All posts by phinnea

The Odyssey

Falling behind in my work.  A couple weeks ago I knuckled down and finished The Odyssey which I’d begun last September.   I last read it in college (mumble, mumble) years ago and it was chosen for a homecoming event, but then quickly unchosen as hardly anyone has time to read a book that long.   But I’d already bought it and started it when I found out the change of plan and so, at intervals, I kept reading it.  In college I read the Fitzgerald translation which was good, but I thought I’d like to try a different one.   I had the Lattimore, but a page of that was enough to make me look further.   It’s technically correct I believe, but it’s not really English.   I realize translation is difficult and, naturally, different people prefer different styles.  The Lattimore seems to me more like a guide to the Greek rather than a translation into English.

Tell me, Muse, of the man of many ways, who was driven
far journeys, after he had sacked Troy’s sacred citadel.

You see what I mean?   Driven far journeys?   Okay, I know what it means, but we don’t say that in English.  So, I went for the newest (I think) by Emily Wilson.   I can’t judge the Greek, but the flow of English is excellent.   Very readable.

Tell me about a complicated man.
Muse, tell me how he wandered and was lost
when he had wrecked the holy town of Troy,
and where he went, and who he met, the pain
he suffered in the storms at sea, and how
he worked to save his life and bring his men
back home. He failed to keep them safe; poor fools,
they ate the Sun God’s cattle, and the god
kept them from home. . . .

Personally I’m not crazy about the first line, but it’s a difficult line.  πολύτροπον – politropos means many ways and includes both the physical sense of much traveled and the mental sense of wily,   Then again, this definition probably comes from our knowledge of Odysseus’ character.   They thought he was wily, clever, which he could be, but they also thought he was smart, which he frequently isn’t.   I am not terribly keen on Odysseus as a hero.   It’s not his fault, of course, the gods are constantly fighting through their favorites, making people do things they might not do on their own.   But my advice to you  is never to go into a cave if you don’t know who or what is living there.

Wilson’s translation flows very nicely, as I said.   I think it’s easier to read than the Fitzgerald, although that might also be because I’m older and had way more time to finish it.   It does not have as many of those constantly repeated phrases which I believe are part of Homer’s style, but a part that can get on your nerves.   Rosy-fingered dawn, the wine-dark sea, epithets are better to a modern eye when used less often, but perhaps this might be viewed as taking us too far from the original style.   Saying cow-eyed Hera fifty times in a work was how it was done and I probably wouldn’t be aware of that if I’d only read Wilson’s Odyssey.  On the other hand, if fewer repetitious epithets make it more likely you’ll read the Odyssey, then it’s probably a good thing and I recommend Wilson’s translation for the smoothness and readability.   I can’t compare them too well as decades have passed and I did not reread Fitzgerald, but I think I can honestly recommend either if you’re looking for a good translation of the Odyssey.   Not that you need my help.   There’s a whole lot of webpages dedicated to helping you choose.   Google away.

wilsonodyssey It’s quite interesting to see how people apparently lived back then, or perhaps how Homer thought they did.  I’d forgotten a lot of the book.  I was always struck by how powerless Telemachus and Penelope are against the suitors.  They want to stay in the house and eat all their goats, then there’s nothing you can do about it.  And it doesn’t matter whether you’re royal – you still have to do laundry.  What I was struck with though that I don’t remember from before was how much crying there is.   If you went through what Odysseus and his men went through you might cry that much as well, but I don’t think anyone writing it today would have that many tears.   Everyone cries.   A lot.

One odd thing about last year was that the four classics I started, including the Odyssey, were all more or less related to it.   I also didn’t finish Ulysses, the Aeneid nor the Count of Monte Cristo.   I wouldn’t have even connected the last with the Odyssey except I read that somewhere and it makes sense as he apparently roamed around for a long time before…  well, I haven’t read it and don’t want to spoil it for anyone else.  But there was a lot of roaming, I’ve heard.

Still hoping to get through the Aeneid and Ulysses, but time will tell.


Dancers in Mourning

I hope this lack of blogging is temporary.   I finished Dancers in Mourning on the 27th during the Bout of Books.  Published in 1937 it’s the 8th Albert Campion book and I’m surprised by that because I thought I’d been reading them in order and that I hadn’t read that many.  Have I or haven’t I?   My memory is somewhat tricky because I watched them on Mystery! years ago with Peter Davison.   I can’t tell for sure because I’ve got some in print and some on the Kindle.   Anyway, I know I read this one.   Campion is called in to help a dancer, star of musicals, who’s being harassed by an unknown party.  Annoying things like someone sending him a bouquet of garlic.  The hit show he’s starring in has a cast of annoying characters including a very annoying woman who was suddenly added to the show despite no longer being a bright young thing and who has invited herself to the star’s house for the weekend.   Campion joins this weekend and is thus very nearby when the host apparently runs the woman over.   Campion notices immediately there’s not enough blood for car to have caused the death although the country doctor whom you might think would notice a thing like that doesn’t.   But Campion keeps this and other things to himself because he has fallen in love with his hostess and it’s just not the done thing to investigate a murder which might get your host put in jail if you have a thing for his wife, don’tchaknow?   Campion proceeds to act like a total knucklehead, running away and barely investigating.    Fortunately, there’s Lugg.

Magersfontein Lugg, Campion’s gentleman’s valet and ex-con, is always entertaining, but more so in this when he is drafted to become a replacement butler for the said hostess, but forbidden from investigating.   He and the lonely young daughter of the house take to each other and Lugg has a pretty good time pretending to be a butler.   This is good because where is Campion?   Half the time we don’t even know.  Sometimes a gentleman’s code is a good thing, but in this case it just seems daft.   You can’t have murderer’s walking about loose even if you are in love with their wives, which you don’t know for sure because you won’t investigate.   Ridiculous.   Eventually enough investigating does get done and the murderer apprehended, but I have little patience with this sort of artificial postponement.  Plus the whole set-up as to how the body gets under the wheels of the car is in my view, ludicrous.  If I were in the murderer’s situation there’s at least one thing they could have done which would have been infinitely simpler and smarter and seems to me to be glaringly obvious, but I didn’t write the book.   I’m also unconvinced that the final clue which Campion discovers before the police arrive was actually a clue at all.   But I’m trying to be very careful and not spoil it for you because 1) these things might not bother you as they do me and 2) in addition to Lugg there’s a well-drawn landlady and you might enjoy Campion falling in love and acting like a prat.

The first cover was the best. Mine makes it look like it’s about ballet and/or ballroom dancing.

24in48 – January 26-27, 2019

Just a quick post to sign up for the latest 24in48 Readathon which you may deduce, if you’re not familiar, consists of reading 24 hours out of 48 starting at 12:01 AM the 26th in your timezone.   This means, of course, it’s already started in Europe and Asia and everywhere else three hours east of here.  Odds are I won’t get much reading done, if any, tonight, but will try to fill up as much of the next two days as I can.


Should be fun, I hope you’ll join us!


1/26/19 11:42 – Kind of a late start.  Read for about an hour last night.  Will try to focus on this for a bit.

16:16 – Read about 3 hours.   Reading Dancers in Mourning by Margery Allingham.  Got evening plans so, not a lot more will happen.  Which makes it almost certain that I will not acheive 24 in 48.   Anyone for 24 in 72?


12:56 –  So, I think I managed 5 hours yesterday.   Not great.  Might do the same again.  But still that’ll probably be 7 or 8 more hours than usual and so worth doing.

Close Quarters

Close Quarters by Michael Gilbert was written, or at least started in the Golden Age, but then the war came and the book wasn’t published until 1947.  The title is a play on words as the setting of the crimes is a cathedral close in Melchester.  Not sure if this is the same as Hardy’s Melchester.  Certainly the author’s erudite enough to be making that reference, so let’s assume he did.  The book starts off with the Dean of the Cathedral calling in his nephew, a Scotland Yard man named Pollock, to unofficially investigate some poison pen letters all aimed at an elderly verger called Appledown.  Soon the pen is traded in for a blunt instrument and Chief Inspector Hazlerigg joins Pollock in an official capacity to investigate.

Gilbert is quite an enjoyable writer.  I turned to this book by a slightly roundabout route.  I was reading JJ’s post defending Elephants Can Remember, which I happen to agree with.  Not great work by any stretch, but not so bad either.  Much better than the abysmal television version in which they tried to improve it only to make a complete hash of it.  Anyway, reading this post revealed to me that Noah Stewart had died and I had somehow missed this news in December.  I didn’t know Noah, but I had ‘met’ him virtually last fall when I read his Birlstone Gambit post and proceeded to read the books he spoiled in that post, before reading the post.   I don’t know how it took me five years to find his blog, but it’s a great pity that it did.   So, I started looking at some older posts and found one on Michael Gilbert which sounded good.   In looking up Michael Gilbert on Amazon, I realized I already had the first one.   I must’ve read someone else on it and maybe I’ll find them later.  So, I probably have two people to thank for nudging me to Michael Gilbert.  He wrote a variety of books, but Noah liked even the types he didn’t usually like, so I’m hoping to have a similar experience.  The first one is a good start.  There’s a bit at the end which is coyly never revealed which makes me think he just couldn’t think of a good answer, but it’s a minor quibble.


All in all an enjoyable book and I plan to read more Michael Gilbert.  More police procedural than many, it’s still a closed circle of suspects.  (Close-d circle!  Ha!)  For the Calendar of Crime challenge, this book takes place in September.  Apparently a very hot September.  Gilbert’s a good, solid writer and I look forward to reading more of him and my sympathy to all Noah’s friends and family.   He seemed like a fun and interesting guy.

Murder for Christmas (1931)

This is the first book I’ve started and finished in 2019.  Written by Francis Duncan and republished in 2015, the publisher did not know who he was until his kids came forward and revealed he was a man named William Underhill.  I had been wanting to read a Christmas mystery and this was a pretty good choice.  It’s the first Mordecai Tremaine novel.  Mordecai is a helpful amateur who loves romance stories.  He doesn’t have much time for them during his visit to the home of Benedict Grame.  Benedict is so enthusiastic about Christmas he dresses up as Santa and puts presents on the tree for everyone.  He does this after everyone goes to bed, so the point of dressing up escapes me, but that’s what he does.  Then shortly after midnight, the whole house is awakened by screaming.  Father Christmas lies shot beneath the tree and all the presents except one are gone!   The victim is not Benedict Grame, however.  Someone else has been dressing up as old St. Nick, but why?  And why take the presents?  And who was that mysterious stranger hanging around the house?

An interesting situation and a rather macabre Christmas.  Mordecai meets the police inspector assigned to the case who fortunately happens to know all about him and so he is encouraged to help.   It’s a strange group as no one is actually related and several of them are rather disagreeable.  I found the interviews a bit frustrating as no one seemed to ask a direct question and they settled for very evasive answers.  I got to the end feeling like almost no clues had been revealed.  Certainly not enough for me to guess what was going on.  So, I wouldn’t call it fair play and how the murder was committed seems impossible to me, but still I enjoyed reading it and will probably read some more.  This is probably owing to the character of Tremaine who is not without charm despite keeping too many conclusions to himself.


I am hereby signing up for Bev’s latest challenge – Calendar of Crime.  And this will be my book for December.   Each month has different requirements and you don’t have to read the book that fits those requirements in that particular month.   They also don’t have to be Golden Age, although this one is.  Head to Bev’s blog and sign up, too!  It’ll be fun.

Well, I’ll try.   The post a link thing is no longer working for me.    So, I tried to leave a comment.   If people weren’t such obnoxious jerks, we wouldn’t have these problems.

The Penguin Pool Murder (1931)

I’ve heard of this book for a long time, or maybe I’d heard of the movie.   I’m not sure.   At any rate, this is the first Hildegarde Withers book which were made into movies, so they must have been fairly popular.  I started this last year, so it doesn’t count for any challenges this year, but I wanted to finish it, which I did about a week ago and already the details are faded.   Miss Withers is a school teacher who has brought her class to the aquarium in New York City and lost her hatpin.    The kids hunt for the hatpin and the penguins start fussing strangely.   Then a dead body falls in the pool.   Miss Withers claims she could tell it was dead when it hit the water.   Not for any solid reason that I could tell.   In the way of many a golden age mystery, the sharp amateur is taken on by the police and they investigate together.   Inspector Piper seems fairly cranky.   Actually, so does Miss Withers.   They spar occasionally.   At one point she dumps him to investigate on her own, but that doesn’t last long.

It’s pretty much a police procedural with an amateur along for fun.   It goes along fairly well until Piper allows the victim’s wife’s new boyfriend/protector/lawyer to do whatever he likes as well.    My suspension of disbelief crashed to the ground as this lawyer is allowed to talk to a witness without any police presence and they just apparently count on him to share whatever he learns.   This same lawyer gets to interview the witness before Piper can get there in the morning.   This is ridiculous.   Maybe they get better.   A lot of people make mistakes their first book, right?


I would like to see the movie, too.


Defeat! Ignominy!

I will eventually triumph over James Joyce, at least to the extent of having read Ulysses and by read I mean my eyes have gone over every word at least once.   I do not vouch for my comprehension of said words nor my ability to say anything worthwhile about it.   When I finish, which will be soonish, but not this year as there’s just too many hours left of the reading and not enough hours left of the year unless I ignore my friends, family and work and do nothing but read, which I have not been able to get myself to do all year.   So, here we are.   2018 nearly over and only 3 classics added to my list.   I started a fair number, all oddly related to The Odyssey, including The Odyssey, but bogged down, got distracted, probably could have read them all if not for Mr. Obfuscationist Joyce who sometimes clear as a bell and easy to understand falls back into murk and mire.   Finding myself reading the same passage over and over only sometimes clarifying and then thinking just read it once and go on, and get it over with as you’ll never understand it all anyway.   640 pages and not small pages but I will carry on into the new year and finish the damned thing.

BTCC Berlin Books

So, while I have failed Back to the Classics 2018, I am signing up for Back to the Classics 2019 as I will finish James Augustine Aloysius Joyce and have no plans to read Finnegan’s Wake and despite questioning whether any of this classical reading matters a bit, I have not convinced myself that it doesn’t so, onward!

I don’t know what I’ll read, but possibly Mansfield Park, Lucky Jim, Metamorphosis.   I would give Count of Monte Cristo another shot, but I don’t think I want to reread what I’ve already read.   That’s the trouble with these within-a-year challenges.  I know it’s the only way to run them, but I don’t want to restart any of the ones I already started and yet I want to finish them.   Maybe I should start a challenge like that.   Finishing stuff you started a while ago.

I had a copy of Naguib Mahfouz somewhere.   We’ll see.   If I’m not back before tomorrow midnight — Happy New Year!