We have a few of the the mini editions Penguin issued for their sixtieth anniversary which are kicking around the house. In some ways their brevity works against them, as they only give a glimpse of an author, but lately they’ve been the perfect little reads for a busy time of year.
Rumpole and the Younger Generation is John Mortimer’s first story featuring the famous barrister from the Old Bailey. Though I recall my parents watching the DVD’s, this was my first meeting with him; I found it light and humorous. Horace Rumpole is one of the elder and more respected members, and supposedly up for consideration as Head of Chambers when his father-in-law retires, but his fellow lawyers are less than keen on his tendency to take assignments in criminal courts. (Personally I agree that these cases are much more interesting than property law or business taxes, but I’d always be leery of the discrepancies that seem to arrive between truth and fact.)
Rumpole has had a particularly successful history with the Timsons, a family of petty criminals, and is not surprised to be chosen to defend their son Jimmy on robbery and assault charges. He feels saddened, however, that young Jimmy seems obligated to carry on the tradition, and at the same time is questioning his own family’s legacy in the court of law. These philosophical bits provided a nice contrast to the humor. I also found that the courtroom scenes were credible and satisfying (and as a Perry Mason lover I have high standards). My only complaint is that the male-oriented humor wasn’t really my type, such as Rumpole and son referring to Mrs. Rumpole as She Who Must Be Obeyed. It’s not the title itself that bothered me, more just that it didn’t seem to be done with any affection.
The other volume I’ve read so far is Bon Voyage Mr. President and Other Stories, which contains four very different stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I read Love in the Time of Cholera two years ago, and I think I prefer him as a short story writer. The title story here is an interesting character study of the overthrown president of an unnamed Central or South American country, who in his old age in Geneva is down but not out. He is discovered by a young countryman and his wife who are initially out for money but come to deeply respect the man’s faded glory.
“Sleeping Beauty and the Airplane” follows a man’s brief but unnoticed infatuation with his slumbering seatmate on a long flight. For some reason I always think traveling invites a sort of intimacy. “I Only Came to Use the Phone” is the chilling story of a woman who hitches a ride when her car breaks down and ends up in a place from which she cannot escape. The convincing reality of the situation made it all the more frightening.
“Light Is Like Water,” though only four pages, was perhaps my favorite for its sheer poetry. Two young boys in landlocked Madrid have “mastered the science of navigating on light,” and every week when their parents go to the movies they unscrew the lightbulbs from the lamps and sail around in a rowboat.
“They filled the apartment to a depth of two fathoms, dove like tame sharks under the furniture, including the beds, and salvaged from the bottom of the light things that had been lost in darkness for years.”
All four stories are from the larger collection Strange Pilgrims, which I’d recommend even if only for the last two. I appreciate him more after these than I did at the end of his much longer novel. There’s a reason he’s won the Nobel Prize for Literature.