A rather slow-moving book that couldn't seem to make up its mind what genre it was. I read the blurb, and it seemed to be about a family history mysteA rather slow-moving book that couldn't seem to make up its mind what genre it was. I read the blurb, and it seemed to be about a family history mystery, and I enjoy reading such books, but the theme wasn't handled very well. Lucy Jarrett leaves her boyfriend in earthquake-ridden Japan and goes home to the Lake of Dreams in New York to visit her family. She discovers some old papers that suggest that she had some relations she had not known about, and sets out to discover more about them, and they seem to be connected with some stained-glass windows in an abandoned chapel.
So far, so good, except that the story moves painfully slowly, and we are not told much about the family history that he did know, so the startling revelations are less than astartling, and at times in seems to drop into stream-of-consciousness stuff like Virginia Woolf or James Joyce, with the same dream told three times over, and thoughts repeated again and again, so that in just about every chapter I wanted to say "Get on with the story, for crying in a bucket." Other authors seem to handle the stream-of-consciousness stuff quite well, but in this book it just gets boring,
Much of the earlier part is told in the form of letters of a mother written to her young daughter, whom she has had to leave in the care of relatives. The letters seem not to have been sent, and in any case, the daughter would have been too young to read them. They were also highly unconvincing. I can't imagine a mother writing to her pre-teen daughter in 1912 or 1913 about viruses and human interfaces.
This edition didn't have a cover illustration on Good Reads. That's OK, because the generic cover expresses what I felt about the book. ...more
**spoiler alert** I read this 20 years ago, and was disappointed.
It was the book equivalent of a remake of Dracula in an American setting, and not we**spoiler alert** I read this 20 years ago, and was disappointed.
It was the book equivalent of a remake of Dracula in an American setting, and not well done. Having read Dracula, this was entirely predictable. I've re-read Dracula several times, and enjoed it, but the first reading of this was not nearly as enjoyable as the fourth reading reading of Dracula...more
I've read lots of British and Swedish whodunits. I've read several whodunits set in the USA and Norway, and a few set in DenA South African whodunit.
I've read lots of British and Swedish whodunits. I've read several whodunits set in the USA and Norway, and a few set in Denmark, Greece and Turkey. But it doesn't seem to be a popular genre with South African writers. So I enjoyed this one, and not just because it was set in South Africa, but because it was a pretty good specimen of the genre.
The protagonist, Detective Sergeant (or is it Constable? she seems to get promoted without explanation in the first couple of chapters) Persy Jonas, seems like a fairly ordinary person -- not a poet, not an aristocrat, not alcoholic or going through a traumatic divorce, not a rogue cop perpetually on the verge of being fired for drunkenness, but brought back in the nick of time because no one else is such a brilliant detective. Persy (short for Persephone) Jonas is an ordinary person and an ordinary cop. It makes it more real, somehow.
Of course she has her problems; which cop, real or fictional, doesn't? She has problems at home -- domestic violence3 in the family. She has problems coming to terms with things in her past. It's just kind of refreshing that those problems don't include booze and/or divorce, or perpetual disciplinary problems with superiors related to insubordination.
And of course there are problems at work. There are problems of racism, sexism and corruption, rivalries and personality clashes. But they don't take over the story.
In addition, in many whodunits one gets the impression that murder is the only crim,e the police ever investigate, so the stories seem somehow unreal. In this book there is a murder investigation, but it is sandwiched in between burglary, theft, and looking for a lost dog, which the police ar also investigating. That makes it feel more convincing as a police procedural, somehow.
There are a few editorial slip-ups -- Persie's rank being one of them -- but they don't detract from the story, so I'll still give it five stars. I think Persie Jonas could become one of my favourite fictional detectives.
It's hard to know if I can say more than that without giving away the plot, if there is a plot. Or giving away what happens toThis is a strange book.
It's hard to know if I can say more than that without giving away the plot, if there is a plot. Or giving away what happens to the characters and what they do.
It is also a bit confusing because sometimes one does not know which character is speaking until one is halfway down the page, and then I have to go back to the top of the page and read it again with the other character in mind. But that's OK, because even the protagonist doesn't really know.
And also you sometimes don't know whether the events are taking place in the present or in the past. But that's OK too, because most of the time the protagonist doesn't seem to know that either.
Marnie and Jess Irving are twenty-something sisters whose father has disappeared. And in the neighbourhood where they live the cats are disappearing one by one. Marnie has a friend Shiuli and two other friends Dylan and Ruth. Sometimes they do things together but most times they dont.
It is about the ambiguities of friendship and love, about memory, love and revenge and the darkness that is within us.
I don't think I can say more than that without giving away the plot. If there is a plot. ...more
Lawrence G. Green's books follow a similar pattern, and there is a certain amount of repetition. He tells the same story in more than one book, sometiLawrence G. Green's books follow a similar pattern, and there is a certain amount of repetition. He tells the same story in more than one book, sometimes with more or less detail.
This one deals with the west coast of southern Africa, from the Cape to the Kunene, with anecdotes of out of the way places, and characters who played a minot role in history. As a journalist he collected notes on all sorts of topics, and every now and then he would work them up to a story with a connecting theme, and in this one the connecting theme is the places on the "Diamond Road" and the Skeleton Coast.
As I've already noted about his Thunder on the Blaauwberg not all of his tales are accurate. He is a raconteur, not a historian.
We have several of his books on our shelves, and the story of how this one came to be on our shelves is almost like one of his stories. It has been in our bookshelf ever since I can remember, and has the inscription, "To Frank Hayes, the most genuine of pals, from Tromp van Diggelen."
Frank Hayes was my father, and Tromp van Diggelen was my godfather, and it is just the kind of book he would give as a gift to a friend, because he loves such stories, and lived them himself. Like Lawrence George Green Tromp van Diggelen loved to go on journeys to out-of-the-way places, drawn by tales of lost cities and buried treasure. In his youth he was a wrestler, and later he was a physical fitness instructor, and my father, originally one of his pupils, became one of his friends.
I've been pulling the books off the shelves and rereading them for reasons related to family history. A researcher is trying to find out more about the life of Abraham Morris (1866-1922) the guerrilla fighter against the Germans in Namibia in 1906, and leader of the Bondelswarts Rebellion in 1922, in which he was killed.
Abraham Morris's mother was Annie Schyer of the Bondelswarts, and the story is that his father was a white trader named Morris. My wife Val's ancestry is part of the Morris family, who were traders in Namibia, so there is a possibility that Abraham Morris was related to us -- but how? There were two James Morrises, cousins, each with a brother William, who could possibly have been his father. So we search books like this looking for tiny clues that could place one or other of the Morrises in the right place at the right time to be Abraham's father.
This book mentions Abraham Morris only briefly, Thunder in the Blaaurberg gives more detail. But it has plenty of fascinting stories about various places and events.
One of the places of particular interest was the Leliefontein Methodist Mission Station, near Garies in the Northern Cape. It was a place where traders between Namibia and the Cape often called in the 19th century, and many people passed through there.
Other stories that interested me were those of the 1934 floods in Namibia, when the highest rainfall was recorded. It was the highest recorded up till then, and has never been exceeded since. When I lived in Windhoek 40 years ago there were still people around who remembered the floods of 40 years before, and there were signs in improbable places showing the levels that water in the rivers had reached then. Green tells several stories of the floods from people who actually experienced them. He also tells of odd characters and eccentrics, like the one who built a castle in the desert, and those who tried to climb lonely mountains, and, rather more sadly, those who kill baby seals for their fur.
We first heard of this book from a relative who told us that it documented the royal descent of the Green family (my wife Val is a member of this famiWe first heard of this book from a relative who told us that it documented the royal descent of the Green family (my wife Val is a member of this family), and indeed chapter 3, with the title "Blood Royal", is all about Edward, Duke of Kent, the father of Queen Victoria, and his lover Julie de St Laurent, whom he had to give up when he needed to make a suitable marriage tio produce an heir to the throne.
So far, so good. But the story is that the prince and Julie had a son, William Goodall Gteen, who was the ancestor of the Green family in South Africa. Unfortunately that is not so. The full story is told by Mollie Gillen in her book The Prince and his Lady. William Goodall Green was born in 1790 in Quebec, a year before Edward and Julie had ever set foot in Canada; his father was William Goodall, a London businessman, and his mother was Eliza Green, the daughter of a Quebec butcher. Green tells some fascinating stories, but at the most significant points this one is untrue. I've covered this in more detail here: Mystery cousins and royal legends | Hayes & Greene family history.
Another chapter, about a British spy in German South West Africa, mentions another mystery of our family history. The spy was Alexander Patterson Scotland, manager of a store on the border between the Cape Colony and German South West Africa. The Namas and Hereros rebelled against the Germans, and one of the leaders of the rebels was Abraham Morris, who was known to Scotland, and Lawrence G. Green tells something of his story in in chapter 6, "Hauptmann Schottland". Abraham Morris was also related though we are not sure how yet, and that is one of the problems we are working on in our current family history research.
I've read several of Lawrence G. Green's books, and most of them deal with stories of interesting characters or places, many of whom featured in news stories of their day, or sometimes rumours -- stories of outlaws like Scotty Smith, guerrilla fighters like Abraham Morris, spies like Alexander Scotland and many more. This one includes a diamond prospector, Solomon Rabinowitz, a visionary theorist of time, John William Dunne, a legenderay escaper and others. But the second half ofr the book was rather disappointing, where Green doesn't focus of people and places, and goes into themes, like tastes, sounds and smells of Africa, where he jumps from one place to another, and the story becomes rather fragmented.
As I said at the beginning, some of Green's stories, like the "Blood Royal" one, have been debunked, and most need to be taken with a pinch of salt, but he is a marvellous raconteur, and they are enjoyable reads, even if the history is sometimes doubtful.
Since this is a collection of novels, I'll comment on each one separately as I read it, on my Khanya blog, and when I've done with all of them may addSince this is a collection of novels, I'll comment on each one separately as I read it, on my Khanya blog, and when I've done with all of them may add some comments on the collected works here. I begin with Burmese Days, because that was the first one in the collection that I hadn't read.
The next one in the series is A clergyman's daughter, to which I give only three stars. Not that it's a bad book, but it has some faults that I didn't see in Burmese Days.
Coming up for Air is a strange book. I was determined not to like it, and yet I felt compelled to finish it, though couldn't stand to read much more than a chapter a day; a page-turner it wasn't. It's about a fat middle-aged salesman living a dull middle-class life in a dull London suburb, who goes out to get his new set of false teeth. On thje way he sees a poster about King Zog's wedding, and that sets him off reminscing about his childhood in a small town in Oxfordshire. One expects the memories to last for a chapter or two, but they go on and on and on.
This is the second historical murder mystery I've read in as many weeks, the previous one being Dissolution by C.J. Sansom. This one, however, is farThis is the second historical murder mystery I've read in as many weeks, the previous one being Dissolution by C.J. Sansom. This one, however, is far more complex.
Dissolution is set in the sixteenth century and stays there, and though there are lots of deaths, they all take place in the 1530s. The Unburied is set in the nineteenth century, in the fictitious English cathedral city of Thurchester, but as the primary narrator, Dr Edward Courtine, is a historian, it harks back to several mysterious, or at least historically-disputed deaths in the past, in several different periods.
I enjoyed the book a lot, but perhaps that is because history is a topic that interests me a great deal. An interest in history, however, is not enough to make one enjoy historical novels, and in fact can impair enjoyment of them. A historian reading historical novels is always on the lookout for anachronisms (and yes, there are some in this book -- the use of the word "teenager", is but one example). But because the protagoinist is a historian, as are some of the other characters, perhaps one could call this a historigraphical novel, and that would make it of more interest to historians.
As I said, it is complex, and you have to keep your wits about you when reading it, to follow the motives not only of the characters, to see who had a motive for murdering whom, but also the motives of the historians who left their written accounts of the events, and the motives of the current characters in the story who interpret the documents and other evidence -- part of the evidence is in the fabric of Thurchester Cathedral itself.
The bulk of the book is taken up with Dr Courtine's visit to Thurchester, which lasts five days. He visits an old friend, from whom he has been estranged, and also visits the cathedral library in search of a manuscript that he believe's may throw light on the death of a ninth-century bishop, which may in turn illuminate the character of King Alfred. During his visit there is another murder, in which Dr Courtine is a witness, and uses his skills as a historian to try to work out what actually happened, but to some extent he is blinded by class prejudice, and so misses some important clues. So we have to read his account with a critical historian's eye, looking for unjustified assumptions and other historical errors.
It's a good and challenging read, especially if you like history.
It's interesting to re-read a book after a long time, and see whether your opinion of it has changed. I first read [authoer:Aldous Huxley]'s Brave NewIt's interesting to re-read a book after a long time, and see whether your opinion of it has changed. I first read [authoer:Aldous Huxley]'s Brave New World when I was about 17, and found it very exciting and stimulating. I re-read it when I was 57, and after 40 years found it rather flat and dull. I've just finished reading No Highway after a gap of about 60 years, and found it as good as when I first read it.
It was interesting to see what I remembered and what I had forgotten. I was about 13 or 14 when I first read it, when I was still crazy about aeroplanes and wanted to be a pilot. By the time I was 15 my ambitions had dropped, and my main interest was cars. From the age of 11 to 14 most of what I read had something to do with aeroplanes, and if No Highway had not been about aeroplanes I would probably not have read it at all.
When I first read the book the most memorable things were the technical bits to do with the aircraft. I could recall the love story vaguely, but I could not recall the British Israelite angle at all, though it is quite prominent in the story, though I did recall the part with the planchette.
I read it about the time that the first commercial jets, the De Havilland Comets, were in the news because of unexplained crashes. I seem to recall that when it was determined that the cause of the crashes was metal fatigue I knew what that meant because it was central to the plot of No Highway but it is possible that it was the other way round -- that I understood the point of the plot because of the real-life incidents with the Comets.
It was the first book by Nevil Shute that I had read, and because I had enjoyed it I went on to read others written by him, though I still thought (and after re-reading it still think) )that No Highway was one of his best. I think it has aged well. Of course, one is aware that it belongs to its time, and that many things have changed since then. On the technical side the most obvious thing is air navigation. Back then the cabin crews were small (because the planes were smaller and carried fewer passengers) but the flight-deck crew was large, including, in addition to two pilots, a flight engineer, a navigator and a wireless operator. Advances in electronics have made the last two redundant.
Social attitudes too are different. One of the most noticeable is that sex has replaces smoking as one of the most commonly-described recreational activities. Another is that sex roles were much more rigid back then: males were useless at cooking and cleaning and buying clothes for children; females were useless at research and design.
I find the social differences interesting too, because I'm also reading a historical novel, Dissolution by C.J. Sansom. When reading historical novels I always have one eye out for anachronisms, things that the author gets wrong about the period in which the novel is set. No Highway is set in our past, but it was contemporary when it was written. So when I first read it, it was much closer to the time in which it was set and I did not notice such things, but the second time around, it gives an authentic view of a vanished past. Give it another 60 years, and some things in the book may need to be annotated, because there will then be no one around who lived thourgh that period. But I thought it was a good read back then, and it's still a good read now, and probably will be in 60 years' time too, ...more
Historical novels are not my favourite genre, as I tend to spend too much time looking for anachronisms, but C.J. Sansom seems to get around that. I fHistorical novels are not my favourite genre, as I tend to spend too much time looking for anachronisms, but C.J. Sansom seems to get around that. I first read his Winter in Madrid, set in the Spanish Civil War, and then [boo:Dominion], which is a kind of "what if" novel -- what if the UK had surrendered to Germany after the fall of France in 1940?
Dissolution is set in the period of the English Reformation in the 1530s, at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, and is a combination of historical novel and whodunit, a genre popularised by Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose.
In Dissolution Thomas Cromwell, who masterminded the English Reformation, sends a commissioner to the monastery of St Donatus at Scarnsea on the Sussex coast to arrange for its dissolution and surrender. The commissioner is murdered, so Cromwell sends another, Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer, to continue the work of the first one and also to investigate the murder.
I ought to know something about the English Reformation, but I don't know as much as I should. When I studied church history at St Chad's College, Durham, in the 1960s, it formed quite a large part of the syllabus, but it was not a period that particularly interested me. I was more interested in the missionary period, which, where historical novels are concerned, is covered by Melvyn Bragg's Credo. I suppose that's why I became a missiologist rather than a church historian.
Reading Dissolution reminded me of why I did not much like reading about that period of history, whether church or secular history. There is no doubt that the English Church wanted reforming, but the cure was worse than the disease, and C.J. Sansom brings this out clearly in his novel. None of the characters is particularly admirable. The protagonist, Matthew Shardlake, suffers from a physical deformity, which seems to reflect a spiritual deformity as well; he is naive and ambitious. He does have a sense of justice, but when push comes to shove, it makes way for ambition and political correctness every time.
One of the things I did know about Thomas Cromwell was that he ordered the clergy to keep registers of baptisms, marriages and burials, which I have found useful for family history, among other things, but most of what he did seems to have been bad, and motivated by greed and ambition. I have little reason to suppose that C.J. Sansom got his character very wrong. So the book gives something of the flavour of the times, even if the actual events it describes are fictitious.
But like much historical writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, it also carries "the burden of the present". George Orwell's Animal Farm is an allegory, a parable about how revolutions consume their own children. It is set in a differnt period, and uses different literary techniques, but the same message comes through. The dissolution in the title of the book is not merely about the dissolution of the monasteries as institutions, but the dissolution of the people whose lives are disrupted in the process, and the dissolution of the English Reformation into a cesspool of corruption and greed.
And so there is much in it that reminds me of the dissolution of South African democracy, twenty years after its inauguration, where the high ideals with which we began have dissolved into patronage, greed and corruption. Apartheid was South Africa's Lent, 1994 was its Easter, the following 7 years were its Bright Week, and now it is winding down.
The character in the book for whom I felt most sympathy was the exiled Carthusian, Jerome, who was regarded as mad and dangerous, but retained something of the original monastic ideals, and his integrity. ...more
Police officer Andreas Kaldis is a bit disgruntled when he is transferred from Athens to the tourist island of MykonoA readable and exciting whodunit.
Police officer Andreas Kaldis is a bit disgruntled when he is transferred from Athens to the tourist island of Mykonos in the Aegean, from investigating murders to being a nursemaid to tourists is not an exciting prospect. But soon there is a report of a dead body, found in the crypt of a rural church, apparently of a young woman. The case becomes more urgent when another young woman, a tourist, disappears, and it appears that the police on Mykonos have a serial killer to look for.
But there are political complications. The mayor of Mykonos does not want the news to leak out -- nothing must be allowed to frighten away the tourists on whom Mykonos's prosperity depends, When the police start to trace the movements of the murdered girl, and those who last saw her alive, there seem to be too many suspects, and at a crucial point in the investigation, most of the suspects disappear without trace.
There are a few plot holes and discrepancies in the story, but none of them serious enough to get in the way of enjoying a good read, if you like crime fiction. ...more