söndag 9 maj 2010

From Boris Johnson to the Brontës

No, I will not venture into politics. Well, not if I can help it, anyway. I'm going to write a bit about books that I'm reading or have lately read, just to show I don't spend all of my spare time glued to the TV screen, and one of those books happens to be a light-hearted thriller ("Seventy-Two Virgins") written by Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London.

In theory, I try to alternate my reading between more ambitious reading projects and books I read just for the fun of it. (In practice, I cheat quite a lot.) The problem is that it's easy to become disappointed with the pure self-indulgence books if they turn out to be not quite as self-indulgent as one thinks. On the other hand, I've often found myself enjoying the ambitious books far more than I'd expected. Johnson's thriller (let's see if I manage to call him "Johnson" rather than "Boris" throughout, to highlight that I'm talking about him as a writer, not as a politician - he seems to be "Boris" to everyone in politics, including his opponents)was intended as a self-indulgence book. It was written back in 2004 and concerns a terrorist attack on the American President which turns into a publicity stunt. Johnson writes extremely well and entertainingly, but I must confess I was depressed at first by all the bungled attempts to stop the amateurish terrorists. I don't like it when things go wrong, perhaps because I'm not one of those people who "cope well with stressful situations" to quote the job advertisements. Everything turns out well at the end, however, and there are enjoyable scenes where various establishment figures, after having got over the initial shock, start to bite back at the media-savvy terrorist leader and his gang. The President himself, up until then rather patronisingly described (this is Bush, remember, not Saint Obama), gets to make the point that the black-eyed virgins the would-be martyrs are hoping for might actually turn out to be raisins. "Kind of makes a difference, I would have thought".

Would non-Tory readers enjoy the book? I'm not sure - the author's distaste for what one could call champagne socialists is apparent. Not one, but two journalists from left-leaning papers make the mistake of messing up their subjects' lives for the sake of a morally edifying story. But then, doesn't everyone hate that kind of journalism? Even so, if you're seriously anti-American as well as left-wing you should probably give the book a miss.

I felt slightly guilty when I started Jude Morgan's "The Taste of Sorrow" after having finished Johnson's thriller. A novel about the Brontë sisters, was that really ambitious enough? I should say yes, though, because Morgan has a writing pattern similar to my reading one. He seems to be alternating between elegant Regency Romances ("Indiscretion", "An Accomplished Woman") and more serious biographical fiction about historical personnages who did not always lead easy lives ("The King's Touch", "Passion", "Symphony"). His books are enjoyable to read in both cases, though I confess I prefer the romances where I can be reasonably sure of a happy ending. "The Taste of Sorrow", as one can guess from the title, will not be all sunshine and laughter. It starts glumly enough with the death of the Brontë siblings' mother. There will be more deaths, I realise, in this book than in Johnson's terrorist-stuffed thriller. So far, the funniest part of the book has been a scathing description of poor old Carus Wilson, Charlotte's model for Mr Brocklehurst (a villain not even I can like - how come so many teacher/headmaster baddies are such unsubtle monsters? Dickens's Squeers is no better). And even that was grim in its way. Well, let's see if the tone lightens up a bit further on. I'm looking forward to Morgan's take on Madame Heger.