Thursday, 7 May 2009


A bumper crop of Capuchins has just appeared, namely:

Silas Marner - introduced by Jane Feaver;

Gulliver's Travels - refreshed by the inclusion of the marvelous satirical piece A Modest Proposal and a new introduction by Jeremy Paxman

Cashel Byron's Profession - George Bernard Shaw’s romp through the worlds of prize-fighting and romance

My Name is Aram - a collection of semi-autobiographical stories about a boy of Armenian descent, set in Fresno, California

You Shall Know Them - a brilliant and disturbing French novel exploring the definition of humanity, and

The Conclave - Michael Bracewell’s brilliant description of the Eighties’ search for happiness through material wealth and business success.

At the moment, however, I'm reading and relishing Norman Douglas's delicious prose and satirical characterisation in South Wind. Although the novel is ostensibly set on a fictional Italian island called Nepenthe, there is no doubt that the setting is infact Capri, and that the island, and the titular climatic phenomenon in whose path it lies, are as much a part of the story as the gallery of engrossing eccentrics who tread the pages of this remarkable work. It's an unusal and sometimes challenging read; there are long passages of glittering monologue in which the various characters reveal both their erudition and their perverse views on life, love and religion, and there seems to be very little plot as such, but the humour and panache in the writing are undeniable. Let me leave you with a taster:

It was not true to say of this gentleman that he fled from England to Nepenthe because he forged his mother's will, because he was arrested while picking the pockets of an old lady at Tottenham Court Road station, because he refused to pay for the upkeep of his seven illegitimate children, becuase he was involved in a flamboyant scandal of unmentionable nature and unprecedented dimensions, because he was detected while trying to poison the rhinoceros at the Zoo with an arsenical bun, because he strangled his mistress, because he addressed an almost disrespectful letter to the Primate of England beginnig "My good Owl" - or for any suchlike reason; and that he now remained on the island only because nobody was fool enough to lend him the ten pounds requisite for a ticket back again.

En danseuse - one of the many joyously lyrical specialist cycling terms employed by the French, meaning to stand - or 'dance' - on the pedals. Does it betray a significant cultural difference to learn that the English equivalent is 'honking'?


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