I was quite right to have doubts about Miss Carter’s War. It would have been a disappointment except that I wasn’t expecting much…
I’m reading James KeI was quite right to have doubts about Miss Carter’s War. It would have been a disappointment except that I wasn’t expecting much…
I’m reading James Kelman’s How Late It Was, How Late and although I’m fascinated by it, I’m finding the Glaswegian dialect hard work and not suitable for late night reading before bed. I thought that Miss Carter’s War would be suitably undemanding to read, and I was mildly interested in the adventures of a heroine of the French Resistance adjusting to life in post-war Britain. But the novel fails to make good use of a promising concept: in Sheila Hancock’s hands it’s a rather mediocre story which has been allowed to succumb to a Grumpy Old Author Getting Things Off Her Chest.
The novel works its way through the life of Marguerite Carter, a mildly left wing school teacher of Anglo-French extraction, who was, somewhat improbably, sent by the Brits to organise the Maquis resistance in the Vaucluse region of France during WW2. Drip fed her memories of various atrocities, the reader gets a vague impression of these activities but never really finds out much about this, except that she holds a torch for ‘Marcel’ even though she chose not to stay with him after the war. This leads to the conclusion that the ‘war’ of the title is a war of a different kind, as indeed it is. Miss Carter is on a mission to change the world: she wants to prevent social injustice, prevent war, and educate young people.
It seems it’s not possible to read The Lie without comparing it to Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy, which I think is one of the finest attempts to rIt seems it’s not possible to read The Lie without comparing it to Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy, which I think is one of the finest attempts to render the horror of World War I in fiction. Malcolm Forbes, who reviewed it for The Australian, thought that:
Pat Barker matches her for historical accuracy and the ability to delve deep into the human psyche, but Dunmore’s haunting, lyrical and mesmeric prose to describe carnage and loss elevates her into a different league. (The Weekend Australian, March 1-2, 2014)
But while I thought The Lie was well written and quite interesting, I didn’t find it as compelling as Barker’s Regeneration (the first of the trilogy) which I read more than a decade ago. With its avoid-the-issue ending, the plot of The Lie is a bit simplistic, and the novel wears its architecture too noticeably, flickering back and forth between the returned soldier’s flashbacks to the trenches and his musings in the present. It’s been done before, and despite the prolific quotations from other people’s poetry, it needs to be done better than this to ‘elevate her into a different league’. ...more
Sometimes, a daft melodrama from the 19th century is a good break from serious reading. The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins fits the bill. It was appaSometimes, a daft melodrama from the 19th century is a good break from serious reading. The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins fits the bill. It was apparently a contribution to the weekly periodical All the Year Round in 1859, one of five short stories bookended by stories from Charles Dickens for a Christmas edition. Wikipedia suggests that Dickens’ stories and one by Elizabeth Gaskell are the strength of the collection. If The Haunted Hotel is anything to go by, that’s probably true.
I’ve been an admirer of Margaret Forster for a long time, but it’s been a while since I read one of her books. I’ve read Have the Men Had Enough? (198I’ve been an admirer of Margaret Forster for a long time, but it’s been a while since I read one of her books. I’ve read Have the Men Had Enough? (1989); The Battle for Christobel (1991); her biography of Daphne du Maurier (1993); The Memory Box (1999); Lady’s Maid (2003); and of course Georgy Girl (1965), but I read all of these long before I started this blog. So when I saw Mothers’ Boys as an audio book at the library, it seemed like an ideal choice for the daily commute.
The novel was, in parts, rather confronting, but it was riveting. Like many of Forster’s novels it’s framed around the theme of family breakdown and loss, and the unexpected strength that women discover in themselves when life forces them into difficult situations. And the situation in which these mother’s find themselves, though regrettably commonplace enough, is difficult indeed.
Earlier this year I read an impressive debut novel called The First Week by Margaret Merrilees, which was the story of a woman whose quiet life was shattered by her adult son who commits an incomprehensible crime. (See my review). In Mothers’ Boys, Forster explores a similar theme from the point-of-view of both the mothers – Sheila Armstrong, whose grandson Joe was the one involved in the assault, and Harriet Kennedy, whose fifteen-year-old son Joe was his victim.
Hmm. I found these stories mildly interesting to listen to on the daily commute, but I don't understand why they became a publishing sensation. HolmesHmm. I found these stories mildly interesting to listen to on the daily commute, but I don't understand why they became a publishing sensation. Holmes is a pompous pain in the proverbial, and there is a wearisome sameness about the plotting, characterisation and structure of the stories. ...more
I'd read this book before and although it's not one of Joanne Harris's best I quite enjoyed it, so it was a pleasure to listen to during the daily comI'd read this book before and although it's not one of Joanne Harris's best I quite enjoyed it, so it was a pleasure to listen to during the daily commute. Anne Dover narrates it well, differentiating between the book's narrators with aplomb but not overdoing the drama....more
I read this ages ago, and forgot to write a review! It's a terrific book, documenting the way that guest workers are exploited in the UK, but with witI read this ages ago, and forgot to write a review! It's a terrific book, documenting the way that guest workers are exploited in the UK, but with wit and humour. ...more
I like to think that I am open to reading debut authors and authors unfamiliar to me – but sometimes, I have to admit, an author’s ‘name’ and reputatiI like to think that I am open to reading debut authors and authors unfamiliar to me – but sometimes, I have to admit, an author’s ‘name’ and reputation does influence what I read. So it was for me with The Book of Strange New Things, because I know that I would not have taken it off the shelf if it hadn’t been written by Michael Faber, who captivated me with his stunning debut, Under The Skin.
The story of an evangelical preacher ministering to aliens in a galaxy far away while his wife struggles with the horrors of a dystopian world back on earth? No, it doesn’t sound like anything I would want to read. I’m not interested in science fiction or dystopias, and even less interested in a meditation on faith. But the author’s name lured me into opening the book, and then I was hooked. I romped through all 584 pages in a couple of days and was sorry to reach the end.
I’m still trying to analyse how Faber has achieved such a compelling novel out of such unpromising material
I came across this book via an enticing review at Tony’s Book World https://anokatony.wordpress.com/2014/... and ordered a copy the same day. I was inI came across this book via an enticing review at Tony’s Book World https://anokatony.wordpress.com/2014/... and ordered a copy the same day. I was intrigued because I had not long finished reading Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, a self-inflicted challenge imposed by signing up for a year-long course called Great Books at my alma mater, the University of Melbourne. Most people, I suspect, would be more familiar with Wittgenstein from his appearance in the Monty Python skit below, and unless you are deeply into philosophy of the most exacting kind, I recommend that you stick with the Pythons.
But the novel is a delight. Narrated by a Cambridge student called Peters, it tells the story of a group of undergraduates and their perplexed response to the tortured musings of their philosophy lecturer, whom they nickname Wittgenstein.
Wittgenstein’s been teaching us for two weeks now.
Was it Ede’s idea to call him Wittgenstein? Or Doyles?
He doesn’t look like Wittgenstein, it’s true. He’s tall, whereas the real Wittgenstein was small. He’s podgy, whereas the real Wittgenstein was thin. And if he’s foreign – European in some sense – he has barely the trace of an accent.
But he has a Wittgenstein aura, we agree. He is Wittgensteinisch, in some way.
He has clearly modelled himself on the real Wittgenstein, Doyle says (and Doyle knows about these things). He dresses like Wittgenstein, for the one thing – the jacket, the open-necked shirt, the watch strap protruding from his pocket. And he behaves a bit like Wittgenstein too: his intensity – his lips are thinner than any we’ve seen; his impatience – the way he glared at Scroggins for coming in late; his visible despair.
And of course, like the real Wittgenstein, he has come to Cambridge to do fundamental work in philosophical logic. (p. 5)
This brief extract has introduced us to a couple of Peter’s undergraduate pals, the remnants of a class which began with 45 students but dropped to 12 because Wittgenstein is incomprehensible and by modern standards, his classes are dreadful. (Where’s the handout? the list of key concepts? the PowerPoint? the virtual learning environment??)
I admit it, I didn't read all of it. I read the first part really carefully, but the religious stuff in part 3 & 4 bored me brainless. The only paI admit it, I didn't read all of it. I read the first part really carefully, but the religious stuff in part 3 & 4 bored me brainless. The only part that interested me was where he said that miracles had ceased, because the Catholics in Rome have been so busy lately creating more 'saints', a precondition for which is the performance of miracles. At the UniMelb Masterclass for which this was required reading, the courage of Thomas Hobbes in writing it was put in context. By coming out in in favour of absolute sovereignty during the English Civil War, he was putting himself at risk... ...more
I was quite enthralled by this rather strange novella, but I’m glad it wasn’t the first Muriel Spark novel I read.
Because it might well have been theI was quite enthralled by this rather strange novella, but I’m glad it wasn’t the first Muriel Spark novel I read.
Because it might well have been the last. I might have dismissed it hastily, and crossed Spark off my list of authors to explore. Fortunately for me, I had read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie back in the year 2000, and more recently I’d read the swish Folio edition of The Girls of Slender Means (see my review). So I was more tolerant of the spiky prose and peculiar characterisation than I might have been, and of course I was also captivated by the splendid voice of Judi Dench as she narrated it.
If I hadn’t already got this book, it would definitely be on my wish-list for Christmas. Historic Heston is the ultimate book for anyone interested inIf I hadn’t already got this book, it would definitely be on my wish-list for Christmas. Historic Heston is the ultimate book for anyone interested in the history of food and cooking, and it’s a sumptuously luxurious book of ‘food porn’ into the bargain. Unabashed by Wayne Macauley’s clever satire The Cook, we here chez The Spouse et Moi are devoted to Masterchef Australia, and always look forward to Heston Blumenthal’s appearances for the extravagance of his creations and his humorous adaptations of staples like hamburgers.
Historic Heston is a generous (i.e. hefty) book of 430-odd pages, printed on expensive high-quality paper with a silky bookmark – and the witty graphics by Dave McKean and photography by Romas Foord are superb works of art in their own right. The still life for eggs in verjuice is worthy of a place in the National Gallery. I am sorely tempted to upload a page or two just to prove it but rather than breach copyright I suggest that you can get an idea by visiting this article by Peter Aspden, and if you watch carefully you can see the still life at this trailer for the book, as well as some of McKean’s art work. You can also see one of Foord’s still life photographs at a site called Good Food, which notes BTW that Historic Heston was co-winner of the James Beard Foundation’s annual Books, Broadcast and Journalism award for 2014.
The concept that lies behind this book is Blumenthal’s mission to rescue Britain’s melancholy reputation for awful food by exploring its grand old traditions using chef’s recipe books of the past, and adapting them into scrumptious creations for the menu at his London restaurant Dinner – and *in my dreams* wouldn’t I love to include a visit there on my next trip, sitting at the Chef’s Table!
Even if you’re not a ‘foodie’, Historic Heston is fascinating reading. Starting in medieval times, the original recipes used all kinds of strange ingredients not always recognisable and of course the cooking methods described in Ye Olde English are entirely different. In the chapter which charts the development of Blumenthal’s recipe for Alows of Beef, which dates from 1430, he explains that roasting, like everything else, was done over an open fire. These alows were basically stuffed meat rolls using small cuts of beef, so they had to be cooked on a spit. Turning that spit by hand fell to one of the ‘scullions’, i.e.the lowest in the pecking order in the kitchen, and this child (who often lived and slept in the kitchen, and stripped off when tending the flames) had the job for as long as it took, supervised by the chef who monitored how the wood was burning, and when to move food nearer to or further from the flames.
Day is Mother’s Day (1985) is an early novel by Hilary Mantel, now a the bestselling Booker Prize winner of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies fame. ItDay is Mother’s Day (1985) is an early novel by Hilary Mantel, now a the bestselling Booker Prize winner of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies fame. It is quite different in style to the Tudor novels, more like Beyond Black which I read and enjoyed for his sardonic humour in 2005.
The ironic title refers to the battle of wills between Mrs Axon, the vicious mother of Muriel, who’s not too intellectually disabled to wage war of her own; and Isabel Field, the hapless social worker who’s completely out of her depth with this woman. Isabel is also having a lacklustre affair with a teacher called Colin Sydney, and she loses the file on the Axon case.
Black humour charts impending disaster. Isabel briefly succeeds in getting some stimulation for Muriel at a sort of day centre, but that leads to a disaster only too common for intellectually disabled young women, and that’s when Mrs Axon shuts and bolts the door against any interference.
It’s a grim book, but it shows Mantel’s early skill in characterisation, and her talent for poking fun at pretension. Sandra Duncan does a fine job of narrating the story. ...more
seductive read: if you start it late at night you may find yourself reading on till long past your bedtime. Fortunately for me I started it on a Fridaseductive read: if you start it late at night you may find yourself reading on till long past your bedtime. Fortunately for me I started it on a Friday night, so it didn’t matter that it was well after four o’clock in the morning when I finally drifted into sleep, and I was able to finish the book first thing when I woke up on Saturday. It’s that kind of book: it’s delicious.
The voice of Freud’s young narrator is pitch-perfect. Thomas Maggs reminded me of Stephen in Michael Frayn’s Spies, and Leo in The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley. A boy on the cusp of adolescence, observant, good-hearted and thoughtful – but limited in his understanding by his youth and inexperience. The novel is set in 1914 on the Suffolk coast when the Defence of the Realm Act – nicknamed ‘Dora’ by the village – begins to impact on Tom’s parents’ business and on the suspicions of the locals on the Home Front.
While the Blue Anchor is a billet to an endless succession of young men bound for the front, the hours of opening are cut and the beer must be sold half-strength. The one person still able to get full-strength beer is the publican – Tom’s father, a morose and violent drunk nostalgic for his days butchering pigs. Tom, at 12 and with a crippled foot into the bargain, is too young to take him on, but he knows one day he will.
Into the stasis of the village also comes Mr Mac, an artist-architect modelled on Charles Rennie Mackintosh.