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Saturday, 23 August 2008

So now it's Jim and me!

Okay, I put my hands up, I have been a trifle tardy in getting round to coin a few words on Jim's book, Living With the Truth. Actually, that is partly because I was a trifle tardy reading it, and that in turn was because I had to finish War and Peace first, which, foolishly I had chosen for my bed time reading, which would have been okay but for this tendency I have to nod off as soon as I get into bed. (Senior moment type 2.) Why didn't you read it during the day, then? I hear you ask. Because the tendency to nod off is even greater then, I reply. (I didn't nod off reading Living with the Truth funnily enough! Make of that, what you will.)

But to resume: finding myself (not for the first time in my life) the tail-end stooge, I thought I might put aside my desire to review the book for a while yet in order to hit the blogosphere with it when the intial excitement had died down. In fact, it was just beginning to dawn upon me that this might never happen, that Living With the Truth might become a web phenomenon, when, Lo and behold, I hear that Jim has dished out a blog award to me. Naturally, I would want to say a word or two about that, so putting those two developments together, it seemed now might be a good time after all to rush into print with my review.

The award first - of course! My initial reaction was much like Jim's: a certain concern that the method of making the awad - i.e. the blogger having been given the award, then chooses up to five further blogs to be awarded - has the potential, eventually, to award everyone and make the award itself meaningless. My instinct was to suppose there should be some criteria at least, on which the choice is based. That's the professional coming out in me, I am afraid. I was overlooking the traditional amateur nature of the web, which is in fact one of its strong points. Being given a commendation by someone whose judgement you rate highly is in no way inferior to be awarded it by a committee ticking all the boxes. This one has come down to me via Jim (see his Kick-Ass Blogger Award post) and Cataherine at Sharp Words, so the pedigree is as good as it gets - which means I now have to contemplate choosing a blog or blogs, a task I fancy I will not find easy. Not because of their rarity value, but because there is no shortage (so far) of worthy blogs who are yet to be awarded, and because the choice will, by definition, be personal and to that extent subjective and therefore prejudiced. I will do my best, for which read: I will take a day ot two.

So to the book. Living With the Truth. In a sense I feel there is little I can add to what has already been said, and in the main, well said. I found it a thoroughly enjoyable book, and an easy book to read - that not being intended as a criticism by the way. Quite the reverse. It is a serious book that pretends it is no such thing, and a humerous book that does not care who knows it - a combination which I find particularly attractive. The seriousness runs below the slightly acerbic wit and sarcasm, but not invisibly so; it shows in the same way a bone structure shows in the shape of a face. The net result is a gentle and humane portrait of humanity.
The first two sentences set the tone admirably:-

Had it been death that had called that day everything would have been all right. After all, he had been waiting patiently on death for some time and, by his calculations, The Grim Reaper was well and truly overdue.

But it wasn't Death, of course. It was Truth. Hence the consternation that the call would occasion. Death, he was ready for, Truth... ah, well that was an altogether different matter! Our protagonist, Jonathan Payne, is in a sense Mr Everyman: he tells lies to himself, mainly about himself. His is a very fashionable attitude, but one with all sorts of dire - though initially unrecognised - consequences for himself. Some of Truth's colleagues get cameo parts (Destiny for one) and just when you think it might turn to farce it clicks back to serious.

If you know Jim's blog you will already have a fair idea of what to expect (and if you don't know it I would recommend that you remedy that forthwith): the width of his interests and knowledge, for example; the well thought-out and thoroughly researched material; a well-paced and lively, lucid text that leads you into areas you had not altogether expected. Actually, it always gives you rather more than you had expected. It does so here. Read it, read it anywhere: if you have not yet taken your holiday, read it on the beach or in the plane. You could even read it in bed - but not if you want to fall asleep.


Rachel Fox said...

And lo, Jim has a quote for the back of the book (reprint) 'it will keep you awake better than Tolstoy ever could'.

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Dear Dave, Jim is right with his award, there's a precision and accuracy in your expressing opinions and,as I think I have already said in some comment, straightforwardness.
Qualities I myself actually run after, feeling perpetually wavering and drawn by the suddenness ( or dullness) of an emotion and often by contrasting points of view at the same time and by a teetering expression also because English is my second language.
Thank you for your comment on The Narrator's Voice.

Jim Murdoch said...

Dave, Dave, Dave ... do you realise how much of my life went into those opening two sentences? I estimated once - and God alone knows how I worked it out - that it was a whole day ... and, do you know what? ... I'm still not happy with it. I keep adding a 'Now' to the first sentence and if this is actually a continuation.

Thank you for the kind words though. You really have hit it on the head, this is a deadly serious book masquerading as a comic novel.

And, Rachel ... I'll think about it.

Dave King said...

I think I've said too many flippant things about War and Peace. I do believe I may have to review it to set the record straight!

Dave King said...

Speaking of wavering and suddenness, I have been a little guilty of those myself of late. My thanks, though, for your generous comments re the award.

Dave King said...

Personally I think it's better without the 'now', but only marginally. I do recognise the symptom, though. I get thataway with a line in a poem sometimes - quite often, as a matter of fact.

Fiendish said...

An excellent review of what sounds like a very intriguing book.

As for Tolstoy... well...


I don't really read books that were written before 1920. Maybe it's a symptom of my modern consciousness. Or maybe I'm just lazy. Probably the latter.

Lucy said...

I'm afraid I really only got through W&P by largely missing out the War bits, all that military strategy and battlefield detail, and concentrating on the Peace, ie the proto-chicklit about who fancied who and would-they-wouldn't-they. Ah me. (Actually, the Peace of the title, as I understood it, is not the absence of war, since almost all the narrative takes place in time of war, but the Russian word 'mir', as in the space station, which means something more like the building of human relationships and community, c'est a dire, who fancies who and will-they-won't-they...)

However, sounds like I wouldn't have any such trouble with Jim's book, judging by your excellent review.

Thanks for the award. They're just nice compliments really, and it would seem very churlish to refuse one! I've only had one before and to avoid being invidious cited only my most recently discovered blogs as recipients, and in fact found I rather enjoyed writing the testimonials. I have observed when people come in for a lot they do rather peter out and stop passing them on. But I'm most appreciative of your good opinion.

Ken Armstrong said...

I enjoyed your review, Dave. I'm going to try my own tomorrow, 'tough act to follow though.

Dave King said...

Modern consciousness, I'm sure.
Why 1920, though? I'm sure it's obvious, but not to me.

Dave King said...

It was the war bits that really did it for me. Usually they do not. Quite the reverse, but in W & P they are almost minimal, you get nothing that isn't necessary for the story. Often just what one character sees or feels. I thought of Basho's famous remark: "Is it necessary to say everything?"

As for the award, yes you are right, they are nice compliments, but to my mind you deserve it for the quality of your writing, for the length and variety of your posts and for their thoroughness and thoughtfulness. It is always a joy to visit your site. I wanted to mark that.

Dave King said...


It gets tougher by the day, just because it's all been said, but I have no doubt that you will manage something above the normal run - as usual. Good luck.

Rachel Fox said...

Now all us old folk must draw together a list of pre 1920 literature that Fiendish MUST read - now! Get thee to 'Jane Eyre' for a start Fiendish...this minute! No excuses!

J. C. said...

Hopefully I am going to read Jim's book soon. This is a great review you have here. And by the way I consider Anna Karenina as one of the best novels ever written but for War and Peace - I am afraid to even try, maybe I will one day.

Fiendish said...

At the risk of disappointing Rachel Fox, whom I must admit I admire greatly - just know that it pains me to say this, Rachel...

I gave up about halfway through Jane Eyre.

Should I really try again?

And Dave, I have no idea why 1920ish seems to be the date. After that things kind of got interesting on the crime writing circuit, I think.

Dave King said...

There's no need to be afraid: try it in the new (Penguin) translation. Very readable. Jim's book you must read, though!
Thanks for dropping by and leaving your comments.

Dave King said...

Ah, so now I think I understand!

Marion McCready said...

Fiendish, the father of crime writing for me is Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. If that's the genre you're into then give it a go, you'll love it!

Rachel Fox said...

You know Fiendish I don't think I liked Jane Eyre so much when I was younger either...but then I read it last year and was just amazed by it, by the thoughts she gives that young woman. So maybe try it again in 20 years and yes, read Dostoevsky's 'C & P' in the meantime.

This reading list for you may have to turn into a full post!

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