by George Douglas Brown
The brutish John Gourlay is a merchant in the village of Barbie, envied and resented by the villagers because of his success, which is symbolized in his prestigious house with green shutters. He dominates and bullies his family, in particular his sensitive, gifted but weak son. Ultimately, his refusal to acknowledge the arrival of the railway and to adapt to the increasing industrialization of Ayrshire precipitates murder, suicide, and his family’s tragic downfall.
Almost forgotten now, George Douglas Brown was the illegitimate son of an Ayrshire farmer. He nevertheless earned himself a place at Glasgow University and then won a scholarship to study at Balliol College, Oxford. He died at just 33. His writing has always been contrasted with J.M. Barrie’s more upbeat Scottish stories, but possibly a more relevant comparison is to another contemporary, Thomas Hardy. (more…)
by Neal Stephenson
Set against the backdrop of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Quicksilver tells the intertwining tales of three main characters as they traverse a landscape populated by mad alchemists, Barbary pirates, and bawdy courtiers, as well as historical figures including Ben Franklin, William of Orange, Louis XIV, and many others. The story ranges from the American colonies to the Tower of London to the glittering palace at Versailles, –and plays out during a singular nexus point in history, when rationality triumphed over mysticism, monarchy was overthrown, markets become free, and religious tolerance gained ground over harsh oppression.
There’s a lovely bit in Great Expectations, where Pip and Herbert go backstage to congratulate an acquaintance after his performance as Hamlet.
by A.A. Milne
Cricket, sailing, falling in love. A house party of cheerful Bright Young Things bubbles its way through a delightful set of short episodes.
Yes, The Holiday Round was written by the man who wrote the Winnie-the-Pooh books. Except this isn’t Pooh (though I like Pooh, especially read by Alan Bennett, who just gets Eeyore).
It’s Milne for grown-ups. Written for Punch in the early 1920s, these short stories are a long delightful burble of humour, usually involving the same small group of friends – playing cricket, bathing, sailing – and the long-vanished world of house parties. They are gossamer-light, and, I think, very funny. (more…)