Saturday 31 January 2009

Never a Crossword, Up Until Now - Joan Lennon

It's been suggested we should do some book reviews on this blog, and so I'd like to recommend Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8) by Sandy Balfour. I was given it as a Christmas present by someone who I suspect fancied reading it themselves - and I'm loving it. I don't often read travel books (an exception would be Jamie Zeppa's book Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan which I read because she's a friend of my sister and, in spite of being outrageously cool, a really nice person. It's an excellent book - so there's another recommendation.) And Pretty Girl isn't just a travel book - but maybe if I read more travel books I would realise that none of them are. Just travel books, I mean. Anyway this one's also about crosswords. (It is also about a young man travelling about in a lot of places, from South Africa to Russia and beyond, without getting killed. Being in the midst of sending my own last two sons off into the far distant reaches of the world, I have a strong liking for stories with "and they didn't get killed" as the main thrust.) But back to crosswords.

I have nothing against crosswords, but they're not something I've spent much time on. But now I think I really might. Balfour writes with a beguiling enthusiasm about the way in which they wormed their way into his own life. And so many of the things he says makes me think of my own job - the joys of language, its wonderful malleability, and the way you can use it to step sidey-ways in your and your readers' minds.

At one point in the book, Balfour says of a group of crossword puzzle setters: "I realise I am in the company of people for whom every word is pregnant with possibility, people for whom the invisible web of words that binds all knowledge is something real and tangible. I realise that these are people who have climbed this web and followed its threads beyond their safety limits. These are people for whom to take a different approach is the norm." (p. 95)

Yes! It feels just like that, doesn't it!

Anyway, there it is - let me know if anyone else has come across Pretty Girl, and whether they liked it too.

P.S. This book is rich in crossword classics, but I'll just share one: "Die of cold" (3,4). Give me your answers in the Comments bit, and if nobody gets it, I'll post the answer under Monday's blog!


Lucy Coats said...

I'm completely useless at cryptics, Joan, so don't have a clue. But I absolutely love the GK one in the Weekend Telegraph, and am very sad about doing it religiously with my family. I love Balfour's idea of 'the invisible web of words that binds all knowledge'. As I am re-reading Chatwin's 'Songlines'--another wonderful quasi-travel book--at the moment, I can see a potential link between the books. Sigh. Another one for my ever-growing wishlist, then!

Nick Green said...

I too am normally hopeless at cryptics, but...

Ice cube?

(It's all the snow outside that helps).

Anonymous said...

Blast! I was going to say ice cube too! But don't really get why it would be linked to 'die'...hmmm. Only said it because it fits the letter count!

Ice something else? oh dear, it's too late to expect my brain to work...

Nick Green said...

Well, Joanna, a die (singular of dice) is a cube, innit?

I really shouldn't come over all know-all on this subject, I am normally abysmal at any kind of crossword, even the simple ones. Weird but true.

The novel 'The Wisdom of Crocodiles' by [authornameescapesme' allegedly contains the toughest crossword clue in the world. The clue is: E (13).

In other words, 13 letters... and the clue is 'E'.

It takes the entire novel for someone to get it.

Joan Lennon said...

Ice cube! Absolutely right! Well done!