A Bookshop, a Book Quarterly and royal madness

So, Son One and I went to see “The Madness of King George” Alan Bennett’s play now back on tour, even unto the Frozen North. It was a very confident production, with impressive acting and doubling up of parts. The latter was impressive as I remember the film version of the play being well populated and not many companies can run to a huge cast on tour. The parts of the King, Pitt and the Page were well played. Sadly, while I spent best part of four years looking at the literature of the period, my political history is a little less secure. Despite this I still enjoyed the production, including some relevant jokes about needing five years to restore the Nation’s economy! It did go on a bit after the King was restored in order to tie up all the loose ends and people, and to balance up the fact that the episode only lasted 6 months. Unfortunately the play started at 8pm and was long, so finished late. And the North felt particularly Frozen that night! If the production appears near you, it’s worth watching, but wrap up warmly!

On The Dabbler Website the is a feature of 1p book reviews. I confess to a passion for the concept of buying books for 1p (plus postage) online, especially as I’m not getting to independent bookshops at the moment. It is often also possible to buy them from charities, including Oxfam, which sort of helps justify my impulse buys.

One of these buys has been Penelope Fitzgerald’s “The Bookshop”.

This is best described as a long short story, rather than a novel, and to be honest starts really well then goes into a bit of a decline. It is set in a fictional Suffolk coastal town, which is very well described, and a book loving widow is the central character. Florence decides to set up a bookshop, which meets with some local opposition. She is invited to a party in order for the local lady of the manor to inform her that the shop building is actually required as an arts centre, and that she should open her shop elsewhere. There are encounters with the local children,a recluse and even the “rapper”, a poltergeist.

My quibble with this book is that it is too short. There are some super characters, well set up and established, and some promising situations developing, when the book suddenly fades away. While the resolution of the novel, such as it is, rather disappoints, I just think that it was a shame not to explore some more of the potential avenues opened up in this book. The underhand tactics employed to disrupt her business would be worth exploring, as would the unusual assistants she acquires. The best selling book is mentioned, but its implications are ignored. I really enjoyed most of this book, but felt let down by the ending. I would certainly like to read more by this author, and hope that the next book would be longer and the story more developed.  Any suggestions of other Fitzgerald recommendations?

And finally, if you are not totally devoted to the emergence of new novels, a worthwhile read is “Slightly Foxed” , a quarterly journal of book reviews. None of the books are recent, though most are within living memory. Some are out of print, and consequently may take a bit of tracking down, but all the articles are worth reading in their own right. Many of the books recommended are happy books, but all of them have stood the tests of time and memory. Some reviewers write about the authors themselves, and many interesting stories emerge. It is worth a look at http://www.foxedquarterly.com, and this book magazine at least doesn’t have to be read within a month to get the best value. These books are not fashionable and will not date…

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