The Wrench by Primo Levi – Classics Club Spin No 37

The Wrench by Primo Levi is a quick read at just 171 pages. It’s unlike anything else that I’ve read by the author, which I must admit was a bit of a relief as I wasn’t in the mood for reading about the horrors that he experienced in concentration camps during World War 2. The Wrench has the title The Monkey’s Wrench in America. The book was written after Levi had retired from his work as a chemist at a paint factory.

There are only two main characters in this book, Faussone and the autobiographical chemist. They’re both working in a very remote part of Russia. Faussone is a rigger and he has plenty of tales to tell of his work experiences all over the world, always in remote places.  Each experience takes the form of a short story, they’re all loosely connected. The job of a rigger is to construct cranes and other large mechanical structures. The riggers are the first to arrive at any project, sometimes moving in to places that had been home to animals previously. Problems occur of course, but they’re there to be solved, which they are.

I found this one to be entertaining. Faussone is obviously happy to have a new audience for his tales, he’s by far the most garrulous one.

The blurb on the back says: ‘One of the sanest, most experienced and wisest books I’ve ever read’ Douglas Dunn, Glasgow Herald.

‘Transforms molecules and ballbearings into romantic fairy-tales’ VOGUE

Bernard Levin of The Times wrote at length about it on the back, and he seems to have loved it.

So this was a good spin choice for me. It was originally written in Italian and was translated by William Weaver, very successfully I think.



Classics Club Spin # 33 – the result

The Classics Club Spin number has been chosen and it’s number 18. That means that before April, 30th I have to read Ordinary Families by E. Arnot Robertson, published by Virago books. It was originally published in 1933.

This book is a fairly recent purchase, I think I bought it just last month in the Edinburgh Stockbridge Oxfam bookshop. I’ve never read anything by the author before – have you? Did you join in the CC Spin this month, if so which book did you get?

Liza of Lambeth by W. Somerset Maugham – The Classics Club Spin

I have to admit that I failed completely at the The Classics Club spin this time around. I had The Moon and Sixpence at number 6 and I stuck at it for about 50 pages but it just wasn’t grabbing me and life is too short – so I gave it up and substituted Liza of Lambeth, a total cheat I know but I still wanted to take part in The Classics Club.

Anyway, Liza of Lambeth is W. Somerset Maugham’s first foray into authorship, well the first one published anyway. He was a medical student at the time and was able to use those experiences in the story.

The year is around the middle of Victoria’s reign and the setting is Lambeth, a working class area of London and it begins with the inhabitants of Vere Street enjoying themselves on a hot afternoon in August, with the children playing cricket and the women sitting at their doorsteps gossiping. It’s an area where a lot of the women are at various stages of pregnancy and the men are too handy with their fists, but that’s all seen as being normal.

Eliza is young and single, and living with her mother who apparently suffers from ill health, but in reality she’s an alcoholic. Liza is the life and soul of the street though, she loves clothes and dancing and is very popular, especially with Tom who is besotted with her, but Tom is too quiet and boring for Liza’s liking. She’s got her eyes on Jim who is twice her age and has just moved into the street with his wife and five children, soon to be six. It isn’t going to end well.

I really enjoyed this one although it was quite predictable, but after all it was his first book. It’s quite grim in parts, however I’ve no doubt that the setting is very authentic with domestic violence hard drinking and early deaths being more likely than not. Maugham must have seen plenty of evidence of both when he was working as a student doctor in a London hospital.

Did you take part in the Spin this time around?

Christmas Holiday by W. Somerset Maugham

Christmas Holiday by W. Somerset Maugham was first published in 1939. I was drawn to read it purely because of the title, I’ve read quite a lot of Maugham’s books over the last 40 odd years or so and really enjoy his writing, as ever Christmas Holiday was well written but I had been hoping the book might have helped get me into the Christmas spirit – I should have known better!

Charley Mason is from an upper class family and has just finished a year studying accountancy, straight after his three years at Cambridge, his has been a charmed life so far with money being no problem. Usually he goes to the country with his parents at Christmas to celebrate with friends, but this year as a treat for him his parents have suggested that he spends the Christmas holiday in Paris, instead of with family in England as usual. Paris is a place he knows well as he’s been there often with his parents, going around the galleries and museums, he has been brought up to appreciate the arts. However his grandparents had been of humble means – a gardener and a cook – not that the Masons are ashamed of that.

Charley has asked his old friend Simon who is a journalist in Paris to book a hotel room for his week in Paris, and he really expects Simon to meet him off the train in Paris, but Simon hasn’t bothered to do so, Charley is disappointed. It seems that Simon is not at all interested in the arrival of Charley and when they do meet up Charley is shocked at his appearance. Simon looks ill, which isn’t surprising as he’s only eating one meal a day, he’s determined to deny himself everything pleasant in life, apart from obviously enjoying unloading all his thoughts on politics and life in general onto Charley. Simon had been a keen communist when he was at Cambridge.

Simon decides to take Charley to a nightclub (of sorts) where Charley is introduced to a Russian princess. Her family’s wealth had supposedly disappeared with the coming of the Russian revolution and she is now working as a topless dancer/prostitute. Her family’s fortunes had fallen as Charley’s had risen. Charley is fascinated by her and her reasons for working where she does.

So, as you can see, this was not a barrel of laughs, but it was an enjoyable and interesting read, just not what I had expected.

This one is on my Classics Club list, so that’s another one ticked off.

Classics Club Spin # 30

classics club spin

It’s Classics Club spin time again, I nearly missed it as I have just got home from a week away on the Orkney Isles where we were supposed to have the internet in our rented holiday cottage but it was soooo slow as to be unusable. Anyway, a week away from the internet now and again is no bad thing really.

1. Guy Mannering by Sir Walter Scott
2. Saplings by Noel Streatfeild
3. Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier
4. The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham
5. The Master of Ballantrae by Robert Louis Stevenson
6. The MacDermotts of Ballycloran by Anthony Trollope
7. Is He Popenjoy? by Anthony Trollope
8. The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall
9. The Harsh Voice by Rebecca West
10. Good Daughters by Mary Hocking
11. We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea by Arthur Ransome
12. Beyond the Black Stump by Nevil Shute
13. Anne of Geierstein by Sir Walter Scott
14. Annals of the Parish by John Galt
15. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
16. The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley
17. The Trumpet Major by Thomas Hardy
18. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
19. Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff
20. A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain by Daniel Defoe

Are you taking part in the spin this time around?

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller – Classics Club spin

I must admit that I was a wee bit daunted when the Classics Club spin number meant I would be reading Catch 22 by Joseph Heller – well it’s so long, and I had been meaning to read it for absolutely yonks, since one of my sons read it at school and loved it. Surprisingly I really loved it too, but I can see that a lot of people wouldn’t get on with it, above all it’s really funny. Heller managed to out-Kafka Kafka. Catch 22 was first published in 1961.

The setting is Italy during World War 2 and at the beginning Captain John Yossarian is in hospital, supposedly with a liver problem which has the doctors baffled but really he’s just there trying to stay alive and dodge having to fly into enemy areas and engage with enemy planes. He’s really incensed that he is still having to go on flying missions, every time he gets close to his last mission according to the rules, his boss extends the mission limit. It was originally 25 but soon it might be 80 missions. He fears he’s not going to survive the war at this rate. He would be able to get home if he was insane, but the fact that he wants to survive is proof of sanity – that’s the catch.

All of the high ranking officers despise each other, there’s really an internal war going on between them which is far more important as far as they are concerned than the actual war. As ever though (or so it seems to me) the craziest one is the one to be promoted. He’s only interested in getting the men to march in their off-time. That won’t be at all appealing to the men who obviously spend their time in Rome when they can, enjoying the charms of the local women.

There’s so much in this book, but it’s a difficult one to write about. It’s anti-authority, religion,
bureaucracy and anti-war, and the main character Yossarian better known as Yo-Yo is so likeable, which always helps. In fact there’s even a cat in my extended family who has been named in honour of the character!

It seems that some people have a problem with this book, I didn’t have but I must say that the more you read, the better it gets.

Mary Anne by Daphne du Maurier #1954Club

It’s time for the 1954 Club which is being hosted by Kaggsy and Simon

I have to admit that I’ve had a few goes at reading Mary Anne in the past and had given up quite early on, so I added the book to my new (3rd) Classics Club list, knowing that that would make me knuckle down and get on with it, sometime. Anyway that happened sooner than I expected when I realised that Mary Anne was published in 1954 – and I did manage to get through it. However I’ve read almost everything by du Maurier now and this is the one which I’ve liked least. I can see why she wanted to write it though, as the main character is based on her great great-grandmother’s life, she must have been quite some female!

The setting is Regency London where young Mary Anne is one of a large family living in poverty. She’s determined not to repeat the mistakes that her mother has, but that is exactly what she does as she marries at 15 and in no time has four children, but Mary Anne is still determined to make her mark in the world and get rich. There’s really only one way for a poor woman to do that though – on her back. It’s not a profession that really appeals to her, but when she discovers that the Duke of York is keen to take her up she jumps at the chance, she knows that it can be the path to riches for her – and it is.

Mary Anne has a huge weakness though, she’s incredibly greedy and money just runs through her fingers with no thought to the future. She has been using her links with the Duke to make huge amounts of money by selling military commissions. The inevitable happens and the Duke of York drops her, she is in dire straits. The Duke had discovered that she isn’t a widow but is still married, which leaves her open to being taken to court by her husband and prosecuted for adultery with the Duke of York implicated in the affair. He’s not at all happy!

Daphne du Maurier had lots of material to help her write this book as the actual court documents are still in existence, it must have been obvious what sort of character Mary Anne was and unfortunately she’s not at all likeable. I don’t know if it was the Regency setting but this seemed like a Georgette Heyer novel minus the charm, snappy dialogue and comedy, so for me it’s the weakest of du Maurier’s books that I’ve read.


Classics Club list – number 3

I’ve finished reading all of the books on my second Classics Club list, you can see the books I read and reviewed here. I started reading that list in January 2018 and I still have one to review. Towards the end of my second list I ended up substituting a couple of books as I read some classics which hadn’t been on my list, so a few from my old list are on the new list, including The Black Arrow by R.L. Stevenson. My copy is a really old leather bound one with teeny wee print and despite the fact that I’ve just got new varifocals I think I would be more comfortable reading it on my Kindle so I’ll have to see about getting a copy onto it, probably via Project Gutenberg. I’m running out of classic books that I have unread in my house, so some of the books on this list will be borrowed from the library. Others don’t really come into the ‘classic’ category as far as I am concerned, such as the Thirkells but other people seem to regard them as classics and I have been intending to continue to re-read them in order so I’ve added them to the list. Have you read many from my new list and if so are any of them favourite reads?

1. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
2. Saplings by Noel Streatfeild
3. Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier
4. The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham
5. Katherine by Anya Seton
6. Midwinter by John Buchan
7. Mary Anne by Daphne du Maurier
8. Beyond the Black Stump by Nevil Shute
9. Anne of Geierstein by Sir Walter Scott
10. Liza of Lambeth by W. Somerset Maugham
11. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
12. Christmas Holiday by W. Somerset Maugham
13. The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham
14. Kilvert’s Diary 1870 – 1879
15. L’Assommoir (The Gin Palace) by Emile Zola
16. We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome
17. Secret Water by Arthur Ransome
18. The Big Six by Arthur Ransome
19. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
20. Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott
21. Waverley by Sir Walter Scott
22. Guy Mannering by Sir Walter Scott
23. Castle Richmond by Anthony Trollope
24. The MacDermotts of Ballycloran by Anthony Trollope
25. Is He Popenjoy? by Anthony Trollope
26. The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall
27. The Harsh Voice by Rebecca West
28. Good Daughters by Mary Hocking
29. The Way Things Are by E.M. Delafield
30. The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley
31. The Trumpet Major by Thomas Hardy
32. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
33. Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff
34. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
35. Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
36. The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle by Tobias Smollett
37. Pomfret Towers by Angela Thirkell
38. The Brandons by Angela Thirkell
39. Before Lunch by Angela Thirkell
40. Cheerfulness Breaks In by Angela Thirkell
41. The Island Pharisees by John Galsworthy
42. The Sinful Priest by Emile Zola
43. Othello by William Shakespeare
44. Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare
45. The Master of Ballantrae by R.L. Stevenson
46. A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain by Daniel Defoe
47. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
48. A  Pink Front Door by Stella Gibbons
49. Flowering Wilderness by John Galsworthy
50. One More River by John Galsworthy

If I’m counting correctly there are only 14 of them by women authors, must do better in future.

The Trial by Franz Kafka – Classics Club

The Trial by Franz Kafka was first published in 1925, one year after the author’s death. He had left instructions to a friend telling him to burn all of his manuscripts, but his friend published them instead. The Trial is the second book by Kafka that I’ve read. I enjoyed The Castle more than this one. Kafka was born in Prague, a German speaking Bohemian. He died of TB when he was 40 and obviously never knew that his surname would be regularly in use to describe impossible and perplexing situations.

The main character K. is a deputy bank manager and one morning when he wakes up his breakfast has not been taken into his bedroom by his landlady. There’s a knock at his bedroom door and a strange man enters, the upshot is that two men have come to arrest him. K. hasn’t done anything wrong and the men can’t or won’t tell him why he is being arrested.

So begins a nightmarish time for K. as he journeys to various Courts which are always located in dark and dirty attic areas which are so hot it’s almost impossible to breathe. They’re packed out with people, most of whom seem to be also accused of – something. It’s a bureaucratic nightmare. K. is still none the wiser as to what he is supposed to be guilty of, so he can’t defend himself. But for a time life goes on much as before, with him going to the bank to work, but having to attend courts now and again and K. gets used to the situation, things could be worse. Things do indeed get worse!

The book is regarded as a sort of modern day Pilgrim’s Progress, a commentary on the idiocy and futility of officialdom. We’ve probably all been there in some way when we have felt like banging our heads against a wall in frustration – although nowadays it usually means we’re hanging on to a phone listening to muzak – hoping to get an actual human being on the other end of the line!

I read this one for the Classics Club.

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope – The Classics Club and Back to the Classics Challenge

The Way We Live Know by Anthony Trollope was first published in 1875 but some aspects of the tale and the characters are so recognisable nowadays. As with most of Trollope’s books it’s a real chunkster but if you have the time – as I have – then you’ll probably find that you manage to read it fairly quickly as it’s a real page-turner.

Lady Carbury is a widow with a son and daughter who are more or less out in the world, or they would be if her son Felix had any gumption, sadly he chooses to spend his time at his club gambling and drinking, and his mother has to write history pot-boilers which are dubious factually to try to make some money to keep body and soul together for her and her daughter. Even so, Lady Carbury just can’t say no to her son when he wants money for gambling, and she gives it to him despite needing the money to pay the household bills, and having to deny her daughter a fair chance in life.

Felix needs to marry a wealthy young woman and with this in mind an invitation to Madame Melmotte’s ball is needed. The Melmottes have arrived in London only recently but they’re reputed to be fabulously wealthy, having made lots of money in France. Lady Carbury wants their daughter Marie for her son. There are rumours though that all might not be as it seems in the Melmotte household. In Paris Mr Melmotte is regarded as a swindler and his business dealings aren’t orthodox. He’s described as being purse-proud and a bully. Melmotte likes to talk about how wealthy he is and throws money around to entertain royalty, but he’s definitely up to no good.

Melmotte is so like the so-called tycoon Robert Maxwell who bought companies just to plunder their pension funds, and he also reminded me of ‘the Donald’. Human beings don’t ever change I suppose and there are only so many different types. This was a great read which I read for the Classics Club. I love Trollope’s writing so I can’t understand why it has taken me so long to get around to reading this one, I suspect that I thought it might not be good pandemic reading – but it was.

I also read this one for the Back to the Classics Challenge which is hosted by Karen K at Books and Chocolate.