The Godfather: Peter Corris on revisiting books, again
This will be the last of my prison despatches – that is, columns to do with my two-months-plus time in hospital. Unlike some patients who are able to sit in their beds or on their chairs and stare at the walls or occupy themselves with television, I’d be crawling those walls without being able to read or be read to.
Jean visited every other day and was able to load ebooks and audio books onto my iPad. But I had to choose carefully; if I finished an ebook or an audio and the only one remaining proved a dud, I’d be high and dry until she next came in. I adopted the conservative strategy of revisiting authors I’d enjoyed before.
The results were variable.
In the past I’d found many of Ruth Rendell’s Wexford novels enjoyable but From Doon with Death (1964 – the first Wexford)) I found tepid and implausible. I was also disappointed in Ian Rankin’s Tooth and Nail (1992). The originator of Scottish noir, Rankin is up with the best crime writers, I think. But in this book he had Rebus in London instead of Edinburgh and it didn’t work, lacked flavour. The ending was unlikely and lame, as if the author were anxious to get away.
Perhaps these were merely poor choices. My selection of Thomas Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree (1872) certainly was. I regard Hardy as the best of the Victorian novelists and The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) as a masterpiece. But this book was narrated almost entirely in Hardy’s Wessex dialect and quickly became tedious, although well rendered by the actor. The whole amounted in my view to … nothing much.
By contrast Winston Graham’s The Loving Cup (1984), part of the Poldark series, delivered the goods – characters, plot, period detail. Similarly, Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Tiger (1997) and Sharpe’s Rifles (1988) stood the test of time – action and ruthlessness blended with compassion; historical reality and all its contradictions made real.
I’m presently most of the way through Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely (1940). There’s much to admire in the wit of the writing but I must confess, as one who has been labelled a post-Chandlerian, I have misgivings.
Above all I was swept away again by Don Winslow’s The Winter of Frankie Machine (2006). I first read this ten years ago and found it magnificent. Up there with The Godfather and The Sopranos for Mafia nitty gritty and insight into American society and politics. I eagerly awaited the announced film, which was to star Robert De Niro – perfect casting for the multi-faceted Frankie. It hasn’t happened yet, stymied presumably by the many forces in the American film industry that block good films and allow bad ones. But it’s said to be still in development, without de Niro.
The Winter of Frankie Machine will certainly appear in my ‘best of’ list at the end of this … troubled … year.