Continuing (slowly!) my Book Worm reviews for April and May 2010...
The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells
First published by William Heinemann Ltd, 1898
This edition published by Pan Books Ltd, 1975
I’ve always wanted to read this book ever since I saw the original movie as a child and found it terrifying! And I wasn’t the only one to be scared of this tale, accordingly to radio/newspaper/wiki legend, millions of Americans believed the story to be true when Orson Welles adapted the story to a radio broadcast in 1938.
H.G. Wells wields his scientific knowledge with a skilled hand throughout this book. He also can be rather wordy – the first two pages reveal such beauties as ‘infusoria’, ‘nebular hypothesis’, and ‘attenuated’, not to mention the wonderful ‘periodically inundate its temperate zones’. He also has some marvellous descriptions, such as the sea was ‘navy-crowded’. The book is also very much of its time with the descriptions of wagons, pot-men opening public houses, jobbing gardeners, class. England at the turn of the 20th century was such a different world yet already you can see it changing – the mention of cars, of trains, of commuters… it’s all here, slightly hidden, as the story is not about England’s ascent into the world we know now but the descent of aliens from Mars.
The story starts very quickly, and the reader is soon in the thick of the action. The description of how quickly the Martians set about destruction and the means they employ still has the power to shock, in a way. I think it is because that instead of going for the drama of London, or a big city first, H.G. Wells has chosen to make them begin in relatively obscure, smaller towns - Woking, Chobham, Chertsey. Somehow this makes the concept seem more believable. Also the ‘battle’ scenes are very vivid, in particular one in the second half of the book, about a navy ship rushing to certain death to protect the civilians trying to flee. The panic of the escape also makes for compelling reading. Well worth trying if you see this book around!
Cat Among the Pigeons, by Agatha Christie
First published 1959
This edition published by Fontana, 1975
There is such a pleasure to reading Agatha Christie books, no matter if the story is not new to me. I especially like this one, with its tale of beautiful jewels smuggled ingeniously from a foreign land, and how attention falls upon a posh girl’s school in England.
Agatha Christie builds up such an interesting array of characters – no matter how short their appearance is on the page, she gives them depth, a raison d'être – and it is this that makes them so utterly compelling. At the same time there is no real sadness when the murder comes, as it does with swift story-telling. It is definitely a skill to make me care and not care, so to speak. There are also interesting oddities – such as how ‘you can tell a woman’s age from her knees’!
Hercule Poirot is our detective here, and he shines with aplomb, as usual. But he only appears in the latter third, and as we are told in the book his role is of a ‘consultant detective’ he feels very much a consultant overall in this story. However the story does not lack from his late appearance; it is definitely within my top ten of enjoyable books from this author.