#52. A Severed Head (Iris Murdoch)

Book: A Severed Head, by Iris Murdoch

Genre and Year of Publication: Fiction, 1961

Where I got it: The Open Door second hand book shop

Length: 205 pages

Briefly, it’s not a murder mystery, despite the title!  It’s a look at marriage, adultery, incest, and “love” amongst a group of people who keep forming and re-forming liaisons.

Comments: I first encountered Iris Murdoch’s work in a philosophy undergrad class, and did not realise for some time that the novelist of the same name is in fact the same person.  But Murdoch’s novels – this one at any rate – are highly philosophical.  What is love?  Can relationships be permanent?  Where does one draw the fine line between use and abuse of people?  Why do we strain to keep others in our possession?  This novel starts out with a classic and rather simple situation of a man, his wife, and his mistress, but quickly becomes very complex as they break up with each other and realign in new relationships, which in turn break up and the same people form yet new liaisons, or return to previous ones… who will “love” whom next?  What is “true” love, if such a thing exists?

I found this novel gripping, but was glad that it ended when it did, as much more would have been too sordid.

Challenges: Back to the Classics challenge for the category “A Classic by a Woman Author”

#51. Men at Arms (Evelyn Waugh)

Book: Men at Arms, by Evelyn Waugh

Genre and Year of Publication: WW II Fiction, 1952

Where I got it: Lent to me by a friend (VA)

Length: 246 pages

Briefly, it follows the military career of Guy Crouchback, a 35-year-old Englishman, who enlists for the army at the outbreak of World War II, through his training period and initial posting to Senegal.

Comments: This book is full of dry wit.  Allegedly based loosely on Waugh’s own war-time experience, it describes an army which is confused, chaotic, unclear about its objectives and largely operating with very, very limited information about what is going on elsewhere.  Most of Crouchback’s time with his division is spent awaiting orders to move elsewhere.  There is an element of boarding school to some of the adventures, and to the whole tone of upholding the ancient traditions of the regiment.  Waugh’s makes his point about the pointlessness of the war with humour and lightness of touch.  Crouchback is a likeable character, and the reader is on his side when his time in West Africa ends in his being sent home in disgrace. 

This is the first book of a trilogy, and I would certainly read the two subsequent volumes, Officers and Gentlemen and Unconditional Surrender.

There are many reviews online; I like the one at  http://brothersjudd.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/reviews.detail/book_id/1251/Men%20at%20Arms.htm

Challenges: Back to the Classics Challenge for the category “A Wartime Classic”

#39. The Murder at Sissingham Hall (Clara Benson)

Book: The Murder at Sissingham Hall, by Clara Benson (Angela Marchmont Mystery #1)

Genre and Year of Publication: Cozy Murder Mystery, written prior to 1965 but not published till 2013 (it seems?)

Where I got it: Free Kindle download (read in August; reviewed in October)

Length: 212 pages

Briefly, it’s a traditional English country house whodunnit.

Comments: Clara Benson, the author, lived from 1890 to 1965.  She wrote several books, but considered writing to be a hobby so did not have them published (according to Goodreads.  I wonder if there’s a deeper story there?)  After her death, her family had the books published. 

The Murder at Sissingham Hall  is the first in a series featuring Angela Marchmont, a woman who just happens to find herself in circumstances which cause her to play the role of detective.  Here, she is one of the guests at the country weekend when the rich owner of the house is murdered… Everyone has a motive… things are not what they seem… her powers of deduction and observation lead to the truth being unveiled at the end…

If you like this genre, you’ll like this.  Personally I will be looking out for more Angela Marchmont books.

Challenges: Full House Challenge for the category “Book from a series”; ebook reading challenge

#16. A Darker Domain (Val McDermid)

Book: A Darker Domain, by Val McDermid

Genre: Crime / mystery

Where I got it: Local library

Length: 392 pages

Briefly, it’s a missing person / kidnapping story with lots of twists, set (mainly) in Scotland during the miner’s strike of 1984.

Comments: This was a great read!  It drew me in right from the first pages.  All the characters are well-depicted, the plot is engaging, and I was completely carried along by it.  I’ll read more of this author.

Challenges: Read Scotland 2014; I Love Library Books challenge.

2014, #1. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (Jonas Jonasson)

Book: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared , by Jonas Jonasson

Genre: Fiction

Length: 400 pages

Where I got it: Christmas gift from D.

Briefly, it’s what it says on the tin – the story of a man who disappears from an old people’s home on his 100th birthday, and what happens to him afterwards.  And also what happened to him before.  All one hundred years of it.

Comments: This is billed as an “international best-selling sensation”, “hilarious… a publishing phenomenon”, and so forth.  Sorry, not for me.  I found the first few chapters funny.  After a while I found it less funny.  Then I found it ridiculous.  There was one chapter towards the end which gave me another few laughs (the one where the comrades “explain” to the police what “really” happened) – but in between was just silly.

Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge, for the category “Set in a different country from you” (Sweden).