Tim Sterne put a loverly post up at Sarsaparilla a while ago about the stacks of unread reproaches surrounding him as he struggles through his days. I wot of what he wrote.
The main unread reproach for me is Patrick White’s The Vivisector, which I have been attempting to read in conjunction with the Patrick White Reading Group blog. It’s been a struggle – I started late, caught up by the time we were all meant to be reading Chapter 5, and have studiously been not reading it since.
I’m struggling with engaging with such an unlikeable protagonist as Hurtle, which bodes ill for my intent to catch up with Nabakov’s Lolita sometime in the next year. I realise that White is attempting to portray a solipsistic maybe-sociopath, and he does it very effectively with very vivid language, but I’m just finding it a slog.
I reread Antonia Fraser’s Wives of Henry VIII (sometimes published the “The Six Wives of…”) which is a richly detailed biography of each woman and the politics surrounding their matching, hatching and dispatching. Two of my favourite photos from the book show two different suits of armour made for Henry, similiar to these below. The first from when he was at the height of his strength, the so-called “handsomest prince of Europe” sallying forth at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520 aged 29, and the second made in 1540, the year of two weddings – to Anne of Cleves and to Catherine Howard. The chest circumference of the second set of armour is 55 inches.
The Metropolitan Museum in NYC has a set of armour from 1544 where he’s even fatter. Great reading for any history wonk, as is David Starkey’s book on the wives which concentrates on different details of the treaties and plots surrounding each match.
I also picked up a secondhand paperback copy of David Brin’s Kil’n People, which is the best thing he’s written in years. Set in the next century, society has been absolutely transformed by golemtech, whereby people can imprint their personalities on clay simulacrums that can be sent out to perform activities too boring or too dangerous for realpersons, and their memories can be uploaded at the end of the day by the “rig” (original). Brin lets his imagination loose in trenchant fashion as his characters interact with all the new commercial and cultural possibilities the new tech has brought. Against this background, Brin gives us a hardboiled detective story, with all the nods to Chandler and Hammett and film noir, as we follow our protagonist Albert unravelling the mystery that threatens the whole future of golemtech and the society built around it. There’s some tricky and exceptionally well-handled technical shifts of perspective and tense as the story is narrated simultaneously by both rig-Albert and several of his simulacra as they all converge on the core of the mystery. A very satisfying read: highly recommended.
OK, time to get back to not reading The Vivisector. Probably by having a go at the copy of Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers that I picked up at the same secondhand bookshop – time for a bit of top-notch tosh.