Wednesday, 20 July 2011

No-one expects the French inquisition

On holiday in the Tarn last week, 29C kept me sitting in the shade from the moment I came in from the morning's baguette-foraging until about 4pm. While the others played by the pool, I kept my pale skin safe and my geeky brain entertained with some local history.

This area of the south-west of France was full of the Cathar heresy during C13 and into C14, people who rejected the Catholic church and opted instead to be 'good Christians'. I really enjoyed The Perfect Heresy, which sets the early C13 sieges and massacres in the context of wider history - the state of the Catholic church and competing popes setting up across Europe; rival powers with claims on the land (including the English King, the local Count of Foix and the tiny kingdom of France) and changes in society and technology. It's a compelling and vivid read, showing us how human the individuals were. And the descriptions of medieval sieges and burnings were truly horrendous.

And then I read Montaillou, which is a classic. Emmanuel La Roy Ladurie drew on the detailed records of the C14 Inquisition's interviews and interrogations of the population of this tiny village. It's a magnificent work of scholarship, with astounding levels of detail about the most minor aspects of life. My gripe is that it's a dated book - it reads like an academic study, taking different aspects of life thematically and marshalling the evidence for each section. I think a more modern history would have invested more focus in the stories of the families - it could still have kept different chapters to focus on different aspects of rural medieval life but would have been more plot and character-driven and so a more engaging read.

Both books came from Daunts - I love the way they arrange history and fiction by country, with the travel books. I'm not into the Dan Brown-type stuff on Cathars etc, and didn't manage to find any 'quality' fiction to read while there, so I'd welcome any other suggestions of books to read - whether about the area or more fiction set in medieval Europe.

Reading in the right place

There's very little beats a holiday read set in the same place that you're actually reading it. I enjoyed some Cathar history last week near Lavaur - and then came back to see that the Guardian's got writers to suggest books for ten holiday breaks.

I definitely fancy Egypt, Spain and Italy - for holidays and from the one-line summaries of suggested books...

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Getting back into the game

I've not posted anything in ages, though I have been skulking round plenty of other blogs and adding the odd comment (or planning to, which I'll try to catch up on this weekend). No real reason, other than sunshine and real world fun.

Anyway, I'm starting back again with a couple of fancy adverts I saw and thought others might fancy too.

Firstly, Virago Modern Classics have some new books out in gorgeous fabric-wrapped hardcover. I've not heard of most of them before, but I bought quite a few of the last lot based on attractiveness and a quick browse - and discovered some books and authors that I really really enjoyed. So I'm definitely going to look out for these and read a few pages.
Secondly, special deals on Persephone (see below) - buy three books and choose a free volume of short stories between now and the end of the month. Woo. Methinks my mum's birthday present's pretty much wrapped up now.

Summer Reading Offer

Dear Persephone Reader,

‘This funny, intelligent, deceptively low-key collection is long overdue’ wrote the Guardian last Saturday about the new audiobook version of our short story collection Good Evening, Mrs Craven read by Lucy Scott.

So we thought we would give a boost to some of our other short story collections that do not get so much attention.

If you buy three Persephone books as normal we will send you, completely free of charge, a copy of one of the following collections: Tell It to a Stranger (No. 15)The Montana Stories (No. 25)Minnie’s Room (No. 34)Tea with Mr Rochester (No. 44)The Casino (No. 48)The Woman Novelist and Other Stories (No. 64) or The Closed Door and Other Stories (No. 74).

Just write in the Additional Information box (below Shipping Information) which book you would like. Please note: this offer is valid from July 7th-31st and can only be used once.

Some people are unaccountably reluctant to read short stories. This is their chance to overcome that reluctance for ever!
Best wishes
from all at Persephone Books