An interesting subject, or rather two interesting subjects. Thoroughly well researched, some parts are slow going due to the sheer amount of facts and...moreAn interesting subject, or rather two interesting subjects. Thoroughly well researched, some parts are slow going due to the sheer amount of facts and information to be got across, but it is all worth reading. I read it on a kindle so I'm not sure if the print book is different, but I would have liked to see more photos of the buildings and people described.(less)
A thousand year old mystery and a modern woman with her own demons, the synopsis is reminiscent of Carcassonne by Kate Mosse. Unfortunately Rook fails...moreA thousand year old mystery and a modern woman with her own demons, the synopsis is reminiscent of Carcassonne by Kate Mosse. Unfortunately Rook fails to deliver, giving us flat characters and no chance to develop an attachment to any of them. Both our main character, Nora, and her mother, Ada, have secrets. Nora's secret is gradually revealed but not dealt with while Ada's is never revealed to other characters so we don't get to follow this thread anywhere.
Nora is in a major depression due to her circumstance and while this is represented well in Rusbridge's descriptions of the bleak countryside and the lack of interest Nora has her friends and surroundings, it doesn't lend itself to a gripping story. The idea behind the mystery of a Saxon grave could've been further developed and I would have loved to have heard more from Elsa, whose research into the Saxon princess was the most interesting area of the book.
Occasionally I found that the descriptions were forced, as in 'she tips the straw-like remnants of a bird's nest from a Startrite shoe-box.' Or 'she gulped down the delicious, icy concoction.' The villagers, when we meet them, come across as if let out from a Vicar of Dibley church service. Eve and Steve have potential to be interesting characters if they had been explored further. Near the end, Rook gets riled and shits on someone's shoes. This is the most action that occurs in the book and one of the only bits that didn't drag.
Overall, I felt that the ideas and setting were strong, and Nora's relationship with Rook was great, but the novel was let down by the underdeveloped characters and unfinished threads of story. I wanted to like Rook, as I live Iocally to the setting and have an interest in King Harold but I'm afraid to say I was disappointed by the focus on the less original sides and the failing to delve into the genuinely interesting ideas and themes around the history of the area. (less)
The author does come across as rather paternalistic and pro empire but he seems to have had a good adventure, and I liked reading about the islands he...moreThe author does come across as rather paternalistic and pro empire but he seems to have had a good adventure, and I liked reading about the islands he visited.
On many occasions he meets people he knew from school or is somehow related to, placing him firmly establishment, no wonder he is so attached to the idea that the empire was kind and caring and knew best for its subjects.
The bits that have really dated in this book are when he refers to Richard Branson as 'a record producer' rather than by name or any of his other endeavours, and when he talks about Elton John's wife.
The writing is a bit uneven, probably could've been edited better as some parts are repeated or things mentioned as new when we've already read about them. (less)
1/ Gertrude Bell sounds brilliant, despite her faults. She may have been an early prototype of the 'I just don't get on wi...moreReasons it gains four stars:
1/ Gertrude Bell sounds brilliant, despite her faults. She may have been an early prototype of the 'I just don't get on with girls' girl but in her time she probably had to be to avoid being lumped in with the frillies. She did so much, and kept on setting herself new challenges. 2/ Early on in the book it explains her argument against votes for women which I found very interesting as it's the first time I've heard it make sense rather than just being sexism. I still don't agree, but I now get where the women who were against the vote were coming from. 3/ Better description of the troubles and politics in the Middle East than I've ever heard/read in the news, especially in terms of how what's happening currently is in no way a new problem and how the West's previous 'brilliant ideas' and probably screwed it up more than helped. 4/ The wonderful photographs of the people she met while on her desert travels. 5/ The amount of sticky notes I had to find to mark bits of information I wanted to go and look up further.
Reasons it doesn't make it to five stars:
1/ The dry sections on politics that don't seem to go anywhere. 2/ The phrase, right at the beginning, "She wasn't a feminist - she didn't expect any special treatment" which is a pretty odd thing to say and put me off a bit with its implications. 3/ The proclamation that Gertrude didn't manage her achievements thanks to being rich. (It's just that her money paid for all of them.) I get that she couldn't have done it without her courage, determination, diplomacy, talent for languages etc but equally, you can have all the courage and determination, diplomacy and talent in the world but without any money you still couldn't do what she did. 4/ The apparently mocking caption under the photo of Lilian Doughty-Wylie (view spoiler)[that implies because she had 'a tendency towards frills' that it was understandable for her husband to get it on with Gertrude because she was all Gertrudey and awesome and not frilly. Frilly people are people too and even if she was annoying, it's not nice to take the piss out of her when she didn't do anything wrong (and it was 100 years ago). (hide spoiler)]
Thoroughly good book.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)