George Gissing's New Grub Street is about the trials and tribulations of a group of interlinked writers - some by blood and others by friendship or pr...moreGeorge Gissing's New Grub Street is about the trials and tribulations of a group of interlinked writers - some by blood and others by friendship or professional connection - in the late 19th century. Although Gissing is little known today, he is well regarded as a writer and has a number of books to his name.
This book was interesting in that it gave a real insight in to a profession at a time of great change. A profession in the process of modernising but also a tension between intellectual purity or populism. A tension in writing that hasn't really gone away. What it also has in its favour is a strong sense of place, giving a real feel for a very defined part of London - essentially from Camden south to Trafalgar Square. Virtually all of the places mentioned in the book exist and much of the narrative is moved on through people walking from one place to another. It is very much a London book, which is interesting as the reason I came across Gissing and then this book was after reading an article about his birthplace of Wakefield. One benefit of this particular edition of the book (Oxford World Classic) is the notes towards the rear, which helped me learn a great deal about the origin of certain phrases that I would not have known otherwise.
Despite these positive aspects to New Grub Street, I just couldn't love it. There weren't any characters in it that I liked or really cared about, and even those you think are the 'good guys' end up as selfish or self-aggrandising. There's also a snobbery towards people who are less 'cultured' or intellectual, and a streak of sexism that runs through the book (admittedly not something unusual at that time), although the latter is tempered by the way it covers many of the new rights that women had fairly recently gained in respect of property and money.
In summary, if you have a particular interest in the period or the development of writing and literature then I would recommend it. But as a passing reader, who doesn't feel that commitment there's other more interesting books out there.(less)
There are a lot of crime writers setting their books in Italy these days, but what is unusual about Michele Giuttari is that he writes from the perspe...moreThere are a lot of crime writers setting their books in Italy these days, but what is unusual about Michele Giuttari is that he writes from the perspective of having been a former police chief in Florence, and it shows.
I came to this book not having heard of Giuttari before but I now regret having left it so long to discover his writing. He writes with a detail and accuracy that shows he has worked as a police officer, but without including so much detail that you get bored. The plot, which he says includes element of real cases but is largely fictional, is intriguing and it keeps you guessing right until the end with plenty of action to keep you wanting to read more. The story is a tangled web but not so tangled that you get lost in the characters or the plot, and although it doesn't create quite the sense of place you get from other writers, it is most clearly Italian.
I'd thoroughly recommend these books to anyone who enjoys crime fiction.(less)
As you'd expect from rail expert Christian Wolmar this is a knowledgeable and informative history of the London Underground.
You'd think that given th...moreAs you'd expect from rail expert Christian Wolmar this is a knowledgeable and informative history of the London Underground.
You'd think that given the importance of the Tube a lot of the details of its history would be familiar, but there's a surprising amount to learn here. Although the origins of the Metropolitan line and names such as Frank Pick and Charles Holden are well known, crucial figures in its history, such as Charles Yerkes and Lord Ashfield, are almost unknown. Christian Wolmar devotes a lot of this book to the political processes that both helped and hindered the Tube as well as the affect that public and media opinion had on its development.
This book is very much a history of its development and how it expanded and evolved through its first 90 years, as the last 60 or so years are rattled through in just two chapters. However, Christian Wolmar has written other books devoted to the recent history of both overground and underground railways, and so he may have felt that was superfluous and simply made the subject unmanageable in size. Wolmar does occasionally make opinionated side comments about the management of the Tube, but what is clear is that his opinions aren't easily characterised as a private (right) versus public (left) division, and that is welcome.
If you want a concise, easy to read history of the Underground then this is ideal. It also includes a mass of notes and reading suggestions, that will send you off to look for other books that will tell you more about this fascinating subject.(less)
There aren't a lot of novels set in the years immediately following the Second world War. The war itself has been thoroughly covered, but the period a...moreThere aren't a lot of novels set in the years immediately following the Second world War. The war itself has been thoroughly covered, but the period after it when a shattered Germany embarks on its reconstruction is rarely mentioned. That is what first attracted me to this book, and it's that period and the difficulties coming to terms with what happened and the personal complications that causes is the premise of this book.
The Aftermath tells the story of Colonel Lewis Morgan who heads up the British administration in an area near Hamburg. As with other senior officers he requisitions a grand house nearby for himself and his wife Rachael and son Edmund who travel over from Britain to join him. However, in a story that is based on real life events from Rhidian Brook's own family, rather than throw out the German architect Stefan Lubert and his daughter Freda, he instead insists that they stay on in the house with his family. Although this creates surprise and slight suspicion from colleagues, it is Morgan's wife Rachael who finds this hardest to adapt to with memories of losing their eldest son Michael through a stray German bomb whilst living in supposedly safe rural Wales, still fresh in her mind.
What this book is first and foremost is a story about relationships and shared experiences, and people's different attitudes to dealing with complicated world they now live in. Lewis Morgan has been on the frontline during the war, but wants to help get to know the Germans and help improve their lives post-war. Rachael Morgan has lost a son, about which she feels very bitter and makes understanding the similar pain felt by many Germans very difficult to empathise with, even though Lubert is struggling, but in a quieter way, to comes to terms with a loss of his own. This book eventually centres on the way these two start to bond over this shared experience despite supposedly being 'enemies'. This theme of a shared experience is also emphasised by metaphors such as the Elbe flowing out to the North Sea which links Germany to Britain, and two characters watching a fire that is described as a 'theatre with its own plots and sub-plots'. There is a distinct melancholy throughout much the book, but it is one interspersed with good times and a hope to return to the past when Germany was a great cultured and prosperous country.
Although this book is set 70 years ago, the theme of trying to rebuild countries devastated by war and dictatorship is also a very modern one, having a resonance with what is currently happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the ever present difficulties throughout this book is how much to trust the 'enemy' with parallels with the fear of what has become known in Afghanistan as 'green on blue attacks' where supposed allies turn out to be very much not so. In many respects the language used is also very similar, "we had a convoy attack by two insurgents last week."
Although I enjoyed this book a lot I do have a few quibbles. One was the feeling every so often that the author had certain passages or lines that he'd pictured in his mind and just levered in to this story even though they didn't necessarily fit with the rest of it. Some of the description of Lubert's dreaming of his late wife seemed oddly graphic compared to the rest of the book. Another was Morgan's sudden poetic thoughts about his interpreter "he wanted to know about those boots - their provenance, the roads they'd travelled, the experiences had in them." when there hadn't been any other such elaborate language up to that point in the book. My biggest source of dissatisfaction though was the ending which I felt petered out rather than coming to a satisfactory conclusion. Once the rapprochement between two of the leading characters had started to take place I thought I knew how the book would end, and I was pleased that my guess was wrong, I did end up being left with a feeling that it hadn't ended properly.
Despite the ending however, this was an enjoyable book and one I would definitely recommend to others. The book has already been bought to be turned in to a film by Ridley Scott, and I expect it will make a very good film, possibly a better film than a book, but I'd guess that it is therefore going to be big. So read it now, before the film is released.(less)