Sunday, 5 August 2018


I don't want to be the sort of person who is so woke they can't enjoy a great book.  Thus, I feel rather guilty to say I could not enjoy this beautifully written novel as much as I wanted to because YOU JUST DON'T ENCOURAGE TEENAGE GIRLS TO RELY ON THE RHYTHM METHOD.  That it is the 1960s is no excuse, especially when you are a thiry year old man with family money and she is an eighteen year old shop girl from a small town.

That said, I do understand why it is considered a modern classic, and it does include the second most poetic description of anal sex I've ever read.  (You will learn more than you want to about the first when I get round to THE LESSER BOHEMIANS by Eimar McBride).   Here is a taste, but just a small one as this is a family blog:  
In the morning it is calm.  He awakens as if a fever has passed.  Europe has returned to its real proportions.  The immortal cities swim in sunlight.  The great rivers flow.  His prick is large and her hand moves to it as soon as her eyes open.  He searches his clothing for the crumpled, leaden tube.  He hands it to her.  She looks at him impassively.  He kicks the covers away as she unscrews the cap.  She begins to spread it on.  The coolness makes him jump.  Afterwards she rolls over and in the full daylight he slowly inserts his gleaming declaration.  
One of the stranger and more wonderful things about this blog is that it is written not from the perspective of the main couple, whose love story this is, but from that of his friend, and as he assures us: "I am not telling the truth about Dean.  I am creating him out of my own inadequacies, you must always remember that.” It's thus less a story of something that happened and more a story of someone's painful imaginings of other people's lives.  This makes it a more complicated book than it at first seems.  For example, here they are in a car.  
In the great car that exists for me in dreams, like the Flying Dutchman, like Roland's horn, that ghosts along the empty roads of France, its headlights faded, its elegance a little shabby; in that blue Delage with doors that open backwards, deep in the seats they drive towards home.  The villages are fading, the rivers turning dark.  She undoes his clothing and brings forth his prick, erect, pale as a heron in the dusk, both of them looking ahead at the road like any couple.  
I just chose that snippet specifically for the heron bit of course.  There are so many beautifully observed bits, and such carefully constructed sentences, there was almost too much to admire in this book. There is just such an impressive amount of work in it it almost got hard to read; I imagine Salter at his desk for years, to come up with these 200 pages.  Here he is on seeing some people on a deserted street on a Sunday
Unexpectedly, like a band of survivors, there is a crowd, all decently dressed, just leaving church.
Or on a train:
There's a comfortable feeling of delivering myself into the care of those who run these great, somnolent trains, through the clear glass of which people are staring, drained, as quiet as invalids.
And yet somehow I can't say I enjoyed this book.  It was just so creepy, his clear plan to ditch her, and to definitely ditch her as soon as she got pregnant.  His not using contraception (though he clearly tells her, when she asks, that it is available in America), and her calm because 'eight days before and eight days after' you are fine makes your skin crawl.  The story is detailed and observant when it is about the narrator, and his sexual inadequacies, and about the man, with all his sexual super-abundance, but when it is about the girl - "good-looking, not too intelligent perhaps" - as he casually describes her - all that ends abruptly.   I'm trying to get past it, but it's hard.  I'll do it though. If you ruled out all the books where women were objects you could hardly read the canon, and I don't care enough about my gender to give up the world's great books.  

Saturday, 28 July 2018


From the very first lines this book is like: BOOM.  
Really, great books are a miracle.  They have such a sense of inevitability about them - as if they had to exist, and exist in exactly this way - that its hard to imagine that someone actually had to sit down and right them.  Particularly interesting is the fact that this was Harper Lee's first book.  She was at work on a second one, and when this was accepted by an agent she apparently somehow froze on the second; and then when this turned into a major success (and success is putting it mildly - it's possibly the best selling book of the 20th century) then it was really all over for her.  She didn't publish anything else for fifty years.  The dreaded second album problem on steroids.  
Anyway, this first album is more than most people manage in a lifetime.  It tells the story of the children of a small town lawyer in Alabama who runs into trouble with his neighbours when he defends a black man against the charge of raping a white woman.  The man is clearly innocent, but he is found guilty in any case.  This sounds like it must be a serious story of discrimination, which it is, but at the same time it is a comic story of growing up, and a portrait of a small town that is both loving and damning.
What I most enjoyed was the subtly comic tone.  When I really like a book, I tend to overquote on my blog.  Here we go: 

Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flied in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by night fall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum
Teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum!  I will never look at perspiring women the same way again.  And here's the family doctor who "had brought Jem and me into the world, had led us through every childhood disease known to man including the time Jem fell out of the tree house, and he had never lost our friendship. Dr. Reynolds said that if we were boil-prone things would have been different"
The children are a girl, Scout, and a boy, Jem.  Here is Jem telling Scout to not get so angry at her aunt, as it bothers their father (who they call by his first name, Atticus):
"You know she's not used to girls," said Jem, "leastways, not girls like you. She's trying to make you a lady. Can't you take up sewin' or somethin'?" "Hell no. She doesn't like me, that's all there is to it, and I don't care. It was her callin' Walter Cunningham trash that got me goin', Jem, not what she said about being a problem to Atticus. We got that all straight one time, I asked him if I was a problem and he said not much of one, at most one that he could always figure out, and not to worry my head a second about botherin' him.

Enjoyable piece of literary trivia: the character Dill in the book, who is Scout's best friend, was based on Truman Capote, who in real life was Harper Lee's next door neighbour in childhood.  Monroeville Alabama great novelist per capita numbers are way high

Saturday, 14 July 2018

NEWLYWEDS by Nell Freudenberger

It's really important to have a plan on what you are going to read on vacation.  I had no plan and ran out of books.  Thus this, found in one of these free book exchanges in hotels.  It is about a mail order bride from Bangaldesh and her early days in the US.  It was reasonably okay, though I wasn't too sure what point it was trying to make.  Broadly, she realizes she is in love with her old Bangladeshi boyfriend, but sticks it out with the (in my mind suspiciously) okayish American so her parents can move to the First World.  I guess its a story of filial rather than marital love.  It's a good thing I have a blog because I left it in Oregon and have already almost forgotten all about it

THE AWAKENING by Kate Chopin

This book tells the story of a woman who is tired of her marriage and the life it has given her.  Written in 1899, it's reads remarkably fresh and modern.  It is apparently - though I had never heard of it - widely regarded as an American classic.  While really an excellent book, that caused a furore when first published (apparently female self-discovery is "trite and sordid"), it was then forgotten for the next sixty years until feminist circles picked it up.  Patriarchy doesn't play when it comes to pushing things out of print.

The main character is on holiday at the beach in Louisiana with her husband and children when she meets a man and finds herself growing interested in him.  She doesn't actually cheat, but this interest slowly has her re-examining what she is doing, moving out of her husband's house, and separating herself from her children whom, enjoyably shockingly, she feels pretty average about.  Kate Chopin knew something about having children, having had six herself in just eight years.  At some point you have to wonder at what point pregnancy tips into spousal abuse.  (As a side point, it's interesting to note that in all countries without exception, birth rates decline as female empowerment goes up.  Makes you wonder how women in the past really felt about their children, especially after the third or fourth.)

It's a book I strongly recommend, reaching out across over a hundred years to speak truths we still recognize about love and boredom.  Chopin is a remarkable writer, and shockingly contemporary.  Enjoy this, not from the book itself, but from her diary, which gives you a sense of her style:
I must tell you [her diary] a discovery I have made – the art of making oneself agreeable in conversation. Strange as it may appear it is not necessary to possess the faculty of speech; dumb persons, provided they be not deaf, can practice it as well as the most voluble. All required of you is to have control over the muscles of your face – to look pleased and chagrined…interested and entertained. Lead your antagonist to talk about himself – he will not enter reluctantly upon the subject I assure you – and twenty to one – he will report you as one of the most entertaining and intelligent persons

Sunday, 1 July 2018


I can’t think how I have never got round to reading this before.  I was inspired by reading in the Introduction to something else (tip: Introductions are a great source for reading recommendations) that Huckleberry Finn is widely regarded as the true beginning of American literature.  Indeed, it is a triumph of narrative voice.  Huckleberry, the narrator, just leaps off the page.  It’s strange really, as this was for Twain a sequel, and Huckleberry a secondary character to Tom Sawyer, so it’s odd that it is this book, and not the other, that is his masterpiece.

The book is about a young boy who runs away from his abusive father along with an escaping slave by floating down the Missisippi on a raft.  Written that way, it sounds rather bleak, but somehow it is comic.  After all, as Huck says:  
Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don’t.  You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.  
The story is full of boys-own still hijinks, that do get a little wearing, but it is redeemed by lovely little passages like this:
When I got there it was all still and Sunday-like, and hot and sunshiny; the hands was gone to the fields; and there was them kind of faint dronings of bugs and flies in the air that makes it seem so lonesome and like everybody's dead and gone; and if a breeze fans along and quivers the leaves it makes you feel mournful, because you feel like it's spirits whispering—spirits that's been dead ever so many years—and you always think they're talking about YOU. As a general thing it makes a body wish HE was dead, too, and done with it all.
It’s also always fun. Take this description of an undertaker:
When the place was packed full the undertaker he slid around in his black gloves with his softy soothering ways, putting on the last touches, and getting people and things all ship-shape and comfortable, and making no more sound than a cat. He never spoke; he moved people around, he squeezed in late ones, he opened up passageways, and done it with nods, and signs with his hands. Then he took his place over against the wall. He was the softest, glidingest, stealthiest man I ever see; and there warn’t no more smile to him than there is to a ham.
Huck’s friendship with the slave, Jim, is the warm heart of this novel.  What is very difficult for a modern reader is how Huck struggles with this friendship:
He was saying how the first thing he would do when he got to a free State he would go to saving up money and never spend a single cent, and when he got enough he would buy his wife, which was owned on a farm close to where Miss Watson lived; and then they would both work to buy the two children, and if their master wouldn’t sell them, they’d get an Ab’litionist to go and steal them. It most froze me to hear such talk. He wouldn’t ever dared to talk such talk in his life before. Just see what a difference it made in him the minute he judged he was about free. It was according to the old saying, “Give a nigger an inch and he’ll take an ell.” Thinks I, this is what comes of my not thinking. Here was this nigger, which I had as good as helped to run away, coming right out flat-footed and saying he would steal his children—children that belonged to a man I didn’t even know; a man that hadn’t ever done me no harm.

Huck never turns Jim in, and it is strange and sobering to see how often he considers doing so.  Twain grew up in the geography and time period of this novel – this book joins many others in being a masterpiece made out a childhood – so perhaps this just shows how white people really did think about this topic then, and it is a good challenge to us to hear about it. 

SOMETHING IN THE WATER by Catherine Steadman

I rarely read thrillers, but I was on  holiday and desperate.  Also I’m getting old and my standards are lowering.  I recall I noted on this blog the first book I ever read on an e-reader, and I should note that this is the first book I ever read entirely on a phone.  It was a surprisingly comfortable experience.  I read most of it while sick with a cold in a hotel room in Napa.  Then I snatched victory from defeat by going out to drink Californian wine on top of my medication.

It was easy to get through most of it in a marathon session, as it is a quick and compelling page turner.  It’s written by an actress (from Downton Abbey) and I take my hat off to her, because I thinking writing more-ish commercial fiction must be much harder than it looks. Take this fabulous opening, of the first chapter (titled, amazingly, ‘The Grave’): 
Have you ever wondered how long it takes to dig a grave?  Wonder no longer.  It takes an age.  However long you think it takes, double that.
The story begins with a  couple on honeymoon finding some papers in the sea outside their hotel, and quickly descends to theft and murder.  I won’t tell you anymore, as it’s hard not to immediately start spoilers, but let’s just say GONE GIRL is an influence, though not in the way you think.

I’ll close with the book’s opening quotation, which is surprisingly high brow, and very excellent. 
If a victory is told in detail, one can no longer distinguish it from a defeat. 
I love that. It speaks to how hard it is to get anything done, not least, I suspect, writing a book that made it into Reese Witherspoon’s book club.  It’s not Oprah, but I’d still call it victory.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

THE MALAY ARCHIPELAGO by Alfred Russel Wallace

I always used to feel rather sorry for Wallace, who always struck me as a rather tragic case of missing the boat.  He  was a nineteenth century naturalist that had the idea of evolution at the same time as Darwin, and wrote to Darwin (a much wealthier, older man)  to share it with him, which prompted Darwin to hurry up and publish his own existing paper on the idea quickly himself. Thus, Darwin ends up the discoverer of evolution; he is the famous one; the adjective is Darwinian and not Wallacian. What we learn from this, is don’t respect your elders.  Lesson aside, after reading this book I no longer feel sorry for Wallace.  He had an amazing life and enjoyed himself to the max. 

This book is the account of his eight years expedition around Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and East Timor in the 1850s.  In summary, it was off the hook, and he loved it, mystery fevers and diarrhoea aside.  Here he is, finding a place to keep the alcohol for his insects, and a place for himself to sleep:
. . . I thought it safer to leave my case of arrack securely placed in the fork of a tree. To prevent the natives from drinking it, I let several of them see me put in a number of snakes and lizards; but I rather think this did not prevent them from tasting it.  We were accommodated here in the verandah of the large house, in which were serveral great baskets of dried human heads, the trophies of past generations of head hunters  . .  I slept very comfortably with half a dozen smoked dried human skulls suspended over my head
Heads aside, I enjoyed his various encounters with local communities, which were surprisingly respectful for his period.  Here he is at dinner one night:
I took my evening meal in the midst of a circle of about a hundred spectators anxiously observing every movement and critising every mouthful, my thoughts involuntarily recurred to the lions at feeding time.  Like those noble animals, I too was used to it, and did not affect my appetite.  . . I. . turned showman myself, and exhibited the shadow of a dog’s head eating, which pleased them so much that all the village in succession came to see it.  The ’rabbit on the wall’ does not do in Borneo, as there is no animal it resembles.
There are some super dodgy sections whether or not some races are superior to others, and he ties himself into knots trying to prove that forced labour was good for the locals, but this is as nothing compared to your hardcore Victorians.  It’s shocking to be reminded how very long ago the 1850s were, and how much intellectual ground there was still to cover:
Poets and moralists, judging from our English trees and fruits, have thought that small fruits always grew on lofty trees, so that their fall should be harmless to man, while the large ones trailed on the ground. Two of the largest and heaviest fruits known, however, the Brazil-nut fruit (Bertholletia) and durion, grow on lofty forest trees, from which they fall as soon as they are ripe, and often wound or kill the native inhabitants. From this we may learn two things: first, not to draw general conclusions from a very partial view of nature, and secondly, that trees and fruits, no less than the varied productions of the animal kingdom, do not appear to be organized with exclusive reference to the use and convenience of man
It’s so different a world view it’s hard to imagine.  Though for sure we all still act as if the planet existence for our immediate convenience. 

Also fun, in a boring way, where his long lists of insects he collected, which he thinks are fantastically interesting, and clearly thinks we will be debating him on.  It’s compelling how he loves the natural world, and his excitement at what he finds.  He is particularly struck by the beauty of the orgutangs, and how human-like they are, and is thus especially delighted when he manages to kill like 5 adults and 3 children.  He often elaborates on how lovely a bird is  before telling us how extra thrilled he is to have shot a large number of them.  He collected over 100,000 specimens, including 5000 new to science.  And he had an amazing time doing it.  Not too bad a life, after all, even if he doesn’t get to have his surname an adjective. 

Saturday, 2 June 2018

GRANT by Ron Chernow

What I learned from this book is that you can still be a very successful person even while having plenty of serious faults, making a LOT of mistakes, and not really learning from any of them. 

Before the American Civil War, Grant had been kicked out of the army for being an alcoholic, lost his money in a swindle (not the first time, not the last), and was doing kind of a bad job as a clerk at a leather store.

Once the war started he moved up through the ranks pretty slowly, both because of the drinking problem and because he did a terrible job of managing the politics.  Politics was far more important than merit apparently in choosing leadership in the North, and it showed:  despite being massively superior in men and material they were beaten frequently.  Eventually the North were reduced to actually considering merit, and Grant reached the top of the power structure, with a million men reporting to him. 

This is when things started to get really bloody.  One reason the South was so hard to finally beat was that the end of the war was fought on their territory, where they knew the land and could dig in, so it was some sort of version of a war of attrition (as in the first world war).  Grant succeeded in part because he was willing to let people die.  Lots of people thought he was a butcher, but not too many had any idea of how else they could win.  As one Southern solider put it:
We have met a man this time who either does not know when he is whipped, or who cares not if he loses his whole Army, so that he may accomplish an end.  
Interesting was to see what it was like for the slaves as they started to win.  It reads very much like the fall of a massive four million person concentration camp:
. . .scenes of ecstatic jubilation greeted them as they passed abandoned plantations and were applauded by former slaves.  One ex-slave, seated on a lawn, rocking back and forth in joy, kept shouting, "Glory, hallelujah, glory, hallelujah . . . Bless God, bless God.  I never spected to see dis day. 
The slaves flocked to volunteer for the Union side, and at first the leadership restricted.  Once they were allowed in they proved incredibly dedicated, and far tougher than the regular troops.  This seems totally unsurprising to me, given what the slaves had survived, and what they were fighting for, but apparently was to the white people of that time. 

Once the North was won, Grant became a politician, not a great choice for someone really terrible at politics.  He also continued terrible with his money.  Much of the content for this massive, exhaustively researched book, comes from Grant's own memoir, which he wrote at great speed, in a race against death from mouth cancer (all those cigars!), so as to leave his wife a little money, as he had managed to lose it all again. 

Grant's wife was famously ugly.  Charmingly, he famously adored her.  She had some sort of major squint, which she tried to get treated:
When she mentioned the visit afterward to her husband, he was thunderstruck as to what had made her entertain such an idea.  "Why, you are getting to be such a great man and I am such a plain little wife," Julia replied.  "I thought if my eyes were as others are I might not be so very, very plain., Ulys; who knows"
I learnt a lot about the Civil War in this book, about slavery, about Reconstruction, about military nicknames (Old Goggle-Eyed Snapping Turtle being my favourite); but mostly I learnt you don't have to be perfect to still get something done. 

Saturday, 19 May 2018

THE PATRIOTS by Sana Krasikov

This book just shows you how hard it is to write a good book.  It has lots of good elements: sweeping family story, tragic Russian setting, etc.  And yet somehow it never quite rises about servicable, and I didn't care enough to finish it. 

The main and most interesting story is about a young American woman in the 1930s who has a holiday romance with a Russian man who is there on a business trip. Unfortunately she does not do what you are supposed to do with a holiday romance, that is, just do more Facebook stalking than you will admit to, and forget about it.  Instead she up and follows him to Russia.  Naturally, he is horrified.  She is horrified too, as Russia is nothing like the paradise he had written about in his letters.  This is because, as he points out in an awkward reunion, he has to write something for the censors.

To get a visa, she gives up her American passport at a Moscow government office.  BIG MISTAKE.  Apparently the Russian government at that time was laying hands on many American passports - telling people they were 'lost in the mail' and so forth.  The woman tries to go to the American embassy to get a new passport. but as she has no passport, they won't believe she is American; they weren't that excited to get back all these potential commies.  She ends up spending the rest of her life in Russia, and that life includes quite some prisons and labour camps.

Anyway, Gulag Archipelago it is not.  Also all of this could have been prevented by Facebook.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

LIKE SODIUM IN WATER by Hayden Eastwood

I never review books where I know the author

FROST IN MAY by Antonia White

This is a neatly written novel about a child's life in a convent school.  It is based on the author's own experiences in the early twentieth century, and it is as impressively weird as you hope such a place might be.  They bathe in cloaks, so as not to see their own bodies.  They try to sleep on their backs, with their hands crossed on their chests, so they will be neat if they die in their beds.  They are not allowed to have particular friends.  They are not supposed to enjoy things they are good at. 

Unsurprisingly, the author does not emerge from this unscathed.  In fact, she is pretty well scathed. A  novel she has half completed is confiscated by a nun, and she is expelled.  So terrible does she find this, that she doesn't write again for twenty years, and when she does it is simply to tell this story.  As strange website tells us, she never again felt enjoyment of artistic expression.

I admired the writing here.  It is careful and evocative.  I also enjoyed learning about a long dead world.  And yet somehow I can't say I really liked this book, for all it is so clearly deeply felt.  I guess it is just an example of the sad fact that your own painful experience is often just not all that interesting to others.  A good lesson for us all.

Friday, 4 May 2018


I'm staggered that this book not only got published, but has been highly praised.  It's basically stream of consciousness chat from some millenial.  What I have deduced is that New York publishing must be full of people who are too old to be millenials and are worried that they may appear irrelevant.  Thus, they don't want to come out and say, this millenial has no clothes.

 But I'll go ahead and say it, because I definitely think this young emperor is most certainly super naked.  I get the idea of trying to be super close to the real by actually just writing down what you really said, but damn, what if what you actually said was dull or embarrassingly self-indulgent?

Perhaps actually the self-indulgence is actually what bothered me most.  I'm not usually acutely aware of my status as a developing world immigrant, but this book made me feel it.  I genuinely can't imagine feeling that problems this minor deserve to be written up.  It's a scale of entitlement to happiness that I am both annoyed by and envious of.

Less you think I am exaggerating, let me tell you that one of the most important conflicts of this book is when one girl buys the same dress as another girl.

Let's end with possibly the only good paragraph in the book.  Well, I don't know about good.  At least horrifying:
We are all specks of dirt, all on this earth at the same time.  I look at all the people who are alive today and think, These are my contemporaries.  These are my fucking contemporaries!  We live in an age of some really great blow-job artists.  Every era has its art form.  The nineteenth century, I know, was tops for the novel.  I just do what I an not to gag too much.  I know boyfriends get really excited when they can touch the soft flesh at the back of your throat.  At these times, I just try to breathe through my nose and not throw up on their cock.  I did vomit a little the other day, but I kept right on sucking.  

Monday, 2 April 2018


I can't think that I have ever liked a book so much that immediately after finishing it I started it again.  Enter CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS.  

I read it twice last week, back-to-back.  The second time I wasn't exactly reading it, so much as examining it, trying to figure out how it worked.  On paper it doesn't sound like the sort of book I would like: it's about a 21 year old woman, Frances, who is in an intense but poorly defined relationship with another woman, as well as having an affair with a 32 year man who is likewise is]n an undefined relationship that involves him being married.  

Sounds dreadful, doesn't it?  It feels like one of those narratives where everyone is annoyingly at the mercy of their feelings and it is clear  that the intention is to challenge the reader to learn to be less bourgeois.  And yet somehow it's actually a really appealing set of love stories with no (alright, minimal) lecturing, from which everyone emerges somewhat improved.  

I've concluded that a large part of the appeal is the sparkling contemporary dialogue, particularly some of the best use of IM and email I've ever read.  I've actually only just noticed while writing this sentence that the title of the novel is CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS, suggesting that Rooney may know what she is doing.  Here is a fun sample of a conversation between Frances and her 'girlfriend':
So how bad is this crush, from one to ten?  she said.  Ten being the kind of crush you had on me in school.
And one being a really serious crush?
She laughed, even though her mouth was full of cereal bar.
Whatever, she said. Is it like, you have fun talking to him online, or like, you want to tear him open and drink his blood?
There's something very acutely observed about the way Rooney looks at modern relationships.  Here for example Frances is having bad sex on a Tinder date:
I let myself become rigid and silent, waiting for Rossa to notice my rigidity and stop what he was doing, but he didn't.  I considered asking him to stop, but the idea that he might ignore me felt more serious than the situation needed to be.  Don't get yourself into a big legal thing, I thought.  I lay there and let him continue.  
There is also a lot of fun in the recreation of the world of the very young adult.  This may be in part because Rooney is -  brace yourself - just 26 years old herself.  Here is Frances on her plans for the future:
I hadn't been kidding with Philip about not wanting a job.  I didn't want one.  I had no plans as to my future financial sustainability: I never wanted to earn money for doing anything.  . . . Though I knew I would eventually have to enter full-time employment, I certainly never fantasized about a radiant future where I was paid to perform an economic role.  Sometimes this felt like a failure to take an interest in my own life, which depressed me.  On the other hand, I felt that my disinterest in wealth was ideologically healthy.  
There are a few false notes - British writers like 'self-harm' as a narrative device almost as much, and use it almost as cynically, as they do 'child abuse' - but other than these few caveats, I would whole heartedly recommend it.  I'm still turning it over in my mind, trying to figure out what is about it that is so wonderful.