A no brainstrain whodunit for bedtime reading. For the first two-thirds of the book I thought it was going to be one of Tess Gerritsen's better novelsA no brainstrain whodunit for bedtime reading. For the first two-thirds of the book I thought it was going to be one of Tess Gerritsen's better novels, but then she ratcheted up the melodrama, but just missed jumping the shark....more
The centenary of the First World War seems to be inspiring quite a number of novels about that conflict and the effects it had on people. In this caseThe centenary of the First World War seems to be inspiring quite a number of novels about that conflict and the effects it had on people. In this case it is three upper-middle class families living in Eltham, near London, whose children were quite close friends in childhood.
Since no one now living and writing really has much memory of that period, most of the recent crop must be classed as historical novels, and the authors are imagining what it must have been like. When I was at school, about 60 years ago, I read a similar novel, I think the title was The flowers of the forest -- I can't remember the author's name. The abiding impression it made on me was the number of young women whose boyfriends and husbands were killed, though many of them succumbed to the influenza epidemic that followed the war.
This book has the same theme, and shows how families coped with such losses, or failed to do so. What I liked about this one was the characters and their interactions, sometimes witty, sometimes cruel. They are all different, and respond in different ways to what happens to them.
The edition I read was a proof edition, and so it still had some rough edges, and they may have been corrected in the final published version. There were anachronisms of language -- people being "devastated" and "bonkers" about their losses, for example. Perhaps a proofreader caught those. And the RFC pilot who as a child ran around roaring like an aeroplane in 1902, when the first powered flight was only in the following year. There were also some inconsistencies in the ages of the characters, which, again, I hope were picked up by the proofreaders.
Some things were very true to the period -- the way many people visited spiritualist mediums, for example. The one in the book is a minor character, but nevertheless an interesting one.
A good read ... I wasn't sure whether to give it 3 or 4 stars, but in the end gave it three. .
I didn't like this book. I really didn't like this book. But I couldn't stop reading it.
I read the first chapter, and thought "this is not my cup ofI didn't like this book. I really didn't like this book. But I couldn't stop reading it.
I read the first chapter, and thought "this is not my cup of tea". I read another chapter, and thought I can dtop reading it at any time. I don't have to plough my way through it. But I read another chapter anyway.
I don't like this book. I don't like the characters, or the clothes they wear. They are the wrong generation, my parents generation. But still I read. Why? It's 1960, the election campaign in which Kennedy was elected, the first American election I can really remember. I remember wishing that Kennedy would win, because Kennedy was a Roman Catholic and back then I was a High Church Anglican, and High Church Anglicans were second-class Catholics. Kennedy would bring morality and Christian values to American politics, world politics, or so I thought. The Cuban missile crisis put me right on that score. American hypocrisy, and the thought that Krushchev had saved the world from a nuclear holocaust.
1960 was also the year I first heard the name of Jack Kerouac, the year I read The Dharma bums. Jack Kerouac is the same generation as these people, but what a world of difference.
But still I read it, until I eventually reached the end. I think it is well written, but it recalled to me people of my parents' generation, with their business suits and ties and hats and women with hats and gloves and lipstick and high-heeled shoes and well-stocked drinks cabinets. When people visited you had, at the very least, to offer them a choice of brandy, whisky, beer and gin. People of that class did not offer skokiaan and Barberton.
And Faulks describes it all, in excuciating detail -- the clink of ice in glasses, the martinis, the clothes, and all the rest.
No, it is not my kind of book, and these are not my kind of people.
Faulks is even self-mocking, having characters rather disparagingly referring to novels about suburban adultery, like Peyton Place, in the middle of his own novel about suburban adultery.
What can you say about a book about an undertaker who moonlights as a guitarist in a bar? That it's a surprisingly enjoyable read, that's what.
We picWhat can you say about a book about an undertaker who moonlights as a guitarist in a bar? That it's a surprisingly enjoyable read, that's what.
We picked it up secondhand in Hermanus, when we were beginning to run out of the books we had taken on holiday and then left at most of the places we stayed, releading them into the wild on BookCrossin. The copy we bought was even autographed by the author, and was itself a BooCrossing book of sorts, as it had a list in the back of people who had read it, and what they thought of it -- three gave it 1, and could not get into it, not liking reading about coffins. Two found it an enjoyable read, and said it wasn't all about coffins. They gave it a 3+
It is set in Kalk Bay on the Cape Peninsula, and we had passed through there a couple of times in the week before we bought it, so the setting was fresh in our minds.
But it is also well written, and the characters stand out, even though seen almost entirely through the eyes of the protagonist. It's also got a little bit of everything, sadness and happiness, joy and sorrow, romance, intrigue, humour. It is difficult to think of other books to compare it with, the onl;y one that comes to mind is [nook:Harold and Maud].
There are a couple of jarring notes, little details that don't ring true, like referring to the Beatles as coming from Manchester, but generally the plot is believable.
I don't know how easy it would be to get a copy now -- this is the only one I've ever seen for sale -- but if you do see one, buy it. It's worth reading. ...more
I've read several books by Martin Cruz Smith, all whodunits featuring detective Arkady Renko, mostly set in Moscow in the late 20th or early 21st centI've read several books by Martin Cruz Smith, all whodunits featuring detective Arkady Renko, mostly set in Moscow in the late 20th or early 21st century. This one is different, as it is set in 19th-century England, in Lancashire, in the mining town of Wigan, to be precise.
Some of the Renko books felt a bit surreal to me, but no more so than Bulgakov's The master and Margarita, but this one felt a bit more jarring. I've been to Moscow, and I've never been to Wigan, but somehow the Wigan setting seemed less authentic than the Moscow ones, not so much the place itself, as the people in it. The story was interesting enough, and made me want to read on to see what happened, but it somehow felt inauthentic, as if it was set in some alternative universe, like Philip Pullman's His dark materials.
The descriptions of coal mining were authentic, but it was the events and conversations on the surface that seemed out of place. A coal miner in Lancashire in 1872 likening something to a volcano? How many of them would have seen a volcano, or even a picture of one?
A zealous Evangelical clergyman speaking of Low Mass, or any kind of "Mass" at all? Such a thing would have been anathema to any Church of England Evangelical in that period. It's a bit like Pullman's use of terms like "Magisterium", which clearly means something different in an alternative universe.
One is left wondering whether the surrealism is intended or not. The protagonist too is a bit surreal, an Indiana Jones-like character, but some of the other things in the book give the impression that it is intended to be a historical novel, authentic in time and place. It feels like 20th-century characters transported into a 19th-centry setting.
This book was billed as a Sophie's world of spirituality, when we bought it so long ago that I could not rememvber. That's probably why we bought it,This book was billed as a Sophie's world of spirituality, when we bought it so long ago that I could not rememvber. That's probably why we bought it, because we had enjoyed reading [booK:Sophie's world] and thought we might enjoy this one, but I never got round to reading it.
Then with a cleanout and rearrangement of our bookshelves it came to light again, and I thought perhaps I'd better have another go at reading it.
The first chapter reminded me of why I had never got any further on the first attempt. Theo is a child. How old? About 6 or 7, I think. Later it turns out that he is 14. Describing a teenager as if he were a much younger child makes the character of the protagonist seem a bit shaky for a start. But this time I gritted my teeth and ploughed on. Theo does mature somewhat as the story progresses, but the first impression is off-putting.
Theo has a mysterious illness and though no one knows what it is, the prognosis is not good, so his rich (very rich) aunt decides to take him on a world tour, as a last fling before he dies, or a special treat in case he lives. But it's not your average world tour, it's a tour of different religions.
So it turns out to be a rather didactic book, teaching about different religions, and trying to sugar-coat the pill by wrapping it in a very thin and threadbare plot. Because the story needs to follow the syllabus, the plot line often seems very contrived.
It covers a fair variety of religions, and most of the way through it seems to lead one down the path of syncretism, showing how each religion incorporates elements of other religions, or has points of resemblance to other religions. This led me to expect that it would probably lead up to the most syncretistic religion of all, Baha'i, but somerwhat surprisingly it doesn't. I can't recall that Baha'i is even mentioned once.
It covers most other major religious traditions -- Judaism, Christianity, Islam (and returns in later chapters to deal with different aspects of them). It covers Indian religions, including Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. It deals with Tibetan and Japanese Buddhism, Shinto, Chinese religion (Taoism, Confuscianism and ancestor veneration), African traditional religion, Brazilian syncretism and even Mormons. But not Baha'i.
I couldn't help feeling that the treatment of some religions was rather distorted, with some trivial things included, and some important stuff left out.
Theo is half-Greek and so has an Orthodox grandmother (well, half-Orthodox, because she is syncretistic too, mixing Orthodoxy with faith in the Olympian gods). And the treatment of Orthodoxy is pretty skimpy, saying it is all about sorrow and suffering. There are detailed descriptions of rituals for some religions, at least three different rituals for the African traditional religions, but there is no comparable description of the rituals of Orthodox Christianity, not even a memorial service. All there is is a lot of guff about sorrow and suffering.
There seem to be similar gaps in the treatment of some of the other religions.
Sophie's world works better as a kind of fictionalised exploration of philosophy, but Theo's odyssey falls a bit flat. It doesn't really work as fiction, and it doesn't even succeed in its didactic purpose. When I was about the age of Theo in the book, I had a book called Faiths of many lands. It was a straightforward presentation, and I learnede more from it than I did from this book.
At the same age I also read a work of fiction that told me far more about some religions than this one -- Kim by Rudyard Kipling. It was aimed at promoting British Imperialism, but it had a better story line, and presented religions more interestingly too.
In May 1844 Frank Bassingthwaighte, a blacksmith turned sailor, was at St Helena Island when Thomas Lawton a trader from Walvis Bay came aboard his shIn May 1844 Frank Bassingthwaighte, a blacksmith turned sailor, was at St Helena Island when Thomas Lawton a trader from Walvis Bay came aboard his ship, and recruited him to work for him and and his partners, so he transferred to the Susan and went back to Walvis Bay with Lawton, whose partners, Ben Dixon and James Morris (erroneously referred to as Thomas Morris in the book), had a contract to supply meat to the British garrison on St Helena.
This book is the story of Frank Bassingthwaightte and his eldest son James, several of whose descendants still live in Namibia today.
Frank Bassingthwaighte married the boss's daughter -- Rebecca Dixon -- which did little to advance his career, since they lost the contract a few years later, and the partnership broke up. The Dixon family moved to the Northern Cape, where they had a farm, and the Bassingthwaightes also lived there for part of the time, and young James stayed with his grandparents until he was 9 years old, and then went back to Namibia to join his parents, and found himself kept busy working as a herdboy, wagon driver and various other jobs.
The Bassignthwaightes were sometimkes farmers, sometimes traders, and sometimes hunters, but their hard work did not make them rich, and they had long thirsty treks through the semi-desert country of the Northern Cape and Namibia with little to show for it except dead oxen and horses that had died of thirst.
Towards the end of his life Frank was infirm and could not do much, but he still travelled around with his son, apparently loving the wandering nomadic life.
James Bassingthwaighte married Philipina Von Schlicht -- according to her father she was marrying beneath her -- and they had several children. She died young, and James brought up his family as a single parent. The Germans took over Namibia, and the Bassingthwaightes lost the family farm at Neuheusis because they lived in such remote areas that they did not hear of the regulation requiring them to register it until it was too late.
In the First World War the South Africans invaded and took over from the Germans, and threatened to intern James Bassingthwaighte as an enemy alien. They asked his nationality and he replied, "I am the son of an Englishman, born in this country. During my life I have lived under the rule of Hottentots, Hereros and Germans. I don't know what I am, but perhaps you bcan tell me."
It's an interesting story of hard lives, well told.
A Polish couple is separated at the beginning of the Second World War, and reunited in Britain after the war is over. In the six years that they haveA Polish couple is separated at the beginning of the Second World War, and reunited in Britain after the war is over. In the six years that they have been apart their different experiences have made them different people. Then there is the child Aurek, who has only known the life of a fugitive, hiding in the forest. He has to adapt to living in a suburban house in a society where the language, is strange.
The story alternates between the present and the past, starting with their reunion, and going back to their former life, leading up to the present.
I picked this book up on a remainder sale, after reading the blurb I thought it looked interesting for the same reason that I found the The long road home the aftermath of the Second World War interesting. I'm interested in transitions, in between times, changes from war to peace, migrants, refugees, displaced persons, asylum seekers. How do such people make a transition from one life to another?
And so I bought it and brought it home to read it, and was surprosed at how good it was. When I read historical novels, I tend to look out for anachronisms, well, not actually to look for them, but when I spot them I find them jarring, and so I tend to be reading in nervous expectation. In this book I didn't spot any, or at least none that were jarring. It seemed remarkably authentic and true to life -- not that I've ever been to Poland, so I might not know anyway, but it didn't seem much different from novels by Polish novelists that I've read.
The characters and their reactions are believable, yet not predictable, and this unpredictability is what makes the novel seem so authentic. It is like the unpredictability of real life, when you never know what will happen next or how people will respond to it. ...more
A rather strange and quite enjoyable book, which I might have given a higher rating were it not for a few flaws. Some people facing almost certain cerA rather strange and quite enjoyable book, which I might have given a higher rating were it not for a few flaws. Some people facing almost certain certain death, usually in battle, have a mysterious ability to jump forward in time, and in their new time they are welcomed by the Guild, an organisation of time travellers that helps them to fit in to their new environment.
In some ways the book is reminiscent of The time traveler's wife, except that a lot more people are able to travel in time. The story is interesting and the plot is quite complex, but reaches a point where there seem to be too many coincidences. And then one starts expecting even more coincidences, and trying to guess what will happen next. One lesson that the Guild teaches new arrivals is that there is no return, either to the time or place that they came from, but then Nicholas Davenant, an English nobleman who disappeared in 1812, in a battle in the Napoleonic wars, and was translated to the early 21st century in the USA, is asked by the Guild to return to his own time and place, because of problens with another mysterious group called the Ofan.
The book raises all kinds of expectations about what is going to happen, and that there may be some explanation of some of the plot twists, but in the end the story ends rather abruptly, with all kinds of loose ends with no explanations at all.
But Bee Ridgway has promised a sequel, so maybe this is a cliff-hanger technique to get people to buy the next book....more
A rather slow-moving book that couldn't seem to make up its mind what genre it was. I read the blurb, and it seemed to be about a family history mysteA rather slow-moving book that couldn't seem to make up its mind what genre it was. I read the blurb, and it seemed to be about a family history mystery, and I enjoy reading such books, but the theme wasn't handled very well. Lucy Jarrett leaves her boyfriend in earthquake-ridden Japan and goes home to the Lake of Dreams in New York to visit her family. She discovers some old papers that suggest that she had some relations she had not known about, and sets out to discover more about them, and they seem to be connected with some stained-glass windows in an abandoned chapel.
So far, so good, except that the story moves painfully slowly, and we are not told much about the family history that he did know, so the startling revelations are less than astartling, and at times in seems to drop into stream-of-consciousness stuff like Virginia Woolf or James Joyce, with the same dream told three times over, and thoughts repeated again and again, so that in just about every chapter I wanted to say "Get on with the story, for crying in a bucket." Other authors seem to handle the stream-of-consciousness stuff quite well, but in this book it just gets boring,
Much of the earlier part is told in the form of letters of a mother written to her young daughter, whom she has had to leave in the care of relatives. The letters seem not to have been sent, and in any case, the daughter would have been too young to read them. They were also highly unconvincing. I can't imagine a mother writing to her pre-teen daughter in 1912 or 1913 about viruses and human interfaces.
This edition didn't have a cover illustration on Good Reads. That's OK, because the generic cover expresses what I felt about the book. ...more
**spoiler alert** I read this 20 years ago, and was disappointed.
It was the book equivalent of a remake of Dracula in an American setting, and not we**spoiler alert** I read this 20 years ago, and was disappointed.
It was the book equivalent of a remake of Dracula in an American setting, and not well done. Having read Dracula, this was entirely predictable. I've re-read Dracula several times, and enjoed it, but the first reading of this was not nearly as enjoyable as the fourth reading reading of Dracula...more
Jeffery, Susan and John Greyling go to stay with their grandparents, who are being forced to sell the family home, which has been in the family for geJeffery, Susan and John Greyling go to stay with their grandparents, who are being forced to sell the family home, which has been in the family for generations, because they can no longer afford to maintain it. The children discover a hidden map showing the whereabouts of the family treasure, hidden for many years, and if they can find the treasure, their grandparents will not have to sell the house. But there is already a potential buyer, Mr Potts, who is also after the treasure, and is determined to get the map from the children.
I can't remember when or where I first read the book, but I must have been about 9 or 10 years old, and it was a copy that belonged to someone elee, so I wasn't able to re-read it. Jeffery the eldest of the children, made a big impression on me -- so much so that when I wrote a children's novel of my own many years later (Of wheels and witches), I borrowed his name, and something of what I had imagined his character to be.
On rereading it as an adult, more than sixty years later, I am struck by different things. I can see why there was a period when librarians didn't like Enid Blyton. There are some things about her style that I found annoying as an adult, though as a child I didn't notice them. There is an over use of exclamation marks. The children are always telling each other how clever they are and exclaiming about the obvious. There is the usual Enid Blyton food porn. This gives the impression that Enid Blyton is writing down to children, and I was struck by the contrast with, say, the Harry Potter books, where the style is so much better.
But after the first couple of chapters either the style improves, or else one gets caught up in the story so that the defects are less noticiable. There are a few reminders of how society has changed since the book was first written, assumptions about gender roles, for example. The children discover an abandoned summer house, and when they decide to clean it up, "Susan took charge of the cleaning, because she was the girl." But at least her brothers helped her.
It's a simple story with a simple plot, but still an enjoyable read after all these years.
I've read lots of British and Swedish whodunits. I've read several whodunits set in the USA and Norway, and a few set in DenA South African whodunit.
I've read lots of British and Swedish whodunits. I've read several whodunits set in the USA and Norway, and a few set in Denmark, Greece and Turkey. But it doesn't seem to be a popular genre with South African writers. So I enjoyed this one, and not just because it was set in South Africa, but because it was a pretty good specimen of the genre.
The protagonist, Detective Sergeant (or is it Constable? she seems to get promoted without explanation in the first couple of chapters) Persy Jonas, seems like a fairly ordinary person -- not a poet, not an aristocrat, not alcoholic or going through a traumatic divorce, not a rogue cop perpetually on the verge of being fired for drunkenness, but brought back in the nick of time because no one else is such a brilliant detective. Persy (short for Persephone) Jonas is an ordinary person and an ordinary cop. It makes it more real, somehow.
Of course she has her problems; which cop, real or fictional, doesn't? She has problems at home -- domestic violence3 in the family. She has problems coming to terms with things in her past. It's just kind of refreshing that those problems don't include booze and/or divorce, or perpetual disciplinary problems with superiors related to insubordination.
And of course there are problems at work. There are problems of racism, sexism and corruption, rivalries and personality clashes. But they don't take over the story.
In addition, in many whodunits one gets the impression that murder is the only crim,e the police ever investigate, so the stories seem somehow unreal. In this book there is a murder investigation, but it is sandwiched in between burglary, theft, and looking for a lost dog, which the police ar also investigating. That makes it feel more convincing as a police procedural, somehow.
There are a few editorial slip-ups -- Persie's rank being one of them -- but they don't detract from the story, so I'll still give it five stars. I think Persie Jonas could become one of my favourite fictional detectives.
It's hard to know if I can say more than that without giving away the plot, if there is a plot. Or giving away what happens toThis is a strange book.
It's hard to know if I can say more than that without giving away the plot, if there is a plot. Or giving away what happens to the characters and what they do.
It is also a bit confusing because sometimes one does not know which character is speaking until one is halfway down the page, and then I have to go back to the top of the page and read it again with the other character in mind. But that's OK, because even the protagonist doesn't really know.
And also you sometimes don't know whether the events are taking place in the present or in the past. But that's OK too, because most of the time the protagonist doesn't seem to know that either.
Marnie and Jess Irving are twenty-something sisters whose father has disappeared. And in the neighbourhood where they live the cats are disappearing one by one. Marnie has a friend Shiuli and two other friends Dylan and Ruth. Sometimes they do things together but most times they dont.
It is about the ambiguities of friendship and love, about memory, love and revenge and the darkness that is within us.
I don't think I can say more than that without giving away the plot. If there is a plot. ...more
Lawrence G. Green's books follow a similar pattern, and there is a certain amount of repetition. He tells the same story in more than one book, sometiLawrence G. Green's books follow a similar pattern, and there is a certain amount of repetition. He tells the same story in more than one book, sometimes with more or less detail.
This one deals with the west coast of southern Africa, from the Cape to the Kunene, with anecdotes of out of the way places, and characters who played a minot role in history. As a journalist he collected notes on all sorts of topics, and every now and then he would work them up to a story with a connecting theme, and in this one the connecting theme is the places on the "Diamond Road" and the Skeleton Coast.
As I've already noted about his Thunder on the Blaauwberg not all of his tales are accurate. He is a raconteur, not a historian.
We have several of his books on our shelves, and the story of how this one came to be on our shelves is almost like one of his stories. It has been in our bookshelf ever since I can remember, and has the inscription, "To Frank Hayes, the most genuine of pals, from Tromp van Diggelen."
Frank Hayes was my father, and Tromp van Diggelen was my godfather, and it is just the kind of book he would give as a gift to a friend, because he loves such stories, and lived them himself. Like Lawrence George Green Tromp van Diggelen loved to go on journeys to out-of-the-way places, drawn by tales of lost cities and buried treasure. In his youth he was a wrestler, and later he was a physical fitness instructor, and my father, originally one of his pupils, became one of his friends.
I've been pulling the books off the shelves and rereading them for reasons related to family history. A researcher is trying to find out more about the life of Abraham Morris (1866-1922) the guerrilla fighter against the Germans in Namibia in 1906, and leader of the Bondelswarts Rebellion in 1922, in which he was killed.
Abraham Morris's mother was Annie Schyer of the Bondelswarts, and the story is that his father was a white trader named Morris. My wife Val's ancestry is part of the Morris family, who were traders in Namibia, so there is a possibility that Abraham Morris was related to us -- but how? There were two James Morrises, cousins, each with a brother William, who could possibly have been his father. So we search books like this looking for tiny clues that could place one or other of the Morrises in the right place at the right time to be Abraham's father.
This book mentions Abraham Morris only briefly, Thunder in the Blaaurberg gives more detail. But it has plenty of fascinting stories about various places and events.
One of the places of particular interest was the Leliefontein Methodist Mission Station, near Garies in the Northern Cape. It was a place where traders between Namibia and the Cape often called in the 19th century, and many people passed through there.
Other stories that interested me were those of the 1934 floods in Namibia, when the highest rainfall was recorded. It was the highest recorded up till then, and has never been exceeded since. When I lived in Windhoek 40 years ago there were still people around who remembered the floods of 40 years before, and there were signs in improbable places showing the levels that water in the rivers had reached then. Green tells several stories of the floods from people who actually experienced them. He also tells of odd characters and eccentrics, like the one who built a castle in the desert, and those who tried to climb lonely mountains, and, rather more sadly, those who kill baby seals for their fur.
Historical novels are not my favourite genre, as I tend to spend too much time looking for anachronisms, but C.J. Sansom seems to get around that. I fHistorical novels are not my favourite genre, as I tend to spend too much time looking for anachronisms, but C.J. Sansom seems to get around that. I first read his Winter in Madrid, set in the Spanish Civil War, and then [boo:Dominion], which is a kind of "what if" novel -- what if the UK had surrendered to Germany after the fall of France in 1940?
Dissolution is set in the period of the English Reformation in the 1530s, at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, and is a combination of historical novel and whodunit, a genre popularised by Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose.
In Dissolution Thomas Cromwell, who masterminded the English Reformation, sends a commissioner to the monastery of St Donatus at Scarnsea on the Sussex coast to arrange for its dissolution and surrender. The commissioner is murdered, so Cromwell sends another, Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer, to continue the work of the first one and also to investigate the murder.
I ought to know something about the English Reformation, but I don't know as much as I should. When I studied church history at St Chad's College, Durham, in the 1960s, it formed quite a large part of the syllabus, but it was not a period that particularly interested me. I was more interested in the missionary period, which, where historical novels are concerned, is covered by Melvyn Bragg's Credo. I suppose that's why I became a missiologist rather than a church historian.
Reading Dissolution reminded me of why I did not much like reading about that period of history, whether church or secular history. There is no doubt that the English Church wanted reforming, but the cure was worse than the disease, and C.J. Sansom brings this out clearly in his novel. None of the characters is particularly admirable. The protagonist, Matthew Shardlake, suffers from a physical deformity, which seems to reflect a spiritual deformity as well; he is naive and ambitious. He does have a sense of justice, but when push comes to shove, it makes way for ambition and political correctness every time.
One of the things I did know about Thomas Cromwell was that he ordered the clergy to keep registers of baptisms, marriages and burials, which I have found useful for family history, among other things, but most of what he did seems to have been bad, and motivated by greed and ambition. I have little reason to suppose that C.J. Sansom got his character very wrong. So the book gives something of the flavour of the times, even if the actual events it describes are fictitious.
But like much historical writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, it also carries "the burden of the present". George Orwell's Animal Farm is an allegory, a parable about how revolutions consume their own children. It is set in a differnt period, and uses different literary techniques, but the same message comes through. The dissolution in the title of the book is not merely about the dissolution of the monasteries as institutions, but the dissolution of the people whose lives are disrupted in the process, and the dissolution of the English Reformation into a cesspool of corruption and greed.
And so there is much in it that reminds me of the dissolution of South African democracy, twenty years after its inauguration, where the high ideals with which we began have dissolved into patronage, greed and corruption. Apartheid was South Africa's Lent, 1994 was its Easter, the following 7 years were its Bright Week, and now it is winding down.
The character in the book for whom I felt most sympathy was the exiled Carthusian, Jerome, who was regarded as mad and dangerous, but retained something of the original monastic ideals, and his integrity. ...more
I've been reading this book to mark the centenary of the beginning of the First World War.
The war could be said to have started a week earlier, on 28I've been reading this book to mark the centenary of the beginning of the First World War.
The war could be said to have started a week earlier, on 28 July 1914, with the Austria-Hungarian Empire's declaration of war on Serbia. Hostilities actually commenced on 29 July, with the Austrian shelling of Belgrade, but it was only on 4 August that German troops crossed the Belgian frontier, and only on 12 August that Austria actually invaded Serbia. German troops invaded neutral Luxembourg on 1 Agust, but the Luxembourg army did not resist, and German occupation was accepted under protest, but without fighting.
So 4 August 1914 was the day that rhetoric became reality, the start of the war that would be fought all over the world, and would last four years.
So this book, illustrated by the author, is a dramatic hour-by-hour account of the events of that day -- diplomatic, military and civilian.
The book was first published in 1970, a little over 50 years from the end of the war, and thus shortly after many of the restricted archival documents dealing with the war were released for public viewing. Thus the author can reveal not only Germany's public stand for peace and moderation with the deterioration of Austrian-Serbian relations following the assassination of the Archduke, but also that Germany secretly encouraged Austria to attack Serbia, in the belief that it would be a quick local war. When Russia began mobilising in support of Serbia, the Germans began to get cold feet, and urged restraint on Austria, but having been told that such peaceful utterances were for public consumption only, and were to be ignored, Austria went ahead anyway. German miliary planning required that France, Russia's ally, be attacked first, and the pathway to France lay through neutral Belgium, and so the fighting began, and brought Britain into the war. Many declarations of war preceded and followed this day, but this was the day on which serious fighting began.
Ian Ribbons bases his chronology on Greenwich mean time, so that one can see events that were happening almost simultaneously in widely separated places, and that only adds to the drama of the day. It would be a good read at any time, but on this day it is especially poignant. ...more
J.J. Kitching (known as "Kitchen Boy") is a war hero, and a famous Springbok rugby player, so when he dies at the age of 81, his funeral is a significJ.J. Kitching (known as "Kitchen Boy") is a war hero, and a famous Springbok rugby player, so when he dies at the age of 81, his funeral is a significant occasion. The action of the story takes place in the lead-up to his death and the funeral itself, and the memories of him that are prompted in the minds of his family, friends, and others who knew him.
In his final illness he shares some of his war-time memories with his grandson, Sam. Different people come to his funeral, and even his close family are sometimes surprised at the range of his contacts and acquaintances, from the homeless philosopher who lived in a culvert, to the teetotaller manager of a hotel chain who was a customer of the brewery where he worked until he retired.
I'd read a couple of other books by Jenny Hobbs before, and bought this one becazuse I was impressed by them, and their authenticity to place and time. Thoughts in a makeshift mortuary had in some ways a similar theme to this one, the parents of a freedom-fighter who has been killed by the police, as they keep vigil over the body of a child they hardly knew, thoughts prompted by death.
When I began reading this one, I was very impressed at the apparent authenticity. Most of the novels we read in South Africa are published overseas, and are set in far-away places, so one often doesn't know whether the descriotions are authentic or not.
But this one is set in Durban and Zululand, places where I have lived. The description of World War II soldiers and returning POWs wandering round Durban on arriving home sets the scene amazingly well. The description of Twiggie's Pie Cart in Market Square in Pietermaritzburg revived memories of 50 years ago.
I recalled my uncle returning from the War. I was four years old and we stood on Salisbury Island and watched the flying boat come in dropping over the harbour entrance, landing on the bay. Many of my friends had fathers who had fought in the war. And we also had several uncles who had fought in the war. It was part of growing up. So the memories of J.J. Kitching, and his friends' memories of him, were part of my growing up, and also part of the family history we have explored more recently.
My wife Val's father would never spoeak about his wartime experiences, until one day we pleaded with him to tell us the story of "Shit in Italy". He was captured at Tobruk and kept in a prison camp in Italy, from which he escaped. I wish we had had a tape recorder to record it, because we have now forgotten many of the details, but like the grandson Sam in the book, we were fascinated by the story.
Most of the memories are stirred and described during the funeral service, but that is where the story falls apart. The rugby players, young and old, are authentic. The ex-servicement, the MOTHs (Memorable Order of Tin Hats) are authentic. The homeless philososopher in the culvert may be stretching things a bit, but is plausible. But then the author has to go and spoil it all by introducing an altogether phony caricature of an Anglican bishop. The bishop is not an incidental character, because the funeral service is the setting for much of the book.
The funeral takes place in our time, no more than five years ago, but just about every detail rings false. I'm not familiar with the current Anglican funeral service, and haven't been able to find out much since I started reading the book, but if I were writing a book that revolved around a funeral service, I'd do a lot more research than Jenny Hobbs appears to have done. The words of the service swing from Elizabethan to modern English. I once knew an Anglican bishop of Natal who might have entertained ambitious thoughts like the fictional bishop in the book, but he retired forty (40) years ago, and what we are presented with is a caricature from the 1950s, or even the 1920s, in a story set in about 2010. It's OK to have a fictitious cathedral in a real city for the sake of the story. But it's a pity that when there seems to have been so much research into some of the historical details (like the diets of prisoners in German POW camps), there has been so little into the hub that the story revolves around. Anglican bishops in South Africa are never referred to as "His Grace", for one thing, and and there are numeous other bogus details.
Forty years ago I was present at quite a number of Anglican funerals in Durban, and even back then they were none of them like this. Sometimes they were pathetic -- five MOTHs bidding farewell to a dead comrade, asking to play the Last Post, and one of them pulling out a tinny little portable tape recorder to play it. But nothing as phony as the one in this book.
When I began reading the book, I thought I'd give it four or five stars, but the more I read, the more the rating dropped.
I suppose the best way to describe the genre of this novel is a Bildungsroman, set in the time of Zimbabwe's Second Chimurenga, forty years ago. Was iI suppose the best way to describe the genre of this novel is a Bildungsroman, set in the time of Zimbabwe's Second Chimurenga, forty years ago. Was it as long ago as that? And the author wasn't even born then.
Tinashe is a young Shona boy who grows up in a rural village, ocasionally visited by his rich uncle from the city and his cousin. He dreams of going to school and university, like his uncle, but his cousin doesn't seem to value these things. Tinashe's younger sister, Hazvinei, is strange, and communes with spirits. Her brother, and other people, sometimes find her rather frightening, but he feels obliged to care for her, even when it threatens to disrupt his education.
In some ways it is like an African version of David Copperfield or The catcher in the rye, but it is also bound up with the surreal and unpredictabe world of Shona mythology, where the spirits can make people feel invincible at one moment and dash all their hopes the next. ...more
The book takes the form of e-mail correspondence between two former lovers, Solrun and Steinn, who meet by accident some thirty years after they parteThe book takes the form of e-mail correspondence between two former lovers, Solrun and Steinn, who meet by accident some thirty years after they parted, at a hotel that was linked to the events that caused them to part. They reflect on the events that led up to their parting, which involve a mysterious "Lingonberry Woman", and the divergent interpretations of their shared experience, naturalistic and supernaturalistic, that eventually caused them to part.
The story is almost allegorical, with the main characters standing for two worldviews, a technique that is shared with some of Jostein Gaarder's other books. In the end, neither the philosophical nor the narrative mystery is solved, and both are left hanging. I can understand this in the case of the philosophical mystery of the natrualistic or supernaturalistic worldviews, but in the case of the narrative mysteries it makes the story a bit unsatisfactory.
Perhaps I am missing some literary allusions, but the title is one of the mysteries. All the action takes place in Norway, and none in the Pyrenees -- the closest the characters get to the Pyrenees is a trip to Normandy, which is mentioned in passing. And the "Lingonberry Woman" apparently has nothing to do with lingonberries (whatever they may be). She neither gathers them, nor eats them, nor offers them to the characters to eat. It might have been more appropriate to call her the "Foxglove Woman" since the characters are looking at foxgloves when they encounter her.
Marc Lucas is a soWhen I began reading this book, it reminded me of The double by Fyodor Dostoevsky, with the atmosphere of Kafka's novels thrown in.
Marc Lucas is a social worker, miserable and grieving because he has lost his wife in a motor accident. He does, however, succeed in saving the life of a suicidal teenager. He sees an advertisement for a clinic that claims to be able to remove painful memories, and decides to visit it. He discovers that they are conducting memory experiments, and will give him complete amnesia, and then reload the pleasant memories, and decides not to participate, and leaves without signing anything. Then his nightmare begins.
It seems that his identity has been stolen. All the addresses have been wiped from his cell phone, his credit cards no longer work. He goes home to get medicine he needs to take because of the after-effects of the accident in which his wife dies, and the keys of his flat no longer work, but his wife answers the door, alive and pregnant, but no longer recognising him.
He is befriended by a woman who claims that she too is a victim of the same conspiracy, but then she appears to betray him, making him believe that she too is part of the conspiracy. The things that happen to him become more and more irrational and arbitrary, but the end, when all is revealed, turns out not to be like Dostoevsky or Kafka at all, but something far more prosaic, and far less believable. After reading the first few chapters, I was thinking that this would be a five-star book, but by the end it had dropped to three.