Ian McEwan. Amsterdam. Vintage Canada/Random House, 1999.
A change of pace from mystery thrillers. Two old friends meet at the funeral for Molly, a woman they both once loved. Clive is the celebrated composer; Vernon is the editor of tabloid newspaper The Judge. The gathering includes Molly's husband and another of her lovers, a highly placed politician. Thus are we introduced to a story of ambition and morality told in the blackest humour. Clive and Vernon, feeling stressed and the effects of ageing, make an ominous pact. This smart/small novel won the Booker prize in 1998.
When he reached, in solitude, for a thought, there was no-one there to think it. (29)
"Mr. Halliday, you have the mentality of a blackmailer, and the moral stature of a flea." (125)
Daily editorial meeting:
Today, of course, there would be no bids for the front page. Vernon's one concession was to reverse the usual order so that home news and politics would be last. The sports editor had a background piece on the Atlanta Olympics and a why-oh-why on the state of English table tennis doubles. The literary editor, who had never before been in early enough to attend a morning conference, gave a somnolent account of a novel about food which sounded so pretentious that Vernon had to cut him off. From arts there was a funding crisis, and Lettice O'Hara in features was at last ready to run her piece on the Dutch medical scandal, and also, to honour the occasion, was offering a feature on how industrial pollution was turning male fish into females. (112)
A little tiff:
Vernon hung up on him, just as he was about to hang up on Vernon. Without bothering to lace up his shoes, Clive ran down the stairs in a fury, cursing as he went. It wasn't yet five o'clock, but he was having a drink, he deserved a drink and he'd punch the man who tried to stop him. But he was alone, of course, and thank God. It was a gin and tonic, though mostly it was gin, and he stood by the draining board and sank it, without ice or lemon, and thought bitterly of the outrage. The outrage of it! He was framing the letter he would like to send this scum he mistook for a friend. (137)
Vernon's newspaper content:
On Sunday he lolled about the sitting room numbly reading the rest of the stories in Friday's Judge. The world was in its usual mess: fish were changing sex, British table tennis had lost its way, and in Holland some unsavoury types with medical degrees were offering a legal service to eliminate your inconvenient elderly parents. How interesting. (142-3)
Mary Jackman. Spoiled Rotten. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2013.
At this year's Word on the Street, the Dundurn guys made me take this little book home. I'm glad I did but sad there has been no followup yet to the adventures of Liz Walker, perennially broke owner of a popular downtown Toronto bistro. Clearly channelling her own (actually successful) restaurant experience, the author created a flip, charming businesswoman who stumbles into a messy murder. Her chef Daniel, manager Rick, detective Winn, hook-up Andy, and assorted Kensington Market vendors are all involved in some way. I love the breezy writing and Liz's first-person perspective on life in general. The entire cast of characters is delightful and deserves revival in further books.
Daniel's sister Meriel had the best red hair I'd ever seen. (79)
When he needed a new girlfriend, all he had to do was open a window and yell, "Next!" (106)
"Hi Rick, it's me."
"Where are you? That policeman you're in love with is looking for you."
"I am not in love with him. He's not my type."
"Everyone's your type. Now where are you?" (93-4)
Image is everything:
Winn was acting mighty protective, though, and insisted on driving me home.
"I'm fine, honest," I pleaded. "My car is just up ahead."
He held onto my arm. "Listen. Just get in my car, okay? I think you could use a drink. You look awful."
Why were men always telling me how awful I looked? Okay, admittedly my wool coat smelled like an old goat, my shoes were caked with mud, and my hair was matted and hanging in strands down my face. Didn't I possess enough inner beauty to make up for being a sloppy mess most of the time? Winn would surely see the real me shining through. (141)
"I'm sorry, Rick. I know I haven't been around much lately. You're doing a great job and I owe you."
"You owe me big, madam. Anyway, don't worry about it. I'll make sure the staff is finished cash-out and clear the machines." He walked back toward me. "By the way, you look amazing." Then he kissed me on the cheek. Three men, three kisses, not bad for a day's work; I should wear heels more often. (192)
George Macdonald Fraser. The Complete McAuslan. Delaware: Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2009.
I'd read one section of the published trilogy before (stories originally written from 1970 to 1988). This time I completed the other two: McAuslan in the Rough and The Sheikh and the Dustbin. More laugh-out-loud at the rollicking regimental antics of WWII and post-war Scottish soldiery. Fraser draws from his own service days with a deft touch for endless stories of cock-ups among the Highland and Glasgow men in Lt. MacNeill's platoon. Most tales are based at their North African postings.
McAuslan of the title is the epitome of an awkward, unwashed, "handless," illiterate private without a mean bone in his body. Among other episodes, he wins a quiz, falls in love, and golf-caddies for senior officers, proving his ineptitude and uselessness. Immensely entertaining! Language and prose are brilliant. There are so many funny or touching parts, maybe brief descriptors will convey individual characters:
There he was, Darwin's discovery, in his usual disreputable condition, buttons undone, hair awry, shoe-laces trailing, and ‒ I tried not to look ‒ his bag of chips still clutched in one hand. (263)
... whose grey-white shirt was open to the waist, revealing what was either his skin or an old vest, you couldn't tell which. His hair was tangled and his mouth hung open; altogether he looked as though he'd just completed a bell-ringing stint at Notre Dame. (330)
He took a shambling dive over the tailboard and the sound of rending cloth and an appalling oath split the night. (462)
I found him in the mess, muttering nervously, dunking egg-sandwiches in his tea and trying to eat them with a cigarette in his mouth. (249)
... was my platoon incorrigible, a rugged giant of extraordinary strength and evil temper, given to alcoholic excesses on a heroic scale which frequently involved him with the military police and provost staff. (454)
... he went over the tailboard like a silent mammoth, swinging down one-handed from the overhead stanchion to land noiselessly in the sand, while McAuslan fell over me, muttering ... (462)
... a terrible creature of blood and iron who had flattened all his opponents with unimagined ferocity; he was a relic of the Stone Age who had found his way into the Army Physical Training Corps, this Stock, and I wouldn't have gone near him with a whip, a gun, and a chair. Primitive wasn't the word; he made McAuslan and Wee Wullie look like Romantic poets. (420)
Regimental Sergeant-Major Mackintosh ...
... appeared, armed with his nominal rolls, and looking like an Old Testament prophet who had just been having words with the Lord and getting the worst of it. (295)
"I wouldnae let him near my malt, my money, or my maidservant." (416)
The M.O. [Medical Officer] golfing:
... eating pills and wearing gym shoes, was accompanied by a caddy festooned with impedimenta ‒ an umbrella, binoculars, flask, sandwich case and the like. (331)
"It's deplorable, sir; the M.O has been nippin' ahint a bush after every hole for a sook at his flask, and iss as gassed as a Ne'erday tinker." 334
... was a lean, craggy, normally taciturn man with a rat-trap mouth that made him look like one of the less amiable Norman barons. (424)
jankers - (army) disciplinary restrictions for minor infractions
slantendicular - slanting
tripsaricopsem - superstitious Scots word for fending off evil spirits (uniquely Fraser?)
flunkify - self-explanatory, love it!