Beaver).
The twins, Brian Junior and Brianne, leave for university and Eva goes to bed. For a year.
Eva isn’t sure why she’s gone to bed. She tells the doctor she’s been tired for seventeen years ‑ since the birth of the twins. Medical people can’t find anything wrong with her, physically or mentally.
Eva takes the going-to-bed concept to its very limit, she won’t even get up to go the toilet. After failing to persuade anyone to agree to dispose of her bodily waste in freezer bags, she settles on a process of unfurling the crisp white bed sheets to form a white pathway to her ensuite toilet, winding the sheets up and tucking them back into the bed when she’s finished. Continue reading
Jerry Manville is a retired ad-man who has two ex-wives, three kids, an expanding paunch, a red 1972 Lotus and a penchant for YouTube clips in which attractive TV presenters cross their legs. More endearingly, he has a thing for fancy stationery (which he buys to calm himself down).
When Jerry and his first wife Pen got married they renovated their house in North London with their own hands, turning it into a dream home envied by all. Pen stayed in the house after the divorce but later moved into her second husband’s farm house in France (falling in love at first sight with the farmhouse, if not the second husband). Continue reading