Last year I read two Russian chunksters, Anna Karenina and War and Peace. They were both amazing in their own way but they took me a long time to read. I think that I have sub-consciously been avoiding anything Russian this year. This little book by Ivan Turgenev was a perfect way to ease back in. It was intense but short enough to read in a couple of sittings.
In a storyline which today’s readers will find familiar, a sixteen year old boy falls in love with the girl next door. The object of his all consuming passion is 5 years older, beautiful, sophisticated and charming. Well aware of her charms, she has several suitors who she carelessly plays off against each other. She too is in love but who with..? The boy becomes obsessed, tormented and can think of nothing else, oblivious to the obvious.
His story is recalled many years later amongst friends after a dinner party. This style of story telling and the intensity and drama reminded me of Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata where a man’s story is recalled to a fellow passenger on a late night train. Both The Kreutzer Sonata and First Love are part of the Penguin Great Loves series.
The circumstances around the story are of their era and may not be considered as shocking today as they would have in 19th century Russia. The emotions and vulnerabilities of a young boy though I think would not have changed so much and that is something about reading the classics that I love – being reminded that the things that really matter to people don’t change that much.
I had read plenty of positive reviews about Alan Bennett’s novella so was keen to try it. I thought being a comedy that it might not appeal but I needn’t have worried. It’s a unique idea and a delight to read. It’s also the perfect length at 128 pages.
Queen Elizabeth II while attempting to reign in her wayward corgis, stumbles upon a mobile library. Out of politeness she feels obliged to borrow a book but how is one to choose? She converses with the only other customer, Norman, who she discovers works in her kitchen, and makes a choice.
And thus begins the Queen’s journey into the wonderful world of books. Under the guidance of Norman, who is soon promoted from the kitchen to the library, her book choices widen and soon she is spending more time reading and less time on her queenly duties, much to the dismay of her staff.
It’s a very funny story, a homage to the power of books to change lives and also a reminder that it’s never too late to change or start something new (the queen celebrates her 80th birthday during the story).
A story that I think all book lovers would enjoy.