Friday, December 14, 2007

the last book I read

The 27th Kingdom by Alice Thomas Ellis.

Aunt Irene, a middle-aged lady of Slavic ancestry, lives in Chelsea with her dissolute nephew Kyril. Irene's sister Berthe is a Reverend Mother at a nunnery, and sends one of her apprentice nuns, Valentine, to Irene, ostensibly to give her a taste of the real world before her nunly initiation, but in reality because Valentine has been disrupting the smooth running of the nunnery by performing minor miracles.

Sure enough Valentine starts to have an effect on the motley cast of characters who pass through the house: snooty housekeeper Mrs. Mason and her alcoholic husband, lovable cockney gyppo Mrs. O'Connor and Aunt Irene's lodger Mr. Sirocco.

What's it all about? Not entirely sure, to tell you the truth. It's blackly comic in that bone-dry way that seems to be peculiar to British ladies of a certain age: Muriel Spark, Penelope Fitzgerald and Beryl Bainbridge spring to mind. There seems to be a bit of a sub-text of religion good, nasty modern sexual so-called "liberation" and scientific so-called "enlightenment" - ha! - bad, which ordinarily would drive me into a gibbering psychotic rage, but which is presented here through the mouthpiece of Aunt Irene who is slightly batty in a endearing sort of way, and so can be not taken too seriously if desired. Which is not to say that these weren't Ellis' real-life views, because by all accounts they were. It's a tribute to her skill as a writer, I suppose, that I enjoyed the book in spite of all that.

It's also the second book in this series to feature a central character levitating. Go figure.

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