Tuesday, 5 June 2001

Ex Libris and The third man

Listening to:

Palestrina, Missa Papae Marcelli.

Just read:

Anne Fadiman, Ex libris.

This is a slim volume of essays about book ownership, book reading and book buying. It’s nicely written and quite amusing. For example, there is the story of how the author merged her library with her husband’s. They had been married some number of years, and having made all of the other commitments to joint life had just this last hurdle.

Fadiman is more of a fan of marginalia than I am, and is also quite scathing about people who strive too hard to keep their books virginally clean and undamaged. She admits that her like-minded friends have a number of books that aren’t much longer for this world, so she’s not too one-eyed. In general, this is a very pleasant read.

Graham Greene, The third man.

This is the fifth volume of the six volume set. It’s actually a collection of three short stories: The third man, The fallen idol and Loser takes all. The first two were also made into films. (In fact, Greene wrote The third man knowing that it was for a film project, so it’s functionally a very dressed up screen-play. As he describes in the little preface to this, some details were changed in the making of the film, but apparently nothing very substantial.) I’ve not seen the film of The third man, but I know it features Orson Welles and is supposed to be a real classic. The story is certainly good enough to be the basis for a great film.

The fallen idol is the shortest of the three stories, and is a psychological drama about a little boy caught up in a domestic drama involving the butler of his house and the butler’s wife. It’s a very well-crafted short story with a definite bite to it.

Loser takes all is much more conventional than the other two stories. It’s cute enough, but features someone devising a system to beat the casino at Monaco, which irritated me, and has rather an anodyne happy ending. The twists and turns of the plot are well done.

To read next:

Louis de Bernières, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Another book that’s been made into a film. Apparently this adaptation is a real dud though (the FT’s review; from the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian). It’s on at the moment in Cambridge, but I have no plans to go and see it.