Thursday, 21 July 2016

Reading for July

Last Friday's Hogarth walk went well I thought and three copies of the tunnel book were bought.  Much of the reading this month has been Hogarthian in preparation for the walk.  In my opinion the best book on Hogarth, that skilfully combines biography with iconography is by Jenny Uglow; the scholarly work of Ronald Paulson is the bedrock for any serious study of the artist and I still find David Bindman's short Thames & Hudson summary a mine of information; Robert LS Cowley produced an exhaustive study of one series of Hogarth paintings in the National Gallery: Marriage a la Mode.

After the summer holiday hiatus I intend to plan some events for the autumn.

July's reading has included:

Julian Symons Bloody Murder (1992 ed)

Colin Watson Snobbery With Violence

Re-read both these this month: Julian was the brother of Corvo biographer A JA Symons (see earlier posts on Corvo) and a successful crime writer and poet.  A very readable and opinionated overview of the crime genre of fiction (with a chapter on the development of the thriller) up to the early 1990s.  Dorothy L Sayers does not come out well, but a number of lesser-known writers, such as Francis Iles and Edmund Crispin, are singled out for praise.

Watson's book (another crime writer, whose Flaxborough Chronicles were dramatised for television) is more entertaining, if not as factually accurate, and it's recommended to read both together.  Watson can turn a memorable phrase and I quoted some of his opinions of Sax Rohmer's work in Lord of Strange Deaths.  He is damning on the cosiness of the English whodunnit and the casual way in which murder was treated in these works as a simple puzzle to be worked out, with none of the human or moral consequences considered.  He also rails against the predominantly right wing tone of many of the authors and the unabashed snobbery and unquestioned class assumptions, as in an incident where Lord Peter Whimsey and two motorcyclists are pulled over by the police for speeding:

'Predictably, the motorcyclists, a truculent lower middle-class pair, had their names taken by the police with a view to prosecution whereas Lord Peter was subjected to no inconvenience ("you being who you are", as the local superintendent told him) other than stares of admiration at "long sweep of the exhaust and the rakish lines" of his car.'

In the light of the events of recent weeks the book reminds us of the intractability of the more unpleasant and less enlightened facets of the English character.   A good review here.

G K Chesterton  The Complete Father Brown

Never having read these before (or seen tv adaptations), I'm finding these short stories very entertaining.  Verging on the surreal, the plots are invariably absurd and in some cases I found the solutions to the various crimes incomprehensible, but the vigour of the writing and the descriptions of the locations carry them through.  Father Brown himself is very sketchily described, but I've found these tales engrossing, unlike a Lord Peter Whimsey novel which I had to abandon after the first chapter.

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