Saturday, October 06, 2018

the last book I read

The Ministry Of Fear by Graham Greene.

Arthur Rowe has got a lot on. Despite being a man of seemingly modest but comfortable means (sustained by an annual income from a mysterious source not involving having anything as vulgar or onerous as an actual job) he is troubled. By some really obvious things, like being a London resident during the height of the Blitz and therefore existing in a strange netherworld where you never know if you're going to wake up in the morning in your own bed or in an impenetrable pile of rubble with your entrails festooned across what remains of the street. Also by some non-obvious things, though, like having fairly recently been released from a psychiatric hospital after murdering his wife; it's not what it sounds like, though, as she was terminally ill and he eased her over the line to spare her further suffering (and ended up with a correspondingly light sentence).

Arthur is keeping himself to himself in a one-bedroom furnished flat when he happens to pop into a church fête and have a go at guessing the weight of a juicy and inviting-looking fruit cake (things that are in short supply, what with eggs being rationed and all). While he's waiting for the result he drops into the fortune-teller's stall and has a bewildering exchange with the woman running it wherein he is instructed to make an additional guess at a different weight for the cake. And sure enough that second guess turns out to be correct and Arthur wins the cake, though there is an odd stand-off as he tries to make off with his winnings, almost as if someone else was expected to win it.

It soon becomes clear that Arthur has stumbled across some weird shit and is now a person of interest to some shady types; sure enough one comes to visit him, wangles a piece of cake and some tea and attempts to poison Arthur, who only detects the poison because it happens to be the one he used to see off his wife. An awkward confrontation is avoided, however, when a bomb lands on the building and everyone ends up under a pile of bricks, though, miraculously, alive.

Arthur decides to take the initiative and visits a detective agency and also the charity that organised the fête, where he meets siblings Anna and Willi Hilfe, refugees from Austria. Willi in particular seems keen to help and takes him to see Mrs. Bellairs, the fortune teller, who happens to be holding a seance, which Willi and Arthur take part in. In classic murder mystery fashion the lights dim, everyone joins hands, there's a scream, and when the lights come up someone is dead with a knife in their back. Awkwardly for Arthur, it's the man next to him, and it's Arthur's knife.

Willi helps Arthur escape, but now he's on the run from the police. After rashly agreeing to deliver a suitcase for a man he meets in a park, he bizarrely ends up in a room with Anna Hilfe, at which point there's another brick-shattering explosion.

This time, Arthur wakes up in a nursing home, to be told that he's lost his memory and his name is Richard Digby. He is well cared for by the eccentric Dr. Forester, but it soon becomes clear that strange things are afoot. Eventually, as his memory starts to return, including remembering his true identity, Arthur decides that his life is in danger and escapes back to London, where he throws himself on the mercy of the police.

It turns out that the police aren't actually after him for murder after all, though, since no-one's actually been murdered. The police are very interested in the cake, though, since it apparently contained some top-secret microfilms which the government want back before they can leave the country and jeopardise the war effort. The policeman investigating the case, Prentice, takes Arthur along on a series of attempts to round up the spy ring responsible, most of which end with the deaths of the suspects, before Arthur himself joins some of the dots and realises that Willi Hilfe is the mastermind, and probably still has the microfilm in his possession. This is slightly awkward, because Arthur has struck up a fledgling relationship with Anna, but Queen and country must be protected, so Arthur confronts Willi as he's about to flee London on a train. Rather than allow himself to be captured, Willi shoots himself, leaving Arthur free to return to Anna and see if they can salvage their relationship from this momentary awkward patch.

I've mentioned in a couple of places Graham Greene's habit of classifying his books as Novels and Entertainments. This one is subtitled "An Entertainment", which isn't meant to convey some hilarious knicker-dropping farce, but rather something a bit thriller-y and plot-driven in contrast to the usual drink-sodden tortured Catholicism of the "serious" stuff. It is suggested that since this book's immediate predecessor (and one of Greene's best and most celebrated books) The Power And The Glory didn't make much money Greene felt obliged to write something a bit more in tune with the public appetites of the time. The distinction between the two halves of his output was something Greene abandoned in his later career - this compilation suggests there were only ever six novels published as "Entertainments", The Ministry Of Fear being the only one I own or have ever read.

It's still not exactly Jack Reacher, though, and most of the major protagonists are resolutely un-heroic and troubled by various moral dilemmas, and the ending is nicely ambiguous in terms of how much wholly necessary lying to each other Arthur and Anna's future relationship can stand. Greene's familiarity with the workings of wartime espionage was drawn from his real-life work for MI6; the late-career novel The Human Factor is probably the nearest thing to a le Carré-style espionage thriller that he ever wrote.

It's very entertaining (as befits its subtitle), Arthur Rowe is a sympathetic protagonist and (like all Greene novels) it doesn't outstay its welcome at between 200 and 250 pages of pocket-sized Penguin paperback. If you really only want the essential novels then (of the ones I've read) The Power And The Glory and The Heart Of The Matter are probably the ones you want. The Ministry Of Fear was filmed as Ministry Of Fear in 1944, a year after the book's publication, the film - as films do - seemingly flattening a lot of the book's subtleties in the pursuit of its Nazi spy plot.

Monday, October 01, 2018

win on a ryder

First thing to say after the Ryder Cup is that I'm delighted that my gloomy (and, to be fair, slightly tongue-in-cheek) prediction after the last one turned out to be wrong:
One major reason for pessimism: the Americans are finally taking the Ryder Cup seriously and we'll never win one again. Oh well, we've had a good innings.
Indeed I was so wrong that in the end Europe's victory (appropriately delivered, in the end, by their star player Francesco Molinari) was by an even more thumping margin than the USA's 2016 victory at Hazeltine.

Year Foursomes Fourballs Doubles Singles Overall
1979 3 5 11 17
1981 2 6 10½ 4 8 18½
1983 4 4 4 4 8 8 13½ 14½
1985 4 4 5 3 9 7 16½ 11½
1987 6 2 10½ 15 13
1989 3 5 6 2 9 7 5 7 14 14
1991 2 6 6 2 8 8 13½ 14½
1993 5 3 13 15
1995 5 3 2 6 7 9 14½ 13½
1997 5 3 10½ 4 8 14½ 13½
1999 10 6 13½ 14½
2002 8 8 15½ 12½
2004 6 2 5 3 11 5 18½
2006 5 3 5 3 10 6 18½
2008 7 9 11½ 16½
2010 5 3 5 7 14½ 13½
2012 3 5 3 5 6 10 14½ 13½
2014 7 1 3 5 10 6 16½ 11½
2016 4 4 11 17
2018 6 2 4 4 10 6 17½ 10½
Totals 84½ 75½ 87 73 171½ 148½ 115 125 286½ 273½

No time for a lengthy wallow in the stats, but to pick up on a couple of vital points from last time: Europe won all three days, just as they did in 2004, 2006 and 2014. All the Europeans contributed points, while three Americans contributed zero: DeChambeau, Mickelson and Woods. There was much pre-contest hoopla about how Woods' miraculous rejuvenation (culminating in his remarkable win at the Tour Championship last week) would extend to him being a new man as a player in the Ryder Cup (having been one of Davis Love III's non-playing lieutenants in 2016), but he failed to win a point and lost a singles match for the first time since 1997. Maybe he was just knackered.

I was in charge of entertaining three kids for most of the weekend so my viewing opportunuties were slightly limited, but I did take advantage of NowTV's offer of a month's Sky Sports coverage for the knockdown price of £12.99, which enabled me to keep up with the live coverage on my laptop. This compares extremely favourably with the cost of having a full Sky Sports package on the TV, something we've recently ditched as it's just cripplingly expensive. I daresay there are fiendish and probably borderline illegal ways of viewing this stuff for free, but this seems to work pretty well.

I suppose what the result shows more than anything is how much home advantage counts for: only six of the twenty modern Ryder Cups have resulted in away wins (four for Europe, two for the USA) and only two of the last ten (both Europe, in 2004 and 2012). By the time of the next European Ryder Cup in 2022 it'll be 29 years since the last American win on European soil and I would guess most of the US team wouldn't even have been born for the last one in 1993.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

huw are you, ooh ooh, ooh ooh

Some vaguely-related thoughts about naming coincidences prompted by a couple of things: firstly that I note we haven't done a bit similar to the ones about Nia and Alys for our third child, and third carrier of a Welsh name, Huw. Secondly, I was in a meeting the other day and my current project manager happened to mention that one of his neighbours is called Dave Thomas, whereupon I volunteered the (true) anecdote that I'd discovered only a few days previously that David Thomas was the name of one of Jeffrey Dahmer's victims; the ninth of his seventeen known victims, murdered in September 1990.

It's a pretty common name, so there'll be a lot of Dave/David Thomases out there, of varying degrees of notoriety. Prior to Googling, the ones I could have told you about are:
As always Wikipedia has a more comprehensive list. As for people called Huw Thomas, there aren't as many as you might think; the most famous one being the current Head Of The Medical Household and Physician To The Queen. So if the Queen needs, for instance, a haemorrhoid lanced, old Huw is the man who gets to attend to the royal sphincter.

The Google predictive search thing that we did for the girls yields the following:

  • Huw Edwards is a journalist and BBC newsreader
  • Huw Evans appears to run a photographic agency
  • Huw Stephens is a presenter on BBC Radio Cymru
  • Huw Jenkins is a businessman and current chairman of Swansea City football club
  • Huw Irranca-Davies is a former MP and current member of the Welsh Assembly. His exotic surname is the result of combining his original one with that of his Italian wife; obviously they could and perhaps should have taken the more innovative approach described here and here and gone for something like Davianca or Irravies.
  • Huw Lewis Tyres pretty much does what it says on the tin
  • Huw Tudor appears to be an estate agent
  • Huw Chiswell is a singer
I would have thought, based solely on my gut feeling, that Huw would be a more understandable name to people east of the Severn Bridge than either Nia or Alys. And maybe it is, but the newly-released figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest that actually it's the least-popular of the three in terms of current usage as a name for new babies.

As you can see from the charts (which also show trends over the last twenty years) Huw is currently the 943rd-most-popular baby name for boys (its Anglicised counterpart Hugh is 355th) with a mere 32 baby boys being given that name in 2017 (our Huw doesn't contribute to that number as he was - somewhat unexpectedly - born in 2016). Alys comes in at 541st on the girls' names list (Alice is 17th), and Nia is 303rd. Trend-wise both Nia and Alys are seeing a slow rise in popularity, while Huw is going the other way. These are combined figures for England and Wales, which in this particular case is a bit annoying as there is almost certainly a heavy bias towards Wales for each of those three names, and it would be interesting to see a lower-level view of the data.

A couple of other items on a similar theme, this time unrelated to members of my immediate family:

My old school, St. Bart's in Newbury, doesn't seem to have a "notable former pupils" section on its website (its Wikipedia page does, though), but if it did it would, possibly reluctantly but in the interests of accuracy, have to include the name of murky Brexit-funding shyster Arron Banks. The Wikipedia page fails to note that Banks was expelled from St. Bart's for reasons briefly touched upon here. Other St. Bart's alumni include historian Lucy Worsley (who I guess must have been a near-contemporary of my younger sister), and, appropriately enough only a week or so after International Talk Like A Pirate Day, actor Robert Newton.

Finally, I was having lunch the other day and popped the kitchen TV on to see what appeared to be (and indeed was) an adaptation of Stephen King's The Langoliers. Regular readers of this blog will know that this is one of my favourite things in the King canon and that I therefore should have been delighted. Unfortunately this had a strong whiff of made-for-TV about it (and indeed it was, as a two-part miniseries in 1995) and I didn't watch much of it.

The comments beneath the full 3-hour video on YouTube suggest my fears as expressed above were well-founded. The interesting thing (and the connection to the name-related stuff above) is that the character of the mysterious Brit Nick Hopewell is played by an actual British actor, who once played John Lennon in a film called Chapter 27 - a film principally about Lennon's assassin, Mark Chapman - and was once lined up to play Lennon in an earlier film but was ruled out of the role by Yoko Ono herself because of (presumably) the perceived bad karma generated by his name, which is (dramatic pause) Mark Chapman.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

the last book I read

House Of Sand And Fog by Andre Dubus III.

Kathy Nicolo has been having a hard time. She's struggled to overcome addictions to alcohol and cocaine, largely acquired as a result of her association with her husband Nick, who, having got sober at the same time, promptly upped and left her. She's been getting by on a succession of cleaning jobs in the San Francisco area, but as you can imagine they don't bring in a massive amount. Her one saving grace is the house she lives in, a nice place on a hill with a view of the Bay, left to her by her late father. At least no-one's going to take that away from her.

Well. Here's a valuable life lesson for you, kids: open official-looking post sent to your address, even if it doesn't have your name on it. Ignore it, as Kathy does, and you may find that the legal wheels have ground on to a point where a simple explanatory phone call can't set everything right. It turns out the local county have been pursuing someone for unpaid business tax and have attached the claim, erroneously, to Kathy's address. And now, because no-one's told them about their mistake, the police are at the door, the house is being compulsorily repossessed and is going to be auctioned off the next day. This is all a bit awkward, as Kathy's just got out of the shower and isn't really in a position to move all her stuff. Luckily, Deputy Lester Burdon, despite helping to facilitate her forcible removal from her house, turns out to have some Good Samaritan tendencies and hooks her up with a lawyer and a self-storage facility to accommodate her stuff while everything gets sorted out.

It's not going to be a simple matter, though, as it's too late to stop the auction going ahead, and the house is purchased (for a fraction of its actual market value) by Massoud Amir Behrani, a former colonel in the Iranian Army under the command of the former Shah who was obliged to flee the country with his family when the Shah was deposed and the current theocratic regime took over. Sadly having been a high-ranking army officer doesn't amount to a hill of beans in downtown San Francisco, and Behrani is obliged to take a series of menial jobs in order to make ends meet, all the while concealing the exact nature of his jobs from his wife and children by putting on a respectable shirt and tie every morning before leaving the house, only to get changed into more blue-collar clobber before starting work.

So this property auction is Behrani's chance to finally get a leg-up into respectable business by selling the property on at what's bound to be a considerable profit. But first he's going to luxuriate in his change in fortunes a bit, move the family in and have a few renovations done. And why not? All legal and above board, and the misfortunes of the previous owner are neither his fault nor his concern.

Meanwhile, Kathy is doing some sensible things, and some not-so-sensible things. The sensible things include getting her lawyer to straighten things out with the county, get them to admit their mistake and agree to pursue some sort of settlement with the new owner and get Kathy her house back. The not-so-sensible stuff includes going round for a snoop at the house, stepping on a plank with some nails in (debris from the ongoing renovations) and having to be disinfected, patched up and sent on her way by the colonel's wife, and also contriving to have her path cross with that of Lester Burdon again and getting drawn into a furtive relationship, largely motel-based at first but then involving the two of them camping out down by a river in an old fishing shack borrowed from a friend of Lester's, with much making of sweet sweet love down by the riverside while sipping on river-cooled beers. Yes, Kathy isn't really supposed to be drinking, but - hey - what could possibly go wrong?

It soon becomes clear that while the county are prepared to buy the house back from Behrani at the price he paid for it, he - understandably - wants something a lot nearer the full market value. It also becomes clear that Lester has fallen for Kathy in a big way and is even going to leave his wife and kids for her. Or is he? While he's away apparently breaking the news to them, Kathy has an attack of paranoia that he'll have a last-minute change of mind, goes into town for a couple of drinks, gets absolutely smashed, discovers Lester's gun under the seat of the car, drives to her old house, parks on the drive and attempts to shoot herself. On being rescued by Behrani and taken indoors, she immediately attempts to take a drug overdose in the bath, is foiled by the quick action of the colonel's wife and is put to bed to sleep the whole thing off. At which point Lester turns up and sees the colonel and his wife manhandling a semi-conscious Kathy, and it all Kicks Off in a Big Way. He smashes his way into the house and takes the Behrani family hostage, locking them in the bathroom overnight.

The trouble with impromptu kidnapping and extortion attempts of this sort, though, is that you really need to think through some of the consequences. How is Lester going to convince Behrani to sell the house back to the county so Kathy can have it back? He can't just march him into the property office with a gun to his head, after all. What's Behrani's incentive to co-operate? What's he getting in return? And if it's the safe return of his wife and teenage son, for instance, what's to stop him changing his mind once they're safely handed back over?

With these loopholes unresolved, Lester ploughs on anyway and leaves a still-drowsy Kathy in the house with Mrs. Behrani while he takes the colonel and his son Esmail downtown to get a cheque from the county. But teenage boys are hot-headed creatures and Esmail grabs Lester's gun (not loaded, as it happens) out of his belt and is promptly served with a hot lead sandwich by the local cops. On learning of his son's demise at the hospital and Lester's detention by the police, Behrani returns home to be confronted by Kathy, the instigator (in his eyes) of all the unravelling of his grand plans for his family, leaving him with nothing to live for.

You can, broadly, see where this is going. I won't spoil it for you by describing the ending in detail, but suffice it to say it doesn't go well for anyone. One of the interesting things about the book is having your natural optimistic inclinations that things are going to work out all right for at least some of the protagonists methodically closed down one by one by those same people's own actions and the relentless logic of the plot. If you like happy endings and life-affirming crap of that nature then it's safe to say this will be a fairly massive downer.

For a book with as relentlessly bleak an ending to work it's got to make you care about, and be interested in, the characters on the way, and the key thing here is that you need to be able to sympathise with both Kathy and Behrani, while recognising their character flaws that will eventually
drive them both towards tragedy. Kathy is basically a good person but a bit flaky, compromised by her addictions and drawn to men of suspect character, while Behrani is a man of honour and loyalty to those he loves but unbending and principled to a counter-productive degree, and moreover because of his cultural upbringing vexed at being crossed by a woman, especially one with a propensity for things like alcohol and extra-marital sex.

If the book has a villain it's Lester Burdon, not a cartoonish bad guy but a man with fatal weaknesses and an inclination to impulsive behaviour born out of his internal suspicion that he is (despite his choice of profession) actually a coward. It is he who gets Kathy back on the sauce, he who carelessly leaves his gun in the car, he who hoofs down the Behranis' door and thereby initiates everyone's ordeal which results in the tragic climax.

So: it's very good, it succeeds in making you sympathise with both major characters, it's definitely not a barrel of laughs, and there is (as with Drowning Ruth) just a suspicion of the plausibility of some of it being questionable if you stepped away and thought about it for a second. It's a deeper and more serious novel than the other Dubus featured on this list some ten years ago, Bluesman.

House Of Sand And Fog was filmed in 2003, a fairly heavyweight production starring Jennifer Connolly as Kathy (I'd envisaged her shorter and blonder) and Ben Kingsley as Behrani, a pretty perfect piece of casting I'd say.

More importantly, and I promise you this is a coincidence, House Of Sand And Fog was the Oprah's Book Club selection for November 2000, immediately succeeding its immediate predecessor on this list, Drowning Ruth. Coincidence? OR IS IT? Well, yes.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

getting shacked up

Well, both the Glen Marnoch and the Highland Park that I referred to in the previous whisky post (both of which I'd acquired the preceding Christmas) have now gone the way of all whisky in my house, which is to say down my neck. So I was on the lookout for something interesting and yet competitively-priced while in Tesco a while back and came across Shackleton Blended Malt, as pictured here.

The Shackleton in question is just about the only famous person of that name - unless you're well into 1950s and 1960s county cricket, anyway - Ernest Shackleton, the polar explorer. So what's the connection? Well, the legend on the bottle reads as follows: BASED ON AN ANTIQUE BLEND OF MACKINLAY'S RARE OLD HIGHLAND MALT WHISKY; THE SPIRIT SUPPLIED TO THE 1907 BRITISH ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION.

Clearly there's some thrillingly high-concept bullshit going on here. The inspiration for all this is the recovery in 2010 of some cases of whisky previously entombed in the ice outside Shackleton's old Antarctic hut. Mackinlay's is now owned by Whyte & Mackay and so the responsibility of sampling the original whisky (under carefully-controlled laboratory conditions) and recreating it fell to Whyte & Mackay's master blender and brand ambassador Richard Paterson, something of a showman (and, let's be honest, something of a pillock) with his theatrical whisky-throwing tasting performances.

Obviously Scotch whisky is big business, and to ensure maximum punter-fleecing engagement with the new brand a couple of versions were produced: one expensive premium one with the antique typeface and the faux-straw wrapper, and one more bog-standard one for the regular proles. No prizes for guessing which one I've got. The original whisky and the premium new one supposedly contain whisky from the long-defunct Glen Mhor distillery, individual bottles from which now fetch eye-watering prices. No indication if there's any of this in the economy version, but it is a blended malt (the old term "vatted malt" seems to be out of vogue these days) which means it's a mixture of malt whiskies from various distilleries, as opposed to a single malt which is a mixture of malt whiskies from the same distillery and a blended whisky which is a mixture of malt and grain whiskies (from various distilleries), Windolene, cat piss and hatred. The only other blended malt whisky that's been featured on this blog is Johnnie Walker Green Label.

Anyway, let's get in and have a sniff, and I'll tell you now if I don't get oilskin pantaloons, icy rowlocks, gangrenous frostbitten toes, penguin shit and early-20th-century British stiff upper lip I'm going to be sorely disappointed. And I am sorely disappointed, because this smells like perfectly pleasant but perfectly unremarkable 21st-century whisky. If you were under the impression it was a single malt you'd place it as one of any number of roughly interchangeable and largely indistinguishable Speysiders. There's just a hint of something vegetably going on, though nothing like the full cauliflower mashed into the chops and the oily roast parsnip slipped under the eyelid that you get with the Tobermory; perhaps a discarded carrot entombed for a century in the Antarctic permafrost and just exuding the faintest expiring puff of residual sulphur on being uncovered. Have a sip and it's much the same: sweet, no discernible peat, very pleasantly quaffable in an inoffensive kind of way. And that would be fine if it were not for the high-concept promotional hoo-hah that surrounds it - put it this way, I'll take it on trust that Richard Paterson and his team laboured intensively into the small hours over a period of months to replicate the exact taste of the original whisky in such a way that it could be knocked out for 22 quid a pop in Tesco, but if they had just bunged arbitrary amounts of four or five random Speysiders into a vat and said: fuck it, that'll do, I would probably have been none the wiser.

All of which is probably more of a reflection on my whisky preferences (which are generally for something a bit more zingy and aggressive) and lack of sophistication than anything inherently wrong with the whisky. And, I suppose, a general aversion to marketing bullshit; as always Bill Hicks says it more eloquently than I ever could.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

this is a brum do and no mistake

I had to drive to Birmingham and back today, which reminded me of another entry in the WHY HAVE THEY BUILT THIS ROAD THIS WAY IT'S LITERALLY MADNESS EVERYONE INVOLVED SHOULD BE KILLED hall of fame. This one has caught me out a couple of times before and occurs as you come along the M42 from east to west towards the interchange with the M5, which runs, broadly speaking, north-south.

So what happens is you're tootling along the M42 with a mental vision of peeling off to the left to turn onto the southbound M5, just like any other left turn you've ever made. So you drift into the left-hand lane only to notice at the vital moment that, hang on, the left-hand lane says M5(N) and the right-hand lanes say M5(S). What the hell?

As with the seemingly insanely convoluted nature of the A34/A303 junction as documented here, the key to understanding this is knowing the history of the junction. In this particular case, the reason that the junction appears to be back to front is that the original version only allowed access from M42 to M5 southbound, with an intended expansion to be added later that would have resulted in something much grander (and with the relevant slip roads peeling off much earlier) for the link to the northbound M5. It was only when the money and enthusiasm to do this ran out that the current bog-standard extra slip roads were put in to provide a northbound link as part of the existing junction. The two stages of the junction were opened in 1987 and 1989, as far as I can gather.

Another echo of an earlier post was provided by my radio listening on the drive back - I caught most of Michael Rosen's Word Of Mouth on Radio 4 on which his special guest was none other than Stephen Fry, a pretty safe bet as a guest on a show about language. The programme blurb contains a reference to Fry's enthusiasm for
the virtues of email and text as opposed to the sheer horror of having to talk on the telephone
which obviously resonates deeply with me, as I described in more detail here. The audio bit where he articulates the horror in more detail is towards the end of the programme and starts at about 24 minutes in.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

inconsequential sequential

Here's a funny thing, or rather two things. Firstly I noticed as I was publishing the Drowning Ruth book review last night that it was the fourth successive book review (i.e. an uninterrupted sequence of posts without any intervening ones that weren't book reviews). That's a fairly unusual occurrence, in fact the only similar one I could find (and I can't promise I scanned the entire archives exhaustively) was the sequence of four that ran from The Little Friend through Hotel Du Lac and The Tortilla Curtain to The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest. Those four were all written within a couple of days of each other on our return from honeymoon in July 2011, whereas these most recent four span about a month. What it mostly is is reflective of the general drop-off in non-book-related blogging over the past few years; I'm conscious that this post right here breaks the sequence in what might be deemed a slightly contrived way, i.e. if I'd let nature take its course the next one might have been a book review as well that would have taken the sequence to five. Not so, I suspect, as I have a couple of other things in the pipeline, though the gestation period from idea to blog post is, as always, uncertain and highly variable.

Secondly, what I do once I've scanned the book cover for the review post and kept it to hand for reference during the review-writing process is place it back on the shelves in its appointed place (those shelves being arranged alphabetically by author's surname as are everyone's who owns more than one book and isn't LITERALLY INSANE). What I noticed when doing this was that Drowning Ruth slotted back into what is now a sequence of five books, all featured at various times on this blog, and all by different authors: A Sport And A Pastime, The Double, Nausea, Drowning Ruth and Vertigo. I'm fairly sure this is unique too (or I was, see below): longer continuous sequences exist featuring multiple books by the same author, for instance there is a sequence of nine comprising five William Boyds and four TC Boyles. These seem less satisfactory, partly because, unforgivably, I have no particular system for ordering books by the same author. Ascending order of publication date would be the rational choice, but I can't really be arsed to implement it.

Obviously on checking (and again this was by no means exhaustive) I find one other similar sequence in the J area comprising Rider On The Rain, The Piano Teacher, A New Dominion, Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry and The Illusionist.