Monsignor Quixote (1982) by Graham Greene

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I ‘borrowed’ this book from my dad a few months ago in preparation for a weekend trip to Madrid we were planning although, in the end, the holiday rolled round before I’d had chance to make much progress. I started reading back in March, two nights before our flight in fact, and then didn’t touch it again until about a week after our return so I can’t really say that it added a great deal to my cultural appreciation of Spain. However, it did tie in quite nicely with our happening upon the statue of Don Quixote and Sancho in Madrid’s Plaza de Espana while we were away. I’ve not actually read Don Quixote, and at this point I’d read very little of Monsignor Quixote, but I appreciated the timing all the same.

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This book is definitely a bit of a slow burner. Greene reimagines the Don Quixote story with a modern day priest, supposedly a descendant of the original Quixote, who embarks on an eventful journey across Spain in a banged out car with his friend ‘Sancho’, a dismissed Communist mayor. There are a few funny mishaps, they get in trouble along the way, attract the wrong kind of attention and ultimately end up pursued by the local police at the behest of the Monsignor’s horrified Bishop. All this drama serves as a backdrop against which the Monsignor and the Mayor discuss faith, doubt, God, Marx, politics, contraception and everything in between. Along the way they also eat some cheese and drink a lot of Manchegan wine.

Through the conversations between the Monsignor and his friend Greene explores faith and doubt, always two sides of the same coin in his eyes, suggesting that you can never really be a true believer in anything unless you are constantly plagued by doubt. As the Monsignor leaves the seclusion of his quiet village benefice behind him he’s increasingly given cause to struggle with his belief in God, and the moral values of the established church, just as Sancho’s admiration for his socialist heroes in the East are taking a similar knock. They have plenty to argue about and I found some of their discussions really interesting, especially those sparked by the priest’s naïve exploration of this new world (there’s a particularly funny bit with a ‘balloon’ he discovers in Sancho’s overnight bag). These discussions are well handled by Greene, I think, so that they’re challenging and interesting but not completely baffling or alienating for those of us who have never found anything much worth believing in. About mid-way through I found my interest starting to wane a little but I was sucked back in towards the end in time for some really poignant final scenes.

I don’t think Monsignor Quixote is like any of the other Graham Greene novels I’ve read, even though it does contain the obligatory moral wrangling that tends to be at the heart of some of them. If I’m very honest with myself I probably missed some of the grittiness of his earlier works and I expect that’s probably why I started to feel quite tired of all the talk. That said, I did really enjoy the ending and felt quite moved by this strange turn of events. It left me wondering how much of the Monsignor’s myth of himself I could believe and how far that line between the real and the imagined had been blurred in the course of his journey with Sancho. It felt like my own faith in this story was deliberately being challenged by the storyteller, which is quite bizarre when you think about it.

I finally finished Midnight’s Children in bed last night. Hurrah! Post coming soon…

Top Ten Tuesday: Most read authors

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke And The Bookish. This week’s theme is all about the authors I’ve read most.

I had a wee break from TTT because I found the last two topics a little tricky, a bit too niche for my reading/blogging habits. This week’s theme is more general so you’d think it’d be easier, wouldn’t you? My trouble is that although I like to think I’ve read books by a wide variety of authors, I don’t tend to read more than two or three books by any one of them. In reading terms I like to get around a bit. I’m a commitment-phobe.

1 Enid Blyton. Famous Five, Mallory Towers, Noddy…. I read them all. But not Secret Seven. Eurgh. I hated Secret Seven. Favourite: The Hollow Tree House.

2 Charles Dickens. I don’t want to sound like a stuck record but Dickens is one of the only authors I go back to again and again. I’ve read eight of his novels and some short stories too. Favourite: Probably Our Mutual Friend.

3 J. K. Rowling. Harry Potter was one of those very rare occasions when I read an entire series all the way through from beginning to end. It may only have been possible because I spread it out over fifteen years but still, quite an achievement in my eyes. Favourite: Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire.

4 Agatha Christie. When I’m feeling lazy, or I really just don’t know what to read, I turn to Christie. I’ve read so many over the years that the titles, plots and characters are starting to blur a little. Favourite: Murder On The Orient Express.

5 Roald Dahl. No surprises here. I had the complete set. I read them all. Repeatedly. Favourite: Either The Enormous Crocodile or The Fantastic Mr Fox…… or maybe Matilda.

6 Margaret Atwood. My old roommate was responsible for getting me completely hooked on Margaret Atwood. I never finished the Oryx and Crake series so one day I’ll go back and do that…. I hope. Favourite: The Blind Assassin.

7 Jacqueline Wilson. I read tons of these as a child and then read a load more when I was trying to finish the BBC Big Read. They were great. Favourite: Double Act.

8 Winston Graham. I discovered the Poldark books while I was staying at my grandparents’ house in Sussex one summer when I was about 12. Over three successive summers I read them all. Favourite: Ross Poldark.

9 Judy Blume. She understood teenagers. ‘nuff said. Favourite: Superfudge at first, Deenie when I was a bit older.

10 Graham Greene. I’m scraping the barrel with this one since I’ve only read four GG books, but that’s still more than I have most other authors. I got a bit obsessed with Graham Greene for a while. Favourite: Brighton Rock.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my TBR list for summer 2015

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme is the top ten books I’d like to read this summer.

Ooh this is a tricky one. Generally I don’t tend to plan too far ahead – I’m too easily tempted by new books that come along – so all this list really tells you is that these are the books I’m thinking about today. Ask me tomorrow and I’m sure you’ll get completely different answers!

1. Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee. How many TBR lists does this appear on I wonder? Tons, I’m sure. I gave in and pre-ordered mine at W H Smiths last week.

2. The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale. This was a birthday present from our chickens (presumably with a little financial assistance from P). I’m not too sure what to expect but I saw some of the TV shows and enjoyed them. Paddy Considine is great.

3. Oscar And Lucinda by Peter Carey. This has been on my list for years. I finally bought a copy a couple of weeks ago…. and immediately realised I’d gone off the idea. Isn’t that annoying? Maybe in a month or two I’ll have worked up some more enthusiasm for it.

4. The End Of The Affair by Graham Greene. Reading this a few years ago sparked an obsessive Graham Greene binge that lasted a whole summer until I got fed up (a bit like when I binge watched A Game Of Thrones and then got so bored of it I never made it onto the third series – there’s a pattern here). Anyhoo, I remember this being awesome and I’d like to read it again.

5. The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy. I was a fool for being scared of Hardy. The Woodlanders is my mum’s favourite so it’s made on to this list on her recommendation.

6. Amo, Amas, Amat by Harry Mount. Latin would be a handy language to know where I work but I’ve always been too lazy to make a concerted effort to learn. I bought this at the Roman Army Museum, thinking it’d be a fun introduction.

7. Coraline by Neil Gaiman. I told my brother’s girlfriend that I’m always a little disappointed by Neil Gaiman books; I never enjoy them as much as I expect to. They very kindly bought me this for my birthday to change my mind.

8. 1215: The Year Of Magna Carta by Danny Danziger and John Gillingham. This was another birthday present and I’m looking forward to reading it hugely. Given that it’s the 800th anniversary this week I might bump it up the list and start it a bit sooner.

9. Any Anthony Trollope novel. I’ve always suspected that I’d like Anthony Trollope but I’ve never got round to reading any of his books. But where do I start?

10. Some of the stories in The World Of Jeeves by PG Wodehouse. I like Wodehouse. He’s always reliably entertaining.

So there you go! Will I manage to read all of them? Almost certainly not. But it’s been quite nice to think about all these possibilities stretching out before me.

I had the day off yesterday and was looking forward to spending some of it reading but the weather was so nice that I chose to do some gardening and go for lunch with my mum instead. I’m making really slow progress through Howards End so I probably should have taken the opportunity while it was there.