Wondrous Words Wednesday: Paul Gallico (2)

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) and interesting (to us, again) words we encountered in our readings. See this week round-up at BermudaOnion’s blog!

My words for this week come once more from Scruffy by Paul Gallico. The book is full of curious words, so I’m only reporting some.

*****

“Bumph!” he shouted. “Bloody, all-fired, eternal bumph! You’ve buried me in bumph. Every time I come to my desk in the morning there’s some bumph from you suggesting this, suggesting that, demanding this, that or the other.”

bumph: n. Brit. informal 1 useless or tedious printed information 2 dated toilet paper.

Bumph… although the character meant the other kind.
(Photo credits: MyEyeSees on Flickr)

*****

He would nurse a drink or two, the boss would return, he would make his arrangements and no palaver would be involved.

palaver: n. 1 prolonged and tedious fuss or discussion 2 a parley or improvised conference between two sides.

*****

It was indeed a farewell party that somehow he had been inveigled into staging.

inveigle: n. persuade by deception or flattery.

*****

(All definitions are taken from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary © 2008 via WordReference.com unless otherwise stated.)

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Books: schools for peculiar children

Alternate title: one topos, three books… and they could not be more different! Oh, except in that they all have a story that cannot be told without giving out too much! So no summary = no spoilers!

The book: Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

The edition:Italian translation by Paola Novarese, as published by Einaudi, softback, 295 pages

The good: I love Ishiguro’s writing, the detail, the tone, the language. (Or maybe I should say I love Ishiguro’s writing translated, because I never read him in the original.) And this book has a very interesting premise, believable characters, and a lot of potential for discussion.

The bad:the characters felt like they were only playing at emotions, playing at being human, but I’m not sure whether that’s the whole point of the book (as in, showing that they would not have a soul) or an unwanted byproduct. (Or even, an unwanted byproduct of what, at face value, seems a good translation.) Also, the whole premise was a bit far-fetched, and I was disappointed in how such a sensitive and controversial subject was brought up only to be downplayed.

The verdict: I’m very much on the fence about this one.

More: I went online and read many reviews, but there’s not one of them that does not give away the central mystery of this book.

_____

The book: Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta

The edition: American paperback edition by Harperteen, 422 pages.

The good: well, I had read good reviews, but did not expect such a good book. I love the way the story unravels, little by little and mystery by mystery. I love the sense of place, of magic, of the hidden links between characters. I love the enclosed world Marchetta created, its rites and costumes. I love the different characters and how each of them goes on looking for his/her own way to adulthood.

The bad: Taylor’s whining and being something of a stereotype character (on this note: has anyone noticed how Katniss Everdeen is totally copied from her? The my-mother-doesn’t-care-about-me whining, the though attitude, the leading role, the “my name is Taylor/Katniss, I’m 17 years old” mantra, and even the unfriendly and savage cat?)

The verdict: this is why I keep reading YA books. The way the story is told is enough to put this book up in the same circle with some of my most loved ones (The God of Small Things, Goodbye Little Women).

More: this counts for the Aussie Author (although it did not feel very Australian to me), the Classic Double and the Semi-Charmed Summer challenges.

_____

The book: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

The edition: Quirk Books hardback edition, 352 pages

The good: you know how we all craved for adventures when we were 7-8 years old and reading, like, Verne, or Salgari, or whatever adventure book it was at the time? This book makes you feel like that again, and the adventure it brings on is a well-stuffed one.

The bad: I really hoped that this would not turn out to be fantasy, I’d have preferred it that way — but that’s just personal taste. Also, I found the photos a little bit overly unsettling, and I didn’t like the very open ending.

The verdict: a good read for a hot summer day, when you want something different.

More: oh no! I just discovered this is going to be a series! For me, one was enough.

Books: Sarah-Kate Lynch

Alternate title: a bad surprise and a very good one.

By Bread Alone Blessed are the Cheesemakers
Black Swan Paperback, 368 pages Black Swan Paperback, 320 pages

Why I read them
Way back when I participated in my very first reading challenge (with my old blog), someone mentioned these two. I don’t recall what was said, bu it was enough to make me add the titles to my wishlist, and to pick them up when I had the chance several years later.

The bad surprise: By Bread Alone
By Bread Alone is the story of a woman whose marriage is on the brink of destruction because she went through several very hard experiences over a very short time, and who looks for refuge from her own life in an old romance with a French baker.
It is not a bad book. Lynch has a good, light tone and deals very well with shrouding the whole story with mystery and revealing things only a little at a time. That much I appreciated. As a bread-lover myself, I also liked the baking lessons and details (including a recipe to make your own starter).
The “bad” part is that I could not stand the protagonist. This is one of those characters that never make decisions on their own, but let things happen to them. I could accept this from the 18-year-old Esme, but cannot forgive it in her older, married-and-mother self. And because of her behaving in this way, all the interesting themes the book deals with (family, loss, mourning) end up being dealt with in a very light and superficial manner. I may sound a bit too severe, but it really did put me off.

The good surprise: Blessed Are the Cheesemakers
So it took me a long time to get to the second book, and I approached it with lower expectations, and was pleasantly surprised.
Blessed Are the Cheesemakers is a quirky book about the healing potential of love and good cheese. It’s hard to summarize it without giving away anything, so I’ll just say that it features a cheesemaker who can read minds, cows milked to the sound of songs from The Sound of Music, and a cheese (the Coeur de Collarney) with a strong personality:

“Shake?” she finally offered timidly, holding out her hand […]
Kit looked at her hand. She could stick it up her ass, as far as he was concerned, and he was about to tell her that when the Coeur lashed out and slapped him.
“Sure,” he said instead. “Why not,” and he took the hand she had offered in his own.
The fromage d’amour screamed with triumph.

I must admit that most twists were quite predictable, but the story as a whole was less so, so this did not detract from my enjoyment. Bottom line: it may not be great literature, but a nice story, quirky details, an easy style and likeable characters make for a good and relaxing read.

Book: Lord of the Flies

The book: Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

The edition: Faber&Faber centenary edition paperback, 225 pages, plus introduction by Stephen King

The story: a group of boys is stranded on an island during a nuclear war. Left to their own devices, they enjoy the tropical paradise by day, but at night they start to discover their darkest sides (fear of the dark, blood thirst, desire for power) and little by little they recede from civilization into savagery.

My experience with the book & my thoughts: I feel like I was the only one in the world not having read this, so here I won’t go into what the book is or isn’t, into its good and bad. Suffice to say that I found it well written and horrifying. (See links below for better opinions than mine.)
Instead, I’ll tell you about my reaction — that is what classics are for, right? And I do have strong feelings about this novel: either the author had a very “wrong” (from my point of view, that is) view of life, or males and females are so deeply different that they cannot really hope to communicate. (I do hope it’s the first, because I seem to communicate just fine with my husband, my father and male friends.)
According to Stephen King (in the introduction), this is a story “about how kids really are”. But all I see in the novel itself is that kids are inherently evil:

Roger stooped, picked up a stone, aimed, and threw it at Henry— threw it to miss. The stone, that token of preposterous time, bounded five yards to Henry’s right and fell in the water. Roger gathered a handful of stones and began to throw them. Yet there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life.

This is an idea that I cannot buy into. Are kids inherently evil? Are human beings inherently evil? If that was so, humanity would have disappeared long ago, even before a civilization appeared to block those instincts. And in my experience they are not. They are not inherently good either, mind you.
Then again, my experience is somewhat limited. I grew up in a preponderantly female environment. So, while I know it’s preposterous, the only other explanation I can come up with for this book is the following: could boys be inherently evil (as opposed to girls)? I don’t think that’s the point, but I’ll have to ask husband 😉
In the meanwhile, what do you think? If you have read this book, how did you react?

Links to better understand this book:

Counts as: What’s in a Name – creepy crawly; Back to the Classics – 20th century; Summer 2012 – book I’ve always wanted to read

Neverwhere Group Read – week three/the end

Carl @ Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting a group read for Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. This week there are no questions and Carl left it up to us what to share and what to underline. Which I appreciate… except that this week I lack the time and concentration for analysis, so you’ll get my scattered thoughts instead. Let me also say here that I am sorry for participating so little, and I hope to go back to participating blogs in the upcoming weeks, as soon as I get the time! (As usual, beware: spoilers ahead)

About the book as a whole: I’m still in love with it as much as the first time. I really hope Carl will share with us what makes him write “So is it really that spectacular of a novel?  The objective answer is “no”.” Because to me, it is spectacular, very much so each time I read it.

About Richard: many of you mentioned last week that the Ordeal was a kind of turning point for Richard. He obviously thought the same:

Richard felt oddly proud. He had proved himself in the ordeal. He was One of Them. He would Go, and he would Bring Back Food. He puffed out his chest.

But the others don’t seem to think so. And I didn’t see any turning point. More like, a gradual growth of the character. Until this:

Metaphors failed him, then. He had gone beyond the world of metaphor and simile, into the place of things that are, and it was changing him.

Now, isn’t this interesting? London Below as “the place of things that are“?

About the ending: I am very sorry to say that, after our discussion about mental illness, this time I had to read the ending differently. You know how the homeless woman has no idea about London Below? This time, for me, Gary is right, and Richard has had a nervous breakdown and has been hallucinating. And I have to say it’s a sad way of reading this book. I liked the magic better.

About references: this one is a reference to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, right? Or is this a common joke?

“Talking of the Marquis, I wonder where he is. He’s a bit late, isn’t he, Mister Vandemar?”
“Very late indeed, Mister Croup. As late as he possibly could be.”

Questions for fellow group readers:

  1. In his dream, Richard confronted the Beast alone; in the Labyrinth, he only participates in the “dance”, following Hunter’s indications. And he’s still completely out of his depth. Do you think he had some traits that made him into the Warrior? (Maybe that collection of trolls was a hint?)
  2. Why is the key given back to the Black Friars? And why was it Door that had to use it? If it was the “key to all reality”, why did it need an opener?
  3. What do you think of the processional of all the London Below characters saying goodbye to Richard?

Sorry, that’s all that I could come up with, today.

Edition note: I am reading the author’s preferred text, as published by Headline Review, paperback, 372 pages plus exclusive material.