I still have The Master and Margarita reserved with the library's online booking system. I did resort to buying a copy so I could read it in time for Beer and Books at the beginning of the month. (Seven weeks and still counting on the library front...). A strange but beguiling book. A Faustian romp through Moscow. I was concerned at times that I wasn't really 'getting the point' but thoroughly enjoyed it. (I'm still not sure what Pontius Pilate has to do with anything though).
A novel revolving around a pub in London? How could I not enjoy Patrick Hamilton's trilogy Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky. Funny, painful and sad I absolutely loved it. Very much a product of its time – the Thirties – but I have no doubt the characters have their London equivalents today . Full of humanity – and sentences that hang in my mind. “He wondered what the other passengers discerned of them and their relationship” whizzed round and round on the Central Line after a full evening's drinking in the Old Mitre with the Gardener.
I am determined not to lose my French so occasionally indulge in a novel or two. The latest selection includes L'Enfant de Sable by Tahar Ben Jelloun. (Sand Child). With seven girls already in a society (Moroccan) that only values male descendants, a husband and wife contrive to raise their eighth daughter as a son. The story – poetically told – has been playing on my mind. What does make a man a man and a woman a woman if you discount the obvious biological bits? What makes us who we are and different? I had to refer back to Simone de Beauvoir's Le Deuxième Sexe – 'On ne naît pas femme' and also Germain Greer's the whole woman where she asks why women so readily accept men with their bits chopped off as women. A book with no ready answers that will stay with me.
The story of Kentish Town from village to a blighted part of the London sprawl to urban gentrification. The Fields Beneath. The History of One London Village. Gillian Tindall's history is illuminating. She importantly points out that there is often more to be learnt from the neglected parts of London than in the carefully preserved areas which have not been exposed to various social upheavals and dislocations. This was written in the Seventies and I'd love to read what has happened in the intervening years. A journey of my own on foot might go someway to filling in the gaps.
In torrential rain on a Hackney Wick allotment (a truly enchanting place that deserves to be called something more than an allotment), perched in a shed drinking red wine I met Iain Sinclair and his wife. It was an odd moment but just about the right circumstances for briefly meeting the celebrated psychogeographer. The plot is making way for a footpath for the sustainable [sic] 2012 Olympics. Sinclair has been on the radio since explaining how the words 'visionary' and 'developer' scare him. Anyway, meeting him prompted me to buy Dining On Stones. This is easier to understand than Downriver, harder than Lights Out. I enjoy reading his books for the areas and ideas I do recognise. The A13 is home territory. The blue light roundabout just down the road. I would never recommend his work to anyone but do relish reading it in a perverse kind of a way.