This is not a particularly easy story to read. The tale of a man who kills his brother, is addicted to drugs and ends up in prison is not perhaps the
This is not a particularly easy story to read. The tale of a man who kills his brother, is addicted to drugs and ends up in prison is not perhaps the ideal way to create a scenario and character that will lead to reader's hearts. But you find yourself on the side of Farragut despite all these things.
He describes how and why he became addicted to drugs - fed them during the war and then existence in a society that seems to be drugging the population in some form or other - and you find yourself half agreeing with him. Ironically it's prison that managed to make him clean after expensive clinics and therapists have failed to do the job.
There is also a well developed reveal of the murder with it clear that the relationship between the brothers is a strained one and the murder victim did to a degree ask for some sort of confrontation. That doesn't excuse the killing but it does allow you to side with Farragut when he describes it as exaggerated and an accident.
But that is all in the past and this story starts with the main character entering prison. The vivid description of the prison, the misery of confinement and the struggles to cope with the routine are all written brilliantly. As Farragut slips into a battle to keep his sanity and finds love in the arms of a prisoner who manages to escape the future looks bleak. His wife displays little chance of providing love and most of those prisoners and guards around him are struggling with their own emotional problems.
A riot at another prison ushers in a period of tension that provides Farragut with a chance to place himself in the heart of the community in F wing. He spends most of his time wandering through the memories of the past. Perhaps it is that process which encourages the sort of introspection that can lead to a life being turned around. Just as he breaks his dependence on drugs and methadone it is a more profound break with himself that prison provides.
Sure this is dark, sometimes brutal in its description of the world of the incarcerated and it has the powerr to shock. But what I will remember is the power of the writing, being taken on a journey that delivered from start to finish and an introduction to a writer I intend to read much more of....more
Imagine a small, claustrophobic and corrupt community that offers only one release through a passport and movement abroad. Add to the misery the envirImagine a small, claustrophobic and corrupt community that offers only one release through a passport and movement abroad. Add to the misery the environment of a dictatorship and the prospect that life in the West might not be much better and it is a world of pain and disappointment that tests the human resolve to the limit.
Muller uses the story of a miller and his attempt to get his wife and daughter passports to get out of the Romanian village into Germany as a tale that could be applied to thousands elsewhere.
The miller bribes the mayor with corn and hopes that he is inching closer to getting his passport but the only real bargaining chip he has is his daughter who he will have to send to sleep with the customs and parish officials who can speed through the paperwork.
The bitterness that leaves and the damage it does to the family is taken with them as they finally manage to leave.
But there are other things that you are left with as an experience reading this book. One is the idea that people can react differently to dictatorship and some will unfortunately close their minds to the ambition to gain freedom and will choose to remain victims.
The other is the style. Having read the Land of Green Plums the same lyrical, poetical style is on display here and although it is perhaps initially difficult to get into the Muller groove, once there the book flows along.
This might be a fairly slim volume but it is describing a world that most of its readers in the West would never have experienced and one that shows that even in the darkest despair there is always hope and the pull of freedom is an incredibly strong one. ...more
Fiction should play with truth and reality and this whole story does it wonderfully. Starting off with the premise that Napoleon has escaped from his Fiction should play with truth and reality and this whole story does it wonderfully. Starting off with the premise that Napoleon has escaped from his prison island St Helena to be replaced by a double the story charts what might happen.
The Emperor heads back to France leaning on the planning of an organisation dedicated to restoring him to power. But delays and bad weather means he is diverted and there is a wonderful moment when Napoleon goes with some British tourists to see the battlefield of Waterloo.
he finally manages to get back to Paris but without money or friends has to take refuge with a widow of one of his old loyal infantrymen. he uses his strategic skill to restore the fortunes of her melon business revealing to some of those around him as a result he is who they had thought he was.
But with the death of the double all those miles away on the island Napoleon can no more reveal who he is. Who would believe him and the fear that came with knowing he was still alive is snuffed out like a flame.
As he wanders through the gardens of an asylum watching the other napoleon's take the air before returning to the hospital his predicament as a pretender fully dawns on him.
This story is fun in the sense it takes one of the great historical 'what if' and takes it to a conclusion but it is also a disturbing prod at the question of identity. What does it mean to have your identity taken away from you, particularly when it's permanent through death? What does it fell like to have no one believe you?
One of the themes that emerges is that even those that followed Napoleon blindly into musket fire and the face of canon balls had no idea what he actually looked like. But the legend was stronger than reality and the idea of an aging, balding and over weight Napoleon returning from the dead to over throw the French establishment is one that even his most loyal foot soldiers will not b able to support....more
If you are looking for a bit of humour, tales that have an outcome that involves great insight into human character and heavy doses of coincidence andIf you are looking for a bit of humour, tales that have an outcome that involves great insight into human character and heavy doses of coincidence and a bit of humbug then this is a great book to consume against the backdrop of tinsel and fairy lights.
This collection brings together a series of seven yuletide themed stories that have not been collected together like this before. Rumpole is the old but wise barrister who manages to win cases despite most of the legal establishment being against him. She who must be obeyed, his wife Hilda, provides light relief and bosses the old boy around when he is not in the Old Bailey.
Over the course of the stories Rumpole manages to get his clients off on lighter charges, solve a murder and spend one Christmas break with a judge he can't stand.
There is some repetition that perhaps could have been edited out given that by the seventh story you know all about how the Rumpole's spend Christmas and how Hilda gets lavender water each and every year. But once you get past that repetitive scene setting theses stories, which have a recent feel about them thanks to topical references to the internet etc, do take hold of you.
If you fancy buying a Christmas book at this time of year and are open to spending time with an aging and outwardly rude barrister who has a heart of gold and a flair for solving crimes and getting justice then this is a perfect choice....more
This book might perhaps suffer in terms of pace in the first half but once it gets going it moves towards an end which seems to come almost abruptly wThis book might perhaps suffer in terms of pace in the first half but once it gets going it moves towards an end which seems to come almost abruptly when it does arrive.
The main theme of the counterfeiters which comes from the title of the book that the writer Edouard is writing also plays out in real life with a ring of boys being used to palm off counterfeit coins through Paris. But the sense of fraudulent feelings and actions pervades the book. Some characters come across as so prepared to hide behind a facade that you never really get to know them.
But intertwined with the sense of fraud is the theme of coming of age. This is both in the practical sense with Bernard and Olivier leaving school and becoming men but also in the way that even some of the oldest characters are clearly still learning who they are and adapting to circumstances.
The story starts with Bernard discovering that he is illegitimate after he breaks into his mother's bureau and discovers letters not intended to be seen. That idea of damaging secrets that is introduced in that moment remains throughout the book. Grandfather's secretly writing to their grandsons, barristers carrying around letters from their mistress and in the most extreme case a woman, Laura hiding her pregnancy by Olivier's brother Vincent from her husband.
In one sense this is about two families and two particular sons from each family - Bernard and Olivier - charting them as they take their first strides into adulthood. They dream and aspire to great things but have great vulnerability that allows others to help or exploit them. They fall in love easily, bruise easily but by the end of the tale learn that home can often be a comfort rather than a prison.
Throughout the book there are questions about writing that are thrown up as Edouard struggles to get to grips with The Counterfeiters. He faces his arch enemy, the celebrated writer of the moment Comte de Passavant, who seems to treat writing as a hobby and success as a given. The differences between them highlights the danger with feeling too much and not feeling anywhere near enough with Passavant left with an inflated reputation but little in the way of friendship and love.
Gide also uses an Eric Morecambe style voice to the reader revealing that he has struggled to like some of his cast of characters and giving the signpost to the second half of the book. That voice is at first slightly unusual but becomes increasingly familiar and as a device works fairly well.
There were moments when you wondered where this was going but by the end there is a sense that although the counterfeiters don't always get caught they suffer justice in the form of loneliness, guilt and in the case of Vincent the man who left Laura pregnant and fled overseas, it can leave them without much of a sane mind left. ...more
Recently when you think of Tom McCarthy you think of 'C' and this also sparks off another c for clever. Not just for the plot, which weaves together t Recently when you think of Tom McCarthy you think of 'C' and this also sparks off another c for clever. Not just for the plot, which weaves together to create a story that pulls together several characters against the backdrop of a fragmented Eastern Europe.
Describing the story makes it sound extremely simple but in reality its a clot more complex than just a case of criminals asking an art dealer to copy a stolen painting so they can sell it off.
As an astronaut trapped in space while the former USSR countries fight out who's responsibility it is to bring him back the characters on the ground struggle to work out what freedom in a former Communist state means for them.
It means drugs, art and pushing boundaries but it almost means that there will be those happy to take advantage of it both in terms of criminals and those in the state who have been institutionalized into abusing their power.
As the consequences of freedom filter through, with the former state policeman abandoned to the static he hears after years of surveillance, the artist who gets lost in his own drug fueled visions and the criminals who turn on themselves after failure, it's clear life is not easy under a new regime.
McCarthy clearly knows his art describing an artistic scene in great detail. Central as a link is the icon which depicts the holy one hanging above the sea and land. That man in space also keeps those around him in limbo as the stolen art work goes from criminal to artist back unwittingly to artist.
The detailed story of the icon painting is a metaphor for what is happening more widely across the country as people come to terms with what is happening post Communism. The sense of uncertianty provides some freedoms, and those drinking the millennium in are taking advantage of some of those, but it also ushers in a sense of uncertianty.
Do the old rules still apply? With those in power still trying to hold onto their positions and abuse the back channels they have always had access to it's no surprise that those people continue to do that.
What remains apart from the hope that things will be changed is the brutality. Death still comes at the end of a gun swiftly and with little regard for the individual whether or not the trigger is pulled by the criminal or the policeman....more
A writer heads to St Petersburg in the early 1990s to find a refuge to write about the English countryside but finds a city and a country changing rapA writer heads to St Petersburg in the early 1990s to find a refuge to write about the English countryside but finds a city and a country changing rapidly and so completely absorbing that he spends weeks finding out about Russia and Russians rather than working on his writing.
The world that Fallowell is describing is one that operates to a different beat from the West, a feature that is both exhausting and captivating for a Westener. There is a brutality, frankness and openness that the Russians display that at moments is frightening and at other times rather attractive.
This is a city in transition but still weighed down by its past. That past stretches back over the 300 years of its existence and the Russians seems to be deeply aware of their history.
But they are also keen to move away from the years of dictatorship and embrace the freedoms they were denied for so long to speak their minds, party and make decisions about the lives for themselves.
Fallowell moves through this world brilliantly describing the different characters and the City and how the past casts such a long shadow over the present.
From slightly mad professors, party goers and artists he takes the reader on a journey through the City meeting numerous people working out what change means for them and their world.
But central to the story is the relationship between the author and the Russian sailor Dima. I'm not going to spoil the ending of the book for others but this is a powerful story that leaves you both shocked and deeply moved.
The fate of the young in Russia, as seen through the erratic life of Dima seems to sum up the dangers of a country that has replaced the authority of the state with a mixture of mafia muscle and old KGB bosses sitting in the Kremlin.
This book is a record of a period in Russian history that was exciting, dangerous and highly unpredictable and Fallowell has the ability to have you laughing at the antics of his landlady one minute and holding back the tears as you struggle to come to terms with the brutality of the country in the next. ...more
The phrase about all the world being a village is one that kept coming to mind as the reader was introduced to the idea that Russia is a country thatThe phrase about all the world being a village is one that kept coming to mind as the reader was introduced to the idea that Russia is a country that shares the same characteristics across its many miles. In the village there are those that have worked hard to gain wealth and position, those that are feckless and unable to do anything other than live a life of toil and often drunkenness and those that look to positions of power to change their fortunes.
Up to 1905 all of them believed they knew the lie of the land but as revolution threatened to topple the status quo and certainly introduced talk of more reforms and a Duma which would carve up land more fairly there must have been a palpable sense of fear.
Seen through the eyes of two brothers, Kuzma and Tikhon, The Village introduces the reader to a cast of characters that cover most of the usual Russian types. The richer of the two peasant brothers who has become a landowner, Tikhon, who owns property and a store, is envied and admired and spends most of his time worried about what could happen if the rebellion spreads and his property is burnt down.
Kuzma it turns out has had a harder life and in some ways is saved by his brother from a life of poverty but he is much more sensitive. The differences between them are highlighted most clearly over their attitude towards a servant woman Bride. Tikhon rapes her but Kuzma sees her more in a fatherly light even harboring some feelings towards her that cause him great pain when Bride is forced into a marriage.
This is a brilliant portrayal of a world that is ugly and harsh. There is no gloss here with Russian counts and duchesses dancing at balls this is grim life. Mud, millet and misery are the things you are left thinking about. The brother's each in their own way aspire to escaping that drudgery.
But by the end, regardless of whether or not the Duma, the Russian parliament, will introduce changes or not the brothers sell up and plan to escape the village.
But as we know the brutality, harshness and misery of the village is replicated elsewhere and the brothers might succeed in escaping their own specific situation but not Russia. ...more
This collection of short stories might have plenty of variety but it is all written with great mastery of a form that eludes some writers.
Here the rea This collection of short stories might have plenty of variety but it is all written with great mastery of a form that eludes some writers.
Here the reader's attention is grabbed through a number of different ways including thriller, ghost story as well as insights into the social world of 19th century French life.
To pick out a selection from the first third of the book to give a flavour is not too difficult.
Simon's Dad is a heart warming tale of a boy seeking a father to end the bullying at school and as a result ending years of shame and pain for his mother by landing his mother a husband. You find your heart swelling at the end of the story as Simon informs his bullies that their days of targeting him are over.
Then you get a change in mood with the story that gives the title to the collection, A Day in the Country, providing a girl from a shopkeeping family with a moment of love that she can never forget. Her bawdy mother and ineffectual father are used brilliantly to illustrate the difference between those working in the suburbs and country folk.
That difference between the country and the city is also picked up in the story Riding Out which sees a man keen to show his family he can ride knocking down an old woman as he loses control of his steed in central Paris.
If there was a theme to the first third of the collection it might have been countryside and the second has stories that make various references to money. The Necklace describes the costs that borrowing and losing a necklace have on one couple only for them to discover at the end of a decade spent clearing their debts that it wasn't worth a great deal of money.
Penny pinching is on display again in The Umbrella where a woman wants her husband to have a good umbrella but is not prepared to pay for that. As his work colleagues ruin the cheap ones that he turns up to work with she would rather claim on the insurance than pay out for a proper umbrella.
That ability to pierce a side of someone's character is on display again with Bed 29 where a proud and vain solider is unable to show compassion for an old lover struck down with syphillis. Happy to be seen with her when she was beautiful he has no words of comfort for her when she is ill.
The last third of the book contains some of the longer and darker stories. The Little Roque Girl is an account of the discovery of a murdered girl and then the unravelling of the Major's mind. Responsible for her rape and death he finally loses his mind after being haunted by her ghost.
Our Spot is also fairly dark showing off the agression of a couple that lose their fishing spot on the river bank. Their anger at losing out results in the death of the rival fisherman but as the court case recounts the anger and death is more by accident and the fisherman is aquitted.
A great collection of stories that provoke various reactions but come from a writer clearly able to turn his pen at will to deliver stories of very quality....more