Summer is a time I always put aside to catch up on the numerous books that I have wanted to read during the year. I put my subscriptions to newspapers on standby and instead turn to the joys of “real reading”.
On a trip to Book-In-Bar in Aix in July, I was drawn to the recently published “Too Much and Never Enough” by Mary Trump, niece to Donald, and, in spite of my misgivings, decided to buy it.
There is nothing in this book which will make you change your mind about Donald Trump. If you are an avid fan, you won’t read it, if you are not, then you will not suddenly find yourself suddenly sympathetic to the family and the man. There are no state secrets revealed, nor are there any surprises about his personality.
The book is more a chronological account of the Trump family, from Donald’s grandfather who fled Germany so as not to do his military service, to Donald’s father, who used state subsidies to become a highly wealthy (and rather unscrupulous) property-dealer, to the five children, including Mary’s father, Fred who died of a heart attack, aged 42 …
Now a clinical psychologist, Mary Trump describes the lack of empathy in the family which creates the sociopathic behaviour in later life: Fred Senior’s emotional absence creates either complete neurosis in some of his children or the hugely inflated ego that we recognise in Donald.
There is also insight about Trump’s ineptitudes as a businessman and the numerous bankruptcies which occur as a result of his out-of-control spending, his lack of business acumen, his ability to listen to anyone and his over-riding feeling that he is always the most intelligent man in the room.
As daughter of Donald’s “loser brother”, and someone who was written out of the biggest part of the Trump fortune, there is always a little feeling that “Too Much and Never Enough” is revenge for a life of family injustice, but the book is an interesting insight into the dysfunctional and twisted world of the Trumps and it is definitely worth reading.
The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
Over the summer I allowed myself the pleasure of rereading the four Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante back-to-back.
If you are unfamiliar with the books they trace the relationship between the narrator, Elena and her best friend Lila, from their childhood in the years just after the second world war to their late middle age. There are three main reasons why I find them compelling reading: the quality of the writing; the lucid and honest exposition of feeling that bleeds into thought and action; the evocation of Naples as an active participant in the lives of the characters.
Ferrante’s writing is direct, concrete and focused. Her detailing of childhood friendship with its passion, misunderstandings, jealousies and reconciliations is so accurate it makes you feel you are reliving your childhood in a new setting. The directness can be breathtaking, because rooted in physical reality: the concreteness makes you feel emotions physically, the focus allows you to share in the intensity. Greater even than this is her ability to show how deeply childhood is the foundation for future life, and how the insecurities of youth infect the certainties of adulthood. We understand deeply how the ‘brilliant friend’ of childhood becomes the empty parallel of unfulfilment in later life, a blank mirror for the unsuccessful relationships that lurk beneath outward success.
Accompanying this, or rather, omnipresent in this, is the fact of Naples itself, developing as the characters grow up. Like Marseilles, and very few other cities in my experience, Naples is a city that you are forced to relate to, it is never a passive background to people’s lives – it takes an active part in them. In the novels, Naples is at first the simple neighborhood where the girls grow up, with its unspoken rules, its clan-like mentality and grinding poverty; then the changing, broadening perspective as the city opens up with increasing prosperity and hot water; finally it is menacing, a mockery of ambition.
If you have not read the novels, I encourage you to do so.
Mo Willem’s Goldilocks and the three dinosaurs.
A small girl learns an important life lesson while trespassing in a suspiciously large house. If you like adventure and chocolate pudding, then this is the book for you. An emotional rollercoaster set in a time when dinosaurs and humans coexist. Packed with highs (Papa Dinosaur’s chair), lows (the brazen youth of today) and mystery (why is one of the dinosaurs Swedish?). All with a simple yet invaluable moral to conclude:Lock your doors!
Julia Donaldson’s A Squash and a Squeeze.
A perfect book to read during a lockdown. A thought-provoking story about an elderly lady living alone, who takes dubious advice from a “wise” old man. You can really sympathise with the old lady in her small house filled with bad mannered farm animals, but don’t worry, the story has a satisfying ending….and no animals were harmed in this book.
By Katie (and Maddie)