Thursday, 15 November 2018

Quick Lit November 2018

Linking up as usual with Modern Mrs Darcy. I fitted two book club books into this month´s reviews, reading one last minute and getting the other early via the Internet Archive, a free e-book library I discovered. Since all this month´s book were digital or audio, I have included photos related to a couple of the books and World War I.

Indian WWI troops

Abir Mukherjee - A Rising Man
My first ever book club book! It was time to be brave and make some new friends, so I joined up with the English book club at the American Corner in Trieste. This is a detective story set in 1919 Calcutta. Sam Wyndham has accepted a job from a former commanding officer, Taggart, glad to escape England with its memories of the war and his dead wife. A major case blows up when a civil servant is found dead in an alley, a piece of paper stuck in his throat telling the English to leave India. The case - and even Taggart´s reason for involving him - are quickly not what they seem. It took me a while to warm to the book as it is not my usual genre of choice, but I was certainly swiping the pages by the end.

Barbara Pym - A Glass of Blessings
Like Excellent Women, this book paints a portrait of women´s life in the fifties. Wilmet Forsyth is a well-to-do middle class wife. Forbidden by her husband to take a job, but childless, she realises she is wandering through life, too principled to take a lover, too vivacious to be full of good works. In a more literary novel, that might be a formula for bleak self searching, but in Pym it is a wry comedy of manners that gently points out the absurdities of English middle class life. Pym is now my geeky literary palate cleanser. Her books have a light touch, but are not frothy, always a pleasure.

Vera (who served as a voluntary nurse), and her beloved only brother, Edward

Vera Brittain - Testament of Youth [audio book]
An appropriate read as we come to the end of the centenary of WWI. Although the book is best known, and justly, for its eye witness account of the First World War, it is really the story of how the war shaped a young idealist into a political and social activist. The book starts off slowly, building the necessary background for Brittain´s world that is about to be turned on its head. But once it got into the First World War, well, gripping is a clichéword, but at times my insides were literally gripped with emotion. I highly recommend this in audio (mine was read by Sheila Mitchell) - it was like Brittain was with me, telling her story.

Ann Enright - The Gathering
November´s book club book, a Man Booker prize winner. The protagonist, Veronica, embarks on a stream of consciousness journey as she deals with the death of her brother, who committed suicide. There are finely crafted sentences, and the narrative structure is interesting, but Enright includes crude references almost every few pages, and the climax hinges on an event that, as Veronica states right at the beginning, may not have actually happened. Enright described this book as a Hollywood weepie for intellectuals. No, Ms Enright, Testament of Youth is a weepie for intellectuals. This is a weepie for people obsessed with genitals. I confess to skim reading the last half since I felt obliged to finish it for book club, but I felt tainted afterwards.

The Somme. Lest we forget.

Grotta Gigante

Is there a word for a revelation that is simultaneously a duh moment and a wow moment? I had one of those this recent half term. We had two consecutive holidays coming up, Reformation Day and All Saints*, and in Slovenia a holiday is actually a holiday, as in everything shuts down. With the children home for the week, lots of rain in the forecast and hubby about to go on a business trip, I knew I had to plan at least one outing or I would go insane. So what do you do when there is nothing to do and you live in a small European country? The duh moment: you hop over the border to one that does not have a holiday. And the wow moment: we can just hop over the border to one that does not have a holiday.

And if you live in a region riddled by caves beneath your feet and the weather is cold and damp... why not go visit a cave, where the weather is cold and damp?

So a little hearsay and research uncovered a nearby cave we had never heard of before: Grotta Gigante in the Trieste region. Our teenager had some vague objection along the lines that we would have to drive through the town where her school is and she should not have to be near her school at half term (or be seen out with her family), but she was made to leave the cave that is her room anyway.

Credit: Grotta Gigante website

The only other visitors for that hour were a father and son from Slovenia who obviously had the same idea that we did. That worked out really well. The guide gave the English presentation first, then sent us on our way to the next station while she repeated it in Slovene, so we got to walk at our own pace, or the pace of middle aged parents descending 500 steps with a child in a back pack carrier. The three year-old was determined to travel in style the whole way. His sister tried bribing him to walk with promises of a Kit Kat from the vending machine if he walked. "I will walk at the end," he announced, and stayed firmly put.

Grotta Gigante gets its name because it is basically a big hole in the ground. This was not a major tourist cave, like Postojna, but I like avoiding crowds, plus you get more personal tours from people really keen to show you what a hidden treasure you are visiting. Its modest claims to fame include having the world´s largest hall of any tourist cave, and playing host to the longest pendulum in the world, which measures earth tremors.The stalactites are far more impressive than the stalagmites, because the drops of water have so far to fall through the cavern that they tend to splash and disperse on the cave floor.

I was so fixated by the five hundred steps down that I did not think about the 500 steps back up. At that point we were really glad we were staggering walking at our own pace. Ten steps from the exit, a little voice piped up at my back. "I will walk now." Three steps outside the cave, he declared, "I don´t have the energy to walk any more." I foresee a career in international negotiations. And yes, he got his Kit Kat. A deal is a deal.

The pendulum

Touristy stuff: The website is in Italian, but easy to figure out. Since it is a pretty small enterprise, the website warns that official tour times may vary depending on other events, number of visitors etc. If the 1000 steps are not enough of a workout, you can book a four-hour tour that includes climbing down ladders instead (some experience required). Or just go ahead and book the wine tasting tour.

*In Slovenia, the Reformation was the impetus to produce the very first books in Slovene, which is why this basically non-Protestant country marks it as a turning point in Slovene culture. All Saints is a holiday in many traditional Catholic countries.