"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
**spoiler alert** A historian's search for a notebook belonging to Josef Stalin takes him on a mad ride from Moscow to Archangel, to an apparently aba**spoiler alert** A historian's search for a notebook belonging to Josef Stalin takes him on a mad ride from Moscow to Archangel, to an apparently abandoned Stalinist camp in the wilderness, where the biggest mystery in the whole novel is left unexplained -- why a group of hard-core Stalinists would put Christian crosses on their graves. ...more
For the first hundred pages I was in two minds about finishing this book. The characterisation and dialogue were poor. It was too wordy and some partsFor the first hundred pages I was in two minds about finishing this book. The characterisation and dialogue were poor. It was too wordy and some parts nearly made me fall asleep, but in the end I persevered, just to see how things would turn out.
For a science fiction novel set in the near future (at the time of writing) the science was rather implausible, with over lengthy explanations of simple facts, and skipping over some of the more implausible things, For half the book it wasn't really clear who the protagonist was, and even when it did become apparent, much of what he said and did was incomprehensible. His explanations of things were either simplistic, or just muddied the waters more.
This book looked interesting, but I was a little bit suspicious of it, because such books sometimes tend to be full of New Age tosh. But as it was a lThis book looked interesting, but I was a little bit suspicious of it, because such books sometimes tend to be full of New Age tosh. But as it was a library book it would cost nothing to look at and there was no compulsion to read it. There was no mention of ley lines in the index, and that seemed to be a good sign.
It dealt with things like sacred groves and holy wells, and that was interesting, as my great grandfather grew up in the vicinity of a holy well, which I was able to visit. But though the book was informative, it seemed rather shallow. The main aim seemed to be to encourage people to go on pilgrimages, and to create a lot of pilgrimage routes, old and new.
I also learnt a few things I hadn't known about history in general. One was that there had two periods of major ecological collapse in Britain.
First was a mini-Ice Age about 1000 BC, caused by a massive volcanic eruption in Iceland
Before this, the inhabitants had built stone circles, such as Stonehenge (the biggest) which seem to have served ritual and astronomical purposes, though very little is known about them or the people who built them. After the mini-Ice Age, the inhabitants were more warlike, and the henges were abandoned. There were invasions of new groups, like the Celts, and instead of henges, hill forts were built.Overpopulation led to competition for scarce resources.
The second ecological disaster was caused by the Romans, who ruled southern Britain from 44BC to around AD 410. They went in for big agri-business, needed to feed the cities of their empire, and they exhausted the soil, chopped down the forests, and created an ecological disaster. Britain got off relatively lightly, though, as the Romans' activities in North Africa turned those parts of the world into the deserts they are today.
The coming of Christianity enabled the land to recover somewhat, and the authors have an interesting notion of Christian town planning, which was lost around the time of the Enlightenment when secular town planning took over. They not the Chinese art of Feng Sui, and the Christian equivalent that developed in Russia, but give interesting examples of how it appeared in England too, and it can be seen in the placement of churches dedicated to particular saints -- St Michael and St Catherine on hill tops, churches dedicated to St Helen were often placed close to one reputed to hold a relic of the true cross, and so on.
One rather disappointing thing was that it repeated the hoary old legend of Eostre being a Celtic goddess. Though first published in 1997 the authors did not make use of books like The pagan religions of the ancient British Isles by Ronald Hutton, which had already been published in 1991, and might have saved them from such errors.
An archivist, curator of a literary legacy of T.S. Eliot, and a post-graduate student who wants a sneak preview of the contents. She is a poet, as wasAn archivist, curator of a literary legacy of T.S. Eliot, and a post-graduate student who wants a sneak preview of the contents. She is a poet, as was his wife, and he seems to have relived something of Eliot's own life. Reminiscent of Possession by A.S. Byatt....more
I think I've read this book before, as a child. I certainly saw the film as a child. The only scene I remember from my first reading of the book was CI think I've read this book before, as a child. I certainly saw the film as a child. The only scene I remember from my first reading of the book was Captain Good going around for half the story with a half-shaven face. For the rest of the story it was like reading it for the first time.
But re-reading a book after a lifetime of experience and acquisition of knowledge makes a difference to what you notice, and the significance of things that passed you by when reading it as a child. For a child, it was a straightforward adventure story; the heroes got into difficulties and dangers, and they got out of them. Reading it as an adult, the historical and political background moved to rthe foreground.
The book was published in 1885, and the action of the story seems to have taken place in 1883-84. The protagonist and narrator, Allan Quatermain, was living on the Berea in Durban then. And my great great grandfather, Richard Vause, was also living there, and was mayor of Durban at the time -- he died the following year, in 1886. That gives it a new and personal interest to the story. I didn't know that when I fir4st read the book. Yes, I knew I had an ancestor who had been mayor of Durban at one time (acually five times), but had little idea of the dates until I began researching family history.
He also mentioned fighting in the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879, and escaping from the Battle of Isandlwana (which the Zulus won pretty decisively) because he was sent back with some wagons -- precisely what happened to my great grandfather, Wyatt Vause. Perhaps H. Rider Haggard himself lived on the Berea, heard the story from my great grandfather, and decided to incorporate it into his book;
Allan Quatermain also mentions having been an elephant hunter, and describes in some detail how elephant hunters travelled in those days -- the kind of wagons they used, the features they looked for in buying them, and how they travelled. That sort of thing is rarely mentioned in contemporary primary sources -- letters and diaries and news items and the like. The people who wrote those things assumed their readers knew about them. But a writer of fiction, who knew most of hsi readers would be in the UK and would be unfamiliar with them, takes care to describe them in some detail. My wife Val's great great6 grandfather, Fred Green, was an elephant hunter in what is now Namibia and Botswana, and so those little details throw light on his life too,
In many ways the story is fantasy. It describes a country unknown to outsiders. In the 20th century, when most of the world was mapped, it was no longer possible to do that, and so such fictional countries were moved to other planets and other galaxies and became science fiction. But in other ways the story is not like that -- the people in the strange country are hypothetical relatives of the Zulus, and speak a dialect of Zulu, so the travellers are able to communicate with them.
It is also a typical fairy story -- the exiled prince who returns to overthrow the wicked usurper and reestablish justice in the land.
And there is also a darker side to the story, which takes place on the cusp of the New Imperialism and the Scramble for Africa. From about 1880 onwards the New Imperialism gave rise to an ideology of imperialism, which was racist at its root. While racism was not unknown before, it became much more ideologically driven after the rise of the New Imperialism, and a consciousness of ethnic superiority was actively promoted in the imperialist powers. Children's literature abounded with it, and it was taught in schools.
There are some echoes of this in King Solomon's Mines. Allan Quatermain disapproaves of the budding romance between one of his white companions and a young black woman While in Natal, Quatermain is upset and annoyed when "natives" speak in a too-familiar manner with white men. In the fictional African kingdom they travel to, he describes the local inhabitants in terms of a somewhat grudging equality. At times I wondered whether Haggard was doing this consciously or unconsciously. Could he be consciously trying to show the changes in Quatermain's attitude to black people the further he travelled from colonial Natal, as part of his character, and as a result of the influence of his less racist companions? But what is certain is that after 1885 there was a sharp increase in racism as part of the ideology of British Imperialism.
So re-reading the book was interesting for various reasons -- as filler material for family history, but also as a mirror reflecting changing attitudes in the British colony of Natal in the 1880s....more
I'm in two minds about this book. At one level it is a Bildungsroman, and at another it is a picture of a period. Martin Brennan is a teenager in hisI'm in two minds about this book. At one level it is a Bildungsroman, and at another it is a picture of a period. Martin Brennan is a teenager in his last year of high school. He attends a Catholic school in Protestant Belfast, where being Catholic is a badge of identity. Martin has two friends, Kavanagh, who is an athlete, and a new boy at the school, Blaise Foley, who rejects everything that the school stands for.
At home his pious mother regularly entertains three friends of her age, oen of them a priest, and Martin helps to serve them, hears their conversations, and is sometimes himself the subject of their conversations.
The book opens with Martin at a silent retreat with his contemporaries from the school, where the expectation is that he and the others will consider a possible vocation to the priesthood. Martin's conscience is troubled by moral and venial sins of thought word and deed, throughout the retreat, and when he gets back to school, after deciding that the priesthood is not for him, he is severely tempted to mortal sins by his new friend Blaise Foley.
After leaving school he works as a technician in the anatomy school of the university, where his friend Kavanagh is a medical student.
It was a bit difficult to work out the period in which the book is set. One clue was a reference to the blowing up of Nelson's statue in Dublin in earl;y 1966. It was clearly after that event, but close enough for it still to be a talking point, so as far as I could determine from such clues in the story, it took place in 1966-68. It was a time when I was in the UK as a student, though I was never in Belfast.
One feature of the book is the very detailed descriptions of everyday life -- the composition and making of sandwiches for tea, noises and sounds like lift doors clanging. In that it reminded me of A touch of Daniel by Peter Tinniswood. That book was set somewhere in north-west England, and gave a very vivd picture of the place and period, and the foibles of the people, though with considerably more humour than The Anatomy School. But A Touch of Daniel was published closer to the time, and The Anatomy School was published in 2001, which makes some of the close detail suspect, and one of the anachronisms that stood out for me was when Martin tells someone that he had a job "at the Uni". I never heard anyone call a university a uni during my time in the UK, and only learnt of it much later, via the internet. It may be that it was a peculiarly Irish term, that started in Belfast before reaching other parts of the UK, but for me it made much of the fine detail throughout the book rather suspect.
On the other hand, there were some things that reminded be very strongly of when I myself was Martin Brennan's age. I went to a Methodist School, not a Catholic one, and in Johannesburg, not Belfast. But I hung out a lot with two or three friends, as Martin did, and our conversations were not all that dissimilar. I enjoyed reading it, but I think it might have been better if some of the superfluous (and suspect) detail had been dropped -- it would have made the characters and their intreractions stand out better. ...more
This time, however, I read "Math son of Mathonwy" from The Mabinogion first, and that helped to make a little more sense of the plot. The story of Math, and his nephew Gwydyon, and grandnephew Lleu is frequently referred to in The Owl Service, but in a fragmentary and disjointed way. So reading the story of Math helps to put it in context. But I still didn't like it as much as Garner's earlier books. ...more
In the last couple of years I seem to have read a number of romance novels set in the period 1795-1820. First it was Jane Austen, who wrote about theIn the last couple of years I seem to have read a number of romance novels set in the period 1795-1820. First it was Jane Austen, who wrote about the landed gentry. Then it was George Eliot, who wrote about the yeoman class. And now it is Georgette Heyer, who writes about the aristocracy. Austen was contemporary, Eliot wrote 50 years after the time in which her novel Adam Bede was set, and Heyer wrote more than 130 years afterwards.
We've been hearing quite a lot recently about privilege and entitlement -- on social media, in blogs and op-ed articles, and in various gatherings, soWe've been hearing quite a lot recently about privilege and entitlement -- on social media, in blogs and op-ed articles, and in various gatherings, so perhaps it was an appropriate time to read a novel centred on privilege.
That wasn't the reason I started to read it though. I remember looking at it in book shops when it first appeared about 15 years ago, and thought I might read it some time, but then it disappeared from the popular fiction shelves and I forgot about it until I saw it on one of those "best books" lists, and found a copy in the library.
But as soon as I began reading it it became clear that the protagonist had been entitled to all kinds of things on account of his privileged birth and upbringing, which had been denied to the son of the man who lived in the servants quarters behind their house, though they had played together as children.
The story begin in Afghanistan, where I have never been so the setting is unfamiliar and far away, But the privilege is not. Seeing it in an unfamiliar setting somehow sharpens the contrast and makes it easier to see,
Foreign invasion and civil war mean that many lose their position of privilege in society, , and so introduces another theme of current political life, the life of refugees and asylum seekers. The refugees in America form part of an Afghan expat community, and though they have lost much of the privileged life they enjoyed back home, they are still privileged, as the protagonist discovers when he returns to Afghanistan, ...more
Having read Nostromo earlier in the year, I was struck by some of the similarities, even though they are about periods two generations apart, but bothHaving read Nostromo earlier in the year, I was struck by some of the similarities, even though they are about periods two generations apart, but both deal with expatriate groups in South America, and revolutionary activity.
There are also some similarities with Graham Greene's early book, The power and the glory, with a renegade priest, and the strength of a kind of residual Catholicism, which seems to be a recurring theme for Greene. At the time he was writing the book I was reading The rebel priest by Wim Hornman, and I wondered if Greene had read that one too, since its subject, Camilo Torres, is mentioned in The Honorary Consul.*
The book has a very authentic feel to it, with the behaviour of police, revolutionaries, and those accidentally caught up in events being well documented.
It's not possible to say too much about the book without spoilers, so I'll leave it at that.
* GoodReads seems to have linked to the wrong book, with a different title. Not sure how to get it to link to the right one. Try the Dutch version De rebel and then search for other editions there.
I added this book to Good Reads, and discovered it was my 1000th book, a figure that seemed to deserved some sort of notice.
As the title suggests, itI added this book to Good Reads, and discovered it was my 1000th book, a figure that seemed to deserved some sort of notice.
As the title suggests, it's a traveller's history, a compact book intended to be read by foreigners travelling to India, and taken along for reference when there. It has a gazetteer of historic towns mentioned in the text, with indications of what can be found there, in addition to a brief outline of Indian history. I'm unlikely to visit India in my lifetime, so it won't serve its purpose for me, but I nevertheless found it an interesting account.
It did, however leave me with some questions. Though the author is himself a foreigner (Sri Lankan) and so sees India with an outsider's eye, he seems to adopt a north India point of view, and the south is only mentioned in connection with attempts by the north to conquer it.
He mentions the Aryan invasions (which many Hindu nationalists dispute) but says little about the people that the Aryans found when they invaded, other than that they tended to become members of the lower castes as Hinduism developed. It would have been interesting to know how this worked out in the south, where the Aryans barely penetrated.
There are also gaps in the story of the development of languages and religion. It appears that Sanskrit was brought by the Aryan invaders, but the Buddhist scriptures were mostly written in Pali, and won wonders where that came from, and somehow both got replaced by Hindi somewhere along the line.
Obviously one can't fit everything into a small book, but a few extra paragraphs on these topics would only have added about 5-1o pages to the book. ...more