I have managed to read a couple of books without posting about them, so now I am playing catch-up!
The Sea, The Sea, by Iris Murdoch: This is a strong candidate for the Christmas list this year (if you usually get a book from me, yes, this means you). It has a lot going for it: an interesting "first draft of a memoir" format, a semi-likeable narrator who has led a successful but dissipated life in the theatre, a rollicking cast of characters, a first love regained (well, sort of, except for those pesky chunks of reality that force their way in), a very effective dose of the mildly supernatural, and enough psychological tension and intrigue to keep the mix lively. Reading this book is like having a long lunch with an outrageous friend, listening to his/her tales of woe, gossiping about all the people you have in common, relishing every moment, and all the while feeling thankful that's not how you are living your life!
A Room with a View, by E.M. Forster: Clearly, I was ready for something completely different! From the revels of the theater to buttoned-up, covered-up bourgeois society, where the sun rises and sets on what's "proper." My modern manners had to be calibrated to understand why two ladies traveling together could not swap lodgings with a father and son traveling together without incurring some kind of inappropriate obligation. These hotel rooms are empty, mind you; they aren't talking about sharing them. In this world, however, even the suggestion that one might accept a favor from a man with whom one is not acquainted smudges one's feminine reputation. And when the favor is accepted, the young lady must stay in the room formerly the father's, because it wouldn't be "proper" for her to stay in the room formerly occupied by the son. So much for simple human kindness. But of course, this act of simple human kindness--letting the young lady traveler have the room with the view--sets in motion a series of events that change the course of the young lady's life. The swap and its consequences are described in a light, impressionistic style, seemingly effortless and yet carefully crafted. Quite a breath of fresh air.
Although these two books are very different, both are highly recommended! If you pick up The Sea, The Sea, though, you might want to let me know, while I still have time to revise my Christmas list.