As I read this book, I kept thinking that I had read it before, but then wondered why so much of it seemed quite new.
Detective Superintendent Roy GraAs I read this book, I kept thinking that I had read it before, but then wondered why so much of it seemed quite new.
Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is called on to investigate a serious hit-and-run motor accident, where the victim is an American student whose family have Mafia connections, promptin fears that they might take revenge on those they see as responsible.
Roy Grace has worries at home, however, as his girlfriend Cleo is having a difficult pregnancy, and has to spend some time in hospital. These were the bits I thought I had read before, and, having reached the end of the book I realise that that is because I must have read the next book in the series before this one, and in that one the pregnancy and its problems continue.
This is a police procedural rather than a whodunit, as you know who is going to do it even before it is done, but I think it is very well done, and is one of Peter James's best books I've read so far. ...more
I enjoyed reading Winter in Madrid by C.J. Sansom so my son gave me this one as a Christmas present. Winter in Madrid was a historical novel, set at tI enjoyed reading Winter in Madrid by C.J. Sansom so my son gave me this one as a Christmas present. Winter in Madrid was a historical novel, set at the time of the Spanish Civil War, but this is an alternative history novel, set in 1952, in a past that never happened, where Britain lost the war against Germany in 1940, and was ruled by an authoritarian government allied to, and somewhat dominated by Nazi Germany, which was still fighting against the USSR in the east.
David Fitzgerald, a civil servant in the Dominion office, has been recruited to spy for the Resistance (led by Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee), but he keeps this secret from his wife Sarah, who, while not an admirer of the regime, is a pacifist, and so disapproves of the violence of the Resistance.
David has an old university friend, Frank Muncaster, who is being held in a lunatic asylum, and rumour has it that he may have a secret that would be of great interest to the Germans. David and another friend Geoff Drax are asked to visit Frank in the asylum to try to find out more. The tension in the story builds slowly but inexorably as the British Special Branch and their Gestapo allies begin to suspect what is happening, and become more and more interested in the information that Frank Muncaster is believed to have.
C.J. Sansom portrays well the kind of moral dilemmas faced by people who have to keep a secret life completely separate from their public lives, balancing the humdrum life of respectable civil servant with that of a spy.
In some ways the book reminded me of
by Arthur Keppel-Jones, which I read about 50 years ago. The difference is that When Smuts goes was written before Smuts went, and was looking forward to a dystopian future. Dominion is written with hindsight; it is easier to think what might have been if something had been different than to picture the future before it happens.
One of the things that makes the story so convincing is that what might have happened in Britain did, in many ways, actually happen in South Africa. The Special Branch is portrayed in a very true to life manner, as is the civil repression against dissidents. With the flood of reminiscences of Nelson Mandela prompted by his recent death, and right-wing people constantly trying to remind us that he was a violent terrorist, it is interesting to read in this book how Churchill and Attlee and the other Resistance leaders in Britain are portrayed in the same way by the right-wing rulers of the alternative Britain.
Things that actually happened in 1952 are included, such as the great London smog of the winter of that year, and some of the might-have-beens and might-not-have-beens. One of the might have beens is that one of the only makes of car mentioned in the book is a "big Volvo", used by David Fitzgerald and his associates in the course of their long flight from the police. The only other make mentioned is a Wolseley, used by the police (as they actually were, in London in 1952).
I found it a fascinating and absorbing book, and it seemed to reflect pretty authentically the nature of an authoritarian regime. ...more
Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers tries to help her neighbour Taymullah Azhar, whose nine-year-old daughter Hadiyyah has disappeared, apparently kidnaDetective Sergeant Barbara Havers tries to help her neighbour Taymullah Azhar, whose nine-year-old daughter Hadiyyah has disappeared, apparently kidnapped by her mother Angelina Upman. Since Azhar is not registered as Hadiyyah's father, it is not a matter for the police, so Havers puts him in touch with a private detective.
Angelina makes a reappearance when it turns out that Hadiyyah had been kidnapped from her mother, this time in Italy, and the action moves to that country, where a new detective hero emerges, Inspector Salvatore Lo Bianco, who has to battle with an obstinate superior who wasnts a suspect, any suspect, to get the media off their backs. He works with Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley of Scotland Yard to search for the missing girl.
It is a long story (over 700 pages), with many plot twists, and at several points the reader's credulity is strained as Havers breaks one rule of police procedure after another.
In the afternoon I started to read The old man and the sea. I couldn't remember if I had read it before, but as it is a short book it coulodn't do anyIn the afternoon I started to read The old man and the sea. I couldn't remember if I had read it before, but as it is a short book it coulodn't do any harm to read it again. I think before I started but did not finish it. It's about an old fisherman who has been unlucky for 84 days, and really needs to catch something. So he goes out to catch a big fish.
But it struck me as weird. I have this image of Hemingway as the grand macho hunting', shootin' and fishing type, who knows all there is to know about game animals and game fish, and yet here he is describing dolphins as having gills. It sticks out like a sore thumb. I'm reading a school edition, with notes. Surely there must be a note on that. But no, there isn't. Is it just that the people who wrote the notes are equally ignorant, or that they don't want to suggest any weakness in the great master?
And it strikes me that if Hemigway is so ignorant of such an elementary fact of marine biology as that, does the rest of what he writes count for anything at all? How can he write about an old man and the sea and its creatures when he is that ignorant?
The topic of the sciences versus the humanities seems to have come up quite a lot recently, and I blogged about it last month here The dissing of theThe topic of the sciences versus the humanities seems to have come up quite a lot recently, and I blogged about it last month here The dissing of the humanities | Khanya. It has also come up in various discussion forums. In one such forum I was reminded of the Victorian myth of the polymath scientist, when the media make Richard Dawkins, a biologist, an instant expert on topics like philosophy, theology and history.
And then I picked up this book.
I've been gradually entering our books into a database, so that we can see which ones we've read and which ones we haven't. We have sometimes bought books that we already have, so it's not quite as silly as it may seem. But how we got this book, I cannot remember. A street book stall, perhaps. It was marked down from R1.95 to 59c to 10c, and perhaps we bought it just because it was cheap.
It's written by a Shakespearian scholar, so it comes down firmly on the side of the humanities. It was published in 1966, just a year or two before student power demonstrations broke out all over. It would probably not appeal to feminists at all, as all the main characters are male, and the only strong female character is almost, but not quite, the villain of the piece. But it does highlight some of the problems and tensions that arise if the sciences and the humanities are kept apart, and 45 years later genetic engineering is still a live issue.
So I found it a surprisingly good read, but perhaps that's because I'm prejudiced in favour of the humanities. ...more
Several students are shot by police in a campus demonstration at a small US college, and three are killed. Six policemen were put on trial for the shoSeveral students are shot by police in a campus demonstration at a small US college, and three are killed. Six policemen were put on trial for the shootings, and were acquitted. Five years later some of those affected by the shooting plan a memorial gathering, bringing together the survivors, the parents of the dead students, members of staff and stuents of the college, and, the organisers hope, members of the police and the local community.
The story is told through the eyes of different participants -- the parents of the dead students, some of the survivors, the judge at the trial of the policemen, the defence layer, and one of the main witnesses.
The parents of the dead students have mixed motives. Some want revenge and vindication, some just want to forget and "move on".
I can't remember when we bought this book, but, realising that I had not read it before, I took it down and began reading, and found it rather good. The narratives show the different outlooks of different characters, some certain, with clear goals, others filled with doubts, wondering what they are doing, and yet others tring rather desperately not to allow anything to shake the wall of their own self-perception that they have built around themselves.
So I'm glad I found it; iot was definitely worth a read. ...more
A student is murdered in "The Maze", a rundown area near the centre of Eastvale, and Detective Superintendent Alan Banks is looking for the killer. HiA student is murdered in "The Maze", a rundown area near the centre of Eastvale, and Detective Superintendent Alan Banks is looking for the killer. His colleague Annie Cabbot, seconded to another division, is called to investigate the murder of a disabled inmate of a home in the coastal town of Whitby. Subsequent investigations reveal links between the two cases, which have historical roots going back to previous cases, and events in described in some of Robinson's earlier books.
As a police procedural/whodunit it is up to Peter Robinson's usual high standards for the most part, though it seemed to get off to a rather shaky start. Having been a student myself, albeit a long time ago, I'm pretty sure that if one of my friends had disappeared after we'd been to pubs in town, we would have been very concerned about it, and would have been anxious to contact the police before they contacted us (though in South Africa in those days we might also have considered the possibility that the police themselves might have been responsible for the disappearance). So there is an air of unreality about the first few chapters of the story, where the friends of the missing student seem quite uncaring, and even after discovering that she was murdered, seem reluctant to get involved.
Though Peter Robinson lives in Canada his books, set in Yorkshire, have generally seemed fairly authentic to me. But in this one I noticed a transatlantic drift. He used "momentarily" in the American sense of "in a moment" rather than the more usual one of "for a moment", and also used "moot" in a transatlantic sense of "not worth debating" rather than "debatable". Most notably several of the characters are described as rolling their eyes.
Now it's quite a long time since I lived in the UK, and for all I know people there have adopted eye-rolling widely, and similarly the other modes of expression, but it struck me as a bit out of place.
I quite enjoyed the only other book by Camilla Läckberg that I have read, The stonecutter, but I doubt that I'll finish this one. It is simply too fruI quite enjoyed the only other book by Camilla Läckberg that I have read, The stonecutter, but I doubt that I'll finish this one. It is simply too frustrating and incomprehensible.
One of the early scenes is a funeral. At first it is not clear who has died or how, but then there is some reference to "the accident". I'm now 120 pages into the book, and there have been several more references to "the accident", but I'm still not sure what happened, who was involved in it, or how it affects the plot of the book, other than that it seems to have resulted in the protagonist, detective Patrik Hedstrom, not being able to work full time. Though at times it seems that that may have been the result of illness rather than "the accident".
Perhaps all this is made clear in the previous book in the series, but to find out would mean going out searching bookshops for a book that may by now be out of print. This seems to be becoming a trend, and a rather annoying one. I noticed it when reading the books of Louise Penny, where there were references to things that had happened in previous books of the series, but in those it did not affect one's understanding of the book one was actually reading. In The lost boy, however, it simply makes Camilla Läckberg another author to cross off my list. Unless I get very, very bored, I'll probably never finish it. ...more
Eleven-year-old Julia wakes up one morning to find that the sun is late. The earth's rotation speed is slowing, and soon clock time is out of sync witEleven-year-old Julia wakes up one morning to find that the sun is late. The earth's rotation speed is slowing, and soon clock time is out of sync with the procession of days and nights. At first there is panic, and people behave strangely. Julia's best friend, a Mormon, moves with her family to Utah. A Jewish family is not sure when to observe the Sabbath.
For a schoolgirl the problems of friendship, popularity and peer pressure are exacerbated by the changes in the environment. As nights lengthen, crops are threatened by the lack of sunlight, and people begin hoarding food. Animals begin to behave in strange ways, and some species become extinct.
The story is not altogether believable, as some things that one would expect to be affected by the changes appear not to be. Though the wheat supply is threatened, there seems to be no problem in ordering pizzas, and ice cream continues to be readily available, through fresh fruit is not. People in the middle-class suburb where Julia lives still appear to go to work every day, even though one would expect there to be massive unemployment in sectors affected by the changes.
The story is told through the eyes of a child, of course, and one would not expect a child to know of everything that was happening. Apart from a few discrepancies, it is well told, and a good read. ...more
This book is about the 1970s as you probably don't remember them.
A quick glance at the cover and at the blurb gives the impression that it is a kind oThis book is about the 1970s as you probably don't remember them.
A quick glance at the cover and at the blurb gives the impression that it is a kind of cultural history of an era. For Francis Wheen the Seventies began existentially when he decided to drop out. As he describes it:
With my rucksack and guitar in hand, I came to London on 27 December 1973 brimming with the ambition and optimism of the Sixties -- a dream of change, a sense of limitless possibility -- only to find the Seventies enveloping the city like a pea-souper.
In another place he is more explcit:, when discussing when the Sixties ended and the seventies began:
So it goes for most of us as we try to reconcile our private histories with a public narrative. Philip Larkin, recording the start of free love in 1963, lamented that 'this was rather late for me.' For me, alas, it was rather too early. I came to the party a full decade later, on 27 December 1973, when I caught a train to London from suburban Kent, having left a note on the kitchen table advising my parents that I'd gone to join the alternative society and wouldn't be back. An hour or so later, clutching my rucksack and guitar, I arrived at the 'BIT Alternative Help and Information Centre,' a hippy hangout on Westbourne Park Road which I'd often seen mentioned in the underground press. 'Hi,' I chirruped. 'I've dropped out.' I may even have babbled something about wanting to build the counter-culture. This boyish enthusiasm was met by groans from a furry freak slumped on the threadbare sofa. 'Drop back in, man,' he muttered through a dense foliage of beard. 'You're too late... It's over.' And so it was. The Prime Minister, Edward Heath, had declared a state of emergency in November, his fifth in just over three years...
The promise these passages (and he blurb on the cover) give of the reconciliation of private histories with public narrative is not fulfilled. We are not told whether or how Francis Wheen dropped back in, or how he spent the rest of the Seventies. He presumably survived, or he wouldn't have written the book. So I was expecting a cultural history, but instead it was more of a political history, and the political history of the 1970s was laced with paranoia, at least according to Wheen.
So having established what the book is not, what is it?
It's the public narrative turned inside out.
Those of us who lived through the Seventies remember some of the headlines, and some of the major events. But what Francis Wheen does is take us behind the scenes, backstage, as it were, to see the stage props, and the actors without their make up. What were the motives for the much publicised political decisions? What was Edward Heath really up to with his successive states of emergency? What was the story behind Watergate, or Nixon's rapprochement with China, or the Allende coup in Chile? What was really going on with nihilistic terrorist groups like the Baader-Meinhof Gang, the Tupamaros urban guerrillas in Uruguay, or the Symbionese Liberation Army?
Wheen has trawled through the various memoirs, diaries, letters and papers published by people close to the seats of power, and revealed some of the conversations about and motives for some of the decisions that were announced in the press. These documents were not available at the time, and it is only now that the inside stories can be revealed. Books have been published, archives made available, and Wheen concludes that Nixon, Heath and most of the other world leaders at the time were barking mad and quite paranoid. The Seventies were the paranoid decade, and that paranoia was the decade's major bequest to those who followed.
Most of us don't have time to read those documents, and so Francis Wheen has done it for us and made a digest of it to save us the trouble.
The trouble is that his selection of events to record would not have been mine. The events that stood out for him were not those that stood out for me, even in the public narrative.
Living in South Africa we were only very vaguely aware of Britains "winter of discontent" and its "Who governs Britain?" election (Answer: Nobody).
The Yom Kippur War of 1973 (40th anniversary at time of writing, but Telkom alone knows when I'll get to post this) made more of an impact. It meant the reopening of the Suez Canal, and within a few months I no longer looked out from my front door in Durban North on 30 or more ships in the roadstead waiting to enter Durban harbour, and one could walk on Durban's beaches without the lumps of crude oil making them took like the aftermath of an explosion in a Marmite factory.
There were some consequences of the Yom Kippur War that Wheen does mention, though -- reduced oil production, rising fuel prices, and fuel restrictions . The fuel restrictions (in South Africa) were announced in November 1973, with speed limits in towns of 50 km/h and on open roads of 80 km/h. On 30 November I was driving into town from Durban North along Umgeni Road -- the traffic was preferable to the sleep-inducing boredom of driving on the freeway at 50 km/h. I stopped at a robot and an Indian guy in the car next to me shouted, "Have you filled your tank, petrol is going up to a Rand a gallon." Several other people told me the same thing on that day. Rumours abounded, and queues at filling stations were long. Now I doubt if we'll see the fuel price as low as a Rand a litre again. But back then we were suddenly aware that whether we used it quickly or slowly, oil had to come to an end some day. Someone somewhere said that if every adult male Indian used toilet paper, the world's paper supply would be exhausted in two weeks. So yes, Wheen was right about that. The Seventies was a time of the feeling of an approaching disaster, of inflation and the imminent end of the world.
But in South Africa it was also the decade in which PW Botha and Magnus Malan decided to invade Angola (Wheen did not consult any diaries of their associates) and thus of what the South African public were led to believe was the "Border War", though much of it took place a long way from any borders.
In the 1960s, under Vorster, South Africa had turned into a police state, but with the accession of P.W. Botha there was a military take-over, By the end of the Seventies the "Border War" had mutated into the "total onslaught" and South Africa came to be ruled by a military junta which lasted throughout the 1980s.
So in Wheen's book I was expecting more of a cultural history of the 1970s, though there was not much of that. But the book did inspire me to think of how we do reconcile our private histories with public narratives, even if Wheen does not deliver on this. I'll continue with that theme on my blog, since it drifts away from the actual content of the book.
This is the sixth detective novel about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, and the third I have read, and also the best I have read so far, It was the onThis is the sixth detective novel about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, and the third I have read, and also the best I have read so far, It was the one we bought first, because of the blurb, and only after getting it did we discover that there is a metastory that runs through the series, with the same characters popping up again and again.
Chief Inspector Gamache is on leave in Quebec, recovering from injuries received in an earlier shoot-out, and is asked ny the local police to help with a case -- an amateur archaeologist, notorious for his obsession with finding the grave of the founder of Quebec, Samuel de Champlain, is murdered in the basement of the Literary and Historical Society, an English-speaking institution. The murder could increase tensions between the French and English-speaking communities of the city, and Gamache is asked to help because he speaks better English. He has also been doing some historical research of his own in the library.
I suppose one of the reasons I like books like this is my own interest in historical research, and so mysteries of the past that have repercussions in the present are the kind of thing I like reading about. Added to that is that my wife Val's great great grandfather, William John Green, was born in Quebec in 1790, so the city is the setting of a historical mystery that has exercised many members of the Green family for more than a century. The period is entirely different to that of the story in this book, but the setting is the same, and the book gives a feel for the city and its present inhabitants.
In addition there are some more historical threads in this book. Gamache keeps having flashbacks to an earlier case, where he feels he failed, and he sends his second-in-command, Jean Guy Beauvoir, to have another look at yet another case, which he thinks may have gone wrong, in the village of Three Pines, which seems to crop up in all these novels. These cases may have been covered in a couple of the books that we haven't read, so mentioning too many details may be spoilers for the books we haven't read yet.
There are a couple of things about the series that become slightly annoying -- Louise Penny seems to be more given to detailed descriptions of every meal the characters eat than Enid Blyton and I, for one, get a bit tired of reading yet another description of maple-cured bacon and other Canadian delicacies. But it is generally a good read. ...more
This is the second crime-mystery book by Louise Penny that I have read, though it is the third in the series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.This is the second crime-mystery book by Louise Penny that I have read, though it is the third in the series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. The first one I read, Dead Cold, is the second in the series, and this one features many of the same characters in the same setting, the small village of Three Pines somewhere south of Montreal.
I'm beginning to feel that there is not much I can say about this book until I've read more of the series, and get a picture of where things are going. I'm beginning to wonder if Three Pines is about to rival Midsomer Worthy as the murder capital of the world, despite its small size, with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache trying to overtake Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby of the Midsomer Murders. Tom Barnaby's exploits are chronicled in books like Written in Blood by Caroline Graham.
The other reason for wanting to read more is that in the two books I have read there seems to be a metaplot that carries over from one book to the next. In addition to solving the case at hand, Chief Inspector Armand Gamashe has to watch his back because some of his colleagues are out to get him because of an earlier case.
In this book a group of people in Three Pines decide to hold a seance, and when it proves to be a bit of an anticlimax they decide to repeat the exercise in an abandoned house that is believed to be haunted. One of the members dies during the seance, apparently of fright, though it in the post mortem examination there are indications that it could be murder.
One of the interesting things about the book is that, like the novels of Phil Rickman there are hints of supernatural forces at work. Rickman started off writing horror stories that gradually moved towards becoming whodunits. Louise Penny's novels seem to have the same mix.
That's enough for now -- I'll need to read more to see where the series is going.
This is the first detective story I've read for a long time that seems to be a true whodunit, inviting the reader to interpret the available clues, anThis is the first detective story I've read for a long time that seems to be a true whodunit, inviting the reader to interpret the available clues, and try to solve the mystery. Most of the others these days withhold such clues from the reader, perhaps to resist spoilers, and the detective protagonist trots out the solution at the end, revealing for the first time the clues that enabled him to solve the case. Perhaps that's because most of the crime fiction publishjed nowadays are police procedurals or psychological examinations of the criminal mind -- the whydunits.
In any case, I managed to work out the identity of the perpetrators about halfway through, because the clues were available.
Of course crime fiction is not true life crime. The author can go around scattering clues for the detectives (and the readers) to pick up, but in real life criminals rarely do that.
Dead cold is the second of a series of books featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, We actually bought the sixth one (Bury your dead) on a sale, and discovered references to earlier books featuring some of the same characters, and tried to get the first one, but it was not available, so I've started reading the series with the second book.
Chief Inspector Gamache is dealing with two murders -- one of a homeless woman in Montreal, and the other of an interior designer in the village of Three Pines, 100 km away. The first case is not really his, but one that he is giving a second opinion on, by an informal arrangement with a friend in the Montreal police. One of the biggest difficulties is to find the identity of the victims.
A minor mystery is that [Book:Dead cold] was originally published under the title of [Book:A fatal grace], and one wonders why the title was changed. The most notorious example of this was the change of [Book:Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone] to [Book:Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone], but it seems to be a confusing and unnecessary practice. Is it done for copyright re4asons, or just because publishers like to confuse readers, or perhaps dupe them into buying two copies of the same book, thinking that, becxause it has a different title, they haven't already read it? ...more
In many ways this is a novel for our time, a novel of our time. It's about the generation gap, which has become inverted for the generation that invenIn many ways this is a novel for our time, a novel of our time. It's about the generation gap, which has become inverted for the generation that invented (or provoked) the term "generation gap". That's my generation.
Marcus and Dora were part of a left-wing commune in the 1960s and 1970s and hoped that their children would grow up to share their ideals. Their daughter Clara is a teacher of rather prosaic subjects, but at least she is teaching working-class kids. Their mathematically-gifted son Serge, they believe, is working on a PhD in Cambridge, and seems set for a career of pure research, which will not prop up the blood-sucking capitalist system. What they do not know, and what he is too afraid to tell them, is that he has been head-hunted as a risk analyst by a firm of high-flying financiers, and is helping them to ride the rough seas of the financial crisis of 2008, and is what they would regard as immorally rich, and getting richer. His parents' values and his upbringing give him occasional twinges of conscience, but he manages to suppress them quite easily, for the most part. He is a bit more worried about getting caught.
The third child, Oolie-Anna, has Down's syndrome, and so lives at home, but her social worker keeps urging that she move out and become independent, because her aging parents will not be able to look after her for ever.
This one is also funny and sad, but the main characters are British, and there is only one Ukrainian, who is not a viewpoint character. The viewpoint moves mostly between Doro, the mother, and her two children Clara and Serge, with Marcus having his say much more rarely. There is thus no protagonist, or perhaps one could say no human protagonist, because the real protagonist is the new capitalism, and its effects on its devotees and its victims.
It is set in Britain, but the kind of values it represents are very much evident in South Africa today as well.
It took me a while to read this book, even though it is quite a short one, and all the action takes place in a single day. I suppose ideally one shoulIt took me a while to read this book, even though it is quite a short one, and all the action takes place in a single day. I suppose ideally one should read it in one day too.
It is a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a London housewife who is preparing for a party. The story switches from one viewpoint to another, not only her own, but those of people around her: servants, an old friend, her daughter, a suicidal shell-shocked soldier and others. It is set in the 1920s, and so scenes from Downton Abbey come to mind.
I could not help but be struck by the contrast between Mrs Dalloway and The Greater Trumps. Both are set in a similar period, between the World Wars of the first half of the 20th century. But in Mrs Dalloway I was much more conscious of the setting in a specific time and place -- London of the 1920s. I lived in London for a few months in the 1960s, but the London of 40-45 years earlier was very different, just as it is very different today from the 1960s. Some things may have been the same -- the sea of bowler-hatted businessmen crossing London Bridge each morning and afternoon may well have been similar in the 1920s and 1960s, but now they belong to a vanished past. But in Westminster, where Mrs Dalloway is set, the fashions were very different in the 1960s, and are probably different from both today.
In The Greater Trumps, by contrast, though the action moves from a London suburb to the country, the time and place are less important. One could film it today, in present-day clothes, and it would make little difference to the characters or plot. The setting is important, in the sense that it is an isolated country house, and there is a snow stom, but characters and plot take precedence over time and specific place.
So this is not really a review of Mrs Dalloway, but the Good Reads review prompt asks "What did you think?" and that's what I thought.
My younger son is a great fan of Terry Pratchett, so I bought this book as a birthday present for him, and when he finished he passed it back to me toMy younger son is a great fan of Terry Pratchett, so I bought this book as a birthday present for him, and when he finished he passed it back to me to read. Terry Pratchett is not my cup of tea, and the only one of his Discworld books I've tried to read I never managedf to finish. But I have enjoyed books by Neil Gaiman, and I quite enjoyed this one.
It's about an angel and a demon, Aziraphale and Crowley, who are charged by their respective principals with some of the preparations for the battle of Armageddon, but make some serious errors, which they then together attempt to cover up.
The Antichrist, who was meant to be brought up by an American diplomat, and presumably to grow up in a position to be able to influence the statesment of the world, is instead entrusted to an accountant and his wife in a small English country town. Aziraphale and Crowley are desperate to get him to fulfil his destiny, but his middle-class upbringing and healthy country living seem to thwart them at every turn. In fact his life as a schoolboy with his friends seem to resemble that of Richmal Crompton's William Brown. In fact one possible alternative title for the book was William the Antichrist.
Rosenblad's book is very similar, but it is set in a period 30 years later. He too was a partner of A.W. Eriksson, and covered much the same ground as Een did.
The main difference is that in Een's time the country was divided into a number of small states that were sometimes at war with each other. In Rosenblad's time, it was the German colony of South West Africa. It is interesting, therefore, to read descriptions of the same country by two writers a generation apart.
Quite a lot of the difference in the writing reflects the New Imperialism that swept the world in the 1880s, and led to the Scramble for Africa by the European powers. Germany was a bit late in the Scramble, and got a largely desert country. One of the effects of the New Imperialism was that it gave Europeans in Africa an enormous sense of their own superiority to the native Africans, and of the importance of showing the natives that the white man was the Boss. Even though Sweden was not an imperial power, Rosenblad's writing reflects this sense of European superiority.
Een was aware of cultural differences, and often compared local cultures unfavourably with his own Swedish culture, but he described them in some detail, and assumed that his readers would be interested in these descriptions. Rosenblad tends to dismiss them as not worth describing, except when he is making a point about the superiority of his own culture. He quite often describes the way of disciplining his own employees, with a sjambok, and giving them a beating. He does not entirely lack compassion, however, and expresses pity for a tribe that resisted German rule and were taken as prisoners of war, but it is pity from a position of superiority, as one might pity an ill-treated animal.
Both Een and Rosenblad admired A.W. Eriksson, and recognised him as a remarkably kind and generous man. But when Een was there, Eriksson was a young man, who had started as an assistant to the Anglo-Swedish trader and explorer C.J. Andersson. Thirty years later he was older and more experienced, and clearly had a good reputation with just about everyone.
Rosenblad's book is less satisfactory than Een's in other ways too. Not only does he give less details about the different cultures, but also about the individuals he met. Een gives character sketches of people, and describes something of their lives. Rosenblad often does not even mention their names.
At one point he describes how two German soldiers at Heigamkab discoverered a portmanteau with clothes, books and letters in the Namib desert. The papers revealed that the owner was a Damara (Herero), who had gone to the Cape Colony and studied at a mission institution. He had apparently returned by sea, and decided to walk across the desert rather than waiting for wheeled transport, and then got lost. This supposition was verified when Rosenblad's party reached the Cape, and he writes,
He had probably lost his way in the darkness and fog. He must have drifted around for some days, suffering all the agonies of hunger and thirst, and then must have lain down to rest expecting the end. So much time had already elapsed when the soldiers found the portmanteau, that it was no use starting a search. Perhaps one day his skeleton will emerge from the treacherous drift-sand and grin at the passerby, but then the memory of this event will already have faded long ago.
But it might not have faded quite so much if Rosenblad (or his editor) had bothered to record his name.
The translators of the book, Jalmar and Ione Rudner, have gone to some trouble to give more information about people who are named in the text, but there is obviously nothing they can do if the names are not mentioned.
One of the reasons we read the book was because of our interest in family history, but apart from A.W. Eriksson himself (a relative by marriage), the lack of names makes the book of little use in that respect. It consists, for the most part, of hunters' and travellers' tales, such as are told by hunters around campfires in the evenings. That was their entertainment before satellite TV appeared, but for us the lack of historical detail made them less interesting.
Since Namibia became independent in 1990 there has been increased interest in its history, including its pre-colonial history. The problem is that theSince Namibia became independent in 1990 there has been increased interest in its history, including its pre-colonial history. The problem is that there are few written sources for that period, and even fewer published ones, and many of those that were published (mostly in the 19th century) have long been out of print.
Captain T.G. Een spent some time in Damaraland (Hereroland) and Ovamboland between 1866 and 1871, and when he returned to his native Sweden published an account of his experiences in 1872. The archives of Namibia have been published some of their manuscriupt holdings, such as letters and diaries of European missionaries and traders who were in Namibia at that period. But diaries are personal documents, and tend to be quite sketchy.
Thanks to a grant from the Swedish Agency for Research Co-operation for Underdeveloped Countries, Eens books has now been translated into English by Jalmar and Ioene Rudner, and published with a new introduction and annotations by the Namibia Scientific Society.
Unlike a diarist, or even most letter writers, Een is writing for readers who have never seen the country he describes, and so he gives a vivid word picture of the places he visited and the people he met. In some ways the descriptions are superficial. Een was a sailor, not a trained anthropologist (actually there were no trained anthropologists in that period). He describes the everyday life and customs of the Herero and Ovambo people as he observed them, but he did not speak the languages of those peoples well, and communicated through interpreters who used Dutch, which Een did not speak well himself. So while he describes external customs, his interpretation of their inner meaning tends to be skimpy and shallow. One of his complaints was that the German missionaries, who had studied the languages, kept their knowledge to themselves, and were unwilling to share it with others who wanted to know the people of the country better.
He gives some interesting details of relations between different groups of people. When he first arrived in 1866 with C.J. Andersson, the Anglo-Swedish explorer and trader, they were based at Otjimbingwe on the Swakop River, which was then the capital of Damaraland (Hereroland). There were then at least four distinct groups of Herero-speaking people -- the followers of Maharero, the followers of Zeraua, the Himba of the Kaokoveld to the northwest, and the Mbanderu of the east. Maharero and Zeraua and their retinues lived at Otjimbingwe, and they were occasionally invited to dinner by Andersson, but never at the same time. When Zeraua came to dinner, he sat at the table. But when Maharero came to dinner, he sat on a chair by the door, away from the table, because of his bad table manners. But Andersson did not want them to know of this different treatment.
When I lived in Namibia over 40 years ago one of the things I wondered about was how traders back in the 19th century managed to travel with their ox wagons through the waterless Namib desert. A few miles outside Luderitz there was a railway halt called Grasplatz, because they used to store grass for the oxen there, for the next stage of the journey. The diarists described "wagon trains" going from Otjimbingwe to Walvis Bay and returning, but they don't describe how they did it. But Een does describe it, in some detail. And that is the kind of thing that makes his book interesting.
Of course, like a diary, it is still a personal book. He praises the Damaras (Hereros) at some points, but criticises them at others. He thinks they are lazy, ungrateful scroungers, and makes no bones about it, and gives several examples. But he also writes of several that he regards as friends. When I was in Namibia a century later, I had several Herero friends, but none fitted that description. I did know one or two scroungers, but other Hereros thought they were weird too. But perhaps a hundred years of history can make a big difference, to all parties.
So we have Een's view of people of other cultures, but his description of them for the benefit of Swedes also tells us something about 19th-century Swedish culture and values. One of the interesting sidelights was that, according to the translators' notes, there were 137 white people in Damaraland at that time (though the number can't have been constant, they were always coming and going). They were of various different national origins, but the missionaries were all Germans of the Rhenish missionary society. Een describes the differing responses to the news that the Germans had won the Franco-Prussian War.
All whites who were not of German nationality wished the French army to be victorious, and we awaited news from the front with intense interest. When the victories of the German forces became known, in their usual manner of course, started bragging and blustering and behaving arrogantly. Of course these wonderful victories with all their bloody deeds, which have taken the European civilization a big step backward, had to be observed and celebrated with German thoroughness here in the wilderness also. To begin with, Mr Hahn, the High Priest of the missionaries, took down the mission flag, a red cross on a white background, and raised the flag of the North German Federation instead. The holy sign of the cross had to be replaced by that of 'das grosse Vaterland'. The common symbol of peace of the Celestial Empire for all peoples had to give way to the German nation's flag of victory. That was not enough. The black Christian brethren must not be left ignorant and unstirred by the victories of the Germans... The Negro boys (presumably from the mission school) were surely less interested in their German brethren's victories than in the slaughtered ox with which they were treated to mark the occasion... All we white men were upset by this deed which we found improper in a neutral country, and especially coming from men of the cloth who should preach peace or at least avoid open approval of war, which they otherwise condemned in their preaching to the natives...
Een responded to this by raising a Swedish flag over his house at Omaruru, and went on to say,
In order to counteract all influences of the German flag still further, I made another flag of my own design, a large white star on a blue background. I hoisted this flag and tried to explain to Old Wilhelm (Chief Zeraua) that it was the flag of the Damara people, the symbol of their unity and harmony about which they should gather in times of danger to defend their country.
It little details like these that make Een's book an interesting read, and help to bring the past to life.
It was also interesting to me because Een was a friend of Fred and Kate Green, my wife's great great grandparents, and throws some interesting light on the family history. I'll deal with that in an expanded version of this review on our family history blog. ...more
Axel Wilhelm Eriksson (1846-1901) was a nineteenth-century Swedish hunter and trader in south-west Africa, and this "life and letters" book gives a piAxel Wilhelm Eriksson (1846-1901) was a nineteenth-century Swedish hunter and trader in south-west Africa, and this "life and letters" book gives a picture of his life, and what life was like for others there at that time.
All agree that everyone who knew him liked A.W. Eriksson, and he was well-known and widely-respected in what are now Namibia and Angola. That did not stop them from abusing his hospitality, taking advantage of his kind and generous nature, and cheating him on every possible occasion.
It took me nearly three months to read this book, mainly because I interrupted it by reading some of the sources on which it was based.
Axel Wilhelm was born in Vänersborg, Sweden (then spelt Wenersborg) on 24 August 1846, and in 1865, at the age of 18, he travelled to Damaraland (Hereroland), now part of Namibia to help his fellow-Swede, Charles John Andersson, to collect and mount specimens of the animals and birds of southern Africa for Swedish museums. Within 18 months of Eriksson's arrival Andersson had died and Eriksson buried him in what is now southern Angola.
Eriksson then carried on hunting and trading on his own account, and became the biggest businessman in Damaraland, though he had to face setbacks caused by wars, droughts and, in 1897, the Rinderpest, the cattle plague that killed off most of the cattle in sub-Saharan Aftica.
My interest in him is twofold: having lived in Namibia for a couple of years I am interested in its history, and Axel Wilhelm Eriksson married a relative of my wife, Frances (Fanny) Stewardson, so their children are related. You can see more about that on our blig here: Elusive Namibian families.
The marriage was not a happy one, and ended i n divorce ten years later, when Axel Eriksson found that Fanny had committed adultery with his clerk, Clement Stephen Stonier. In one of his letters he described his marriage as "ten years of hell". After the divorce, in 1883, he took his three oldest children, Sara (nearly 10), Andrew (6) and Axel (nearly 5) to Sweden to go to school there, and to be cared for by his elder sister Mathilda Olsen, who had herself been deserted by her husband. The youngest daughter, Maud, was brought up by cousins in Cape Town, where she married James Kirby, and later lived in England.
Axel Wilhelm Eriksson was joined in Damaraland by several of his brothers and a number of other Swedes, some of whom also became related by marriage by marrying into the Stewardson family, namely Oskar Theodore Lindholm and Charles Reinhold Carlsson. ...more
This is a spy novel, but not the usual spy novel. There was a glut of spy novels during the Cold War, from about 1960-1990, so that one almost came toThis is a spy novel, but not the usual spy novel. There was a glut of spy novels during the Cold War, from about 1960-1990, so that one almost came to think of the genre as belonging specifically to that period. But this one is set 20 years earlier, in 1940, just after the end of the Spanish Civil War, so it also belongs to the genre of historical novels.
It has been also described in the blurb as a thriller and a love story, and I suppose that it is those too, though I didn't find it a page turner. I took quite a long time reading it, one or two chapters at a time, because each chapter gave me something to think about.
Harry Brett is a British soldier who was invalided out of the army after the retreat from Dunkirk, but he still wants to do his bit for the war effort, and is recruited by the intelligence services as a spy. He is a rather reluctant spy, however, especially when he discovers that he was recruited mainly to spy on a former schoolfellow, Sandy Forsyth, who is now a businessman in Spain.
He goes to the British embassy in Spain, ostensibly as a translator, but actually to find out what his old schoolmaate is up to. Harry had been in Spain before, where another school friend, Bernie Piper, was missing, believed killed, serving in the International Brigade on the Republican side in the civil war. Just before he went missing, Bernie Piper had had a love affair with a British Red Cross nurse, Barbara Clare, who had asked Harry's help to look for him. But when Harry returns, Barbara was living with Sandy Forsyth, astensibly as his wife, though they were not legally married.
As a historical novel it is very well researched, and I think it does give an authentic flavour of post-war (civil war, that is) Spain, and the early years of the Franco regime. The British are anxious to keep Spain neutral, and are concerned that Sandy Forsyth's business deals, rumolured to involve a gold mine, might make Spain's economic survival less dependent on British goodwill. But the German and Italian ambassadors are obviously more favoured by Franco's government, especially since they had helped the Nationalists to win the civil war.
Detective Superintendent Roy Grace of the Sussex Police has a lot on his plate: a murder case with a limbless headless corpse. How can the search forDetective Superintendent Roy Grace of the Sussex Police has a lot on his plate: a murder case with a limbless headless corpse. How can the search for the killer if they don't know who the victim is? And then a film crew want to use the Brighton Pavilion for a new film on King George IV and his mistress, and Roy Grace is put in charge of security for the film set and the star Gaia Lafayette, whose temperamental fans can turn adoration to detestation in an instant, and has already received several threats to her life. There are others too, with grudges against the producers of the film, who are planning to disrupt it. Some of the threats are known, but some are unknown to anyone other than the plotters.
Peter James has written several whodunits featuring Roy Grace, and I think this is one of the best. As with many such books it is not easy to say much about it without giving away too much of the plot. But this one is definitely a good read for lovers of murder mysteries.
Are there flaws?
Yes, it is difficult to write a book that has none. But in this book the most obvious flaw does not affect the plot and is peripheral to the story, though it could quite easily not have been. And that is that I can't imagine any circumstances in which one would take a newborn baby home from the hospital in a car seat. ...more
According to the blurb, it seemed that this was a whodunit, with Scotland Yard Detective Frederick Troy as protagonist. But in the first hundred or soAccording to the blurb, it seemed that this was a whodunit, with Scotland Yard Detective Frederick Troy as protagonist. But in the first hundred or so pages he had only made one very brief appearance. It also seemed to be a rather highbrow intellectual whodunit, aiming to be more a work of literature than a light read.
It is set in the pre-war Vienna of the 1930s, in the world of music and the arts, a young girl learning to play the cello in the shadow of the growing threat from Nazi Germany. There are a couple of shifts of scene to a British internment camp for enemy aliens at the beginning of the Second World War.
When the detective finally appears on the scene, he is a bit of a puzzle. There is clearly a backstory to this, and it turns out that Lily of the field is only the first of a series of novels with Inspector Troy as the main character. And, like many British fictional detectives, he has an unusual characteristic that distinguishes him from most of his colleagues. Like Inspector Morse, he is a Musical Policeman, and this enables him to solve a mystery that baffles his colleagues.
But it seems that it would probably be better to begin with one of the earlier novels in the series, as one learns who Inspector Troy is through allusions to them, which are not completely clear if you haven't read the other books.
The book is set in the 1930s and the 1940s, and the author, John Lawton, seems to have been quite careful to avoid or explain anachronisms in the settings. There are a few, which I would never have noticed, yet he includes some rather interesting notes on them.
Unfortunately he does not seem to have been quite so careful about anachronisms in language, and he uses some expressions and turns of phrase that would not have been used in the 1940s. I spotted two on one page that I am fairly certain were anachonisms, and a couple more that may have been. On page 215 of my edition, it is said of someone that he "went ballistic". "Ballistic" was a technical term used by military gunnery specialists, police forensic scientists and rocket scientists, but probably only entered the consciousness of the general public in 1957, with the launch of Sputnik I. The most significant thing about Sputnik I, the media told us, was that it showed that the USSR could launch an ICBM -- an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. And I'm sure it took a few more years before the term "went ballistic" was applied metaphorically to human beings.
The second such anachronism is where someone is described as "a scrounger living low on the food chain". Again, while the food chain may have been a concept familiar to biologists, I don't think that the general public became aware of it before environmental concerns came to the forefront in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and people began writing books with titles like Diet for a small planet.
Another possible anachronism, on the same page, is where someone speaks of "blows coppers away". That one I'm not sure of, but I don't think people would have used such an expression in the 1940s.
Lawton goes to some trouble to set the scene of the dreariness of postwar Britain, to remind readers who weren't around then about things like rationing, almost making too much of it, but then spoils it somewhat by using language that seems out of place.
In spite of that, it's still a good read, though the beginning promises more than the author actually delivers, and there are some poor patches, especially in the second part. But it whetted my appetite for more, and I'll look for the first of the series to see if I can find out who Inspector Troy is, really. ...more
Thirty years ago, when our children were small, we subscribed to the Puffin Book Club, and every month a new book arrived, and was put on the shelves.Thirty years ago, when our children were small, we subscribed to the Puffin Book Club, and every month a new book arrived, and was put on the shelves. I don't know how many of them the children read, but the other day, looking for some light reading, and not having seen anything I hadn't read on our general fiction shelves, I looked on the old children's books' shelf, and found this.
It's a very ordinary story about some school children in a village in the south of England. In the Christmas holidays they get bored, and go exploring the neighbourhood, in the course of which they encounter a reclusive woman who lives alone with her cat. When the Lent term starts at school they get involved in preparing for a play.
The children are of indeterminate ages, though as the youngest is 11, I assume that most of the others are somewhere in the age range of 11-14.
I think it is the kind of book I would have hated as a child.
The problem is that it is so ordinary. It describes things that children do, like climbing up drains and acting in school plays, and being jealous over who gets the best parts and so on.
It was published 40 years ago, and so describes a vanished generation. There is only one mention of a computer in the whole story, and no one would have had one at home. And the play they produce is an Easter play, and the children seem to be familiar with the plot. Even back then, that might have been quite unusual (though the girls were at a church school, run by nuns). I recall a Church of England bishop of about that period describing how he took his nephew and niece to see Jesus Christ, Superstar, and being somewhat disconcerted to find that they didn't know the plot.
But in spite of its ordinariness, I found the story quite moving in a way. I wouldn't buy it for a child to read, though. I'd be afraid that they would have been as horribly bored as I would have been....more
A couple of weeks ago I wrote in a blog post Gunning for the Dixons about some of the problems of locating the Dixon family in what is now Namibia.
WeA couple of weeks ago I wrote in a blog post Gunning for the Dixons about some of the problems of locating the Dixon family in what is now Namibia.
We were interested because some members of my wife's family had married into a Dixon family (as described in the blog post in the link above) and they also appeared to be business partners of the Dixon family, but most of the records we had found were confusing and it was possible that there was more than one Dixon family. We made contact with the author of this book, but weren't able to get hold of a copy because of a postal strike. Now at last we have a copy, and things become a little bit clearer.
This book deals with only one of the families, and makes no mention at all of the other, but that at least helps us to say that people who can be identified as members of this family are very unlikely to be members of the other.
Both Dixon families were probably Irish in origin, however.
The two Dixon families are:
1. Benjamin Dixon and Lodivia Manifold (the subjects of this book) 2. Peter Daniel Dixon and Whilhelmina Hendriks
I will refer to them as the "Ben Dixon" and "Peter Dixon" families.
Ben Dixon became a business partner of James Morris, and their two families set out for Namibia in 1843, travelling overland by ox waggon. They were Wesleyan Methodists and travelled part of the way with some Wesleyan missionaries, and stayed at mission stations on the way. They crossed the Orange (Gariep) river on Christmas day 1843, and reached Walvis Bay in about June 1844. This is all described in detail in the book, seen through the eyes of the Dixons' eldest daughter Jane, who was 13 years old when they left, and had her 14th birthday on the journey.
The Dixon and Morris families built two houses and a store on the Kuiseb River, at a place they named Sandfontein, about three miles from the present town of Walvis Bay, and began trading for cattle, which they exported to St Helena to provide meat for the British garrison there. In September 1844 Mary Morris gave birth to a daughter at Sandfontein (she was named Sarah Ann Kuisip, because she was born on the Kuiseb River, though that is not mentioned in the book).
They kept a couple of lion cubs as pets, and various sailors from ships in Walvis Bay harbour wanted to buy them, and when they would not sell, tried to steal them. Walvis Bay harbour was amazingly busy in those days, mainly with ships collecting guano from the offshore islands, and sometimes there were 10 or 12 of them in the bay at the same time, come to re-stock with stores before going back to collect more guano.
For a while the business prospered, and then things went bad. Fewer guano ships arrived, and many of the people inland who traded cattle for goods did not pay for the goods, and so Ben Dixon and James Morris had so go on debt collecting tours. The debtors, however, sometimes decided that they easiest way to pay their debts was simply to steal the cattle from someone else, or even from those to whom they were owed. One group bought a waggon for a number of cattle, and then took the cattle back to haul the waggon home. Complaints to the British government about this led to the St Helena contract being cancelled.
James Morris took a large herd of cattle overland to Cape Town, to try to sell them there, and returned by sea with his sister Fanny and her husband Frank Stewardson, and their two children. Fanny and Frank Stewardson were my wife Val's great-great-great grandparents, so snippets like that were of special interest to us.
So one thing that we learned from the book was that while that Ben Dixon and the Morris and Stewardson families were in a business partnership together, they did not intermarry.
Eventually Ben Dixon returned to the Cape Colony, but instead of going back to Cape Town he settled in Little Namaqualand, on a farm near the town of Garies. Their eldest daughter Jane married William Latham, and remained in what is now Namibia until her husband's death, then went to stay with her parents. The second daughter, Rebecca, married Frank Bassingthwaighte, and their family remained in Namibia, and some of their descendants are still there today. The younger members farmed in the Northern Cape, and so the Ben Dixon family is mainly associated with Namaqualand, as the book's title suggests.
The Peter Dixon family seems to be entirely different, though also perhaps originally from Ireland.
Peter Daniel Dixon was the son of McCombe Donald Dixon and Maria Sprewt. He was born in the Cape Colony about 1821, and married Wilhelmina Hendriks, by whom he had at least 7 children. He was trading in Walvis Bay in the early 1860s, and his daughter married Fred Green, the elephant hunter, but died in about 1860, and they seem to have had no children. Fred Green then married Sarah Kaipukire, and after a separation or divorce, married Catherine Stewardson, the daughter of Frank and Fanny Stewardson mentioned above. So Fred Green was married into the Peter Dixon family, but was also friendly with the Ben Dixon family.
Peter Dixon married a second time to Annie Cloete, probably in Damaraland, but if they had any children, we know nothing of them.
Though it appears that we are not related to the Ben Dixon family either by descent or marriage, the book was nevertheless a fascinating and informative read, and gives a good insight into life 150 years ago.