Category Archives: Books

David Mitchell, ‘Black Swan Green’

Black Swan Green David Mitchell quotes

Photo credit: literaryvice.ca

I’ve recently read two books by David Mitchell and I would say he has jumped from the list of the authors-I’ve-been-meaning-to read to the top 5 of my favourite authors. I am a sucker for wordplay and his books have loads. I also find that he has some very subtle observations and, most importantly, the two books that I’ve read are a lot of fun to read!

This is what James Wood said about Mitchell in The New Yorker: ‘David Mitchell is a superb storyteller. He has an extraordinary facility with narrative: he can get a narrative rolling along faster than most writers, so that it is filled with its own mobile life. You feel that he can do anything he wants, in a variety of modes, and still convince. “Black Swan Green” (2006) is a funny and sweet-natured semi-autobiographical novel, conventionally told, about a boy growing up in a stifling Worcestershire village’.

Here are some quotes that I particularly liked:

*

‘If you show someone something you’ve written, you give them a sharpened stake, lie down in your coffin and say, ‘When you are ready’.

* (This is a bit of a lengthy quote, but simply priceless!)

‘But you have read Madame Bovary?’

(I’d never heard of her books.) ‘No.’

‘Not even,’ she looked ratty now, ‘Hermann Hesse?’

‘No.’ Unwisely I tried to dampen Madame Crommelynck’s disgust. ‘We don’t really do Europeans at school…’

‘“Europeans”? England is now drifted to the Caribbean? Are you African? Antarctican? You are European, you illiterate monkey of puberty! Thomas Mann, Rilke, Gogol! Proust, Bulgakov, Victor Hugo! This is your culture, your inheritance, your skeleton! You are ignorant even of Kafka?’

I flinched. ‘I’ve heard of him.’

‘This?’ She held up Le Grand Meaulnes.

‘No, but you were reading it last week.’

‘Is one of my bibles. I read it every year. So!’ She frisbeed the hardback book at me, hard. It hurt. ‘Alain-Fournier is your first true master. He is nostalgic and tragic and enchantible and he aches and you will ache too and, best of everything, he is true.’

As I opened it up a cloud of foreign words blew out. Il arriva chez nous un dimanche de novembre 189…‘It’s in French.’

‘Translations are incourteous between Europeans.’ She detected the guilt in my silence. ‘Oho? English schoolboys in our enlightened 1980s cannot read a book in a foreign language?’

‘We do do French at school…’ (Madame Crommelynck made me go on.) ‘…but we’ve only got up to Youpla boum! Book 2.’

‘Pfffffffffffft! When I was thirteen I spoke French and Dutch fluently! I could converse in German, in English, in Italian! Ackkk, for your schoolmasters, for your minister of education, execution is too good! Is not even arrogance! It is a baby who is too primitive to know its nappy is stinking and bursting! You English, you deserve the government of Monster Thatcher! I curse you with twenty years of Thatchers! Maybe then you comprehend, speaking one language only is prison! You have a French dictionary and a grammar, anyhow?’

*

‘Michael Fish said the area of low pressure moving over the British Isles is coming from the Urals. The Urals’re the USSR’s Colorado Rockies. Intercontinental missile silos and fall-out shelters’re sunk deep in the roots of the montains. There’re research cities so secret they’ve got no names and don’t appear on maps. Strange to think of a Red Army sentry on a barbed-wire watchtower shivering in this very same icy wind. Oxygen he’d breathed out might be oxygen I breathed in’. (This caught my attention because I grew up in the Urals, and, specifically, in one of the research towns, which – true enough – until recently wasn’t on the map!)

PS. Oh, and check out the book’s official website with some more excellent quotes.

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Gobby, continued

I often have this with new words – I come across one and think, hm, maybe it’s not that common, maybe I’ll hardly ever hear it again and I almost don’t write it down. But being the nerdy type that I am, most of the time I do. And a few days (sometimes even hours) later this word appears out of nowhere again.

Next day after I heard ‘gobby‘ at a meet-up with colleagues, I was reading Londoners by Craig Taylor in bed, and, sure enough, there was the word ‘gobby‘ staring at me from the page: ‘And we were both precocious and gobby and forthright, very opinionated’.

This book is a brilliant collection of stories of and interviews with Londoners – a truly enjoyable read whether you love London, hate London or cannot quite make up your mind.

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Sugar

sugar fix sugar fascist sugar daddy

Photo credit: webmd.com

Yesterday I was sitting in a park proofreading my translation and occasionally glancing at other people. There was a group of teenagers who were skating down a hill on a funny kind of skateboard. I heard one of them saying ‘Sugar!’ (pronounced like shhhhh-uga) and remembered that it was a nice euphemism for ‘shhhhit!’

Today it occurred to me that I came across quite a few expressions with ‘sugar’ lately and thought I’d put them all into one post.

The other day I emailed my French colleague asking her to recommend some cafés and salons de thé in Paris. She emailed back saying ‘I don’t know many traditional salons de thé but in a it’s 4 o’clock, I need a sugar fix kind of thing, I can recommend’…. followed by a list of tea and coffee establishments. It can also be called ‘a sugar hit‘ and ‘an afternoon pick-me-up‘.

The same colleague once used a term ‘sugar fascist‘ about a parent who doesn’t let his/her children eat sweets and I made a mental note of this expression – now is the perfect time to share it with others.

However, those children with more lenient parents who don’t mind giving sweets to their offspring, might get a ‘sugar rush‘ (i.e. become hyperactive and uncontrollable), at least that’s the popular belief.

Here’s a good example in context:

  • People often get cross when you tell them there’s no such thing as a sugar rush. Especially parents. They have witnessed, time and again, their offspring going ape at parties, after mainlining jelly and ice cream. “Sugar high,” sigh the grownups, resigned to the inevitable crash. This observation has been passed down through generations, like DNA (The Guardian).

There’s another sugar phrase – ‘sugar daddy‘ – I don’t remember how I came across it though. And it means ‘an older man who gives a younger woman expensive presents, especially in exchange for a romantic or sexual relationship’.

Here’s an example:

  • “More than a hundred students at the University of Northampton signed up for so-called “sugar daddy dating” to help fund their tuition fees last year, according to an online dating website.” (BBC)

P.S. When I think of the word ‘sugar‘ a song immediately springs to mind – this is a great episode of one of my favourite films and books – ‘Hi-Fi‘ by Nick Hornby.

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Margaret Atwood, ‘Alias Grace’

Alias Grace Margaret Atwood quotes

Photo credit: studytemple.com

A couple of days ago I finished another book, Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. It was a bit heavy-going in the beginning because of a very detailed narrative, but after a hundred or so pages it got better.

Here are some amusing bits that I particularly liked:

Spiritualism is the craze of the middle classes, the women especially; they gather in darkened rooms and play at table-tilting the way their grandmothers played at whist, or they emit voluminous automatic writings, dictated to them by Mozart or Shakespeare; in which case being dead, thinks Simon, has a remarkably debilitating effect on one’s prose style‘.

‘As one season’s crop of girls proceeds into engagement and marriage, younger ones keep sprouting up, like tulips in May. They are now so young it relation to Simon that he has trouble conversing with them; it’s like talking to a basketful of kittens’.

There was one good effect of all the suffering. The passengers were Catholic and Protestant mixed, with some English and Scots come over from Liverpool thrown into the bargain; and if in a state of health, they would have squabbled and fought, as there is no love lost. But there is nothing like a strong bout of seasickness to remove the desire for a scrap; and those who would cheerfully have cut each other’s throats on land, were often to be seen holding each other’s heads over the scuppers, like the tenderest of mothers; and I have sometimes noted the same thing in prison, as necessity does make strange bedfellows. A sea voyage and a prison may be God’s reminder to us that we are all flesh, and that all flesh is grass, and all flesh is weak. Or so I choose to believe‘.

‘Mary said I might be very young, and as ignorant as an egg, but I was bright as a new penny, and the difference between stupid and ignorant was that ignorant could learn’.

‘…Having a thought is not the same as doing it. If we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged‘.

‘Having a mistress – for that’s what she’s become, he supposes, and it hasn’t taken long! – is worse than having a wife. The responsibilities involved are weightier, and more muddled’.

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Kate Atkinson ‘Started Early, Took My Dog’

Kate Atkinson Started Early quotes

Photo credit: crimeandpublishing.com

I’ve been meaning to start writing about books that I’ve enjoyed – for a bit of a change and also to share my other big passion, though I suppose languages and reading often go hand in hand.

Usually when I’m reading a book I really like I have an overwhelming urge to quote a few bits to whoever is near, but seeing that there’s not always somebody around a blog seems to be a perfect place to do it.

I think this is a very ‘English’ book, in a sense that there are lots of details and descriptions that I probably couldn’t relate to or understand until I came to live here.

Here are the bits that I liked most:

‘His mother was defensive, worried that Leslie would carry her son off to a faraway continent and all her grandchildren would have accents and be vegetarians. Leslie wanted to reassure her, say, It’s only a holiday romance, but that probably wouldn’t go down well either’.

She thought she’d signed up for the duration… and then last week they told her that her contract wasn’t being renewed and she was going to die at the end of her run. She had only a few weeks to go. They hadn’t told her how. It was beginning to worry her in some curiously existential way as if Death was going to jump out of her from round the corner, swinging his sickle and shouting, ‘Boo!’ Well, perhaps not boo. She hoped that Death had a little more gravitas than that‘. [It’s about an actress who was about to be killed off in a series. It’s not new to me, but it’s interesting to note that Death is masculine in English, even there are no genders as such. In Russian death is a female, for instance].

‘He was a big guy, with a mean expression on his face, barrel-chested like a Rottweiler. Add to that the shaved head, the weight-lifting muscles and a St George’s flag tattooed on his left bicep, twinned with a half-naked woman inked into his right forearm, and, voilá, the perfect English gentleman’.

Fiction had never been Jackson’s thing. Facts seemed challenging enough without making stuff up. What he discovered was that the great novels of the world were about three things – death, money and sex. Occasionally a whale‘.

‘They were celebrating the divorce of one of their pack. Jackson thought that divorce was possibly an occasion for a wake rather than a knees-up but what did he know, he had a particularly poor track record where marriage was concerned. It surprised him to discover that the women all seemed to be teachers or social workers. Nothing more frightening than a middle-class woman when she lets her hair down’.

– ‘Do you know what colour grey is?’

– ‘It’s the colour of the sky’, Courtney offered. Tracy sighed. Therapist would have a field day with this kid.

‘Everywhere people were puffing and panting their way up the steps. He had never seen so many fat people in one place at the same time. He wondered what a visitor from the past would make of it. It used to be poor who were thin and the rich who were fat, now it seemed to be the other way round’.

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