A strange house, a locked room murder, storms and terrors = a perfect read! #themillhousemurders @pushkinpress


I do like a little contrast in my reading, and I suppose going from a book on Proust to a classic Japanese locked room mystery is quite a jump! But that’s where we are today, with a rather wonderful book recently issued by Pushkin Press. The titles is “The Mill House Murders” by Yukito Ayatsuji, translated by Ho-King Wong, and it’s the second in the series featuring the amateur detective Shimada Kiyoshi – how I managed to miss the first of these, “The Decagon House Murders” is beyond me, as this is right up my street!

The book opens dramatically, with a prologue set on 29th September 1985. A storm is raging around the Mill House, a mysterious private residence built away from prying eyes in the middle of nowhere. And a group of people are about to be met with a series of fearful events: a woman falling from a tower, a valuable painting disappearing and a man vanishing under impossible circumstances. The discoveries which follow, down in the furnace room, are grim; and although a seemingly plausible explanation is found, it’s clear that all those present will be changed by these unforgettable events.

The house belongs to the troubled Fujinuma Kiichi; son of the late Fujinuma Issei, a lauded and visionary artist, he lives as a recluse as following an accident some years back, he wears a mask and gloves to hide his scars and is confined to a wheelchair. Alongside him live his wife Yurie and his butler Kuramoto Shoji, and there are housekeepers, live-in or live-out, depending which part of the narrative you’re reading. Other characters are a varied bunch who visit the house on an annual basis: art dealer Oishi Genzo, professor of art history Mori Shigehiko, surgeon Mitamura Noriyuki and priest Furukawa Tsunehito. Then there is Masaki Shingo… Once a disciple of Issei, he’s also a friend of Kiichi and was present during the car accident where the latter was so badly injured. At the time of the dramatic events in 1985, he’s been staying in the Mill House for some months…

The structure of the book is fascinating, with chapters alternating between the events of September 1985, and a year later, where the annual visitors are making their pilgrimage to the Mill House. This is so they can see Kiichi’s collection of his father’s paintings; and they all have hopes of persuading him to make a sale of one or more to them, and also gaining a sight of Issei’s last work – a painting called “The Phantom Cluster” which apparently horrified its creator so much that it’s never been seen. However, the 1986 visit is a strange one, as inevitably the attendees will start to revisit the events of the earlier year. And things are complicated by the arrival of one Shimada Kiyoshi who basically invites himself in. His presence there is for a good reason, as he was a friend of Furukawa – and the latter disappeared after the events of 1985, which were mainly blamed on him. As Shimada explores and investigates, inevitably there are further killings and mysteries; and it remains to be seen if the detective can discover the truth before there are any more murders!

“Mill House…” is a really wonderful read from start to finish, and I was gripped from the opening pages. Yukito Ayatsuji certainly knows who to ramp up the tension and create a wonderfully atmospheric and dramatic setting, which is vividly portrayed. Pleasingly, the book comes with a list of characters as well as two plans of Mill House, and in fact the house is very much a character in itself. There were references to the architect who designed it (I think that element may well have played a part in the earlier book) and they added to sense of unease running through the book.

The characters are an entertaining bunch, too. Kiiji is seen differently because of the two narrative strands, one from a year ago which is written in the third person, and that in the present which is a first person point of view of ‘the master of the house’ as he calls himself. Butler Kuramoto is vital to the running of the house, and indeed to the narrative; and each guest has a clearly delineated character. Then there is Yurie… One of only a few female characters in the book, she’s a little more problematic. The orphan child of a disciple of Issei, she was in effect brought up, and perhaps even groomed, as a wife for Kiiji. Sequestered away from the outside world, her presence is as a physical object, a doll more than anything else. But she too will be vital to the mystery.

“Mill House…” is a fiendishly clever and deliciously devious book, in terms of both its plot and its construction; it’s not until you read the very final pages that you realise quite how brilliantly it’s been done, when you’re hit by a number of “ah, so that’s why….!” moments. And that ending is stunning and quite unforgettable! However I can say so little about the plot really, because the surprise element is essential and quite marvellous. As I mentioned above, there is a locked room mystery here, and so it’s not unexpected to see a little reference to John Dickson Carr’s characters, Dr. Fell and H.M., at one point in the narrative; and though I’m reluctant to use the world ‘classic’ for something published relatively recently (or at least it seems so to me!), this book is closer to GA crime than to modern violent stuff, and so that’s another reason to love it.

The blurb on the back of the book asks if the reader can solve the mystery of the Mill House Murders before Shimada does and I have to say that I couldn’t. I did have glimmerings of some elements, but not the overall solution – and there are certainly things on the last page or two which I never would have got in a million years! So “The Mill House Murders” was a total success as far as I was concerned: a brilliantly written, thoroughly entertaining and completely unputdownable mystery with a wonderful setting, and all I can say is that I have to get my hands on “The Decagon House Murders” as soon as possible!

(Review copy kindly provided by the publisher, for which many thanks!)

May reading – and *where* is the year going????


I’m finding it hard to accept that we’re almost halfway through the year – where *does* the time go? – but at least I can report another great month of reading! May was full of bookish joy and here’s the pile of books which I’ve read:

That’s a lovely chunky pile, and I think the fact that there were so many Bank Holidays in May *did* help with the reading. But even taking that into account, it was a really, really good month; I loved every book on the pile (no duds, hurrah!) and am very happy with the variety. Interestingly, seven of the books have a connection with France, either being by French authors or about French creatives; this wasn’t planned, it just turned out this way! I never like to pick out just one favourite, but of course M. John Harrison’s “Wish I Was Here” (which I covered for Shiny New Books) was particularly marvellous; “Brian” was a stunning read; and the Camus was very special. They’re all great books though, so I’m very happy with my May reading! 😊😊📚

So, what plans do I have for June reading? TBH, minimal ones, which is the way I like it! Literary PotPourri is hosting a ‘Reading the Meow‘ event which takes place from 12th June onwards and I have been trawling the shelves to see if I have something suitable; I’m seriously tempted by a re-read of “The Master and Margarita” in a different translation, but I don’t know how the time will go for that. I though I might be luck with Beverley Nichols though; he was such a cat-lover that I was sure there must be something of his on the stacks which would fit, though so far I haven’t found anything. However, what I *did* find, perhaps expectedly, was this:

You might not expect a book about cats from the rather fearsome William S.  Burroughs! However, I’m awfully tempted and this may be what I go for.

Another likely read is for June’s #calvinobookclub, hosted on Twitter by the A Plunge Into Calvino podcast; this month’s book is “The Castle of Crossed Destinies”, a title I’ve not read in decades, so I’m very keen to see what I make of it nowadays.

Apart from these two events, the only actual commitment I have is taking part in a blog tour for a new book from Melville House Press, “Relentless Melt”, which sounds rather intriguing, so look out for that mid month. But apart from that, it’ll be mood reading again I suspect… There are a few possibles sitting patiently waiting in a box at the moment and one of them might catch my eye:

All look very tempting – is there anything there which takes your fancy? And do you have any plans for June reading?

“…life itself is synonymous with anguish…” @OxUniPress #myreading #proust


Back in September 2022, I wrote about a fascinating book in a new series from Oxford University Press; with the overarching title of ‘My Reading’, each book takes a look at a specific author, with the writer of each volume choosing a name particularly important to them as a reader. The book I read back then was on Charles Dickens by Annette Federico, and I found it fascinating. So when I learned that there was a new release coming up which focused on Marcel Proust, I was very keen to read it; particularly as the author is Professor Michael Wood who seems to be something of an expert on his subject!

I should state up front that I have read *part* of Proust – a few volumes of his major work plus shorter works collected in various editions. So I am something of an amateur when it comes to the great author’s writings, but this didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment of Wood’s explorations. And he approaches Proust from an interesting angle, using seven chapters to look at different aspects of the work, with a focus on what he calls ‘events’ related to the man’s work (and, of course, his life). These range from the initial steps Proust took towards become a novelist and go through subjects like his treatment of love as born of anxiety, the effects of the Dreyfus affair on his fiction and even how crime is portrayed in the books. It’s a fascinating way to treat what can be complex works and it really made me think about what Proust is trying to say in his writings.

As so often in Proust, a thought that is heading in one direction turns round suddenly, as if it had forgotten something and had to go back for it.

As I mentioned, Wood’s knowedge of Proust and his work is extensive (and I’ve found some interesting broadcasts he’s made online to explore further). I presume he’s able to read A La Recherche in its original language, as some of his explorations of the linguistics involved in the translations were very interesting indeed. My readings of Proust are the revised Scott-Moncrieff versions, and I was pleased to see him pop up several times here. What was also fascinating was Wood’s pinpointing of the main event in Proust’s life as the transition from a social butterfly to locking himself away from the world to write his great work in 1908. Up to that point, Proust had written reviews, as well as short stories which had been published in a collection, and had even started an attempted novel called Jean Santieul, which he abandoned in 1899.

Wood explores the relationship between Jean and A la recherche, which is fascinating, as it becomes clear that the earlier work contained much which would become the basis for the later masterpiece, although much changed. He’s also able to draw in links with the 75 lost folios, as they’re known, pages previously unpublished and thought gone forever, but later rediscovered. These have recently been issued in translation and I’ll obviously have to track them down. But in the meantime, Wood’s analysis of the links between the three different sources of Proust’s recording of the ‘events’, the experiences of his life, makes absolutely fascinating reading.

Not everything is comic here, though, and this hesitancy of mood is part of Proust’s signature. No one knows better – except perhaps Dickens and Nabokov – that daily life all too often assumes the structure of a farce, where a flurry of wrong bedrooms seems to summarize the whole of existence.

Proust’s masterwork is still regarded as one of the most important pieces of writing of the 20th century, and is also seen as one of the most difficult. Having read what I have of it, I don’t think it’s difficult in the sense of hard to understand; once you’ve adjusted to Proust’s prose and his labyrinthine sentences, his prose is a joy to experience. The major issue is, I think, a lifestyle one; nowadays, if your life is anything like mine, you have to carve out reading space, and finding a long stretch of uninterrupted time to immerse yourself in his writing is the hard thing. However, Michael Wood’s lovely book makes a strong case for us to stop messing about and just get on with reading Proust; as he makes clear, there are rich rewards to be gained and having experienced A la recherche (and, indeed, Proust’s other writings) we’ll look at the world anew.

So this book is an excellent addition to the ‘My Reading’ series and of courrse has got me hankering after picking up the next volume in Proust’s series (The Guermantes Way pt 2) and plunging in. Wood’s erudition and knowledge about Proust are impressively on display here, his insights are fascinating and he also brings in some welcome dry wit. A highly recommended read, not only for lovers of Proust’s work, but also for those who are starting to explore him and want some background and commentary!

(Review copy kindly provided by the publisher, for which many thanks. ‘Marcel Proust’ was published on 25th May.)

A ‘memoir’ which totally subverts the genre! @shinynewbooks @mjohnharrison


I’m very happy to share with you today a new review I have up on Shiny New Books! The title in question is a new release from a long-term favourite author of mine, M. John Harrison; he’s made numerous appearances on the Ramblings with his individual and unique works, but here he moves into new territory. The book is called “Wish I Was Here”, and the subtitle of “An Anti-Memoir” should give a hint of what the author is (or is not!) doing!

Harrison’s writing is never predictable and he produces books which don’t fit neatly into any kind of genre. He’s stated he never intended to write a memoir, and it certainly could be argued that he’s not produced one here! Instead, this is a meditation on memory, the past, writing, books, climbing, roads taken and those not taken. It’s a stunning work, and you can read my full review here!

“…relaxing in the knowledge that everything was arranged…” #jeremycooper #brian @FitzcarraldoEds


If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed me getting quite excited about a lovely package which arrived from Fitzcarraldo Editions; the items were to promote a new title which publishes today, and much as I was delighted with the promo material, the main event for me was of course the book! This is the latest work by Jeremy Cooper, entitled “Brian” and I was intrigued by it from the start.

Cooper has appeared on the Ramblings on two previous occasions, when I reviewed his earlier books “Ash before Oak” and “Bolt from the Blue“. These were both fascinating works, and I was mightily impressed by them and his writing. “Ash…” was something I perceived as autofiction, exploring the life of a man living in the country and coping with his mental health issues. “Bolt” moved into different territory, tracking an artist through the decades of the late 20th century/early 21st, and her relationship to her mother and her art. “Brian” takes another different tangent, charting as it does the life of the titular Brian via his relationship with film – and it’s one of the most absorbing and unforgettable books I’ve read this year.

Brian, as it is immediately clear, is an outsider. He lives a simple and solitary life, working at Camden Council; he has lunch every day at Il Castelleto cafe; and lives on his own in a small flat on Kentish Town Road. He is a man contained and controlled; his life constructed to avoid upset and triggers; and he might well be what would be described as neurodivergent nowadays. As we meet him, he’s about to make one of the biggest decisions of his life; a lover of film, he joins the BFI so that he can see a particular movie, and this will gradually change things for him.

With no personal life as such, no friends or family to hand, Brian is nervous about anything which takes him out of his routine. However, his first attendance at the BFI is a success and as he makes repeat visits he falls in with a group of regulars, fellow film buffs who routinely go to see movies there, sharing their thoughts on these works. This process, like everything else involving Brian, is a gradual one, but eventually he becomes accepted as a one of the buffs, and continues to expand his film appreciation and knowledge. No real dramatic changes will happen to Brian; but he will have lived a satisfactory life.

If that sounds a little, well, straightforward, be assured that this book really is not so and is as brilliantly put together as Cooper’s previous books. Why *is* Brian so solitary, you might ask? Well, the reader never quite gets the full story, but the narrative gradually does reveal elements from his past and his Irish backround which explain much of his personality and his need for close control over himself and his life. The book is a gradual progression through a life, punctuated with events in the world to help the reader anchor themselves and Brian barely registers the passing of time in the real world around him as he has such a tightly disciplined existence. There *is* trauma in his past and background, but this is only partially and carefully revealed – for example, we don’t even learn his second name until half way through the book.

However, the main element to the book could well be Brian’s relationship to film and how important it is to him. Prior to joining the BFI, he tended to sit in front of the TV with a cuppa in the evenings; after joining, his life has a focus, and he follows his interests in film, particularly from Japanese directors, exploring a wide and rich cultural landscape. Despite the muted nature of Brian’s existence, there is a sense of a life lived and enriched by film; and his fragile yet important friendships with his fellow buffs, particularly Jack, give him a sense of belonging.

As I mentioned, the book covers quite a period of time, which I didn’t always notice passing as I was reading; though allusions to certain world events did give sudden reminders, as well as things like a reference to someone seeing Brian as a mild, middle-aged man. As the book draws to a close, we see Brian approaching his twilight years yet taking an important step and it’s a surprisingly positive way to end his story.

I’ve commented above the importance of film to Brian, and there is one major aspect of the book which shines through, and that’s the art of the movie. You see, this book not only tells the story of a life, it also functions as a rather lovely book of film criticism! Built seamlessly into the narrative are commentaries on films and directors, which Brian and buffs share, and so you actually learn quite a lot about the history of movies from reading the book. I found this particularly interesting and actually very effective, because the discussions which the buffs have, and Brian’s thoughts on films, come across as very genuine and give you what feels like actual responses to films and directors.

At the heart of the book, thought, is that story of a life and somehow Brian’s tale really got under my skin. I was completely absorbed in Cooper’s narrative (as I have been with all of his books) and I felt it was wonderful how he conveyed the importance of *every* life, however simple it might seem. Whether we’re seeing Brian make tentative moves to join the group, controlling his interactions with his work colleagues, or simply sharing regular lunchtime contact at the cafe over the years, his life matters. And as well as the story of that life, this book is also a tribute to film and art, and how essential it can be in making a person’s existence richer.

The book and the goodies!

Cooper’s books and his writing are unique; I haven’t really read anything quite like this and although it tells of a mainly interior experience, it’s quite beautiful and wide ranging. Oddly, the only comparison I can make is with Cooper’s own earlier work, “Bolt from the Blue”, which again is something of a biography, but this time through the lens of art over the decades. However, the similarities are in the main superficial, as the format, writing and characterisation are very different in both works – I just found it interesting that Cooper chose to tell these stories in relation to a creative process.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I started reading “Brian”, but I was anticipating something special as I love Cooper’s writing so much. And I wasn’t disappointed. The book had a number of resonances for me anyway, as I was something of a solitary teenager, spending much of time at the local fleapit watching whatever film was on that week. And I know and love both the South Bank and the Camden area at either end of the Northern Line! That aside, however, the life of Brian, a simple man with a simple existence, proves how the everyday can be constantly enriched by the presence of art, and that’s a message we need to remember in these times when the arts are under fire from all sides. “Brian” is a remarkable book which will really stay with me; I’m still processing my thoughts about it a while after finishing it; and if you like fiction which makes you think, I can highly recommend this (or indeed any of Jeremy Cooper’s books) – wonderful!

(Review book – and goodies! – kindly provided by the publisher, for which many thanks!)

Plunging into Calvino – the second part of my podcast guest appearance!!!! 😀 @calvinopodcast


Following on from last week’s arrival of the first part of my podcast guest appearance, part two is now up and live! So you can hear me rambling away with podcaster Philip Marsh about ‘Cosmicomics’, a favourite of Calvino book, ‘Invisible Cities’ and much more.

As Philip explained, it may be that the two parts don’t marry up completely as the original recording of the first part went mysteriously AWOL and so we had to re-record it. But hopefully you’ll enjoy listening to us conversing about Calvino (and plenty of other topics) so do go and have a listen – you can find part two here. And, of course, as I said before, try to read some Calvino in his centenary year – there are rich reading rewards awaiting you!!

“…memories crumble into dust.” #simonedebeauvoir #misunderstandinginmoscow


It’s always a cause for great delight when a new book comes out from a favourite author; and even more so when that writer is no longer with us. Recent years have seen a rash of newly-translated works by some of my best-loved names, like Mishima and Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky; and when you’ve read everything already available in English by someone, those new books are pure joy. Last year saw the appearance of a previously untranslated title by one of my long-term favourites, Simone de Beauvoir – “The Inseparables. It was a wonderful read, and so when another ‘new’ work, a novella called “Misunderstanding in Moscow” (translated by Terry Keefe), suddenly slipped into view with little warning I was, needless to see, rather excited! I picked it up on publication, and it didn’t linger long on the TBR…

MIM is a slim work, just 110 pages, but it covers some surprisingly weighty topics. It tells the story of a visit to Moscow in the mid-1960s by André and Nicole, an older marred couple. Travelling from their home in Paris, and leaving their grown up son Philippe behind them, they’re visiting Macha, André’s daughter by another woman, Claire. The complex family situation doesn’t seem to bother anyone, and the couple are looking forward to the trip, having visited previously in 1963.

However, things are not quite as straightforward as either character might expect. Both are experiencing the effects of ageing, becoming aware of their limitations; and inevitably niggles and conflicts develop. Macha has a husband and child who make demands on her; certain excursions can’t go ahead because the authorities won’t allow them; Nicole is concerned that André is drinking and smoking too much; and neither of the pair are communicating well. The constant failure to actually talk about the issues which arise lead the pair to a major crisis in their relationship, and things do appear to be touch and go…

When you are young, with an illusory eternity in front of you, you jump to the end of the road in one leap; later, you do not have the strength to surpass what have been called the incidental casualties of history, and you consider them to be appallingly high. He had counted on history to justify his life: he was not counting on it any longer.

As a study of an older couple who are set in their ways and taking their relationship for granted, MIM is spot on and contains a real wake up call for more empathy and understanding beteween long-term partners. As the narrative reveals, sex has departed from the relationship and with it a certain intimacy; there is a pivotal point, recalled by Nicole, when she realised that she was no longer desirable by younger men, and she ceased to feel like a woman. It’s an interesting reaction, as she’s a strong and independent character yet only sees her femininity in relation to the reactions of men.

Another interesting angle the book has is the opposing views of Macha and André; the former has committed to life in the Soviet Union, taking on its credo; yet André is embedded in the West and critical of what he sees in Moscow and Leningrad. Their constant clashes allow de Beauvoir to explore the different beliefs, and those discussions feed into the gulf which develops between Nicole and André.

It is, of course, hard not to see the couple as Simone and Jean-Paul, although there *are* differences (not least the fact that they have children). But even if that were not the case, this would still be a fascinating read and a quite profound insight into the issues which can develop between long-established couples.

As I mentioned, I was really excited to read this newly-translated work, though I do want to discuss a few issues around its publication. This particular edition comes with absolutely no supporting information or background – not even an introduction – and so I’ve had to noodle about on the internet to find out anything at all. So what I’m reporting here may not be accurate, but apparently the book was written at some point in 1965, and intended for publication in the collection of short works, “The Woman Destroyed”; however, it was replaced with another story instead, and MIM was eventually released posthumously in 1992. This is the first translation into English as far as I’m aware.

The lack of any supporting material is surprising, particularly as I’ve seen mention of an afterword being provided in versions released in other languages. Strange also is the relative lack of attention MIM has received so far, as I haven’t really been able to find much coverage of the book in terms of reviews, but I suppose it *is* early days.

As I mentioned, MIM is translated by Terry Keefe, and I did note a few oddities where he leaves an original French word in brackets within the narrative – presumably this is to indicate a significant usage in the original (e.g. the differentiation of the use of tu versus vous), although I would have felt more comfortable with an asterisk and short clarification at the bottom of the page. The narrative itself moves between the viewpoint of most of the characters, in sometimes abrupt shifts of perspective with not even an extra blank line to make differentiation easier. I assume this is the same in the French original, but it is a little disconcerting at times.

Despite these caveats, I did find MIM a fascinating book which explored relationships in all their complexity; and it was particularly interesting to have older protagonists struggling with feelings and emotions, rather than the focus always being on young lovers! The novella is perhaps a bit of an unpolished gem, which may be why it’s taken so long to be translated, and I imagine the succes of “The Inseparables” has something to do with its appearance. I’m not complaining, though – I’m happy to have more de Beauvoir to read, and assuming this was some kind of autofiction, the glimpse into her life with Sartre was particularly revealing! 😀

“I always have and always will love the sea.” #camus #travelsintheamericas @UChicagoPress


Despite the fact that I have a ginormous and ever-growing TBR, there are some books which arrive and don’t even get put onto it, so keen am I to read them – and today’s title is a case in point! With my rubbish memory, I can’t recall where I stumbled across this one, but it was probably on Twitter, and my anxiousness to read it was most likely because I recently read and loved a particular essay… The book is “Travels in the Americas” by Albert Camus, and having adored his essay, “The Rains of New York” I sent off for this shiny new collection as soon as I saw it.

Subtitled “Notes and Impressions of a New World”, the collection is translated by Ryan Bloom and edited (with an introduction) by Alice Kaplan. The book draws together journals kept by Camus during two trips to the American continent: to the United States in 1946 (with a sneaky visit to Quebec) and South America in 1949. The journals were first published in French in 1978, and I presume there is a previous English version as the cover of this University of Chicago Press edition states that it’s a new translation. Me, I’m just very happy to have it!!

The last image of France is one of destroyed buildings hanging on the very edge of that wounded earth.

Camus’s visit to the USA in 1946 must have been a real culture shock; coming from a scarred France with its post-war privations to a modern, capitalist nation, full of plenty, is a real exercise in contrasts and it’s clear from the journals that Camus often found the USA quite overwhelming. At the time, he was known outside of France more for his political commitment and his involvement with the Resistance than as a novelist; and in fact he was at work on “The Plague”, which would be published in 1947. So he was interviewed, feted, gave lectures and observed the new world into which he’d been plunged. Camus was a curious traveller, and he was also critical of the USA and its treatment of other races. As Kaplan points out in her introduction, this is a complex issue, as France was still occupying Algiers, and as a Frenchman born in Algeria Camus was anxious to keep the country as part of France whilst doing away with the iniquities of occupation. However, it’s easier for us to look back and perhaps find fault in his judgements – despite some of his forward-looking attitudes, he was inevitably a man of his times.

The second section of the journals are from a trip to South America where Camus, now a famous author, was shuttled from pillar to post, being interviewed and giving lectures, meeting luminaries such as Victoria Ocampo, and once again observing completely different cultures from those in his native Europe. These travels are more of a struggle, with Camus suffering endless drives on bad roads to witness local ceremonies, enduring bores with reasonable grace, and seeing the inequalities of colonialism at first hand. He was also at the time missing terribly his lover, the great actress Maria Casares, and this no doubt contributed to the sense of ennui that seeps into the journal entries!

“Travels…” makes fascinating reading on so many levels. For a start, the immediacy of the writing gives you a real sense of what it was like to travel from Europe to America at the time, and you see the continent through fresh eyes. Nowadays we’re so familiar with the USA and its culture, but then the divide between the two continents was dramatic, particularly after the devastation of WW2. So the Camus-eye view is a real revelation. Similarly, his views on South America and the various countries he travelled through is fascinating. He was a traveller making a real effort to understand the new cultures he was encountering and this gives the narrative a freshness.

Then of course there’s what the journals reveal about Camus the man. He comes across as a person who doesn’t take easily to travel, uncomfortable at being shuttled around all over the place without much of a rest; but despite the frustrations he experiences, he always seems to try to extend courtesy to those he meets. During the South American travels, in particular, he struggled with his health, experiencing constant fevers and ‘flu’ – presumably related to his TB? These were obviously wearing him down by the end of the trip and you can sense his need to get home to France.

In the sky, a sliver of moon casts a dullish light that reflects evenly on the turbulent waters. I gaze once again, as I have for years, at the drawings etched on the surface by the foam and wake, that lace made and unmade, that liquid marble… and once again I search for a comparison exact enough to capture that marvellous blossoming of sea, of water and light, a comparison that has for so long escaped me. Still in vain. For me, it’s a symbol that persists.

What shines though is his wonderful writing; these are journals, and therefore sometimes simply a record of events, but there are so many moments of great beauty in the prose when he records the world around him. These often occur in relation to the sea, with which Camus had a great affinity, and in fact the most enjoyable part of his travels often seems to be the sections aboard ship – he’s much less enamoured of flying, even though the destination is reached more quickly, and his love of the ocean is unmistakable.

I’ve read a good number of Camus books over the decades, but his journals are something I’ve only come to recently (and I do have three volumes of his working notebooks to explore). However, these travel journals were a real revelation, and the book is beautifully presented; as well as excellent supporting material and notation, there are some wonderful photographic illustrations. These range from Camus’s travel documents to photographs taken of him on his travels and they’re a marvellous addition to the book. To round things off, two contemporary articles about the visits are reproduced at the end of the book, which is a lovely touch.

“Travels…” was a treat from start to finish, and I absolutely loved experiencing Camus’s journeys alongside him, whether he was exploring the New York streets or enduring deluges of South American rain. The book gives a wonderful insight into the man and his thoughts, as well as letting the reader see the Americas through a European’s eyes. A marvellous book and I’m very glad I let it bypass Mount TBR!

Plunging into Calvino – in which I make a rare podcast guest appearance!!!! 😀 @calvinopodcast


Regular Ramblings readers will no doubt have noticed the focus so far this year on Italo Calvino, one of my favourite authors whose centenary year 2023 just happens to be! I’ve been following the A Plunge Into Calvino podcast, and also the #CalvinoBookclub which podcaster Philip Marsh has been hosting on Twitter. So when Philip asked if I would like to be a guest on the Plunge podcast, I was keen to get involved!

Now, I’m not a regular podcaster – in fact, I’ve only ever taken part in one before, when I was a guest on Simon at Stuck in a Book’s ‘Tea or Books’, all the way back in 2018 – so I was a little bit uncertain as how it would go, as no-one really likes the sound of their own voice, do they! However, all went well and the podcast was recorded in two parts – well, actually in three, as there was a slight mishap as Philip explains at the beginning of part one!! 🤣🤣

So the first part of the podcast is now available here and if you fancy listening to us rambling on about Calvino (and plenty of other topics) do go and have a listen. And, of course, try to read some Calvino in his centenary year!

“Horror in Hades!” #sepulchrestreet @medwardsbooks


Today I’m delighted to be taking part in a blog tour; I do these occasionally and the book in question was one I was really keen to explore. The author, Martin Edwards, has made regular appearances on the blog, most often for his masterful work curating the British Library Crime Classics series. However, I also covered his monumental history of the genre, “The Life of Crime“, which was such an impressive achievement. And so when I was approached to see if I’d be interested in reading his new title, the fourth book in the Rachel Savernake series of mysteries, I jumped at the chance. Edwards is very highly regarded in the world of crime writing, as can be seen from the quotes on the cover of this book; and his crime novels are set in Golden Age territory. I did wonder if coming into the series at book 4 would present any issues, but I’m very happy to report that it didn’t – and I found “Sepulchre Street” a delight from start to finish!

This mystery is set in the 1930s, a decade of change in Britain and a time, post-Wall Street Crash, when many were struggling to make a living. As the book opens, the glamorous Rachel Savernake is attending a private view of an exhibition by the controversial artist, Damaris Gethin. The latter is clearly in a highly-strung state, which is probably not helped by the location of the exhibition; it features tableaux of famous murderers in a gallery called Hades, and the setting is dark, gloomy and unsettling. Damaris corners Rachel (who’s known as an effective private detective of sorts) and demands that the latter brings Damaris’s killer to justice. Since Damaris is still very much alive, this seems an odd request; and as the artist then goes on to commit suicide, publicly and very dramatically, the request seems even stranger…

Also present at the private view is Jacob Flint, reporter for the Clarion newspaper, and a man who’s worked with Rachel before, being somewhat fascinated by her. He’s in pursuit of a society beauty, Kiki de Villiers, who has a mysterious past. A certain Major Roddy Malam is in attendance, and he’s demonstrating an interest in Rachel. Is it significant that they were invited to the viewing? When news leaks out of the return to England of the dangerous gangster, Marcel Ambrose, a man previously thought dead and whose violent tendencies are legendary, many of the protagonists of the story are concerned, not least of all Scotland Yard’s Inspector Oakes, who regards Rachel a little warily, although he’s in awe of her detective skills. What develops is a complex and deeply satisfying mystery which draws in changing identities, 1930s gangster violence, the emotional entanglements of the very high and mighty, some very worried civil servants and even a paid assassin! It’s a fascinating mix, and thoroughly engrossing from start to finish.

It has to be said that Martin Edwards really can write. His plotting and narrative are brilliantly done, and he weaves together marvellous threads which culminate in some wonderfully dramatic climaxes throughout the book. Sepulchre Street itself is tucked away down in Rye, and there’s a particular section of the narrative which draws a number of characters to the town, all converging on that one area and driven by different motives – really clever! There are multiple plot elements but Edwards never loses his grip on these, and the final resolution is one I would never have guessed!

There are so many intriguing aspects of “Sepulchre Street”, not least the issues which Edwards introduces. His knowledge of the period is comprehensive, and one particular element is handled with great sensitivity (I’m trying to avoid spoilers here) He also builds in some lovely little in-jokes and references to GA crime which I really enjoyed! The settings are vividly drawn and atmospheric, and I really felt I was inside the action – the book is quite a page-turner. Although rooted in a period when GA crime flourished, Edwards’ narrative introduces harder-edged elements at times, and there is a real sense of threat, particularly from Ambrose and his cronies. They’re a nasty bunch, and although the action is not gratuitously graphic, enough is said for the reader to be very keen to avoid falling into their clutches…

As well as plot and setting, Edwards really excels when it comes to characters. His players are lively, entertaining and very well conjured; I was particularly impressed by his ability to draw such strong female characters, and also to weave some of those issues women face into his plot without them ever sounding forced. Central to the narrative, of course, is Rachel Savernake herself, and although I haven’t read any of her previous exploits, enough was said about her backstory for me to fill in her past. The daughter of grim Judge Savernake, she seems to have had a childhood under his thumb which went to form her singular character. Self-taught, as were her loyal band of retainers the Truemans (who are more like friends and colleagues), she combines beauty and intelligence, and is a most engaging heroine. I loved how she always seemed in complete control, particularly when Jacob is failing to cope!!

It’s probably obvious that I thoroughly enjoyed this clever, absorbing and entertaining book; it succeeds on all levels, mixing a wonderfully conjured Golden Age setting with excellent plot and characters, and the pace never flags. I was on tenterhooks at some points in the story, rooting for the goodies and deploring the baddies; but the story is never simplistic, and Edwards has his characters display some real sensitivity towards those they’re pursuing. There’s definitely the feeling that Rachel in particular is driven by a need for excitement, mysteries to solve and dangerous living, rather than simple crime fighting! Entertainingly, Edwards provides a Clue Finder at the end which reveals points in the story where attentive readers would have picked up important hints to the motives and solutions which was a lovely touch. “Sepulchre Street” was a wonderful read, and I’m now very keen to go back to the start and exploring the adventures of Rachel Savernake from the very beginning! 😀

(Review copy kindly provided by Head of Zeus, for which many thanks!)

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