Category Archives: Oscar Wilde

Rounding Up The Reviews #3; Fairytales, Maids Versions, Resurrections and Sex Criminals

As you will have seen already this week, but this is the last one, both in preparation and as a teaser for the change in Savidge Reads next week, I thought I would round up some of books I have failed to review so far this year starting a new occasional series of posts where I give you a more succinct selection of books you might want to need. The good, the bad and the ugly! Some of them might be perfectly fine reads, I just don’t have that much to say about them and that happens from time to time for no rhyme or reason. So here are the final four for a while and indeed before Savidge Reads turns a corner next week.

The Complete Short Stories – Oscar Wilde

Oxford University Press, paperback, 2010 edition, fiction, 228 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Oscar Wilde and me have a funny old relationship. I think his quotes are the height of wit yet his works tend to really divide me. I either think they are utter genius or not really that good. The Picture of Dorian Grey is on prime example as there is so much that is gothic about it and so much about attitudes and the theme of fighting for youth and beauty, yet occasionally I found it really boring and it is only short.

Possibly sacrilegious I know yet the same can be said for his short stories in this collection – well this complete selection. Some of them (Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime, The Nightingale and the Rose and the famous Happy Prince) are utterly brilliant, some (The Canterville Ghost) are okay and the others are a little bit, dare I say it, forgettable. Yet short story collections are tricky minxes because how you read them can really make or break them. I was reading these for Hear… Read This and possibly slightly more last minute and like a novel, rather than reading them over a period of time. That said dragging some of them out would still have caused problems. I have kept the collection though as some I will turn to again and again – mainly the three I named at the start.

The Maid’s Version – Daniel Woodrell

Sceptre, paperback, 2014, fiction, 176 pages, bought by my good self

In 1929, an explosion in a Missouri dance hall killed forty-two people. Who was to blame? Mobsters from St Louis? Embittered gypsies? The preacher who cursed the waltzing couples for their sins? Or could it just have been a colossal accident? Alma Dunahew, whose scandalous younger sister was among the dead, believes the answer lies in a dangerous love affair, but no one will listen to a maid from the wrong side of the tracks. It is only decades later that her grandson hears her version of events – and must decide if it is the right one.

How brilliant does that story sound? I was really excited about reading this novella after Kate chose it for Hear… Read This and sadly I came away really disappointed. The explosion happens very early on in the novel which would kill some books because why would you read on, some authors though make you want to. Woodrell sort of does. The problem is he shows too much too soon. The explosion happens, an affair starts before it (the book doesn’t go backwards, more hops about all over the shop) then we get some wonderful emotive short pieces about some of the victims and… and… then it sort of lost my interest. I felt, if I am being honest and that is what I will always be even if it’s harder when it is negative (The Beard would say I have no problem with this in real life), here Woodrell is trying so hard to write a novella unlike anyone has written before he couldn’t live up to his own desire. It’s a mish mash of voices and characters and chronological set pieces, yet not in an exciting way.

Resurrection – Wolf Haas                                                                                                                                                   

Melville House, paperback, 2014, fiction, 184 pages, bought by my good self

When Inspector Simon Brenner leaves the police force, he’s looking forward to some peace and quiet, and the lovely Alpine village of Zell seems like just the place. That is, until the corpses of an American couple are found frozen on a ski lift, and Brenner, doing some part time work for an insurance company, is called in to investigate the matter. It turns out that the victims have relatives in the area and the crime – if it is a crime – seems like it could be a family affair. Except the prime suspect has a solid alibi and no one in picture-perfect Zell is talking. (Stealing blurbs is so the way forward with these round up reviews, I waffle too much.)

Now this book was a really interesting reading experience and I am very much glad I read it even though I didn’t really like it overall. Some bits were brilliant, some bits were bonkers and some bits didn’t make any sense. I can definitely say it is a new form of cold crime novel, yet whether it will work for you or not is another thing. The omnipresent narrator is very unsettling, then funny, then baffling, talks in riddles and then suddenly seems to clarify towards the end. The humour flits between light, dark and then slightly inappropriate. The plot is fairly good, when it makes sense at the end, and there is a tour de force scene in a petrol station I will never forget. A real mixed bag, yet reading that back I feel intrigued and want to try it again. Maybe instead I will try his next in the series? Oh and before I move on, corking author name.

Sex Criminals – Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky

Image Comics, paperback, 2014, graphic novel, 128 pages, bought by my good self

Another recommendation from Rob, actually Resurrection was one of his choices for Hear… Read This where he also mentioned this title. Imagine if every time you reached a peak of sexual climax (yes it does feel awkward typing that and knowing you are all going to read those words) time stopped for everyone else, literally, until you thought about sex again. Imagine then you find someone else who can make the same thing happen? You could cause all sorts of mayhem, or rob banks to save a library. We would all do the latter as book lovers wouldn’t we? Well this is the premise of the comic/graphic novellas which make up the first volume of Sex Criminals, only something is chasing our heroes to stop them.

From its bookish and titillating (did they give that word its name on purpose?) premise I had to give it a whirl after Rob mentioned it. I was titillated (that word again) and loved the way the hero’s wanted to save a library so it ticked all the right boxes for me. I can’t say I was fully lost in the world as this did seem more of a comic than a graphic novel – if I have horrified comic and graphic novel fans saying that I am so sorry – as it did feel it was slightly more 2D than some graphic novels I have read. If you fancy some escapism and a bit of a bookish naughty giggle then definitely give it a whirl.

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So that is the final review round up for a while, have you enjoyed them? Do you want me to keep doing them now and again or would you rather I binned them off? Which of these titles have you read and what did you make of them? Have you had any books that you didn’t love but regardless are really glad you read and if so what were they? Who has accidentally arrived here because of the ‘sex criminal’ Google alert?

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Filed under Chip Zdarsky, Daniel Woodrell, Matt Fraction, Oscar Wilde, Review, Rounding Up The Reviews, Wolf Haas

Simon’s Bookish Bits #4

Hello, hope you are all well? I sadly have the lurgy so this is a bit of a late bookish bits from my bed where I can have a ramble on about lots of different bookish things that have been on my mind or caught my eye this week. Things coming up are Wallander, book winners, podcasts and vlogs and some more sympathy supplies from publishers. Plus possibly a few other bits and pieces.

First up, and I am probably really behind with this subject, is Wallander. I am sure most of you have heard about this series by Henning Mankell and have also probably read most of them. I am officially late to this Swedish crime series; however as I have a spectacular lurgy this week I have been watching more catch up TV than I have been reading books. (I have devoured some more short stories and a small book plus Jasper Fforde – ok I have been reading less than normal.) One series I came across was the BBC’s version of Wallander played by Kenneth Branagh (pictured below) which you can see on iPlayer.

Wallander... cleary a man who doesn't get hayfever!

Wallander, cleary a man who doesnt get hayfever!

It is absolutely superb, I only watched The Man Who Smiled as I have Faceless Killers on the TBR and am now about to get cracking on reading it before I watch it. I am sure many of you have read it and will be able to tell me where to go after Faceless Killers which I am sure I will be discussing next week in more detail, so don’t give any plots away please.

So next up Podcasts and Vlogs. I am new to Vlog’s and know of only one blogger who does them and its one of my other favourite posts each week which is Eva of A Striped Armchair and her weekly library loot. I have to add I wish my local library was as wonderful as hers as the titles she gets are just marvellous. You must have a watch of her Vlog’s (the latest can be found here) as they are utterly charming and in watching them you get to know Eva even better. I couldn’t do a Vlog I have to say the camera does not flatter me. I would love to make podcasts though I have no idea how do any of you? Do any of you have any Podcast recommendations as I have been bereft since Radio 5 stopped doing there’s, even if I still have Mariella on a Sunday and World Book Club.

Speaking of Podcasts I have found a wonderful new Podcast this week thanks to Mee who had written about it in one of her past blog posts. It is called Books on the Nightstand and is by Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman who work for Random ‘but don’t only talk about our publishers books’. Its marvellous and its like you are overhearing a conversation of two friends over a coffee nattering away about books they have read and loved. You can (and should) download them here and read their blog they are just brilliant from the latest books to ‘challenges on blogs’ they discuss it all. Marvellous!

Now finally an update on the BBB, so far so good but then I have been in bed most of the week. One thing thats been a delight while I have been feeling vile is that I have had rather an influx of books as some lovely publishers have sent me some sympathy parcels. I have had to take a picture on the stairs as there has been rather a wonderful deluge of books here. I did try and put them in publisher order but with all the different sizes it didn’t work. So before I list them all too you a big thanks to Canongate, Orion, Random House, Headline, Penguin, Faber, OUP, Constable and Robinson and Bloomsbury for these. Here they are;

  • The Blasphemer – Nigel Farndale
  • City Boy – Edmund White
  • The Unnamed – Joshua Ferris
  • The Help – Kathryn Stockett
  • Lost – Gregory Maguire
  • Dog Boy – Eva Hornung
  • A Life Apart – Neel Mukherjee
  • Wedlock: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match – Wendy Moore
  • God’s Own Country – Ross Raisin
  • Shadow – Karin Alvtegen
  • A Lion Among Men – Gregory Maguire
  • Direct Red – Gabriel Weston
  • Depths – Henning Mankell
  • The Chalk Circle Man – Fred Vargas
  • Cutting For Stone  – Abraham Verghese
  • The Complete Short Stories – Oscar Wilde
  • Consolation – James Wilson
  • The Rapture – Liz Jensen
  • A Kid For Two Farthings – Wolf Mankowitz
  • Miss Hargreaves – Frank Baker
  • Love’s Shadow – Ada Leverson
  • Mrs Tim of the Regiment – D.E. Stevenson
  • Timoleon Vieta Come Home – Dan Rhodes
  • Anthropology – Dan Rhodes
  • Little Clapping Hands – Dan Rhodes

As ever if you have read any of the books or the authors let me know your thoughts. Ooh I nearly forgot… The Istanbul competition winner is… Michelle aka Su(shu) do email me your address! If you haven’t won don’t be disheartened as I have some more giveaways related to some of the above titles coming up (I like you all to benefit too) and some I haven’t mentioned! So keep your eyes peeled.

So that’s all from my sneezy wheezy sick bed for today. Let me know your thoughts on Wallander, the latest arrivals at Savidge Towers and details of any podcasts and vlog’s I am missing out on. Oh and if you know how to make podcasts do let me know! Over to you all, I look forward to your comments to cheer me up with this horrid lurgy.

Oh and another quick question as you guys are always helpful with things like this and I can’t work out which is better. Should I title these posts like this “Simon’s Bookish Bits: Wallander, Podcasts, Vlogs and Incoming” or simply “Simon’s Bookish Bits #5”? That would be as helpful as answers to all the above!

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Filed under Dan Rhodes, Edmund White, Gregory Maguire, Henning Mankell, Joshua Ferris, Kathryn Stockett, Neel Mukherjee, Nigel Farndale, Oscar Wilde, Simon's Bookish Bits, Wolf Mankowitz

Elementary Dear Oscar

Last night was my first visit to the goings on at Wimbledon Bookfest. Now believe it or not I have never been to a book festival before, I know isn’t that shocking for someone who loves books so much? So I didn’t really know what to expect or what the whole thing would be like. I was intrigued, excited and as The Converted One had refused to come feeling slightly like a sad billy no mates. However when you are in a theatre people aren’t there to look at you are they, they are there to look at the stage. I always say this about going to the cinema alone which is something I love doing, oh dear painting rather a sad picture of myself, some people hate it.

I couldnt take a picture of him talking as theatre rules dont allow!

I couldn't take a picture of him talking as theatre rules dont allow!

So my first event at a book festival had something of a sensational era twist about it which I thought was just perfect both for my current reading and just because the whole late 1800’s fascinates me. It was a talk by Gyles Brandreth, at the Polka Theatre, all about his Oscar Wilde mysteries. I have only so far read the first in the series Oscar Wilde and The Candlelight Murders but have had the second one, Oscar Wilde and The Ring of Death, waiting in the wings for quite a while.

I wondered just how a modern author could put themselves into that historical era and make everything so real. Gyles admitted he had trouble and actually Oscars grandson phoned him after reading the first book and said ‘Oh Gyles why oh why have you done this, you have done something dreadful’ which of course left Gyles very worried ‘you let Oscar drink Bollinger… it wasn’t made until the 1920’s and he only drank Perrier Jouet’ which made us all laugh, and showed how much research needs to be done into the era. Laughter was a theme as Gyles Brandreth discussed his diaries which are soon to become a memoir ‘Something Sensational To Read On The Train’.

The part I was there for was all things Victoriana and it soon came as Gyles discussed how reading The Trails of Oscar Wilde had lead him to find a real hero as well as having his fictional hero Sherlock Holmes as a young man. When he went to boarding school he became a friend of the founder who he played Scrabble against once a week and who turned out to be one of Oscar Wilde’s oldest friends and illuminated him to the life of Oscar without the scandal and painted a portrait of a man many could not say they had met.

It was when a few years ago reading a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle that he found the two had met in a hotel invited by an American publisher looking for murder mysteries to publish. The two became great friends and two legendary books were created ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ and ‘A Study In Scarlet’. The friendship and that evening is what inspired Gyles to write the Oscar Wilde Mysteries where Conan Doyle plays sidekick to Wilde’s amateur detective role which has now spawned a series.

Why the Victorian era for the basis of his fiction apart from the two main characters? “I love being lost in it. It was such a time of great change and great drama. It was a time when six men would meet at a table, some unpublished at the time, for a dinner club. These six men included Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, and J.M. Barrie. What was it in that fog of London during that time that made it such a creative era, it must be what makes modern authors go back and live it in order to be even more creative themselves.”   

A fascinating evening and a delightful first taste of book festivals. I am now very excited about Kamila Shamsie on Friday and Tom Rob Smith on Saturday, also annoyed missing Chris Cleave tomorrow and Sadie Jones on Wednesday but focus on the positive. I definitely need to go to more and shall do, which are the best ones? I also managed to get my copy of the second in the series signed and should really stop typing and get on with reading it…

A Savidge Reads Signed Oscar Wilde Mystery

Now before I do dash off I have something of a competition for you which involves the Bookfest. I have a spare ticket on Friday night to see the wonderful Kamila Shamsie talk about the wonderful, wonderful ‘Burnt Shadows’ and wondered if any of you would like it? It does mean spending about two hours with me which could be a downside ha! So if you can be in Wimbledon for 7pm and have read it and loved it, could read it by Friday but haven’t yet or are desperate to read it then do enter in comments either with a link to your review (I will be checking your reviews were positive – or why would you want to be there ha) or saying why you are desperate to read the book and The Converted One Will do a draw by 9pm tomorrow! Good luck, I may cry if no one wants to spend a few hours with me though! Ha!

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Gyles Brandreth, Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

I have recently felt that ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ is a book that deep down had the traits and darkness of a sensation novel and so decided that as I am doing The Sensation Season I would give this book a go. I have to admit I had tried and failed with this book before. I didn’t like the characters; I thought the book to wordy and filled with too many additional characters with too much to say. I also just didn’t believe it, aged 21 I put the book down after page 30(ish) and left it thoroughly unimpressed by this “Oscar Wilde”. Six years later, and reading it in Oscar Wilde’s old room, would I again be defeated by what I think I once deemed shamefully ‘a very silly short book’?

Though The Picture of Dorian Gray is a short book it has hidden depths and very dark undertones. We first meet the image of Dorian Gray in a painting which Lord Henry Wotton sees at his artist friend’s house, Basil Hallward and falls in love with the painting as he thinks the person depicted may be one of the most beautiful and alluring people he has scene. When Dorian then arrives Henry sees in the flesh he is even more so. Soon the two people Bail is closest too and never wanted to meet have struck up an unlikely friendship and under Henry’s influence Dorian comes to believe youth and beauty are the only thing that matter. He then makes a fateful wish as he wants never to grow like the painting of him. He soon notices that indeed the picture does begin to age and as it does so it gets crueller looking as if the painting is the true Dorian himself.

Now if the plot wasn’t enough the book is also very much about society and which on a first read years ago I didn’t care for I completely and utterly loved. Looking at the upper classes who have endless money to burn and too much time on their hands other than to ‘chase the dragon’ or embark on affairs the thing they go very well is gossip and discuss. I could easily write endless wonderful quotes from the book as to what they say “he is sure to be furious and I couldn’t have a scene in this bonnet. It is far too fragile” and also how they are described “she was a curious woman, whose dresses always looked like they had been designed in a rage and put on in a tempest” in fact so many quotes it would probably make up 98% of the book.

I found the whole book a truly dark and delicious read. It doesn’t quite fall under the exact ‘sensation’ definition but I definitely think its great reading if you like books like that or a classic from around that era. Have you read the book, I would imagine quite a lot of people have and I am very, very late reading this now. If you have, what did you think? Is it on anyone’s TBR pile or wish list?

I have also found it really interesting to try a book again that only six years I really didn’t like and now think is brilliant. It’s interesting to see how my opinions have changed and my book likes and dislikes seem to have changed in various ways. Are there any books you started at one point in your life and hated only to then go on and fall completely under the spell of after a second chance later on? I would love to know!

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Filed under Oscar Wilde, Review, Sensation Novels, Vintage Classics

My First Publishers Parcel of the Year

When I came back from my trip yesterday I got very excited as I received a parcel with Vintage stamped all over it. Now it shows how tired I must have been that I didn’t tear it open instantly. However I decide it would be much nicer to open today and also had done my daily blog and wouldn’t have one to write today and I have promised to write daily from now on. I opened it a while ago and look at what I had been sent.

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
This bodes well for my reading of classics this year. I have never read any Oscar Wilde, though I did read Will Self’s version ‘Dorian’ a few years ago, so to finally have this to add on to my TBR was a real joy. I have heard this is a really dark tale and I know that the movie is coming out in November this year so must read it before then. Also isn’t the cover absolutely gorgeous, very decadent and Victorian, love it.

In Search of the Missing Eyelash – Karen McLeod
I saw Karen read Julia Darling’s ‘Crocodile Soup’ at the Lavender Library which took place at the Southbank last year and thought she was absolutely fabulous. She is also doing a reading at Polari this month so I am thrilled that this has arrived. It sounds like it is going to be hilarious, a tale of obsession and stalking. I have decided that as I am at the end of Part One of Anna Karenina I shall read this before I start Part Two to give me a little break. I might do that after every part actually as I have never managed to read more than one fiction book at a time so it might give it a try and see how it goes.

Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates
This has only come to my attention in probably the last three or four months as all the book shops are really pushing his whole set of works. Obviously the film is coming out in the next few months which leads me to my only small gripe… they sent me the film tie-in copy and not the delicious Vintage edition. However as film covers go this isn’t a bad one at all. The story of a married couple in suburban America who aspire for greatness and in trying to achieve it obliterate everything, sounds unusual, have seen lots of people on the tube with this.

A great selection of books to head to the top of the never ending TBR.

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Filed under Julia Darling, Karen McLeod, Oscar Wilde, Will Self