Previously I had read only the remarkably powerful war poems by Sassoon. Enjoyment would hardly be the right word to describe the experience, rather s...morePreviously I had read only the remarkably powerful war poems by Sassoon. Enjoyment would hardly be the right word to describe the experience, rather sheer admiration for brilliance of his work.
When I came to these, I suppose that I foolishly expected to find the same power of voice turned to other experiences of his life. This was not the case: A) it didn’t allow for the unique depth of the experiences that impelled him to create his war poems. B) It did not allow for the profound after-effects these created in him.
If I wanted to find appropriate words to sum up his poems written after WW1, they would be sterile and trivial. They present as the work of a man attempting to find an appropriate voice & appropriate language; a man who felt alienated from the culture, art & social group to which he tried unsuccessfully to reattach himself.
Strangely, they do express very effectively that unbridgeable divide which so many men report when returning from war, between the wartime world they survived & the peacetime world to which they return. The expression he gives to this dislocation seems to be not so much a conscious attempt to embody that experience, more the poems have the nature of an artefact left behind from a period & experience of history.
Only in the final poems, which express his experience of religious conversion & his spiritual life that resulted from this, does he finally seem to find a sense of belonging, and a voice & language through which he can express himself in a positive idiom. It is interesting however, that both the language & the community come ready-made, off-the-peg. They provide to some degree a borrowed identity & a security for which he longed in the earlier, peacetime poems. (less)
This book was a fascinating read, which I found very difficult to put down. The early part of the book is very much a re-run & expansion of "Orang...moreThis book was a fascinating read, which I found very difficult to put down. The early part of the book is very much a re-run & expansion of "Oranges ...", but no less interesting for that, detailing particularly her relationship with her adoptive mother. The portrayal she gives of "Mrs Winterson is at times hilarious, at times horrifying, but ultimately is filled with pity for this woman who could see life only as a burden to be suffered, rarely as a source of any joy.
In her attitude to many strange & quite horrifying aspects of her life, she is remarkably fair-minded e.g. towards the benefits that church brought to the community & many individuals.
Her portrayal of her difficulties in forming lasting relationships due, as she explains, more to an inability to accept or trust love which is being offered, rather than an inability to give love, is very understandable & at times very movingly portrayed.
She is excellent at expressing very succinctly the contradictions that exist in feelings and relationships. Of her birth-mother who she eventually tracks down & meets she says of her choice to give her child up for adoption:
"I don't blame her and I am glad she made the choice she made. Clearly I am furious about it too."
She is so skilled in holding these kind of contradictions in tension with each other throughout the narrative.
Reading this after so long, and with more recent biographies of varying qualities in between, I was unclear what to expect when I was about to begin....moreReading this after so long, and with more recent biographies of varying qualities in between, I was unclear what to expect when I was about to begin. Would it be like the joy of meeting a good friend after many years, or would it be a sore disappointment in the light of the more recent research I had read? I was delighted to find the former applied. This was a reunion with a best of friends.
Written by a close friend of Lewis & assisted by that master of the Lewis industry, Walter Hooper, it had all the advantages of a book written from an intimate knowledge of its subject, and including many illustrations and anecdotes from people who also knew Lewis personally. On the whole, the picture given of Lewis is an affectionate, interesting and well described portrait of a friend.
Subsequent biographies of Lewis point to its lack of objectivity & its airbrushing of certain aspects of Lewis’ life & relationships - his relationship with Mrs Moore, his youthful attraction to SM, and the alcoholism of his brother. However, in terms of level of importance in Lewis’ life & work these to me are very small beer when compared with the aspects that this book considers.
I actually sympathized with Green in his comments regarding analysis of Lewis’ relationship with Mrs Moore. He reluctantly enters into a very brief discussion and, not surprisingly, as a friend, takes an innocent view of it. I have to say that it little affects my regard for the quality of man and his work, even if it was in the early days a sexual relationship. Does it really affect any reasoned overall judgement of him? In my view - no.
The alcoholism of Lewis’ brother remains to my mind in the realm of tittle-tattle, except where it reflects on Lewis’ long-suffering & charitable approach to his brother’s problems. I don’t think that by leaving it out we have missed a great deal of any importance other than an interesting snippet of gossip. The attraction to SM that Lewis expresses in his youthful letters to Greeves seems to me to be no more than any adolescent’s experience of sexual fantasies of one kind or another. Lewis’ fantasies may not reflect those of many of us, but even so, in what way are these really relevant to analysis of his adult life or work.
The book provides much interesting source material related to Lewis’ life, is well written. There is some imbalance between the comprehensiveness of the account of his early life, set against the more limited, and occasionally patchy coverage, of the later stages of his life.
All-in-all the book provides a highly enjoyable and rich account of Lewis’ life, work and relationships, and an excellent foundation on which to build further using more recent accounts and material. (less)
Orwell is one of those authors as we all know who creates strong reactions in many of his readers, either for or against.
Unfortunately many of those...moreOrwell is one of those authors as we all know who creates strong reactions in many of his readers, either for or against.
Unfortunately many of those who write about him, including some of the more superficial biographers, respond to him from a political point of view as if that summed up the whole man; he tends to be lauded or attacked as a person & a writer from the very narrow perspective of a superficial perception of what his political views are supposed to have been. It’s the equivelant to me of giving an overall portrait of someone on the basis of once catching a quick view of them through a partially opened door. Thus he is attacked from the right for being communist, or from the orthodox left for failing to uphold their perceived party line.
His works tend to be claimed by one side or another as attacks on their perceived opponents. Hence 1984 has been claimed by the right as an attack on communist regimes, and by the left as an attack on facism. He has therefore not been valued sufficiently for the clarity of his much more generalized analysis of misuse of power and political systems.
These diaries provided an excellent corrective insight into Orwell as a man, giving a much more holistic view of him. I’m not even going to attempt to look in detail at the man revealed through these diaries, but only highlight as bullet points some aspects of him which stood out:
- Orwell was a man with little poetry in his soul, which largely backs up the impression given by his novels & other published work. His accounts of his doings are marked by their factual utility style.
- There is an inclination towards scientific style of observation of what is going on around him, whether it be in terms of his observations about his garden, his horticultural efforts, or political and wartime situations.
- There is a love of natural history & environment that is not entirely absent, but is far less apparent in his published writings. This interest is expressed however, very much in terms of list-making of what plants & birds he observes, or what the weather was like day-to-day. His knowledge of wild birds and plants was fairly rudimentary.
- The intensely practical nature of the man, in terms of the amount of space he devotes to his solutions to practical issues e.g. construction of fencing or hen houses, which crops to grow and when to plant, how long drums of petrol or gas cylinders will last.
- The sheer physical hard work he put in on a daily basis in his garden/small holdings – even when he was dogged by ill-health on Jura due to his TB. This is made all the more remarkable when set alongside the fact that he was also writing as well, most notably “1984”.
- Orwell is often accused of a swiftian distaste for the human race & with intense pessimism. Certainly in the diaries there are strong dismissals of whole groups of people including entire nationalities or political groups. However, this is balanced by a much more generous response to people as individuals – even those with whom he disagreed. His pessimism is related to general trends and the big political & social processes, rather than towards individuals & the small scale. Not surprising that he tended towards anarchism rather than communism.
- There is in Orwell a distate, in fact more than a distaste, rather a revulsion related to some of the messier aspects of human life, and to bodily functions in the wider sense.
All-in-all I came out with a more rounded and sympathetic view of the man, than many reviews, essays & biographies would suggest.
One of the huge strengths of this volume was the editing by Peter Davison. From his wonderful work on the complete works, he has been able to carry intense knowledge of his subject into this book. The notes were always helpful & relevant, never superfluous. Their inclusion beside the text to which they referred made for great ease in using them. I loath books that place the “footnotes” at the back. His brief introductions to each section of the diaries were excellent & linked the very varied volumes of diaries into a coherent whole. (less)
I love Heaney's poetry & this was good, but reading this much earlier volume immediately after "District & Circle" gives a very clear indicati...moreI love Heaney's poetry & this was good, but reading this much earlier volume immediately after "District & Circle" gives a very clear indication of just how much Heaney's poetry developed. The ease & clarity of the later work is outstanding.
The earlier poetry shows greater visible effort in it's production, the vocabulary selection shows more complex selection & less flexibility, and there is less precision & clarity in those perfect images of the later work.
They are still so good, but with only 5 stars to play with for the very best, I had to make some differentiation between hiss very best & his simply very good. (less)
Coming back to this volume of poems after many years, it was an absolute joy & I found myself upping my rating of it to 5 stars. The delightful qu...moreComing back to this volume of poems after many years, it was an absolute joy & I found myself upping my rating of it to 5 stars. The delightful quality of the poems in themselves, which breathe & encapsulate the world that Heaney inhabits & present it to the reader in the most vivid of images deserve regular re-readings in order to soak in them.
Their attraction was probably heightened by reading them during a 5 hour coach journey (I loath the enclosure, discomfort & stuffiness of coach travel!). They provided the perfect antidote to that atmosphere, opening out a world of air, water, colour, space & life.
This was typical of those biographies produced quickly after a public figure's death for general readers with a desire to know a bit more about the pe...moreThis was typical of those biographies produced quickly after a public figure's death for general readers with a desire to know a bit more about the person recently in the news. Given access to public archived material & some of his letters + interviews with some people who knew him, Anthony Howard produced a readable, lightweight narrative of Hume's life - no more, no less.
As an agnostic, political journalist, Howard wisely took greatest interest in Hume's involvement in gaining justice for the McGuire's & the Guildford 4, in his dealings with Bruce Kent & the frictions that the latter's involvement with CND produced, his relationship with the royal family, and various aspects of his relationships with both the Vatican & the Church of England.
Within the very limited scope of the biography, Howard produced a fair-minded approach to whatever judgements he made on the man & his work. But by their nature these were at a shallow level. (less)
If one measured the value of a book by its length or weight related to it's cost this would be negligible, with a total of approx. 13 and a half pages...moreIf one measured the value of a book by its length or weight related to it's cost this would be negligible, with a total of approx. 13 and a half pages of text, when all the partial pages are totalled up for a cost of £14.99.
However, as we fortunately don't do this & judge instead by quality of text and illustrations, this was a delightful book of the highest quality. Some of the text is a re-working of items found in Macfarlane's other work, but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing what he did by bringing these together with new material in co-operation with Dan Richards. I would also have been prepared to pay more than the cover price simply for the wonderful illustrations by Stanley Donwood.
Whilst I quite enjoyed reading the play, I was disappointed with the content of it.
For a defence of the right to think for one's self, there appeared...moreWhilst I quite enjoyed reading the play, I was disappointed with the content of it.
For a defence of the right to think for one's self, there appeared to be very little independent thinking going on. It was more a presentation of people taking up ready made positions on one side or other of the controversy for ill-explained reasons & then playing attack & defence with statements worthy only of the worst of the tabloids, or these days, of Prime Ministers question time.
I also found the production notes at the end concerning the natures of the various characters very irritating. If the authors of plays feel the need to explain what their characters are really like, then for me it points to very unsuccessful writing of the actual script.(less)
Enjoyable little squib of a book. The stories are each great fun while you read them, but afterwards are like Eyeore's balloon - just a little bit of...moreEnjoyable little squib of a book. The stories are each great fun while you read them, but afterwards are like Eyeore's balloon - just a little bit of damp rag remains.(less)