This book took me almost a year to read (all 730-odd pages of it) but was neither because I did not find it a compelling book, or that I am a particulThis book took me almost a year to read (all 730-odd pages of it) but was neither because I did not find it a compelling book, or that I am a particularly slow reader, but rather that it was written in such a way that enabled me to delve into it, and leave it for several days (or even weeks) and then come back to it, without any difficulty of recap. It also helped that its 90-odd chapters are themselves subdivided into numbered sub-chapters, thus enabling convenient breaks in reading that might be more difficult to achieve with longer single chapters.
One other feature which sets this book apart is that it is more of an episodic description of life from the pre-war London working-class life c.1938, into and through the war years, as seen from the perspectives of a number of individuals. What comes closest to an enduring storyline is the tale of young Percy Boon and what leads up to his trial and life imprisonment and the direct and indirect consequences on those around him. But it would be overstating it to say that this was the book’s central theme, or its raison d’etre: I could imagine the book being just as good a read without its inclusion at all. In fact, the same could be said for any one of the central characters and the storylines associated with them. What makes the book compelling and convincing is the whole: the whole being much more than the sum of its individual parts. It bears a resemblance to soap-opera in that sense, characters come and go as do storylines, but when taken as a whole, it is a painting that is vivid and realistic.
As for those characters, wonderfully detailed sketches of characteristics and “types” shine through and leave one believing that one was really there in Dulcimer Street, Kennington, at a time when trams were running and German bombs raining down, and real people and places are being described. To that extent, the storyline becomes almost irrelevant – it is the characters in the context of real places that matters. I was left feeling that I could actually picture the characters concerned, and even picture their faces, and wondering whether this was entirely down to the writing: I then remembered that there was a 1970s television series based on the same book and in a curious way I had been sumliminating some of those very same faces without realising it at the time!
A great book, from an author who had much to offer about a fascinating contemporary scene (the book was first published in 1945), and it leave me wanting to discover his other (if any) writings of a similar genre. ...more
This is a book written by someone who admits at the start that it might be perceived to be the rantings of a man with a huge chip on his shoulder, but This is a book written by someone who admits at the start that it might be perceived to be the rantings of a man with a huge chip on his shoulder, but strenuously denies this to be the case. Walter Ellis is an Ulsterman who is most certainly not the product of an Oxbridge education, but having read what is most certainly a most readable tome, I am left uncertain whether he regrets that or not.
Mr. Ellis’ basic thesis is that, whether knowingly or not, whether by design or accident, the twins pillars of the English academic establishment, have conspired to populate all of the British Establishment and beyond, indeed the pinnacles of just about every facet of national life from the Church and Law right down to popular culture (Rowan Atkinson and Stephen Fry to name but two), and that this is a Very Bad Thing. The vital areas of Industry and Innovation are, Mr. Ellis postulates, not so populated. This is equally a Very Bad Thing. Although Mr Ellis does not theorise that Britain’s decline from the glory days of Empire are because of this conspiracy, he comments that the Oxbridge Conspiracy has very cleverly managed decline, as if that is all that Oxbridge now has to offer. Curiously, since it is mainly Britain’s industry that has decline to the point of invisibility, he does not stop to ask himself why that is so – it can hardly be because of its Oxbridge influence, since that, according to Mr. Ellis, is conspicuous by its absence.
I have certainly learnt a good deal by reading this book, individuals who I did not imagine were Oxbridge products, apparently are. Which goes some way to disproving Mr. Ellis’ thesis that Oxbridge produces a monocultural “type”, who are the root of all things mediocre (at best) or bad (at worst). Admittedly, as an Oxbridge man (Queens’ College, Cambridge) and member of the archetypical Oxbridge profession (the Bar), maybe I am suffering from the same blindness that Mr. Ellis accuses all Oxbridgians of suffering, but I just don’t get the criticism he is trying to level. Mr. Ellis admits that the Oxbridge admissions system has done its best to make entry far less exclusive, and the fact that a bare majority of entrants might still be public school has far more to do with the paucity of State education than anything else. In particular, and with this I am entirely in agreement, he criticises the criminal abolition all but 164 of the grammar schools by both Labour and Conservative Governments in the 1960s-70s, and the negative effect that this inevitably had on State school admissions to the ancient Universities. Notwithstanding this, both Universities have bent over backwards to attract deserving students from State schools – unhelped by the ever-downward descent of standards there.
An alternative view to Mr. Ellis’ might be stated thus: Oxford and Cambridge are England’s best Universities, and attract the best candidates. That those graduates consequently have better career prospects than others, and eventually gain a majority of the Country’s (and possibly many of the World’s) best jobs, is hardly surprising. This is not a conspiracy, but something of which those two Universities, and the Country, ought to be proud.
Finally, this book was written in 1994, and revised in 1995. A survey of all the “top” positions carried out in 2012 would make an interesting comparison. Mr. Ellis theorises that far from the Oxbridge influence diminishing over the years it had increased and he predicted it to either maintain its pre-eminence or increase. I would be most interested to see whether that prophesy has been fulfilled in the 17 or 18 years since the book was written. I rather suspect it has not. ...more
The best part of this book is the eminently readable account of Hitler's rise to power, a neat summary of "Mein Kampf" and the trickle-down effect ofThe best part of this book is the eminently readable account of Hitler's rise to power, a neat summary of "Mein Kampf" and the trickle-down effect of his treacherous betrayal of one European neighbour after another, culminating in his invasion of Poland on 3rd September 1939.
To our eyes, it might seem strange that such a book was ever necessary, but one has to remember the context. Written at a time, in 1939, when Britain had only just entered the war, Hitler and Stalin were still best pals, the U.S.A. was maintaining a lofty neutrality, and most countries in the European mainland were cowering in fear of occupation: most importantly in Britain there was still a huge pacifist camp, some of it led by a very good-natured if naaive Left-ward and Right-ward political leanings of opposing philosophies, and Harold Nicholson (diplomat, civil servant, politician and barrister!) was, like Churchill to an extent, still slightly in the wilderness. His book had several sell-out print-runs, and was widely acclaimed at the time. Today, it ought to be read by any student of history, and anyone who thinks that the European "ideal" that has manifested itself in the European Union is a panacea for a long-lasting peaceful future!
Nicholson's conclusions (written 6 years before the War's end) were somewhat wide of the mark, recommending a World where only the United Nations would be allowed aeroplanes (so that it can bomb any country not complying with U.N. demands!) and a United States of Europe of a sort even more integrated than the 30-year experiment that is now crumbling all around us! But, it is not his conclusions that are the best part of the book - it is his analysis of how we came to be where we were at the time (late 1939) and why it was necessary to defeat Hitler and all he stood for. Without that, we would not have the freedoms we now take for granted, and I doubt that I would be able to write this review as freely, and as critically of governments, as I have!...more
Unfortunately, I was just a bit too young fully to appreciate the seemingly endless broadcasts of “Whicker’s World” in the 1970s, and to my mind thatUnfortunately, I was just a bit too young fully to appreciate the seemingly endless broadcasts of “Whicker’s World” in the 1970s, and to my mind that much travelled broadcaster was more memorable for his equally endless American Express television adverts of the same period! I was too young to appreciate the subtlety of his style of tele-journalism, and I am now old enough to know better!
So, a round 2005, when a new series entitled “Whicker’s War” was broadcast, I took the risk of watching the series, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I watched it with my father – from Whicker’s generation and always a fan- and I came to appreciate what he, as a young Army officer had been through, fighting his way from Sicily to Venice, by way of Anzio, Monte Cassino and Rome, a parcel of World War Two about which I knew very little. I am so glad that I watched the series, and now having read the book, I know much more not only about Alan Whicker, C.B.E., but also that part of the war.
Written in what is clearly Whicker’s trademark tongue-in-cheek style, a sometimes unusual but always beautiful use of English, I have somehow come to regard him as an old friend. When on one of those obscure digital television channels there next appears a re-run of “Whicker’s World”, I shall be reaching for the Record button of my television, since I have no doubt that I would most enjoyably profit from the Whicker view of so many other parts of the World.
Undoubtedly a superb book, especially for lovers of Alan Whicker, but also for those with an interest in the War, and the Italian campaign. ...more
This is certainly an interesting read, and written in an easy style by Mr. Paxman. Although it certainly contain his opinions (on the concept of monarThis is certainly an interesting read, and written in an easy style by Mr. Paxman. Although it certainly contain his opinions (on the concept of monarchy in general and the House of Windsor in particular) and one can almost hear him utter some of the phrases used (those of us used to his Newsnight style), it is probably as near to an objective analysis of the subject matter as is to be found in print anywhere nowadays.
Some of the chapter divisions are perhaps questionable, with some issues having to be repeated because they cross several boundaries (such as the mass mourning hysteria that followed the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997), but there is a certain logic in dividing up the various chapters as they are, giving the author scope to make comparisons between the current House of Windsor and their forbears, as well as with other monarchies in Europe and beyond.
One slight quibble – no doubt in order to reinforce his wholly agnostic view of royalty, I find distasteful and odd his insistence on using lower case lettering when referring to specific individuals such as The Queen (“the queen”). There is no problem when using the term “queen” when referring to queens in general, but titles conferred on individuals ought, as a basic rule of grammar (not to mention politeness) to commence with an upper case letter. Odder still because of his lack of consistency: not “prince Charles” but “Prince Charles” in some places.
Any reader is bound to find new material contained in this book, but it does cover a lot of ground already covered by many authors in the past. Recommended to anyone with an interest in Royalty in general or the British Royal family in particular. ...more
This is a finely-tuned observation of life in Germany during the ascendancy of the Nazi regime. In so doing, it is perhaps unsurprisingly antipatheticThis is a finely-tuned observation of life in Germany during the ascendancy of the Nazi regime. In so doing, it is perhaps unsurprisingly antipathetic to the slow demise of a civilised country into the despotic thuggery of Naziism, and all the brutality this entailed, not least for those of a liberal (not to say Communist) disposition with which the author clearly identifies. On the other hand, the picture that is painted of the darker side of political and socially amoral life in 1930s Berlin is hardly an attractive one, and a casual observer might be tempted to say (were it not for the benefit of historical hindsight) that the two deserved each other!
In other words, neither the status quo, nor the ascendant fascist dictatorship are painted as particularly attractive alternatives, and no doubt modern day Berlin (and Germany) is happy to have cast off such abominations, and it is a tragedy that so much death and destruction occurred in the meantime. Having said that, like being a fly on the wall in some lunatic asylum, but not actually being part of it, is about the closest one wants to get to that period of time, and “Mr. Issyvoo” has painted as vivid a picture of it as one could possibly want! ...more
This is a trio of very different stories, all with the common theme of how three very diverse sets of Germans deal with the rise and ultimate fall ofThis is a trio of very different stories, all with the common theme of how three very diverse sets of Germans deal with the rise and ultimate fall of Nazism. The first of the trio is set in the glory days of the ascent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, as seen through the eyes of a naïve young man, and what happens afterwards. The second is a somewhat rambling story of a 14-year-old German girl who, with her younger siblings survives the disappearance of her Nazi parents and the struggles to get to her family in Hamburg in the immediate aftermath of the Allies’ victory. The third, and by far the best and most challenging, is the story of a present-day young man whose quest for the truth behind his Nazi SS-serving grandfather leads almost to the destruction of the relationship his family and girlfriend.
The first two stories are moving descriptive accounts, which in themselves are interesting (fictionalised) accounts of stories that must have been repeated countless times. But, it is the third story that I find fascinating because, like anyone else, I cannot help asking the same questions of myself. If I discovered that I had an elderly relative, after whose death I discovered that he potentially had an appalling dark secret, perhaps responsible for deaths of thousands of innocent people, but also someone whom I loved and treasured as a youngster: how would I react? Would the former alleged monstrosity annul the good things he had done and the relationship we had? How would I feel about those (other relatives, for example) who were complicit in either a cover-up or wilfully turning a blind eye? These are the sometimes painful questions thrown up in this clever story. It is a story that has a twist in the tail, and gives no easy answers. But I like the fact that the questions are asked, and worked through to one possible outcome.
I can’t say how I would have reacted in the same situation, but I enjoy the challenge of contemplating my behaviour. I think that anyone with even the remotest knowledge of the Nazi occupation of Europe and the atrocities committed in the name of Adolf Hitler will enjoy reading this book, and for those who do not know of the atrocities, perhaps a little research on the subject will be useful before indulging in the pleasure of reading this book. ...more
Quite unusually, especially for any of Ian McEwan’s novels, I have seen the dramatic production (film or television play, I am unsure) of this book beQuite unusually, especially for any of Ian McEwan’s novels, I have seen the dramatic production (film or television play, I am unsure) of this book before I read it. The unforgettable opening sequence, of a runaway hot-air balloon is as unforgettable an opening as I have ever seen. I was glued to the drama being played out on television, and watched the play/film to the end, without at the time even knowing its author or name.
Then, a few years later, to read the book, one is filled with certain expectations. Of course the basic plot is the same, as is the tenet of the story – the irrational and at times bemusing obsession by one man of another, whose paths crossed only in pure coincidence, and the drama that unfolds thereafter – is the same in both play and book, I had genuinely forgotten the ending.
I do not want to give away too much to spoil the reader’s delight when visiting this book for the first time, but as with so many of Mr. McEwan’s books, one is left wondering whether anything in it is autobiographical, such is the loving way that the story unfolds, and the depth of feeling contained in it. Because of pressure of time, I was forced to read the book over a longer period of time than I would have wished, but a page-turner it most certainly is!
One of the most interesting features of this book (as with several others by this author) is the wonderful way he deals with human relationships. In particular, that between man and wife (I am a bachelor of course!) but I find his descriptions on such ordinary interaction tantalising – the sheer “ordinariness” of everyday married life, and the slow and almost imperceptible disintegration of it or, as here, a traumatic incident that sets in train the disintegration. Trust and betrayal are also part of so much of Mr. McEwan’s work, and this is an underlying theme here, although not until the very end will the almost Roald Dahl-like twist in the tail become apparent!
A great read and wholeheartedly recommended. ...more
I have long been interested in Freemasonry, having been invited several times to join the Craft. As a lover of tradition, and having no philosophicalI have long been interested in Freemasonry, having been invited several times to join the Craft. As a lover of tradition, and having no philosophical objections to either male-only secret or secretive organisations, I have been tempted to accept one or other of those invitations, but there has always been something within me that has caused me to hold back.
Having read several books on the subject, most notably Stephen Knight’s “forbidden” “The Brotherhood and its sequel “Inside the Brotherhood” (any organisations that forbids me to read a publication is simply showing a red rag to this bull!) my main qualms were reinforced: the incompatibility of Freemasonry with Christianity. I do not consider myself a particularly devout Christian, but I do hold the basic tenet of the supremacy of God and the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. If I had my doubts on the question of compatibility before reading the Revd. Lawrence’s book, I most certainly do now.
The book is well-written and easy to read. I skipped over the (frankly boring) appendices which give the detail of ritual involved when ascending the Holy Royal Arch, and the death of Hiram Abiff, and found somewhat comical the descriptions given earlier in the text of the tortuous positionings of feet and rolled trouser-legs for various ceremonies – none of that would necessarily discourage me from joining (I am a member of a profession which wears 18th Century costume and horsehair on its head as everyday working dress!), but I am more convinced than ever, not that Freemasonry is evil or “the work of Satan” – as is advocated by one of those quoted in this book, but that it is simply a division of loyalty which a true Christian cannot countenance. Freemasonry does many good things (my own School has its own Lodge and I know many of its members, whose character is impeccable) but the concept of a parallel theology of Freemasonry worries me greatly.
I do not accept that Freemasonry is a “religion”, but this book certainly makes a compelling case for suggesting that some regard it as such, although I am sure that the vast majority of its members would genuinely and justifiably reject that charge. Its historical provenance may make Freemasonry appear to be more of a religion nowadays than any of its adherents would wish it to be, but that cannot be ignored.
This was a book, read in a single sitting today, which I was literally unable to put down!
Some will know a little about the story of Marta Andreasen,This was a book, read in a single sitting today, which I was literally unable to put down!
Some will know a little about the story of Marta Andreasen, who was for a short time the European Union’s Chief Accountant, and that she was suspended and then dismissed for “whistleblowing”. In reality, she was simply doing what she was being paid to do – attempting to verify the annual accounts of the European Union, which its own court of auditors had been unwilling to sign off for 14 consecutive years. Miss Andreasen entered this quagmire full of good intentions, and her singular error was not to sign herself up to the trough-snouted gravytrain which seems to have pervaded every nook and cranny of the E.U.’s finances.
Miss Andreasen was disciplined for having the temerity to contact the E.U. Commissioners directly about something as simple and straightforward as recommending new accounting software – which had already been installed and paid for but was not being used – over the head of her undoubtedly corrupt line manager. One of the unfortunate aspects of this book is that, that same corrupt line manager and indeed many others (from Commissioners downwards) have been given pseudonyms in the book – I am not sure why. Each and every one of the cut-throats and desperadoes involved should be a matter of public record, and I am sure a little internet research will reveal the names of all concerned. Some of the more obvious culprits, however, do not escape with pseudonyms, top of the list of which is Commissioner Kinnock who comes in for particularly well-deserved scorn for incomprehensibly petulant and childish behaviour - not that any of this is a particular secret to anyone that knows him, but it makes it all the more scandalous that this twit was installed as the “clean pair of hands” after the wholly inept Commission led by the truly appallingJacques Santer (of Luxembourg) had been dismissed.
Miss Andreasen pressed on with her various appeals, none of which (unsurprisingly, since they were tribunals totally devoid of natural justice and staffed by even more trough-snouts of the E.U.) brought her any success. She had a touching faith that she dreamt that it could ever be otherwise!
Hopefully, Miss Andreasen, M.E.P. as she now is, will have some small opportunity to be thorn in the side of the European political class (and not become a part of it like most of her cohorts, save for the U.K. Independence Party on whose benches she sits). She has already been bullied, trashed and beaten up (almost literally – bugged telephones, being followed at night etc.) by our new European masters, and her well-written story deserves to be read by all, especially those who are naïve enough to think that the institution is capable of any reform whatsoever!
Write a review...Another very readable novel from the stable of Henry Cecil (a.k.a. His Honour Judge Leon, of Willesden County Court), with a broadlyWrite a review...Another very readable novel from the stable of Henry Cecil (a.k.a. His Honour Judge Leon, of Willesden County Court), with a broadly legal theme.
Unlike many of its predecessors, it does not follow the travails of hapless barrister Roger Thursby (portrayed most memorably by the late Ian Carmichael in the Bolting Brothers’ film adaptation, “Brothers in Law”) or any particular barrister or legal luminary, but is quartet of loosely linked stories based on two post-war couples who slide their way through various echelons of society, in activities that make them a considerable amount of money whilst sitting astride the dividing line between legality and fraud. The two male characters are made socially acceptable to the reader in typical post-war fashion as having acquired, respectively, the D.S.O. and M.C. during the war, and their pretty wives are delectably described by Mr. Cecil (or should I say “His Honour”?).
The plots are ingenious, albeit in one of them, the somewhat archaic lawsuit of “enticement” may leave the 21st Century reader somewhat baffled. That does not detract from the charm of these stories, and the wonderfully civilised middle class post-war life that must have been well-known to the author, but can only be imagined by today’s readers too young to have been alive at the time.
Although not strictly relevant to a review of this book, the edition I read was an original 1963 Penguin paperback volume, with period cover drawing by Kenneth Mahood. This particular volume was bought, against still competition from a certain fellow Cecil enthusiast, a certain Lord Justice of Appeal, in the Temple Church Fair in 2006, following each other around and snapping up each Cecil novel found on the same stall! I managed to bag six Cecils against His Lordship’s four!