Saturday, September 01, 2007


Last week Mark at The Book Depository was offering ten bloggers books to review, and I was fortunate enough to be one of the ten. I haven't received the book yet, but of course,when I do I will post my views here too . Head over to the Book Depository because Mark is going to be making other offers over the next weeks, and there is nothing a reader likes better than to get their hands on a new book


I’ve only ever read one novel by Douglas Kennedy and wasn’t that impressed but so many people told me that they had really enjoyed his books that I felt I should try another, so I picked up his most recently published work The Woman in the Fifth,

Narrated by Harry Ricks, a Professor of Film Studies at a Midwestern college who has just lost his wife, daughter, job and money, it all takes place in Paris. In fact the book could have just as easily been entitled ‘Naïve American Down and Out in Paris’. Harry arrives in the city in the bleak days after Christmas, running away from the scandal caused by his affair with a student – something that is totally taboo in the politically correct USA, and when he arrives in France he continues to make really bad decisions. Within hours of his arrival a chain of unfortunate events begins and he is left with little money to fulfil his original plan of going to the cinema as often as possible whilst writing a novel based on his angst ridden childhood. He stumbles from one disastrous situation to another, renting a disgusting chambre de bonne in a houseful of immigrants in the quartier du Turc, and taking an illegal job as a night-watchman, working for shady employers who do not permit him to know what they are doing, but whatever it is is almost certainly criminal. Every euro he earns has to be carefully eked out, and the reader gets to know the detailed economics of his situation--- 38 euros for the treatment of a STD he has picked up, and then 2 euros for a packet of condoms (which he never uses) not to mention the costs of croissants, coffees, the weight of the fish , cheese and fruit he buys at the market etc.

At a salon held by another American ex-pat, he meets Margit Kadar, a sultry, mysterious Hungarian in her early fifties, with whom he embarks on a passionate affair -the raunchy sex scenes leaving little to the imagination. From the start Margit is in charge, and she will only see him at her apartment in the 5th arrondissement at exactly 5pm twice a week.. Once Harry has met Margit, strange things begin to happen. Anyone who has ever treated him badly gets their comeuppance in a series of apparent accidents, dead bodies pile up and Harry is detained by the Police on several occasions. His life becomes threatened, and dangers swirl round him as he manages to antagonise a Turkish bar-owner, his nefarious employers, and his extremely nasty landlord in turn.

The plot becomes more and more surreal and Kafkaesqe; is Margit meant to be his avenging guardian angel? or a succubus who will not let him go?

I read right to the end of the book, hoping the author would eventually make sense of it all, but alas no such luck. The question I was left wondering is: Can you have sex with a ghost? I don't think so.

Rated 2*


Year in, year out, millions of us pay our premiums to insurance companies trusting that when and if trouble comes our way we will be covered financially. But all too often these days we hear that the insurance companies try their best to weasel out of paying the monies owed. Yesterday I heard of a case that made my blood boil.

A 29 year old married woman, mother of a two year old daughter, was killed when a suicidal motorist deliberately crashed into their family car. Her distraught husband, an electrician, now a loan parent, tried to make a claim for the death of his wife against their joint life insurance policy with Legal & General. After all, he was going to need to pay for child care amongst other things. To his surprise and distress, L&G refused to pay up, stating that his wife had withheld important information from them. What could that be?

The couple took out the insurance policy when she was pregnant with their daughter. She had given up smoking to become pregnant, and was no longer a smoker. So, on the insurance application form when they asked if she had smoked in the past 12 months, she answered, truthfully, ‘no’. Her husband who was still smoking at the time answered ‘yes’.

After her death L & G obtained her health records from the maternity unit and noted that someone had ticked the box marked ‘smoker’. Who knows what that meant - was it in the context that she had previously been a smoker? Did she know that whoever it was had ticked the box, so she could have refuted it?

So when she died in a car crash caused by a stranger, L& G refused to pay out. Because, they claimed, she was a smoker.

What kind of cheap trick is that? Smoking didn’t have anything to do with her death; it is morally reprehensible that they behaved like this, forcing her husband to go to court, and then at the last minute – 2½ years later- offering an out of court settlement of £100,000. I wonder what Tim Breedon, CEO of Legal & General, would think of such shoddy, despicable behaviour if he were the grieving husband.

The moral of the story is that Insurance companies will happily take your money for years, but they won’t pay out if they can possibly help it. B**tards.


As I may have said, Monday night is always pasta night chez nous - I can hear my everloving first-born saying “for god’s sake Mum, you’re beginning to repeat yourself” - but we do eat pasta on other nights too, if the fancy takes me. Recently I made this for a Friday evening, and jolly good it was too.

Serves four

4 skinless salmon fillets
4 Tablespoons Noilly Prat (or other dry Vermouth)

4 Tablespoons crème fraiche
6 Spring onions, finely chopped

1 Tablespoon chopped Dill
1 Tablespoon chopped Parsley
Sunflower oil for frying
Salt & Pepper

500 g pasta of your choice – farfalle, fusilli, penne or similar.

Put a pan of water to boil for the pasta. When boiling cook the pasta in the usual way.

Heat a splash of oil in a frying pan – just enough to stop the salmon from sticking – and when hot, place the salmon fillets to fry gently for about 2-3 minutes before turning them over and cooking the other side; it doesn’t matter if they go slightly brown, but try to keep them as lightly coloured as possible. Then add the spring onions and the Noilly Prat which will bubble up. With a wooden fork break the cooked salmon into large flakes, add the chopped dill and parsley and the crème fraiche. Cook for a few more minutes stirring gently so the NP, crème fraiche and herbs make a sauce.

Drain the cooked pasta, leaving a small amount of the cooking water in the pan, stir the salmon mixture through it and serve with extra parsley sprinkled on top if you want to garnish it.


Charlotte said...

I read a couple of Douglas Kennedy's books while on holiday, and I think they are great beach reads. However, he does seem to specialise in getting his characters into seemingly IMPOSSIBLE situations from which they escape at the last second. Just a little of the scriptwriter in there, no? Or perhaps aiming for a novel-to-movie? I think his books are fun but very, very Hollywoodesque.

That recipe looks gorgeous. I need to get me some Noilly Prat.

Anonymous said...

I AM (was?) a Douglas Kennedy fan and was so excited to find his latest book at Heathrow in May just before I returned to SA. WHAT a disappointment! I felt cheated! It was so bizarre - I really think he has lost the plot! And still no pasta for me...! the kilos are coming off slowly!

herschelian said...

Charlotte: Bit of trivia - T.S.Eliot called his dog Noilly Prat - but whether he pronounced it a la francais 'Nooli Pra' or as I have heard it pronounce "'n oily pratt", I cannot say!

Anon: I'm so impressed with your self discipline! Specially after Amarula and champers at the Spa!

Teuchter said...

Re the Rant:

I wonder if these companies take any account of the bad publicity such behaviour affords?

I will not be touching L&G with a bargepole. Ever.

That poor man has enough to be coping with, without having to drag his case to the insurance ombudsman.