This is the third book of Robert Goddard's spy trilogy. I've just finished reading the second and third books one after the other, so will comment onThis is the third book of Robert Goddard's spy trilogy. I've just finished reading the second and third books one after the other, so will comment on the series as a whole rather than on each volume separately.
It's quite an enjoyable read, even though it has more plot holes than a colander and more loose ends than a bowl of spaghetti. It's not up to Goddard's usual standard, where the books are more carefully and believably plotted. Most of his best books are written to a formula in which a mystery in the past influences events in the present. There are echoes of that here, but in this book the "present" is itself in the past, as the main action of the story takes place immediately after the First World War, during and following the peace conference at Versailles, though it is influenced by events that had taken place nearly 30 years before.
But in most of Goddard's other books the protagonist is usually an ordinary person who gets involved either accidentally, or in an unsuspecting way. Here, however, the protagonist is James "Max" Maxted, wartime flying ace and and James Bond-type swashbuckling hero. The second volume starts off reading like a sequel to The Thirty-nine Steps, which was set before the war, and this one is set after it. One of the characters even mentions The Thirty-Nane Steps. Perhaps the mention of the book is a hint that Robert Goddard is self-consciously writing a pastiche and a parody of the spy story genre, with hints of John Buchan, Ian Fleming and Robert Ludlum. Perhaps the real challenge to the reader is to work out which bit is imitating whom. And perhaps in some parts he's even parodying himself. ...more
I found this book gripping and enthralling reading, but perhaps that's just me. It's about the relationship between a Special Branch spy and the subjeI found this book gripping and enthralling reading, but perhaps that's just me. It's about the relationship between a Special Branch spy and the subject of his surveillance, a teenager, Julian Christopher. Perhaps I found it so enthralling because I have seen (and have photocopies of) the reports the Special Branch wrote about me between 1964 and 1984, so it has a personal interest.
Julian Christopher is a fairly average teenager with rich parents whose left-wing political interests attracted the attention of the Special Branch. He began to question his parents' secularist-atheist values when his best friend was involved in an accident. Julian became interested in Christianity, and joined the Radical Christian Fellowship, which his Special Branch minder then infiltrated.
The Special Branch man gets copies of Julian's diary, and tries to win his trust and friendship, but part of him dislikes what he is doing.
I did not have the same close relations with members of the SB that are described in the book, though when I was studying overseas I did send Christmas cards to Warrant Officer van Rensburg of the Pietermaritzburg SB. Unlike the spy in the book, we knew who Van Resnburg was, and he made no recret of his presence at meetings -- the SB let their presence be known because they wanted to intimidate people. Part of my motivation for sending Christmas cards to Warrant Officer van Rensburg was a "love your enemies" thing, but I have to admit that part of it was also to let him know that I knew his home address -- two could play at the spying game, and though I had no intention of tossing a petrol bomb into his car (as the SB had done to a friend's car), perhaps the thought that his clients knew where he lived could act as a slight deterrent.
But the SB did employ undercover spies, and this, of course, engendered an atmosphere of suspicion. As in the book, there were small Christian study groups where it was important to develop an atmosphere of trust, but that was difficult when you were never sure whether the person next to you might not be an SB spy.
One particular example of this, which I did not experience myselfr, was a Christian Institute Bible Study group that a friend of mine attended, and one of the other members of the group was a psychologist who was also a mental patient at the Fort Napier Hospital in Pietermaritzburg who had been induced by the SB to spy on my friend. This could only have exacerbated his mental condition in a way that harmed both the spy and the spied-upon. And it is that kind of psychological tension that is brought out most dramatically in this book.
For some readers it might seem a bit similar to a kind of futuristic fantasy like 1984, but for me the striking thing was its authenticity, in being so close to real life. It was about the British S[pecial Branch, not the South African one, but the groups they infiltrated were rather true to life as well. I knew of the Christian wing of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and joined the Christian Committee of 100, which was similar to the Radical Christian Fellowship in the book, though rather less organised and effective. If the British SB noticed its activities, they do not seem to have informed their opposite numbers in South Africa, or if they did, the latter did not see fit to include that in their reports to the Minister of Justice.
So yes, this is a very good read, and very true to life. ...more
"One does not expect a run-of-the-mill academic conference to have such a far-reaching effect."
The first part of this book is the memoir of an 18th-ce"One does not expect a run-of-the-mill academic conference to have such a far-reaching effect."
The first part of this book is the memoir of an 18th-century Korean princess, describingn the cloisered but eventful life of the Korean royal family, incorporating a modern and postmodern commentary on it..
The second part describes, in minute detail, how Dr Babs Halliwell travels to and attends a run-or-the-mill academic conference in Seoul, Korea. On her journey she reads the account of the Korean princess, and in breaks in the conference she visits some of the scenes of her life. Until the events that cause the far-reaching effect, however, one might think Margaret Drabble's main purpose in writing was to record the early-21st century academic conference experience for posterity, perhaps as raw material for a furtire historian of academic conferences.
I've attended enough academic courses and conferences to find it familiar territory, very familiar territory, even though most of the ones I've attended have not been held in such posh hotels. As I read, I kept having flashbacks to this or that incident at this or that conference.
"One does not expect a run-of-the-mill academic conference to have such a far-reaching effect."
And most of the academic conferences I've attended have had no effect at all.The participants exchange e-mail addresses, and promise to keep in touch, but almost never do. Some of the papers may be published, and may appear on the Internet in one form or another, and probably have more effect there than being read at the conference, as the book notes. ...more
I spotted this book in the library, thought "That's interesting", then took it out and read it, interrupting all my other reading to do so, and foundI spotted this book in the library, thought "That's interesting", then took it out and read it, interrupting all my other reading to do so, and found it more absorbing than many novels. Having finished it, I'm left wondering why.
It's not particularly well written, and has the rather annoying habit of some writers of military history of putting a list of all the medals a person was awarded after their name in the text. But I still found it fascinating, and I find aircraft of the Second World War particularly fascinating.
I'm not sure why I, a convinced pacifist, should find that particular conflict so interesting. Perhaps it is because I was born during the war, and I was four years old when it ended, and so war seemed to be part of the normal state of things, and when it ended, the world seemed to be in an abnormal state. My uncle, who had been in the paratroop regiment, had a couple of books called Aircraft of the Fighting Powers and I read them with great interest when I was about 9 or 10 years old, and had the specifications of several of the aircraft memorised, even though some of them were probably inaccurate to confuse the enemy.
One of the things that struck me about Beaufighters over Burma, however, was the logistics and bureau7cracy of war, with people being posted into and out of squadrons for no apparent reason. That must have been an enormously costly exercise in itself, and I wonder who decided such things and why. There was this squadron with trained crew and pretty expensive aircraft, and they would have pilots and navigators transferred in and out and all over the place, for no apparent reason. And in the days before computers, who kept track of these things, stores and supplies and personnel, not to mention petrol and ammunition to keep the planes flying and shooting up the Japanese occupation army in Burma, and trying to disrupt their supplies of petrol and ammunition and personnel. ...more
When I was 12 years old my mother gave me a book of essays by William Hazlitt as a Christmas present. I am not sure what she had in mind, or what appeWhen I was 12 years old my mother gave me a book of essays by William Hazlitt as a Christmas present. I am not sure what she had in mind, or what appeal it might have for an 12-year-old whose reading, up till that point, had consisted mainly of Enid Blyton and the Biggles books. As I wandered around the neighbourhood on foot, by bicycle or on horseback I tried to be observant in looking for clues of possible criminal activity, in emulation of the Secret Seven. To think a child with such preoccupations would be interested in reading Hazlitt's essays seems to be stretching things too far. To a 12-year-old, most of the references and allusions were not just obscure, but incomprehensible.
Even when I finally took it down from the shelf and began to read it 45 years later I found it heavy going.
But now, after reading Young Romantics, I feel ready to tackle Hazlitt again, because it puts his writing into context -- not only what he was writing about, but whom he was writing for (and against).
It was also when I was twelve years old that I first began to like Keats's poetry. The first few lines of Endymion, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever" gripped me, and I put my own interpretation on them, and made no connection between Keats and Hazlitt. Perhaps that is why my mother gave me Hazlitt's essays, but it's too late to ask her now.
But when I began reading this book I began to feel a bit like Keats felt on first looking into Chapman's Homer. Literary figures that I has seen as quite separate began to make sense because of their interactions with each other. Keats and Shelley have always been among my favourite poets, and I found it very interesting reading, in part because they formed a kind of literary circle similar to the Bloombury Group and the Inklings in the 20th century..
One of the circle, Leigh Hunt, who was imprisoned for libelling the Prince Regent, managed to conduct business and even enjoy married life and the society of his friends from his prison cell, and continued to edit his paper The Examiner from prison. His paper promoted radical political reform and poetry, but being in prison also taught him the value of friendship and "sociability".
The result was that by the end of his prison sentence Hunt had established 'sociability' as an important ideological principle. He did so in an experiment in living which elevated the rituals of friendship -- communal dining, music making, letter writing, shared reading -- so that in Hunt's rooms in the old infirmary these rituals took on a cooperative, oppositional significance. In The Examiner such activities were given a public outlet, as conversations over dinner were rewritten in the collaborative 'Table Talk' columns, letters from friends were published and discussed in editorials, and as different members of Hunt's circle contributed theatrical and literary reviews which reflected the group's diversity as well as its coherence.
As I read on it seemed that in the period 1814-1816 they were a bunch of aristocratic hippie dropouts, similar in many ways to the middle-class Beat Generation and hippie dropouts of of the 1950s and 1960s. And they happened to write good poetry.
Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac's On the road trip of 1948 seems positively tame compared with Shelley's teenage elopement through war-torn Europe with Mary Godwin and her stepsister, in the pause between Napoleon's incarceration on and escape from Elba and his final defeat at Waterloo. It was definitely a period when Brit tourists were not welcome in Europe. And as they had no money, they went much of the way on foot. They belived in anarcy and free love, but at the root of it was a kind of selfishness.
Carolyn Cassady's Off the road is pretty scathing about Neal Cassady & Jack Kerouac's habits of promiscuity and selfishness too -- another link across these generations.
Shelley eventually married Mary Godwin, after his first wife's suicide but it seems that the so-called "free love" often turned out to be neither. Mary's father, William Godwin, wrote the book on it, but when his children and stepchildren began to practise what he preached, he turned them out of the house and would not speak to them. Some hippie communes of the late 1960s and early 1970s were based on similar ideals, though others were not. There's a kind of balance between sociability and selfishness that seems to be missing in all this.
Eventually the literary circle around Leigh Hunt began to disintegrate, and at that point the book does too. The book follows Percy and Mary Shelley, and the other members of the group only make appearances when their lives touch those of the Shelleys. Byron, Keats and Hunt flit in and out. Keats's death is noted, because he had arrived in Italy at Shelley's invitation, though he never got to visit they Shelleys. Shelley's death is described in detail, but Byron's is mentioned merely in passing. We read about what happened to each of Shelley's children, but Hunt's disappear into obscurity.
The "sociability" that had originally drawn the group together eventually becomes the subject of varying interpretations. As Hay (2011:283)
All these women had learnt of the reality of free love back in the 1810s, when their unorthodox living arrangements, and the ideals of Shelley and Hunt, had variously exposed their lives to public scrutiny and, in the case of Mary and Claire, their bodies to illegitimate pregnancy. This was also true for Jane Williams, whose chikren were born outside of wedlock and who had lost her male protector. Now that the men of the group were dead, or living abroad, the women were left behind to count the cost of youthful idealism: damaged reputations, limited earning capacity, and exclusion from polite society.
Leigh Hunt, who had gone to Italy to join his wealthier friends Shelley and Byron in the hope of earning a living in a joint publishing venture, a periodical called The Liberal, was left stranded by their deaths, and discovered much the same when he returned to England
Hunt's homecoming was thus, in many ways, disappointing. The network which sustained his imagination during his absence turned out to be a chimera. As far as Hunt's friends were concerned, this was a natural progression in which the demands of work and family took precedence over youthful ideals of communal living. They recognised that their intense, clasustrophobic, clubbable circle of the 1810s belonged to a different era. Its public and private significance has faded as British politics entered the calmer waters of the 1820s, and their individual responsibilities towards parents, husbands, wives and children increased.
And I wonder if that is not perhaps a good description of the fate of many of the hippie communes of my youth.
A question the book raises for me is the nature and conception of liberalism. The group that gathered around Hunt, Shelley & Co described themselves and saw themselves as liberals, but it seems to me that they might better be described as libertarians and libertines. Their notion of the need to destroy social institutions such as marriage, because they saw them as oppressive and enslaving seems to contrast with their desire for sociability. Perhaps as a result of that the ideal of sociability was never realised, and the lives of the dead members of the circle were reinvented as lives of extreme individualism. ...more
Abandoned after reading 50 pages. Too much name dropping of celebs and obscure pop stars I'd never heard of. Picked it up by mistake because I thoughtAbandoned after reading 50 pages. Too much name dropping of celebs and obscure pop stars I'd never heard of. Picked it up by mistake because I thought I'd heard Nick Hornby's name mentioned somewhere....more
This is one of John Grisham's better novels, dealing with an investigation into allegations that a judge is corrupt, which uncovers a major crime syndThis is one of John Grisham's better novels, dealing with an investigation into allegations that a judge is corrupt, which uncovers a major crime syndicate.
It isn't really a detective novel, since the investigators are not detectives, and their breakthroughs in the case mainly come from informers or lucky accidents, with activities and suspects being caught on videotape, or careless slips by the criminals. ...more