In search of entertainment.

I ended last week feeling like that Bear of Very Little Brain, Pooh. I’d been Thinking of Things so much lately to do with books, and then finished not only a couple of classes, but the final paperwork too, that on Wednesday evening I felt I was owed a celebration.

As I considered the state of my shelves, looking for a Thing that would be bookish, but not workish, I hummed a little tuneless something.

There are books, 
     (Dum, dum, dum)
Too full of hooks,
     (ta la da da).
What I need,
     (Da do do do).
Oh yes indeed,
     Da dum dum dum)
Is something not too long...

Luckily for my sanity, at that point I reached a selection of Daphne du Maurier novels I’ve been collecting. None are very long, but for decades she was a top writer of quality-romances. They seemed like a safe bet.

I’d read three of her most famous titles as a school-girl, so opted for one I’d missed, a historical adventure, Frenchman’s Creek. It was just what I needed. Not great enough to keep me reading into the small hours, but I picked it up at breakfast and lunch-time, and finished it as I ate tea.

Then I dropped it in my discards bag and looked for something of a matching size and age on the next shelf. Evelyn Waugh’s Edmund Campion has been there for so long I’ve forgotten where it came from, though I do have a hazy recollection that someone recommended it.

If only I had done more than notice that the cover illustration suggested it was set in a similar period to Frenchman’s Creek,I might have realised it is a biography, not a novel before I opened it. It’s also set in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, not Charles II.

After a momentary hesitation, I read on. Perhaps because the first section, The Scholar, begins by describing Elizabeth’s last days.

She had round her neck a piece of gold the size of an angel, engraved with characters; it had been left to her lately by a wise woman who had died in Wales at the age of a hundred and twenty. Sir John Stanhope had assured her that as long as she wore this talisman she could not die.

I probably should have stopped on page five, when I found this paragraph:

In these circumstances the Tudor dynasty came to an end, which in three generations had changed the aspect and temper of England. They left a new aristocracy, a new religion, a new system of government; the generation was already in its childhood that was to send King Charles to the scaffold; the new, rich families who were to introduce the House of Hanover were already in the second stage of their metamorphosis from the freebooters of Edward VI;s reign to the conspirators of 1688 and the sceptical, cultured oligarchs of the eighteenth century. The vast exuberance of the Renaissance had been canalized. England was secure, independent, insular; the course of her history lay plain ahead; competitive nationalism, competitive industrialism, competitive imperialism, the looms and coal mines and counting houses, the joint-stock companies and the cantonments; the power and the weakness of great possessions.

Aaaagh. With a few adjustments it could have been written in the 1560s.

I hadn’t even met Edmund Campion yet. It seems I’d fallen through a wormhole to that time before I gave up on my vow to never let a novel defeat me. Like Pooh, I’d found that a Book I’d anticipated being very Bookish was quite different once opened. Meanwhile, I was caught up with turning pages. The sentences got longer, the paragraphs continued to bounce backwards, forwards then back through time again. Still I continued to read.

Campion makes his first appearance on page seventeen. Even allowing for a largish font, that’s a long wait for a heroic entrance. Then, immediately after mentioning him, Waugh side-tracks to tell us about ‘another young Oxford man’, and doesn’t return to Campion until page twenty-two.

I read on. I’m still reading, though I’m not sure why.

There’s more to be irritated by than the examples I’ve already provided. The narrator demonstrates just the kind of bias I enjoy in fiction. Here it keeps drawing me away from engaging with Campion, though I want to know more of him.

Though perhaps after all I do know what holds me. This is a story about discord and martyrdom, and I’d like to understand.

As Pooh says, “When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.

22 thoughts on “In search of entertainment.

  1. I once read a collection of short stories assuming it was a novel. Very odd, for the first two or three, until the penny dropped. All set in the same town (Bennet, you see), which prolonged the illusion…that’s my excuse anyway.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ah, Arnold Bennet? I do see. Easily done, when they’re all set in The Potteries. I’ve read a few, but not in one volume. The few I’ve seen were very good, layered with subtleties.

      Like

  2. Du Maurier one of my favourites. Have you tried The House on the Strand – it’s my favourite of hers. That para you quoted of Waugh’s is intriguing but for a ‘light’ read I’m not sure I could have continued. Hats off to you for persistence. Have you finished it?

    Liked by 2 people

    • The House on The Strand is on the shelf, so it may be my next choice.

      I’m still ploughing my way through Waugh. It’s certainly not a light read, and for the moment is put to one side, but unless it gets gory (Campion seems to be heading for ‘hung, drawn & quartered) I probably will continue to the last page, eventually.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. House on the Strand is my favourite. I haven´t read Frenchman´s Creek yet. Edmund Campion doesn’t sound anything like Brideshead Revisited! I once took CS Lewis, The Abolition of Man, to read while waiting at the doctor´s office. Not light reading at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s such a relief to find that I’m not the only one to have misjudged my reading material. I’ve not come across The Abolition of Man, perhaps I’ll check it out, to replace this one as a slow read…

      As you’re the second person to recommend House on the Strand I’ll take note and follow that up.

      Liked by 1 person

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