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The Bookman's Tale


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Talking of bats, there is a lovely passage in this book in which the author wakes up to find a bat lying next to him. The bat is alive but doesn't respond to questioning, so Blythe carries him out to the shed, to "leave him to his bat thoughts". This is a collection of the author's columns from Church Times: a kind of rural journal of evensongs, visits from friends, books read and remembered (Auden, RS Thomas), the changing light through his windows, and the watchful moods of his white cat. There are excursions to Aldeburgh or Little Gidding, and visits from chirpy young engineers who rewire his house or find a spider gumming up the central heating.Such material could have made for an appallingly fey read, but Blythe's extraordinary attention to the world around him, and the modest exactness of his thinking, make him seem curiously apt to keep the company of those old Greeks up above. The writing throughout is exquisite ("rain-smirched light looking for the altar" in church; the "nice drudgery" of proofreading a book; a painter's "easel folded up in the car like a sleeping insect"), and a serenely humane humour is never far away: "How does one listen to the radio without hearing all this news? It is a problem." My only disappointment (and a vanishingly rare one in this job) was that the book was so short.Steven Poole,The Guardian

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