Absolutely essential reading if you want to understand the way the world works today, and why capitalism and liberal democracy is falling apart. I decAbsolutely essential reading if you want to understand the way the world works today, and why capitalism and liberal democracy is falling apart. I decided to read this after the Panama banking scandal broke, having been aware of the book for a few years. It is the clearest explanation of the sickness and corruption at the heart of contemporary capitalism, and Britain, especially the City of London, is the main culprit. Western Governments and the press talk about the ineradicable corruption in the third world as the reason that the Global South struggles so much, but we never talk about the systems and networks that the West creates and fosters to encourage this corruption. London is the place that corrupt Global elites send the money they steal, with the full backing of our Government, our banks, our accountants, our lawyers and our media. We are hoovering up 10X more money through encouraging tax evasion than the West gives out in development funding. By fostering low tax, low regulation regimes in Jersey, Hong Kong, Singapore, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands and more we have created a race to the bottom as other countries are forced to compete with us. We have created the conditions in which multi-national corporations manufacture several shell companies so that, for example, Amazon can pay £11.9 million in tax on £5.3 billion in UK sales in 2015 by routing the sales through Luxembourg. When gigantic multi-nationals can use their size and power to avoid tax and influence governments this puts smaller or more ethical companies at a competitive disadvantage which means they either have to find a way of avoiding tax themselves or go out of business. Offshore is at the heart of so many of the problems in the world today that the world would very quickly change for the better if we forced our Governments to do something about it. However, Britain has just left the EU and whilst the majority of out voters were driven by opposition to immigration the people leading the campaign are driven by making offshore even more welcome, cutting taxes, loosening laws and regulations and further liberalising the financial sector so we are about to enter a world of shit. ...more
I just finished re-watching series 4 and 5 of Game of Thrones in anticipation of the beginning of series 6. The fact that the TV series is now deviatiI just finished re-watching series 4 and 5 of Game of Thrones in anticipation of the beginning of series 6. The fact that the TV series is now deviating from and accelerating beyond the book series made me want to go back and re-read the books so I could see how it differed. I absolutely loved the books when I first read them, and I love the show, but I remember having some reservations about how much slower and more complicated the plot had become, with additional characters and side plots being added as the books progressed. A lot of fans of the books seemed to be really angry about this. I still enjoyed it because I really appreciate how rich and intricate Martin's plotting, character development and world building is, but I am concerned about how he can possibly hope to tie up all the loose ends he has created in two further novels. As the TV show progressed and it became clear that they had trimmed and edited the plots and characters in the books I started to think that the show runners were perhaps doing a better job with the material than Martin himself had, and that perhaps his editors should have been a little firmer with him. I will have to see how I feel about this when I re-read A Feast for Crows and A Dance of Dragons.
A Game of Thrones is a tremendous novel. The characterisation, the world building, the history and culture of Westeros, the narrative method, told from different characters point of view... it's all brilliant. Every decision Martin has made feels well considered. Upon a second reading you pick up a lot of queues and foreshadowing that you may have missed the first time.
Martin plays with and subverts fantasy conventions in a couple of ways. First of all is the fact that there are very few actual fantastic elements in the novel. The White Walkers appear briefly in the prologue. A couple of dead men come back to life in Castle Black. A witch performs some kind of blood magic that we don't really see in the desert. And in the very last pages three dragons are born. Everything else could be taking place in a historical novel. The fantastic elements take place on the continent of Essos, or in the far North near the wall, both places that are at the periphery of the world we are concerned with. The only other characters that comment upon the fantastic do so only to mock those who believe in it. The other way he plays with conventions is by undermining traditional fantasy conventions of honour, heroism and gallantry. Ned Stark seems like a typical fantasy hero, and in the end he is killed, and inadvertently causes a war that will lead to the death of presumably thousands of people and the ravaging of the seven Kingdoms. Sansa Stark behaves like a proper lady and believes in the courtly code of gallantry she has been brought up with, and in the end has every illusion torn from her. Characters like Littlefinger, Varys, Tyrion Lannister and Sandor Clegane often try to open the eyes of the honourable and idealistic Stark's several times throughout the novel but they are incapable of grasping the lesson that would undermine their whole world view. If Ned had told Robert Baratheon that his children were not his perhaps everything would have been avoided. If he had not warned Cersei that he knew her children were Jaime's because he didn't want to see them killed everything could have been avoided. If he had listened to Renly when he told him to strike now as soon as Robert died everything could have been avoided. If he listened to Littlefinger when he tells him to acknowledge Joffrey as King but take him into his care everything could have been avoided. But Ned's honour prevents him from taking every one of these opportunities because he is bound to a code of chivalry and cannot play politics. On the other hand Martin doesn't show the characters who are pragmatic realists as any 'happier'. Littlefinger and Tyrion seem to enjoy the game for it's own sake and have a sense of humour, but both are despised and excluded by most of the others. Varys lives in the shadows, has no life outside of politicking and is similarly despised. Sandor Clegane is filled with rage and loathing is is despised. John Snow and ...more
Superb. Intelligent, gripping, sophisticated, cosmopolitan, broad minded. It displays some influence from Haruki Murakami, especially in the first twoSuperb. Intelligent, gripping, sophisticated, cosmopolitan, broad minded. It displays some influence from Haruki Murakami, especially in the first two chapters set in Japan, but after that it gradually evolves into a ghost story, a heist story, a financial thriller, an espionage story and science fiction. Probably one of the best début novels of our age. ...more
I found this novel disappointing because I loved The Red and the Black so much and was expecting something similar. I found that I didn't really warmI found this novel disappointing because I loved The Red and the Black so much and was expecting something similar. I found that I didn't really warm to the characters very much, which is exactly the kind of criticism I usually find trite. Julien Sorel, the protagonist of Stendhal's earlier novel, is an excellent character and the Red and the Black deserves to be regarded as one of the milestone's in the evolution of the novel for it's realism, psychological insight and investigation of class. In contrast The Charterhouse of Parma seems like a more romantic, less modern novel of adventure, passion, intrigue and love. Politics is another theme, touching upon the conflict between liberals inspired by Napoleon, the Philosophes and the French Revolution and the Conservatives who are fighting to maintain the reactionary order of King, Church and State, and exploring the machinations in the Court of Parma between rival parties. However, Stendhal doesn't investigate the ideologies of these competing political philosophies. All of the characters are motivated by purely selfish reasons to demonstrate support for one philosophy or another, depending on which side is able to offer the best possibility of personal advancement and without any regard for the wider social and political reasons that they might choose to support their party.
My response to the novel changed when I considered the fact that Stendhal was consciously writing a depiction of a society he considered to be less advanced, less modern and governed by older modes of of belief and conduct. He frequently contrasts the behaviour of the Italian characters with how he would expect the French to behave in the same circumstances. The Italians follow their passions and instincts without regard for the consequences, where the French are more cerebral and ironic, motivated by calculation and ambition. He doesn't idealise the Italian national character, showing what we today would see as the negative side of a society driven more by emotion than intelligence. Fabrizio del Dongo is portrayed as an empty headed, self absorbed fop, motivated by a desire to become a military hero to run away and join Napoleon's army in defiance of his reactionary Father. His attempts to join Napoleon's army are a farce and he finds himself banished by his Father when he returns, settling into a playboy lifestyle of empty pleasure. Then his Aunt decides to get him train as a priest with the ambition of making him an Arch-Bishop for the money and prestige, which Fabrizio agrees to despite having no religious beliefs or inclinations at all. Upon completion of his training he enters the priesthood and moves to the court of a despotic Prince, abandoning any pretence of being interested in Liberalism or Republicanism and using his position as aristocratic priest to advance within society and score chicks. Despite all of this evidence of being shallow and selfish people can't help but love him for who he is because he is naive and direct, motivated by feeling rather than calculation, and people around him regularly sacrifice their own happiness, money, peace and security to help him. Midway through the novel *SPOILER ALERT* Fabrizio ends up getting into a fight with a jealous actor who's girlfriend he has been cheating with, and ends up killing him, an event that ends up determining the remainder of the narrative. Fabrizio killed the actor in self-defence, but what's interesting is that when different characters discuss what happened later they all believe that even if Fabrizio did murder this guy in cold blood it doesn't matter and can hardly be considered a crime anyway because Fabrizio is an aristocrat and actors are disposable nobodies. This provides a very clear contrast to the idea that human rights are inherent and universal that Rousseau and his followers had been declaring.
However, despite portraying what we contemporary readers, and much of the educated readership of Stendhal's own time, would consider to be a more primitive society, the characters are all intensely *alive* in a way that modern, rational, bourgeois bureaucratic society isn't. There is less of a disconnect between the inner and the outer being. They seem less repressed. There is a clear, obviously unfair hierarchy between the rich and powerful, the precarious nobles and ambitious middle-class, and the poor. Servants and poor people care deeply about the problems and concerns of their masters and employers. Their masters respond with a mixture of indifference, cruelty and occasional outbursts of generosity. Random peasants and vagabonds offer a helping hand to Fabrizio and his sexy Aunt Gina because they are moved by their depth of feeling, nobility and good looks. There is a grandeur about the way everyone conducts themselves, as if they are consciously trying to put on a good performance in the drama of human existence. One possible cause is that people seem relatively indifferent to money. Money is just something floating around and people don't seem all that concerned about how it is generated or keeping it. Gina and Fabrizio are constantly receiving and giving away large sums of money without ever having to concern themselves about how it is made or how they will get their hands on some more. Gina turns down several proposals of marriage from wealthy eligible bachelors as a young widow, choosing to live in noble (relative) poverty instead. The actors choose to wonder the country scraping a precarious living because they would rather live this free, bohemian existence than be tied down as servants or agricultural workers. A man conducts an affair with a married woman and when they are discovered they flee to live in a cabin in the woods. They have a child and gradually he falls out of love with her but feels obliged to continue to support her. He becomes the most highly regarded poet of his region and the most feared highwayman, but he has a strict policy on exactly how much money his is morally able to steal and have in his possession at any one time, so he leaves or gives away anything over this figure. He falls desperately in love with Gina after observing her from afar, based upon nothing more than her looks and demeanour, and swears his life and allegiance to her out of a sense of chivalric devotion. Everything about this guy is preposterous from a modern perspective, and yet there is something magnificent and admirable about him.
Considered as a case study exploring a dying epoch written by somebody from the beginning of the modern, rational, bourgeois age that we are possibly living through the end of today it becomes a more interesting novel than I initially thought. ...more
I enjoyed this book, despite struggling to grasp exactly what was going on at some points, but that may be because I have just read the preceding 5 boI enjoyed this book, despite struggling to grasp exactly what was going on at some points, but that may be because I have just read the preceding 5 books. If I came to it without having just read the others I think I may have liked it less. ...more
A bit of a return to form for the Earthsea sequence. Le Guin presents a series of short stories that explore situations and introduce characters outsiA bit of a return to form for the Earthsea sequence. Le Guin presents a series of short stories that explore situations and introduce characters outside of the time and space we have looked at so far, and it helps us to develop a better picture of her fictional universe. ...more
Another disappointing volume. This book is a side alley in the Earthsea sequence. I can see why Le Guin wrote this book. It acts as a bit of a correctAnother disappointing volume. This book is a side alley in the Earthsea sequence. I can see why Le Guin wrote this book. It acts as a bit of a corrective to the almost clichéd heroic fantasy of the last volume and chooses to focus instead upon the lives and position in society of ordinary people who aren't wizards or warriors or royalty. It explores Ged's response to losing his powers, reintroduces a middle-aged Tenar and explores the place of women within society. Whilst I understand why Le Guin would have been motivated to write this book it doesn't really work for me. ...more
A bit disappointing compared to the first two volumes. Lebannen is a totally clichéd fantasy hero. I would have expected Le Guin to subvert the convenA bit disappointing compared to the first two volumes. Lebannen is a totally clichéd fantasy hero. I would have expected Le Guin to subvert the convention a bit. The antagonist isn't very developed, the story is a bit simple and predictable. This book doesn't have the sense of mystery and idiosyncrasy that the first two volumes had.
On a side note, Le Guin is obviously influenced by T.S. Eliot in depicting the afterlife. ...more
Really excellent. My third Le Guin novel and each of them have been fantastic. The second book in the Earthsea sequence focusses upon a different cultReally excellent. My third Le Guin novel and each of them have been fantastic. The second book in the Earthsea sequence focusses upon a different culture and region to A Wizard of Earthsea and has a different protagonist. The isolated desert community the book takes place in has some similarity to Gormengast being a dark, morose place with a rigid social structure, dominated by ancient ritual and with no idea of what is happening out in the rest of the world, but Le Guin is an original writer with a fantastic imagination and an excellent prose style. Arha, the chief priestess of the ancient Nameless Ones, lives a life of mystery and ritual, holding absolute power in her community and with absolutely no personal freedom or life of her own. I visited the Forbidden City in Beijing once and learning the Emperor's daily routine showed me how boring, rigid and joyless a life like this is. I look forward to reading on in the Earthsea sequence. ...more