Sunday 29 August 2010

Coming Down the Seine by Robert Gibbings

My copy is second hand, published in 1953, and very battered, so I decided against a scan of the cover and settled for the title page with the image by Robert Gibbings himself.  The book is beautifully illustrated throughout with his own wood engravings.

I wasn't at all sure what to expect of this book, I'll freely admit that I was completely swayed by the title.

The title is of course misleading to a large extent.  Never judge judge a book by its cover - or its title.  But it does have some bearing on the subject matter and besides, the book is a total delight once you stop expecting a travelogue.  It is almost like a stream of consciousness, the thoughts meandering through the author's mind as he follows the Seine from its source to the sea (with occasional massive detours).  Added to the captivating narrative, you can enjoy the illustrations created by the author himself.  A book that can be read over and over again.

Coming Down the Seine is still available at and at

Saturday 20 February 2010

The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez

This is one of the more unusual crime novels I have ever read.  Very briefly, it's about a serial killer who leaves mathematical clues as he proceeds on his killing spree.  I've included it here because it's set in Oxford and the author indulges in a considerable amount of place-name-dropping, and I suppose it does conjure up the rather rarefied air of a university.  It's translated from Spanish but, unlike some translations, you aren't aware of any awkwardness in the English.

It's a fast read by virtue of the fact that it's very short but I don't really think you'd call it a page-turner.  Its main appeal has to be the unusual link with mathematics.  That, however, floats cheerfully somewhere over my head, leaving me thinking, hmmm.

Saturday 30 January 2010

Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier

Tracy Chevalier's Burning Bright is the story of a family who moves from rural Dorset to London, where the father works for a circus.  They end up living next door to the poet and artist, William Blake.
If you know any of William Blake's poetry, it's likely to be "The Tiger":
Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
Because of the title of the novel, you would be excused for thinking you were going to learn something about Blake, but in reality he is one of the minor characters.  The remaining characters lack much depth and are rather stereotypical, and the accents they are given are frankly irritating.  Country bumpkin versus Cockney. 

On the other hand, the book does portray London vividly and historically accurately. There is a real sense of place which may be just the thing to accompany a trip to the city.