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Sunday, May 03, 2009

The reading must go on!




By way of a change I decided to go to Sitges to expose my crisping skin to further rays. But it was full so I came home again.

My usual parking space in the bloody place is in the process of being churned up by road works. Just what you would expect at the start of the summer season in a place which only exists because of the tourist trade! Most of the parking spaces were taken up by broken road surface and a series of workers’ huts. As I drove away tracing delicate patterns of frustration in exhaust gasses there was not a single parking space in the place. That also includes spaces which were not parking space – all of which were filled with cars!

Like Yeats, I balanced all, brought all to mind, and thought that the balcony back in Castelldefels was a much better bet than parking a 20 minute walk away from the beach (assuming that I could find a parking space that close!) and being bereft of all the facilities that an attached flat provides.

As soon as I arrived back in Castelldefels the sun disappeared with inconvenient scraps of cloud pointlessly obstructing sunshine. So I made lunch.

I don’t want you to think that the proximity of lunch indicates a slatternly lie in bed in the morning. No, indeed! I was up bright and early and reading.

My morning cup of tea on the balcony was accompanied by ‘Silverfin’ by Charlie Higson. This is the first volume of the ‘Young Bond’ series which takes Ian Fleming’s iconic spy back to his childhood. I can remember the publicity when the Fleming Estate decided to back Higson and allow him to produce an initial volume so I was interested to see what it was like.

The book has an interestingly bloody (and somewhat misleading) start which whetted the appetite for a rollicking adventure yarn which then settled down into a public school story when the young Bond went to Eton. The description of the school is rather ooh-ahh documentary style with the gnomic slang of the upper class lovingly detailed and the architectural details of the ancient school dwelt on with relish.

The action developed along fairly conventional lines with bullying (gosh!) as one of the most important story lines. The opportunistic nature of this school saga is later developed by having the characters coincidentally playing a part in the major section of the book where the more traditional elements of Bond story telling come into play.

I have to admit that the structure of the book is quite masterly and it is easy to see the influence of the films rather than the novels playing their part in the exciting narrative.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it more than lived up to its exploitation of the Bond name. Talking of exploitation there are a number of volumes in the Young Bond series and a website to keep enthusiasts happy.

Once back from my abortive trip to Sitges I settled down on the balcony (in spite of the lack of sunshine) to read the last of the seven books that I had brought home to read over this holiday period, ‘The Stone Testament’ by Celia Rees.

This is an altogether more complex novel which skips from period to period, fantasy to gritty reality and narrator to narrator. The essential apocalyptic trust of the narrative is fairly simple to comprehend but the vast time span involved and the reincarnations of the central characters through history will put off some readers.

This is basically a race against time in which the actions of teenagers are going to be crucial in the saving of the world. The author uses multiple narrators and illustrations to give a spacious feel to the story and the references to different historical periods are intriguing.

Celia Rees states that what she wanted to do was, “write for teenagers, books that they would want to read, almost adult in style and content, but with like them at the centre.” I suppose that the only problem with this type of book is concerned with the definition of that word “almost” and how far it can be pushed to stimulate young readers to make a real effort to follow a complex narrative.

Celia Rees uses a wide range of contemporary and historic references and her reworking of the character of Ambrose Bierce as Brice Ambrose Stone is witty and well used. She is fair with the reader and produces a short acknowledgements page in which Bierce, Hawking and Machen are all credited.

This was a book with epic scope and multiple points of interest. It was a stimulating and satisfying read.

Although it is late my dinner is simmering on the hob. I decided to produce one of my ‘honest chunky’ meals. This means that I put slabs of meat together with roughly chopped onions, peppers, sliced potatoes and an oxo chicken cube and a low heat. It’s really too late for a meal but that is not going to stop me.

So there!
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