Sunday, 30 November 2008

A Mind of its Own by Cornelia Fine

An guide to the brain, its habits and its doings. Fine has an elegant and amusing style and peppers her work with references to entertainingly sadistic psychology experiments - at one point she suggests that if readers learn anything from her book, it should be to keep away from social psychology researchers, or they will invite you to plunge your arm into icy water or something equally unattractive. Having set out for us the general uselessnesses of the brain - it is vain, weak-willed, bigoted and so on - she reassures us that, with effort, we can overcome these tendencies and train our brains to behave better. However, I for one will be clinging to the notion that the brain's will-power is weak and easily undermined by stress or distraction, in order to explain my inability to resist temptation where food is involved.

Friday, 7 November 2008

The Diary of a Provincial Lesbian by V G Lee

A kind friend, on hearing of my interest in E M Delafield, lent me this. Unfortunately, I thought it was pretty awful, and now need to compose a diplomatic thank you that doesn't betray my opinions. V G Lee's attempt at the apparently effortless, spontaneous diary prose that EMD achieves results in sloppy, casual sentences that witter without achieving either point or humour. Easy writing is indeed damned hard reading - and where are the jokes? The diary form is also bent, rather awkwardly, around a very obvious plot, losing the arbitrary, contingent humour and drama of the Provincial Lady. Occasional clunky references to the original text - an updated Our Vicar's Wife and mention of South of the Border - only serve to remind the reader of how far this book falls short of its model. It goes without saying that the editing of the book is shockingly bad - typographical errors, misspelt homophones and random apostrophes litter the text. Not recommended - but having read thirty excellent books this year I suppose I was due to read a poor one.