Gertrude and Claudius by John Updike

Gertrude and Claudius cover

This was one of the books which I snapped up from last month’s library book sale. I thought that it was about time that I read something else by Updike. I really enjoyed the ‘Rabbit’ series and Couples years ago and I’m slowly working my way through a massive tome which I think contains every short story which Updike ever had published.

Apparently Gertrude and Claudius was his 51st book, that’s some output, and I didn’t even bother to read the blurb before buying it so I was really surprised at how different this one was from the other ones that I’ve read so far.

It’s the story of Gertrude and Claudius from before they even got married and became King and Queen of Denmark and leading up to just before Shakespeare took up the story of Hamlet. Updike used the same legends that Shakespeare had based his play on and writes a backstory for us which I found to be really readable and somehow completely likely.

Written in three parts, the first part begins with Gerutha the 16 year old daughter of King Rorik being nagged by her father into a marriage with Horwendil the Jute. She eventually gives in and does as her father wishes but she never really feels that Horwendil has deep feelings for her. Gerutha thinks her husband married her to make it more likely that he would gain the Danish crown from Gerutha’s father when he dies. Gerutha gives birth to Amleth who is a difficult and sickly boy who grows up to spend most of his time away from home. Inevitably Gerutha blames herself for her son’s shortcomings.

In the second part Amleth’s name has changed to Hamblet and he is being a perpetual student, still studying at Wittenburg at the age of 29, much to his father’s rage. If Hamblet doesn’t come back to Elsinore there’s no chance of him being elected as King in the future.

By the third part of the book all of the names have been Romanised, hence Gertrude and Claudius. I enjoyed the book, I usually like books with a Scandinavian setting, and the moral of the tale is, I suppose, bad things happen when people feel unloved and hard done by.

Library book sale

You know what it’s like when you look forward to something for ages, you can almost guarantee that you’re going to be disappointed. Well that’s how I felt when I got to the library sale at the Adam Smith Theatre last Saturday.

Mind you after having perused my haul again – I’ve got a bit of a cheek not being happy with it, it’s just that I didn’t get anything which I had really been looking for.

So this is my haul:

The Borley Rectory Incident by Terrance Dicks
Morning Tide by Neil M Gunn
Faro’s Daughter by Georgette Heyer
The Foundling by Georgette Heyer
The Nonsuch by Georgette Heyer
Arabella by Georgette Heyer
Middlemere by Judith Lennox
Flambards by K M Peyton
Right Royal Friend by Nigel Tranter
Gertrude and Claudius by John Updike
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

I must admit that I prefer Heyer’s detective stories to her romances but I’ll get around to these ones sometime.

Nigel Tranter is a Scottish writer who writes good historical fiction.

I can hardly believe that I’ve not read To the Lighthouse yet.

I enjoyed Updike’s Rabbit series so I thought I’d give this one a go although it seems to be very different being about the king and queen of Denmark before the action of Shakespeare’s Hamlet begins.

Neil Gunn is another Scottish author of the 1930s.

I had meant to borrow something by Judith Lennox for a while now but hadn’t got around to it.

Flambards was a bit of pure serendipity because I had seen the book somewhere on the internet just a few days before and I hadn’t even realised till then that it was a book. I really enjoyed the series of that name when it was on the TV years ago. This was in the childrens section and I left it until late on before picking it up in case a kiddywink should want it – but it was left there looking forlorn so I didn’t feel that I was depriving anyone of it.

The Borley Rectory Incident is another junior library book and it’s written by the chap who wrote a lot of the Doctor Who books. Gordon went through a phase of wanting those books as bedtime stories and I just want to know what this one is like compared with them.

Now that I look at them all carefully I don’t know what I was moaning about at the beginning of this post, I’m quite pleased with my haul. Now I just need the time to read them all.

Short Stories

A lot of people don’t like reading short stories but I’ve always been quite keen on them. I find that they are good for bed-time reading and they can be handy if you are travelling. It’s also a fine way of getting reluctant readers started off, a thick book can be really daunting to some people.

If a story sticks in your mind for a good 30 years then I think it’s fair to say that it must be a success. That is what has happened to me with Somerset Maugham’s short story The Verger which you can read here. It is a very short read indeed but I think it says a lot about tolerance and also the snootiness that some so called ‘educated’ people can be prone to.

Another one which has stuck in my mind is The Alibi Machine by Larry Niven (see a description here) which I read over thirty years ago on my husband’s recommendation.

More recently I enjoyed Annie Proulx’s Wyoming Stories.

At the moment I’m tackling John Updike’s The Early Stories 1953 – 1975. It’s a fairly thick tome, as you can imagine and I’m finding it a bit unwieldy for reading in bed. It’s also far too big to drag around when you are travelling. I might find it easier to read out in the garden if we get some half decent days weather-wise this summer.