Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Knitting Therapy

I have been a bad blogger lately and I'm sorry.  My brain has been mostly occupied with learning my new job, so there's not much left for thinking up new blog content.  I mostly feel like this:

On top of learning a new set of skills, there was another big, scary upgrade,  a week of night call, (last vestige of my old job) and the holidays.  Then there was the morning I got up for work and discovered that Phoebe had redecorated the couch, living room, sun room, and upstairs landing with vomit and diarrhea. Also, Jon spent a day in the ER having chest pain. He turned out to be fine and we think Phoebe injured him on one of her walks.  Phoebe again! Cherchez la hound! One of my children was plagued for weeks with assorted ailments, which just the other day, after multiple doctor's appointments, we learned are caused by dairy and almond allergies.  And if that isn't enough, Matt Bellassai hasn't made a new Whine About It movie in weeks.  I need reassurance that I'm not the only person suffering from trivial things.

To cope, I took up knitting, but that quickly became another obsession and I am driven to finish the sweater I'm working on to the point of depriving myself of sleep to meet daily self-imposed knitting quotas.

What five weeks of obsessive knitting can do.
That's fingering weight yarn, by the way.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Several times, I've written about Elizabeth Jane Howard's novels, particularly her wonderful Cazalet series.  The first four books, about a British extended family during the World War II years were published in the 1990s.  Howard's final installment in the series, All Change, came out in late 2013, shortly before her death at age 90.

Of course I was ecstatic to learn of a fifth Cazalet novel, and yet it took me two years to get around to reading it.  Even after I'd finally procured a copy, I let it sit on my nightstand for weeks, reading everything else on my short list first and feeling curiously reluctant to read this book that I'd longed for.

I realized that I was actually afraid to read it; afraid that it wouldn't be as good as the first four books in the series and afraid that I'd end up grieving that Elizabeth Jane Howard had lost her writing skill at the end of her life.  This fear was bolstered by a bad customer review on amazon which claimed that All Change was a disappointment, that there was little new material, and was just a re-hashing of the original books.

Finally, shortly before Christmas, I started to read it and after the first few pages I realized that all my fears were groundless.  All Change is just as satisfying and wonderful as the rest of the Cazalet series. Whoever wrote the amazon review must be a real curmudgeon.

It's 1956, or roughly eleven years since the end of Casting Off, the previous book in the series.  The story opens with the death of the family matriarch.  Clary, Polly, and Louise are in their early thirties.  Clary and Polly are married with children and Louise is a fashion model, having an affair with a married man.  Rachel, while grieving the loss of her mother, is now finally free to openly live with her longtime female partner, Sid.  Edward is somewhat estranged from the family, due to his marriage to the poisonous Diana.  Hugh, also remarried to a widow with twin sons, struggles to carry on the family business, and Rupert and Zoe live in a fantastic-sounding old house with their children. We also get to see Villy and even the much-beloved governess, Miss Millament, is featured for a bit. Nearly all the characters from the first parts of the series get at least a mention and now there are several new characters, Polly, Clary, and Zoe's children.  Elizabeth Jane Howard has a delightful, unsentimental way of portraying children and she doesn't flinch from showing the nastier aspects of some children's characters, without making this behavior seem like a precursor to being a sociopath.

So there's lots of new material in this new book, and at the end, the Cazalets are at another crossroads in their story.  Some lose ends are tied up, but there's a lot that isn't resolved.  I wonder if EJH had considered writing a sixth book?  At any rate, All Change turned out to be the sort of book you can't wait to get back to at the end of a long day at work, and it was also a good Christmastime book, as there are several really good Christmas sections.

I know that many of the books I write about here don't have much appeal, but I can't imagine anyone not loving this series.  If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend adding it to your list.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

I Claudius

Good reviews of Robert Graves' books have been turning up everywhere in the blogs that I read, and his classic novel I, Claudius was included on Modern Library's list of the top 100 books in English, so I added it to my own list.  I was expecting it to be a bit of a bore, but it turned out to be engrossing.

Claudius was the grandson of Livia, the wife of Caesar Augustus.  He was partially deaf, stuttered, and walked with a limp, which led his family to believe he was half-witted.  Thus, he was either ignored or jeered at by many of those who knew him, which probably prevented him from being executed or murdered.  "No one murders the butt," he's told.  Claudius became emperor of Rome in A.D. 41, following the assassination of his nephew, Caligula.  Most other members of the family were already dead.

I Claudius is his fictionalized autobiography, and it is a fascinating look at Roman history, starting with the time of Caesar Augustus, who was Claudius' step-grandfather on his father's side, and his great-uncle on his mother's side.  The Romans were so casual about divorcing and remarrying and adopting each other's children, that I found it very difficult to keep track of the family tree.

Robert Graves is a really good writer and his autobiography, Goodbye to All That, is also in my list. I enjoyed the perspective from inside Claudius' head, who is intelligent and quirky.  I have to say, this is probably one of the bloodiest books I have ever read.  If they gave out awards for the book with the most murders and executions, I. Claudius would win for sure.  It starts small, with just the poisonous Livia murdering anyone who gets in her way, but by the time Caligula becomes emperor, whenever a new character is introduced, I found myself wondering how long before this one was murdered or executed, which was the inevitable outcome for all.  I, Claudius really highlights how brutal and savage the Romans really were, underneath their veneer of civilization.