Tag Archives: Louis De Bernieres

The Odd Brown Smartie In A Sea Of Blue Smarties….What I Thought Of Imagining Alexandria by Louis De Bernieres

SmartiesBrown Smarties are my favourites and Blue are second favourites. Can I tell the difference between them and Blue Smarties? Absolutely (as long as you don’t put this to the test and just take my word for it!). I like Blue Smarties but I don’t love them. I love Brown Smarties though. And that’s what I felt about Louis De Bernieres first published poetry collection “Imagining Alexandria”. There are lots of Blue Smarties, with the odd Brown Smarties gem here and there!

The collection is very deliberately influenced by the work of the Greek poet Cavafy. And before you go thinking I’m dead clever working that out, De Bernieres tells you this and more in his engaging introduction to the collection. Apparently De Bernieres carries a book of Cavafy poetry round in his pocket and reads it every day. Well since I’d never heard of or read Cavafy before I read this, I gave Cavafy a go – and I’ll sum up his poetry by saying that Cavafy and I won’t be meeting up on a daily basis over coffee! But that doesn’t detract anything from Imagining Alexandria. Its particularly fortunate that Louis De Bernieres is true to his word, for he tells you in that intro that he’ll be steering clear of Cavafy’s “beautiful young men” celebrations and he does, thank god, for of all the Cavafy poems, these were the ones I struggled with the most!

Imagining Alexandria by Louis De Bernieres
Imagining Alexandria by Louis De Bernieres

Cavafy influences aside, I approached this with a mix of relish and apprehension – Louis De Bernieres is simply my favourite author so I couldn’t help looking forward to this. But of course, as his first foray into publishing poetry, I was worried it wouldn’t be good – and I so wanted it to be. I needn’t have worried – he’s just far too good a writer not to be able to deliver poetry that’s great. Overall I thought it was a hugely enjoyable read and it’s got some real gems in this collection. There are also one or two that are a bit flat and didn’t work for me – but they are small in number and certainly didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the collection.

His writing style from his novels lends itself easily. Generally I found the work which had a “here and now” feel much more enjoyable. Given how wonderfully he handled the theme of love in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, it’s probably not surprising that the poems on love were the strongest for me. With the odd exception, I found the poems of Ancient Rome and Greece less enjoyable. Though even there, I loved the whimsical but ultimately rather tragic poem “Marcus Severus, Of Late Memory.”

Marcus Severus, of late memory, was so

Prodigiously endowed that

When he attended the public baths

The bathers stood and cheered.

With modest pleasure, he acknowledged this applause.

Louis De Bernieres  - perhaps a better writer than taste in hats!
Louis De Bernieres – it’s fair to say his writing talents weren’t matched by his choice in hats!

There are a couple of areas where this humour is given full rein but the best of the collection is reserved for his observations of relationships. The beautiful and haunting Your Brighton Dress tells the story of a man looking back on how he spent the last few quid in his wallet on a dress for a woman he was in love with at that time, and it includes the gorgeous lines, “Such slices of time have fallen away. I’ve scarcely seen you/ For longer than we’d been alive./It was back in a former life, but I like to remember/ False though this may be/That when I and you were there/You were bringing me Mexican presents/Wearing a silver necklace/Wearing your Brighton dress”.

In a similar vein I loved the poems “At The Sorbonne”, “Two Thousand Nights” and “Their Mutual Vows”. There’s such a gentle, slightly sad feel to these and others. But great as these are, De Bernieres saves his best for last – quite literally, The final poem in the collection is “When The Time Comes” – it’s haunting, and touching and absolutely beautiful in places. It begins….

When the time comes, it is better that death be welcome,

As an old fried who embraces and forgives

Seize advantage of what little time is left,

And if imagination serves, if strength endures, if memory lives

Ponder on those vanished loves, those jesting faces.

Take once more their hands and press them to your cheek,

Think of you and them as young again, as running in the fields,

As drinking wine and laughing.

It was always going to be a tough ask for me to love De Bernieres poetry as much as I love his fiction. One of his books is simply my favourite book of all time – and no it’s not Captain Corelli (though it’s in my top ten!). Actually three books of his combined are my favourite three books ever – the trilogy, War of Don Emanuel’s Nether Parts, Senor Vivo and the Coca Lords, and The Troublesome Offspring Of Cardinal Guzman. In the end I didn’t love all of his poetry as much as I did those novels which are such wonderful flights of imagination and invention. But some of it is right up there – Imagining Alexandria has stuff that I can’t help loving as much as I love Senor Vivo, Cardinal Guzman, Don Emanuel and of course as much as I love Brown Smarties.

“Stop The Clocks, Cut Off The Telephone”………And Put Life On Hold, For At Last The New Carlos Ruiz Zafon Is In My Hands!!……….

……….My apologies for bastardising those moving lines of Auden, but they seemed to fit so perfectly with how I feel at the moment.

After years of waiting, the new Carlos Ruiz Zafon novel is in my possession and now I want everything to stop, for time to stand still and for the world to just allow me to read non-stop until I get to the end of the next journey through Barcelona and the Cemetry Of Forgotten Books!

There are only a handful of novelists who can generate this level of anticipation for me about their books being published, and perhaps the books of Carlos Ruiz Zafon are those I most anticipate – well it would be a toss up between him, Khaled Hosseini, Louis de Bernieres and Orhan Pamuk at any rate!

I first entered the magical world of Sempere and Sons bookshop, and the Cemetery Of Forgotten Books, when I read Shadow Of The Wind – by the time I got to it, it was I think being pushed through the Richard and Judy book club thing, as well as promoted high and handsome in every bookshop and supermarket in the land! I loved Shadow – loved, loved, loved, loved, LOVED it! One of my favourite books ever.

I then had to wait an excruciating 4 years for the next book, The Angels Game. I read it with joy, wonder, and tears streaming down my face in the sunshine of Crete after the publication timed perfectly with a family holiday! It was fantastic. Every bit as good as Shadow in my opinion!

Three years later, comes the third instalment! Although I’ve been able to sate my appetite a little with a couple of his books for young adults, The Midnight Palace and The Prince Of Mist (both of which I thoroughly enjoyed), it’s still been a long wait for the next adventure in the Cemetery Of Forgotten Books!

It’s a book that I simply couldn’t resist any longer. It came out a few weeks ago but I steeled myself and avoided getting a copy ordered until some other stuff I had on the go was all finished. Now it is (well it’s actually not all finished but I couldn’t wait any longer!!!!!!!!!!). My copy finally arrived in my hands today and now I want to stop the world, get off and spend my next 48 hours or so in Barcelona and in the company of Daniel Sempere!

So I’m off to do just that! See you whenever I resurface!

The Incredible Lightness Of Being……….A Paperback!

I’ve just finished reading the first two books of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 – the story is absolutely wonderful and I loved it – but reading it in hardback was bloody hard work at times. I find reading hardback versions so awkward – I struggle to find a way to hold them comfortably for any length of time and end up shuffling about as if I’ve got St Vitus Dance! (I reckon anybody who grew up in Glasgow heard “St Vitus Dance” referred to every day – any time we moved when sitting in a chair or lying on the carpet at home the phrase “Have you got St Vitus Dance?” came out!). If you’re interested, Saint Vitus is considered to be the patron saint of dancers, apparently, with the eponym given as homage to the manic dancing that historically took place in front of his statue during the feast of Saint Vitus in Germanic and Latvian cultures. Colloquially it became the name given for Sydenham’s Chorea disease – I think that’s how it entered Glaswegian parlance rather than the Germanic dancing route! Then again, we Glaswegians have been known to indulge in the odd bit of manic dancing!!!!! (usually on Saturday nights when the pubs near closing time!)

Anyway I digress. Back to the Hardback.

I just find it awkward to hold – it always feels too heavy to hold in one hand and if I hold it in two then my ability to drink tea or coffee and read at the same time is seriously impaired. Pathetic as it sounds I get a sore arm holding up a hardback book (and I know that makes me sound like a real wimp but I can’t help it!). In addition, I always think hardback books are meant to be read sitting up straight, at a desk for example. When I read fiction I want to lounge and sprawl about – doing that with a hardback doesn’t work too well! Mind you they have their advantages – they are more durable and so look better with age (I like that – I’m going to think of myself as a “hardback” from now on!!!). They also look more imposing to me when I see them on my shelves at home – and I like the “image” of them. As a child who was reliant on the library for a supply of reading material, the hardback book had real “status” to my mind – I thought of them as the preserve of the rich, the successful and the intellectuals – though where I got this notion from I’m not sure as rich, successful, intellectuals were rather conspicuous by their absence where I grew up! And yet that impression of the hardback as the preserve of the rich and clever is still with me to some extent even today – and even though I know it’s really nonsense!!

For all the difficulty I have in getting comfortable with a hardback book, I still buy them from time to time but as I look at them on my shelves they pretty much fall into a few categories for me.

Firstly there are those that I tend to buy by authors I love, when I can’t wait for the latest novel to appear in paperback. Consequently there are more hardbacks than paperbacks by Ian Rankin (what’s not to love about the Rebus stories), Ian Banks more recent stuff, and some books by the likes of Roddy Doyle, Louis de Bernieres, Sebastian Faulks, Peter Carey ( I hated the feel of “Parrot and Olivier In America”, couldn’t get comfortable reading it at all and yet I loved that book) and of course Murakami.

Then there are those I pick up in charity shops – they are mainly biographies, and a fair proportion of these are sports related, especially football. I’ve no idea why I buy those in hardback but I do – perhaps it lends physical substance to some of the more ‘limited’ substance and formulaic writing I encounter on the pages of countless footballers’ biographies – maybe sub-consciously my view of the intellectual status of the hardback lends credence to some of the less-than-intellectual subject matter! (of course all things Eric Cantona are exempt from this mild criticism!)

Third come poetry books – I not only buy these in hardback but they are the only genre I actually PREFER to read in hardback – mainly because they are small enough to be solid and also feel comfortable! The durability is the key here. My early days “poor student” poetry books are in a right old state!

Finally, as I look around there are a few hardbacks that I’m pretty sure came when I was a member of a “Book Club” years ago. They’d send you a form to order what you fancied but it would also include the “Editors Choice”. You were supposed to send back to them within so many days if you DIDN’T want the “Editors Choice”  I was hopeless at that and so ended up with several hardback books that I’d not otherwise have chosen. How else can I explain the presence on my shelves of things like the Craig Thomas “thriller” (and I use that word advisedly) “All The Grey Cats”, The Shorter Illustrated History Of The World (aaaaagh!), and John Gribbin’s “In Search Of The Edge Of Time” (read it all the way through and had absolutely no idea what it was on about!)

So while I like the status and the look of the hardback, it’s the paperback I love most. I’m one of those who’ll be eternally grateful to Penguin for their introduction of paperbacks to our shores back in the 1930′s.

Mind you there are other uses and advantages in the hardback book. As Alfred Hitchcock said “‘The paperback is very interesting but I find it will never replace the hardcover book – it makes a very poor doorstop!” and perhaps even more thoughtfully Robert Clark pointed out “Always buy pornographic books in hardback –  they’re easier to hold with one hand!” And on that note…………………………………!

Simon Cowell, the “filthy” rich and fifty pound notes……………………………..

A while ago, while visiting a zoo or a theme park or somewhere, my daughter bought a packet of paper tissues with £50 notes printed on them (like most kids our best efforts to educate and introduce her to culture, heritage and nature founder on the inevitable truth – what she’s really interested in is going to the shop!)

This morning she decided to take them to school and share with her friends in the playground! All well and good. But she then broke the sleepy ease and soothing silence of our school run with the following statement “Some rich people use real £50 notes to blow their nose you know!”. She then went on to regale me with the details of how they will use a handkerchief if they have one but if they haven’t they just go into their wallet (it’s always men who display this decadence never women – I think she believes that even fabulously wealthy women have some sense!) and then they take out a £50 note and wipe their nose with it! To this tall tale she then added slander by stating that she knew Simon Cowell did it. When I asked her where she heard this and how she knew this was true she told me “It was on the internet!”

This got me thinking about three things

1. I’m thinking of writing a novel and currently gathering ideas (I’ve shared the basic plot with my daughter – her constructive and practical criticism was “Sounds boring!”). I’m inclined to use this information about the filthy rich and their nose blowing techniques for one of the characters! In addition I think I’ll litter the text with odd and a-typical uses of £50 notes!

2. If Simon Cowell and the filthy rich do this in real life (I’m sure they don’t, although the evidence that “It was on the Internet so it must be true” is powerful stuff!!!) then I’d dislike it intensely - I’m too plain to like anything ostentatious or bizarre in real people! But in books – that’s a different matter! It struck me that instead of being put off by outrageous behaviour such as this in book characters I tend to rather like them for it. I loved Cameron Colley in Iain Banks’ “Complicity” sitting behind the wheel of his car driving with no hands at 100 miles an hour while rolling a joint on his knee – I admired the sheer chutzpah of Don Emmanuel washing the fluff from his genitals in the stream in Louis De Bernieres “The War Of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts” – has there ever been a more charming and likeable asocial serial murderer  than Sebastian Faulks’ “Mike Engleby” – and on the nose side of things my favourite book character ever,  Saleem Sinai in Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children”, was in part at least, a glorious evocation of all things snot!

I wondered if I only like the outrageous side of life on the page rather than real life – but that can’t be true because I really didn’t like Bernie Salazar in Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit From The Goon Squad” (mind you I didn’t like anybody or anything about that book!) and in real life I love Eric Cantona!

3. I worry like hell for my daughter and her generation and those to follow – we seem to be making a right bloody mess of the world we live in and which they’ll inherit – but my worry increases a little further when I realise that at the moment she thinks if it’s on the Internet it must be true! If that was the case then Nicholas Cage really might be a vampire, Steve Jobs may well have been a ninja warrior and the Seven Dwarves really were a metaphor for the different stages of cocaine addiction! (This garbage and much more is out there – why aren’t there warm and comforting rumours on the internet like “God sends a message to Earth that Scotland will qualify for and win the next World Cup”!). But, more than anything, if what is on the Internet really is all true then it would also mean the most ludicrous thing of all was true and that I’ll never accept, so I’ll end my post by stating it clearly – Katie Price is NOT a proper author and as far as I am concerned never could be and never will be!!!

Now excuse me while I go blow my nose – where have I left my wallet……………………………………!