In 1978, when I studied the causes of WW1, the evidence was stacked against Germany, and particularly the boorish Kaiser Bill. This book demonstratesIn 1978, when I studied the causes of WW1, the evidence was stacked against Germany, and particularly the boorish Kaiser Bill. This book demonstrates how much more complex the path to war really was. Quite apart from the poisonous mix of nationalism and historical resentments in the Balkans, the internal backbiting within the great powers' foreign ministries, backstairs diplomacy, and confusion over who was actually in control of foreign policy, suggests it was a miracle the first world war didn't start sooner than 1914. The historical detail can be overwhelming, but the author is especially strong in characterising the personalities, notably the Kaiser (full of bellicosity until the prospect of war became a reality), and Maurice Peologue, the French ambassador to St Petersburg, whose approach to diplomacy owed more to his vivid imagination than to the truth. All in all, an impressive contribution to the substantial literature covering this "calamity from which all other calamities sprang."...more
A slow start, that picked up once Nao got into her stride. The Japanese girl's voice was strong and authentic. The mystery surrounding the book was inA slow start, that picked up once Nao got into her stride. The Japanese girl's voice was strong and authentic. The mystery surrounding the book was intriguing, but I was disappointed and confused by the conclusion. Only other thing I got from it was that Fukushima, the site of the nuclear power plant catastrophe, means "lucky island" in Japanese....more
Gore Vidal's acid-drenched Pages from an Abandoned Journal appears in this excellent anthology. And in this extract, the old contrarian's voice ringsGore Vidal's acid-drenched Pages from an Abandoned Journal appears in this excellent anthology. And in this extract, the old contrarian's voice rings out loud and clear...
May 24 1948 "A fight with Hilda, this time about Helen whom she hardly knows. She felt that Helen was pretentious. I said who isn't. She said many people weren't. I said name me one. She said she wasn't pretentious. I then told her all the pretentious things she'd said in the past week starting with that discussion about the importance of an aristocracy and ending with atonalism. She then told me all the pretentious things I'd said, things I either didn't remember saying or she had twisted round. I got so angry I stalked out of her room and didn't go back: just as well. Having sex with her is about the dullest pastime I can think of. I went to my room and read Tacitus in Latin, for practice."...more
Is Adam Gordon a brilliant young poet, embracing the richness of a foreign culture and meditating on the profound experience of art? Or, is he a self-Is Adam Gordon a brilliant young poet, embracing the richness of a foreign culture and meditating on the profound experience of art? Or, is he a self-obsessed, pothead student, bumming his way around Madrid, and using pretentious phrases like “profound experience of art”? Although the answer is never fully resolved, Adam’s pseudo-intellectual posturing and laissez-faire approach to life might bring out the grumpy old man in some readers.
Adam’s fake facade attracts the attention of two young women, one of whom believes him to be a poetic wunderkind. Meanwhile, he bumbles onward, smoking dope in the park and neglecting his studies. Mid-way through the book, I’d never felt older or grumpier. But slowly, the author’s poetic skills and sandpaper-dry humour mounted a charm offensive. With the terrorist attack on the Atocha railway station, Adam’s ruminations on life take on a new significance, if not to Adam himself. By the end of the story, as Adam’s shaky grasp on contemporary literature risks exposure, there’s even some danger of a plot breaking out. But ultimately poetic ponderings overcome the narrative. When Auden observed that poetry makes nothing happen, this is the kind of nothing he might have had in mind.