Monday, 13 December 2010

Book reviews: Anita Brookner and Roald Dahl

Am in midst of Christmas bustle, so, like Santa’s reindeer, I’m dashing in with the next two reviews:

Latecomers, by Anita Brookner
Switch Bitch, by Roald Dahl

Latecomers, by Anita Brookner
First published by Jonathan Cape, 1988
This edition published by Grafton Books (a division of Collins Publishing Group) 1989

Elegant prose tells the story of two men who, as young boys during the Second World War, were thrust away from their previous lives into a new country. Both now in their sixties, they have very different attitudes to life - one always looking ahead and the other afraid to stop searching the past. They, and their families, are the latecomers – all of them late to life in some way, be it security or happiness.

There is no real drama in this book. It is a quiet tale told with loving dignity, with thoughtful character studies and a heightened awareness to surroundings and mood. Although at first I was waiting for something to happen, very soon I just enjoyed the calm pace, luxuriated in the rich descriptions and wallowed in the words. The depth of understanding in this book is immense, especially as I recognise some of these traits within myself. It is very easy to identify with the characters, and to wish them well as they pass out of our lives when we close the book. From one latecomer to another, you could say.

Switch Bitch, by Roald Dahl
Stories originally published in Playboy magazine, no date although copyright date is 1965
This edition published by Penguin Books, 1976

Roald Dahl’s children’s fiction is a bit dark and twisted in places (and didn’t we just love it!) so it’s no surprise to find his stories for adults play out in much the same way, although you wouldn’t want a child searching for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to stumble across Switch Bitch. The clue is that these tales were written for the one-handed audience of Playboy, although they are not exactly sexy (or even vaguely attractive). Rather they deal with moral questions regarding sex –and in nearly all of them the joke is on the person who thinks they are in control.

There are four stories in this little collection – The Visitor, The Great Switcheroo, The Last Act, and Bitch. Although they are well-written tales, there seems to be a streak of misogyny through them as the attitudes to women seem rather callous. However, considering he was writing for a specific audience (the 1960s Playboy audience) maybe this isn’t too surprising. Not my favourite collection of his, but worth seeking out all the same.


Guinevere said...

I loved Dahl as a child and teen (both his fiction and his memoirs about boarding school and the RAF), but I never knew about that side of Dahl! Now I'm curious to check it out.

Mystica said...

I have just picked up my second Brookner (in my Mailbox) so thanks for the heads up on this one!hopefully it will be my third!

Ann said...

Great reviews! I am intrigued too. I didn't realize Dahl had written anything like that. I will definitely be on the lookout for the Latecomers.

music obsessive said...

Yes, Roald Dahl is a surprising character. He also wrote the original screenplays for Bond's 'You Only Live Twice' and 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang'.

As to latecomers..hmm I think many of us here lay claim to that. The musical equivalent is Nerina Pallot's 'Real Late Starter'. Check out the video on YouTube - it's a hoot!

Old Kitty said...

Wonderful wonderful books!! Oh but I'm so with you about Mr Dahl and his erm.. dodgy streak!! LOL!!

Take care

KarenG said...

I adore Roald Dahl, and his books for kids. I think I'll pass on the playboy stories tho, it might ruin my now hero-worship!

Mimi said...

"Although at first I was waiting for something to happen, very soon I just enjoyed the calm pace, "
oh yes, i know that feeling. Sometimes it's really hard for me to give a book time, but then it's worth it in the end.
Wonder is it anything to do with how fast-paced life has become?

Happy Frog and I said...

I keep learning so many things from your posts, particularly your reviews. I think I will stick to Mr. Dahl's children's books though! Will certainly give the Latecomers a go though, sounds good.

Christine said...

Judging by your review I believe that I'd like 'Latecomers'. I've enjoyed other books by Brookner in the past but haven't read any in a long while. I'm rather fond of 'quiet' books.

Angela Ackerman said...

I didn't know Dahl wrote adult stuff like I live under a rock?

I'll look for it--thanks!

Angela @ the Bookshelf Muse

Jayne said...

Guinevere – Dahl’s short story collection about the RAF, ‘Over to You’, is one of my favourite re-reads. It never fails to touch my heart. I also adore his Tales of the Unexpected. I didn’t read Switch Bitch with the same level of enjoyment, but it was good all the same.

Mystica – I hadn’t read any Brookner before but Latecomers was lovely. Make it your third! It would be great to know what you think of it.

Ann – Thank you! As music obsessive says below, Dahl is a surprising character. This is a world away from his children’s fiction, and yet, oddly, it’s also very similar. There was definitely a touch of the Grimm Fairy Tales about him.

Jayne said...

music obsessive – I agree – I didn’t realise he wrote those screenplays – what a fantastic body of work he left as his legacy. I will check out that video as well – I definitely feel like a latecomer, and it’s interesting people here in blog-land feel the same.

Old Kitty – We seem to have similar reading tastes! Thank you, Kitty, for always being so generous with your comments about my reviews.

KarenG – probably best to pass on this collection then! Although do check out’ Over to You’ if you ever come across it – that one will increase the hero-worship I think!

Jayne said...

Mimi – I think you are right – especially as with the Internet we have instant access to everything and a website has to take our attention right now straight away or we’ve clicked off. I have always found books a welcome respite from the culture of immediacy, and Latecomers is definitely worth the extra time.

Happy Frog and I – Thank you, Happy Frog, that is so nice of you. I do appreciate it. (Although I think my greatest wisdom imparted was the ‘Have fun, don’t swim’ advice for Reading music festival!) Do give Latecomers a spin; it’s really worth it.

Christine – By your comment I’d say that you will really like Latecomers. It is the first book by Brookner I have read, but it won’t be the last.

Angela Ackerman – Hee! He was a very wide-ranging writer, but even though the subjects differ, his overall style or ‘voice’ stays the same, so the adult fiction is worth finding – especially the RAF collection ‘Over to You’ – can’t plug it enough!

Rachna Chhabria said...

I have only read Dahl's children's fiction and I know very little about his adult fiction.
As for Brookner..well I have not read any of her books. Will try and read her.

Talli Roland said...

I had no idea Dahl wrote something like this! Thanks - must check it out.

Marisa Hopkins said...

Ha!! I bought a whole bunch of Roald Dahl's books for my daughters for Christmas... I had no idea he wrote books for adults - will have to pick that one of up for myself!

Nezzy said...

Wonderful reviews girl. I was clueless that Dahl had written such a book. Of course...I'm clueless about allot of things...Heeehehehe!

God bless ya and have the most amazing day sweetie!!!

Kittie Howard said...

Jayne, when you have a chance, I have a little something for you at my place.

Shirley Wells said...

Hi, I'm doing a return visit. Love your profile as I, too, wanted to be a cat when I grew up. :)

I loved Latecomers but, like you, I was waiting for something to happen. It didn't take long to relax and enjoy the superb writing though. A wonderful book with great characters.

I knew about Roald Dahl's, um, dark side but I've never read his adult stuff. I might risk it. :)

Ev said...

I love Brookner but missed that one - will put it on the 'to read' list. I love the quiet lives of her characters and her precision in showing them to us and themselves. Read Switch Bitch years ago and loved it precisely for thate reason you give - where the person who thinks they are in control are not. Have you read 'My Uncle Oswald'? Some great ribald yarns there

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