Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Catching up

I'm copying down a few notes I made while staying in Tuscany for a week - a quiet cottage, with a few books and no internet connection, except in the office. I have not made any very meaningful comments, here.

Some of the books were there already -

Alexander McCall Smith: The Good Husband of Zebra Drive
No 1 Ladies’ detective agency, with its determinist view of characters – people should be happy as they are and not attempt things that are beyond them.
Problems as her husband Mr J L B Matekoni decides he will investigate a case of an errant husband, and mistakes a photograph for that of his own wife. Then one of his mechanics decides to start a taxi service. Mma Ramotswe’s assistant wants to change her job because she is about to get married.
They investigate thefts from a local office supplier, and only solve it by giving the culprit the keys to the cupboard – he takes the lot. The deaths at the local hospital – the cleaner is turning off the ventilator to plug in her vacuum cleaner.
A general feel-good series, set in Botswana, where McCall Smith spent some time.

Karen Essex – Leonardo’s Swans

Isabelle d’Este, her sister Beatrice, daughters of Ercole d’Este
Francesco Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua. M. Isabella
Ludovico Sforza of Milan marries Beatrice
There are intrigues involving the French kings etc, and all through this Leonardo is at Milan. Il magistro, who doesn’t eat meat because he doesn’t want his body to be the tomb of another animal, but invents machines of war, never finishes his commissions.
Isabella’s great ambition is to have her portrait painted by Leonardo, though this never happened – there was a drawing, which is now in the Louvre. She also appears as a pregnant muse in the centre of a Mantegna painting – Venus and Apollo on Mount Parnassus, in the Louvre. Soap and sex and history mixed together.

Carol Drinkwater – The Olive Season
An actress and a film producer buy an olive farm in Provence, then get married. She has a miscarriage, and they put all their energy into olive growing. It is full of local characters, such as the Arab gardener, Quashia, the local olive farmer and builder, Rene, the local celebs and minor aristocrats, and the incoming Russian Mafia and a dose of superstition as she employs water-diviners and takes photographs where the subject disappears from the picture, and soon dies. The life-style of jetting off to London, NY, Australia is a little out of my range. Nevertheless, written in a down-to-earth manner, apart from the odd spiritual bits. All in spite of the two MCs not being conventionally ‘religious’.

I bought this one in Radda-n Chianti, when I realised I was running out of reading material.
Anne Tyler –Digging to America

Two families in Baltimore adopt Korean babies and keep in touch as they grow up. The main character (though the viewpoint shifts) is Maryam Yazdan, an Iranian immigrant in her late fifties/early sixties, the ‘grandmother’ of Susan (Sooki), and her relationship with her son, his wife and the child, then later with the other family and in particular Dave, the ‘grandfather’ of Jo-Hin ( the other Korean adopted child). Her difficulties in fitting in either in America, or in Iran even if she were to return. Exile, pride, self-sufficiency – being an outsider. There are also a couple in Vermont, Farah (Maryam’s cousin) and her husband, William – who are more Iranian than the Iranians.

This is a book Harry bought in the airport.
Carolly Erickson – Brief Lives of the English Monarchs
From William the Conqueror to Elizabeth II – well written and researched, easy to read, though I am sure I shall forget all the facts.

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