Jun. 13th, 2016



This book will be out in August and is already creating a buzz. In 1666, that annus mirabilis, Thomas Allgood is working as John Milton’s secretary while at the same time spying on him. In 1777, William Blake creates a creature or homunculus from one of Milton’s ribs. In 1888 ‘Jack’ describes and justifies the murders he commits in Whitechapel. In 1999 a computer programmer called Chris is working on fixing the millennium bug while becoming involved with co-worker Lucy, who has some seriously weird preoccupations. What they all have in common is that at some time each has in his possession a curious little wooden puzzle, or rebus, which fascinates them. The other linking factor is that each sees a cloaked and hooded man with a shining metallic mask instead of a face. Plus, each feels in some way special, singled out for a great purpose.

Each of these characters has his own voice, faithfully reproduced in the correct style of the period. This kind of pastiche is very clever but it’s been done before; by Peter Ackroyd for example. It happens that I’m familiar with seventeenth century prose and also know my Milton and my Blake. What would people without this advantage make of the book? It’s inevitably rather elitist. Worse, it does not hold one’s interest. I was constantly reading another section, putting the book aside in order to read something quite different, then returning to it with a dogged ‘I will finish this book!’ feeling. I was looking for a sense of direction, a conclusion of some kind, however fantastical. Numerology? Complete nonsense. Likewise Millenarianism.

You will gather that I didn’t get this book at all. It pains me to be harsh about something which is, after all, much better than most books which get published but I found it to be pretentious tosh.

The Countenance Divine is published by John Murray and I read it courtesy of NetGalley.
Oh dear. I’ve just posted a stinker of a review of a new book. When I look at what it will cost and think that I’ve had the chance to read it for nothing, I feel ungrateful but if I don’t say what I think, how will anyone trust my reviews?

I’m sure there will be no such problem reading the books [livejournal.com profile] huskyteer and I picked up at the weekend. It was Folk Festival weekend and a rather subdued one. The usual charities’ fair was held on the Minster Green, with a very large bookstall. As is the way with nearly all book hunts these days, there were almost no old books to be seen. [livejournal.com profile] huskyteer was pleased with her haul which included Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal by H E Bates. She read it and left it behind and now I’ve nearly finished it, too. Because it’s good! It came from a box which included several other old Penguin editions of books by Bates and, two days later, I’m still kicking myself for not grabbing the lot at 20p each.

I got three books which I look forward to reading. The Villa in Italy by Elizabeth Edmondson, yay! It’s the first of her books I’ve ever been able to find second hand. Next a book by Rachel Hore which I hadn’t read, A Week in Paris. When I got it home I found it was a signed copy. So that’s two nice, fat paperbacks for me. From a smaller charity stall I got an even greater bargain, a hardback 1st edition of H is for Hawk, in excellent condition.

The weekend was pretty wet, on and off, which was a shame for the folk dancers, the birthday teas for the Queen and the cricket at Lord’s. Yesterday evening rain was coming down in sheets and it’s still wet this morning, with regular showers. Ah, an English summer.

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