Summer reading is in full throttle at chez Michele. I don’t know what it is exactly about the season (maybe the constant lying in front of the AC?) but my reading seems to double this time of the year. So here are a few of the tomes I’ve recently devoured.
While John Baxter does discuss Paris during the war—the initial enthusiasm felt by Parisians including the artists (Jean Cocteau and his friends had designer uniforms made) and how the Allies interacted with the locals—the book is really about his grandfather, Archie Baxter, who left Australia to fight in Europe. Upon his return, he abandoned his family and job (for a short time) and maintained an attachment to France for the rest of his life. Baxter attempts to confirm Archie's story and fill in the missing gaps. While the book was engaging at times if you really want to read about Paris during the war this is not the book.
The Mind’s Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers—Henri Cartier-Bresson
This slim volume contains essays by one of the masters of photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson. Here he describes his start in photography, talks about friends and colleagues, and gives his observations on China, Cuba, and Russia. In “A Decisive Moment,” he details his thoughts on photography, looking at each stage of making a photo. He tells the reader that memory is key for “The photographer must make sure, while he is still in the presence of the unfolding scene, that he hasn’t left any gaps, that he has really given expression to the meaning of the scene in its entirety, for afterwards it is too late.” A must read for any photography lover.
Why Kings Confess—C.S. Harris
Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin is back. It’s January 1813 and Devlin’s friend, surgeon Paul Gibson, discovers an injured French woman and a dead man whose heart has been removed. They are members of a secret French delegation sent by Napoleon to London to discuss possible peace. Devlin sets out to solve the murder, crossing paths with the French including the exiled Marie Thérèse, the only surviving child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and learns that rumours about what really happened to her brother, the Lost Dauphin, may just be true. Meanwhile Devlin’s wife, Hero, is nearing her delivery time and there’s a complication. A fine addition to the series.
I’m not sure why it took me so long to discover the work of Saki (real name H.H. Munro) but I love it. Set in Edwardian England, Saki’s stories are both smart and funny, taking an often-dark jab at British society and skewering its traditions and the types who cling to them. We meet vicars and dowagers and bored young men, many of whom spend weekends at country homes. There’s also a talking cat who causes great anxiety in his family when he starts voicing his opinion about others. This edition is accompanied with illustrations by Edward Gorey—a match that was surely made in macabre heaven. I'm looking forward to reading more Saki in the future.
Fatal Enquiry—Will Thomas
My first mystery of the summer, this long overdue volume in the Cyrus & Llewellyn series finds the indomitable private enquiry agent, Cyrus Barker, and his narrator/assistant, Thomas Llewellyn, on the run when a nemesis from Barker’s past arrives in London and frames Barker for the murder of a peer. Through back alleys and bolt rooms, they try to keep one step ahead of the authorities and to stay alive long enough to prove their innocence. While not as strong as previous books in the series, it was nice to see this duo back and hope that another volume is not too far off.
Mrs. Hemingway—Naomi Wood
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a big fan of fictionalized versions of famous people’s lives. So when a friend gave me an advance copy of this book to read I was hesitant especially as it was about Ernest Hemingway and his four wives but I wound up liking it. Naomi Wood takes an interesting approach to telling their story: she starts at the end of each relationship, when the wife of the moment realizes she's losing Hemingway to another woman (in the case of his last wife, Mary Walsh, she loses him to death), and moves backwards. It works. She also does a good job portraying each wife, especially wife number two, Pauline Pfeiffer, whom she manages to make sympathetic, not the easiest thing to do. If you’re interested in learning about Hemingway’s wives, I would recommend also reading Bernice Kert’s The Hemingway Women.