About Me

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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Friday, 30 June 2017

"A Handful of Ash" by Marsali Taylor

I read this immediately after reading "Death of a Travelling Man" by M C Beaton and was at once impressed by the greater depth of the writing. There was more concern with character and place and language; more time was taken to build these and to build the atmosphere of "ill-viket", malevolence. The only similarity seemed to be that they were both murder mysteries set in Scotland.

I should have read this after reading the first two in the series. I have now read Death on a Longship (highly recommended) and there are many of the same characters involved which is great but you can more or less scrub long-running characters from your list of suspects. I need to read things in series! The Trowie Mound Murders, second in the series, is also a brilliant book.

This had all the ingredients of the genre done right:

  • The narrator and protagonist was a loner, damaged in the past. She yearns for love but isn't sure and that was not too heavy handed. The features of her character were different: her love of boats, her operatic mother, her religion. 
  • I guessed the killer early on but I could not be certain. There were plenty of red herrings strewn across my path and most were highly plausible. When the solution came it knitted all the clues together and it seemed the only sensible solution. 
  • There were moments of excitement when the hero's life is threatened.
  • This was a modern mystery so police were there and all the panoply of the forensics were available and yet the hero had no access to all this and so they could, just like the reader, attempt to solve it from the given clues. It worked.

There was also a real sense that the relatives of the victims grieved.

But most of all the prose was beautiful. I lost count of the fabulous descriptions of the countryside. The author is a tour guide in the Shetlands; if I could I'd fly up there tomorrow for at least a month.

The best bits:

  • "These girls knew Annette. The tallest of them was giving her a hard glare from under her dye-black fringe. Annette looked back, pleading at first, then her eyes hardened and her lips set in a straight line. The tallest girl lifted one hand, and rubbed her thumb against her first two fingers in the universal 'money' gesture. The other two sneered." (p 4)
  • "The tallest girl's hand fell slowly. Her look would have stopped a seagull in flight. The black, glossy leather, the grey frills of skirt, the poised attention of the turned heads, gave them the look of a trio of hooded crows sizing up a dying sheep. They were an ill-viket trio. If I was Annette, I'd be watching my back." (p 4)
  • "On a moonlit night, alone on deck, with the sea in a great saucer all around you, it was easy to see things." (p 9)
  • "A snakes-wedding of blue nylon rope" (p 20)
  • "Above us, the fissures between the clouds became creamy-grey, then pale blue." (p 31)
  • "His brisk walk had turned into a sleep-walking daander, feet placed unevenly as if the floor had grown unsteady under him." (p 31)
  • "There was the tin smell of snow in the air." (p 35)
  • "The little turrets had disdainful eyebrows over the latticed windows." (p 51)
  • "The wind searched out the cracks between glove and sleeve, cap and cheek, scarf and neck, and stung like a wasp." (p 51)
  • "How we rewrite the dead." (p 59)
  • "There was the green smell of moss from a grass-choked gutter." (p 61)
  • "A gossiping of starlings swirled around me" (p 61)
  • "Cloud shadows chased each other over the hills, and the sea was burnished silver." (p 150) First half of that sentence is sublime, the second less original.
  • "The cloth in my mouth tasted of fabric softener ... and the intense floral taste made me want to gag." (p 166)
What a treat. A murder mystery that works like a novel. Hope there's more!

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Pericles Prince of Tyre by William Shakespeare

I saw Pericles on Wednesday 28th June 2017 in an amateur production in the open air in the Elizabethan courtyard of the George in Huntingdon. The sky was overcast, the evening was chilly, it threatened rain throughout. The director had the bright idea of splitting Gower's narration in between the members of the case; often the appropriate character said what he or she was about to do. The fisherfolk (the men became women) were brilliantly funny; their reappearance as raddled whores in the brothel scene was less successful. Marina was especially good as was Boult. Some of the scenes (the tournament with the knights and the dancing afterwards) slow up the action; I would have cut them but I can see how they are irresistible to thespians. They were very careful to reinterpret Lysimachus's wooing of Marina in the brothel so that he became husband material before the end: they made him seem to be an honourable gentleman (seeking sex in a brothel) by cutting a couple of his lines where he asks the bawd for virgins and undiseased prostitutes; nevertheless the delicate posturing between a young man wanting sex and an honourable nobleman, possibly commonplace to Elizabethans but unacceptably hypocritical to our sensibilities, make this part difficult to credit and almost impossible to play convincingly and I felt for the actor who made a brave attempt at it.

Overall, the production was a decent attempt at a bloody difficult play.

Prologue: spoken by old Gower in iambic tetrameter: The king of Antioch is having an incestuous relationship with his daughter. She is so beautiful that lots of princes try for her hand; they have to answer a riddle which alludes to the incest; if they fail to guess it right they die.

Act One: Pericles discovers that the princess he fancies is having an incestuous relationship with her father King of Antioch. He realises that this is going to make the King fear him, and hate him, and
"Murder's as near to lust as flame to smoke"
The King pretends to be nice but Pericles realises
"'Tis time to fear when tyrants seem to kiss."
so he decides to flee to Tyre. But even there he isn't safe.

Pericles flees to Tyre but, realising that Antioch might invade to silence him and tailed by assassin Thaliard (who when he gets to Tyre finds Pericles has gone sailing and decides he will probably die at sea so gives up the search), moves on to Tarsus where there is a famine. The King Cleon is on the beach with his wife Dionyza; Cleon decides to go among the starving people and share their woes so they might feel solace in companionship although the waspish Dionyza sneers:
"That were to blow at fire in hope to quench it."
In the nick of time Pericles and his ships arrive with supplies.

Act Two: Pericles is shipwrecked at Pentapolis whose king just happens to have a beautiful daughter whose hand Pericles wins at a knightly tournament. meanwhile we hear that Antiochus and his daughter/ mistress have been killed by a bolt of lightning and that the Lords in Tyre want Helicanus to be King in place of the absent Pericles. This was the bit with the rather silly knightly tournament and dancing at the subsequent ball. It started with the fisherfolk finding Pericles on the beach which included some great knockabout humour but little of this Act served to advance the plot of elucidate the characters.
"Opinion's but a fool, that makes us scan

The outward habit by the inward man."
Act Three: does the hard work. Again it is introduced by Gower. Pericles has married Thalia; she is pregnant. The letter from Tyre reaches them telling P that Antiochus is dead and Helicanus is, for the present, refusing the throne. P and his wife set out by sea for Tyre. But a storm blows up:
"the grisly north
Disgorges such a tempest forth"
The nurse brings him the baby and tells him that his wife has died in child-birth.
"O you gods!
Why do you make us love your goodly gifts,

And snatch them straight away?"
The sailors tell Pericles that the only way to calm the storm is to tip the corpse overboard. They have a sealed chest which will act as a coffin. P assents and tells them to make for Tarsus because the baby won't survive until they reach Tyre. He leaves newly named Marina there. But the chest comes ashore at Ephesus where the lord, who trained in medicine, revives Thalia.
"Virtue and cunning were endowments greater
Than nobleness and riches: careless heirs

May the latter two darken and expend;

But immortality attends the former,

Making a man a god."
So at the end of the act we have Thalia serving the temple of Diana in Ephesus, thinking Pericles and the baby dead, Marina in Tarsus and Pericles on his way back to Tyre, having sworn to Diana not to cut his hair till Marina be married.

Act Four: Gower comes on again to tell us that that Marina is such a great kid that she well outshines the King's own daughter so the Queen, jealous, hires a murderer to kill Marina. But just as he is about to kill her, pirates kidnap her and sell her to a brothel in Mytilene.

The pander and the bawd have a problem: too many customers and too few whores. So they get their servant to buy Miranda from the pirates. The bawd will try to teach her the ropes though she foresees problems:
"You're a young foolish sapling, and must be bowed as I would have you.
The servant asks for 'commission': 
"If I have bargained for the joint .../ Thou mayst cut a morsel off the spit.
Miranda hopes to kill herself.

Meanwhile Cleon rages at his wife for killing Marina and she rages back at him for being a pussy.
"such a piece of slaughter
The sun and moon ne'er looked upon!"
This argument between man and wife is at last worthy of Shakespeare. She is ashamed of his cowardice, he is ashamed of her lack of honour. But as she points out:
"Yet none does know, but you, how she came dead,
Nor none can known, Leonine being gone."
And then she plays the angry jealous mother:
"She did disdain my child, and stood between
Her and her fortunes: none would look on her

But cast their gazes on Marina's face;

Whilst ours was blurted at and made a malkin [slattern]

Not worth the time of day. It pierced me through"
Cleon tells her:

"Thou art like the harpy,

Which, to betray, dost, with thine angel's face,

Seize with thine talons."
But as Dionyza remarks
"But yet I know you'll do as I advise."

When Pericles finds out his daughter is dead he is distraught. But Miranda is busy persuading the bad folks of Mytilene to preserve her honour. The governor of Mytilene goes to the brothel for a virgin but Miranda persuades him not to. He pays her anyway. She uses the money to persuade Boult the doorkeeper to find her a job teaching in an honest house.

Act Five: In a wonderful scene Pericles goes mad with joy on being reunited with Marina. At first he disbelieves her:
"O, I am mock'd,
And thou by some incensed god sent hither

To make the world to laugh at me.


This is the rarest dream that e'er dull sleep

Did mock sad fools withal: this cannot be:

My daughter's buried."
But when he believes he becomes almost incoherent with joy:

"Give me a gash, put me to present pain; 

Lest this great sea of joys rushing upon me

O'ergear the shores of my mortality,
And drown me with their sweetness."

and Shakespeare treats us to a wonderful moment of a man hearing music, ordering people about, exulting, and falling asleep, exhausted by happiness.
"Give me my robes. I am wild in my beholding. 
O heavens bless my girl! But, hark, what music? 


The music of the spheres!


Rarest sounds! Do ye not hear?


Most heavenly music!

It nips me unto listening, and thick slumber

Hangs upon mine eyes: let me rest."
Then he goes to Ephesus and finds Thaisa and everyone is happy ever after (except for Mr and Mrs Cleon who are burned in their palace.

This is a fascinating play. It breaks all the rules. There are so many locations that it stretches theatrical incredulity to breaking point; furthermore the first few scenes in Antioch and the first wooing by Pericles have very little relation to the rest of the play (Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch in Shakespeare's Workmanship suggests that the first two acts make up a stand-alone plot which has “scarce anything to do with the story, and no necessary bearing on it whatsoever” and that it is to Shakespeare's credit that he took this botched job by Wilkins and turned it into what became a popular triumph) and the time scale (Pericles leaves his new born daughter in Tyre for fourteen years before deciding to reclaim her) is ludicrous. Even for Shakespeare who really could write a plot this is poor stuff.

The narrator was a real person. John Gower was a contemporary of Chaucer who wrote the poem, in tetrameters, that the play is based on. He introduces every act, appears sometimes mid-act in a scene and normally but not always speaks in rhyming tetrameter couplets. He also uses a number of old-fashioned words as if he really is contemporary with Chaucer. The frenetic scene changing of the play needs such a character.

They say that the first half was written by George Wilkins and that Shakespeare came on from Act Three. Certainly Act Five Scene One is the best bit of it. But it is also said that the text we have is probably corrupt and may have been stiutched together from ear-witness copies.

Other Shakespeare plays reviewed in this blog include (productions mentioned in parentheses; RSC = Royal Shakespeare Company; NT = National Theatre):

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

"Death of a Travelling Man" by M C Beaton

This is one of the about 30 (!) Hamish Macbeth murder mysteries by the author who also brought us Agatha Raisin.

Hamish Macbeth is a policeman in a very northerly Scottish lochside town (it is described as a "tiny Highland village" but it boasts a police station house where Hamish lives with his cleaning obsessed sidekick Willie, two hotels (one closed, although its bar is still doing a roaring trade), several kirks of different denominations, a village shop run stereotypically by a Patel, a doctor's surgery and a thriving Italian restaurant). He is kept busy rescuing a child from a flooding river and two climbers from a mountainside as well as dealing with theft of money, theft of morphine and murder.

The problem with the murder is that there is really only one possible culprit that isn't one of the villagers and this reader was pretty sure that the murderer wouldn't be one of the people Hamish had known all his life although it could be the Italian restaurant proprietor who has recently arrived in the village (and who, in another fit of the stereotypes, can instantly swap role from suave maitre d to evil mafia boss).

Nevertheless, the story is gentle and charming (which also makes the gruesome murder rather unreal). I read it in a few hours. I did want to get to the end.

I liked the cop who would much rather be a cleaning woman, though he was more caricature than character. He had a way with malapropisms. My favourite was "She lives in a condom in San Francisco" (p 18).

Another nice line, after Hamish had spent all night investigating, was his girlfriend suggesting "some normal people change their clothes from day to day." (p 160)

An easy-read murder mystery. June 2017, 232 pages

Monday, 26 June 2017

"Alric of Bedanford" by Veronica Sims

When I was a kid (in the 1960s) I loved this sort of book. It is a classic boy's adventure story set in the time of the Saxons. It might not have been quite so gritty as the brilliant tales of Leon Garfield but it reminded me strongly of stories by Cynthia Harnett such as The Wool Pack and The Load of Unicorn and stories by Geoffrey Trease such as Cue for Treason, Clive King's The 22 Letters. These were wonderful stories which I as a pre-pubescent boy devoured.

Children's fiction has become more realistic and darker these days but I am sure there is still room for simple escapist adventure of this type.

The plot follows the adventures of a Saxon lad who is sent for help to the King of Mercia shortly before his home town of Bedanford (Bedford) is destroyed by Vikings. Fatherless he grows up in the Mercian court training to be a warrior. Then he is sent on a mission to Witancaester (Winchester) and subsequently sent to spy on the Danes in Grantabrycge (Cambridge). Throughout the placenames are written in the old Saxon; the book benefits from a lot of research which supports but never intrudes on the story.

The plot device by which the adventuring boy spies escaped their hostile escort was audacious to say the least.

The ending is abrupt but it promises a sequel.

There were some brilliant lines:

  • "The land of dreams and dragons" (Chapter 3)
  • "With this sun you'll leak sweat like an old leather bucket" (Chapter 4)
  • "The solid stone of sadness that seemed to be lodged somewhere in the middle of my body." (Chapter 7)
  • He "drank his ale as if the supplies were about to fail" (Chapter 17)
  • "The shadows started to creep out from behind the trees" (Chapter 19)

Great fun. June 2017. Kindle.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

"The Spring Voyage" by R J Mitchell

In 1458 two galleys travelled from Venice to the Holy Land (via Dubrovnik, Rhodes etc). They were packed with pilgrims (one of them a founding fellow at the newly established Eton College), three of whom kept detailed diaries. So this is a historical reconstruction of their trip.

They meet in Venice where they take the Venetian galleys which have been allocated, by auction (it was a lucrative trade) to take pilgrims to the Holy Land. The book details the voyage, via Dubrovnik and Rhodes and Cyprus, and the hardships the pilgrims endured (and grumbled about). They then travelled overland to Jerusalem where they 'did the sights' like any modern tourist would. There were not terrible dangers (though some of them died from sickness) nor bandits (though they encountered and escaped from a pirate ship) nor incredible rip-offs (although there were enumerable small ones). Nevertheless this book gives an authentic account of life near the end of the middle ages.

After Jerusalem most of the party returned home the way they had come although one very small group continued to the monastery of St Catherine at the foot of Mount Sinai. On the way back this group went to Matariya, on the outskirts of Cairo, where the Holy Family (the book is of an age where all such references are capitalised) rested during the flight into Egypt and a Garden of Balm trees grew up; it was then claimed (is it still true) that this was the only place in the world where these trees (Commiphora opobalsmum) grew. Although wikipedia records that Matariya was part of the ancient Egyptian city of Heliopolis, the gardens nor the legend of the Holy Family are not recorded; balm is recorded as stemming from a variety of trees from across the world, it is associated with the Balm of Gilead from the Bible and with a potential ingredient of Greek Fire.

Perhaps there is a book to be written on balm.

The pilgrims also saw a giraffe (a "zaraffa"): "white skinned with red spots; it is lower at the read end than at the front. It has a supple neck of three arms' length, a long head with a pointed nose, eyes that are large and rather like those of an ox, large ears like a cow's, on the top of its head two little horns like those of a young goat." (p 158). A  pretty good description"!

Other nice bits:

  • "In medieval times most laymen, as well as the great majority of clerics, led extraordinarily static and insipid lives." (p 15)
  • "Ordinary men and women ... faced the rigours and hardships without flinching, indeed, with every sign of pleasure." (p 15)
  • "a Venetian ducat ... was worth less in Cyprus than in Rhodes. It would seem that the value diminished as the distance from Venice diminished." (p 19)
  • "On a pilgrimage the mouth of your purse must always be open." (p 25)
  • "Also take with yew a lytel cawdren and frying pan, dysches, platterys, sawserrys of tre, cuppes of glas, a grater for brede, and such necessaryes." (p 51)

An interesting account of an obscure voyage: keep it for reference! June 2017; 184 pages

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

"Out of this world" by Graham Swift

Graham Swift won the Booker Prize for Last Orders and was shortlisted for Waterland, both amazing books.

Harry, son of a first world war VC turned arms manufacturer, is a photographer who specialises in recording the horror of war. He is estranged from his daughter Sophie who lives in New York with her travel agent husband and their two twins. The story is almost entirely narrated alternately by Harry and by Sophie, whose narrations are mostly talking to her therapist.

As the novel progresses we learn about the traumas of their lives, the wife lost in childbirth, the wife lost in a plane crash, the father blown up by a car bomb. Theirs is a slow journey towards reconciliation.

"Everything in the garden was lovely. Hasn't it got to be that way? So we can believe we came from Paradise? Then it gets fucked later." (p 51)
"You belong nowhere. Or rather: This is the only place you belong - this transit region, this in-between space." (p 121)

Beautifully written. June 2017; 208 pages

Monday, 19 June 2017

"Thunderball" by Ian Fleming

I have enjoyed James Bond books in the past. The Spy Who Loved Me, written from the perspective of the lady and NOTHING like the film, is a very good book; Goldfinger is a cute classic. One of the joys, also one of the problems, is that they are so firmly rooted in their time so that ransom demands seem modest and fast cars slow. Attitudes have changed too. The books contain casual sexism and racism that sound shocking to modern ears. But it is important to read these books to understand what Fleming had that made him such a popular author. Because for Goldfinger I said that Ian Fleming was a very good thriller writer.

But Thunderball, the ninth Bond book, feels tired. The first few chapters cover a subplot in which James is sent to a health farm; this has tenuous connections with the main plot which therefore only gets going on page 55. I can only presume that it is the level of detail. Felix Leiter spends two pages describing the profit margins when barmen add water and olives to gin in mixing a Martini. Ships are described in the sort of obsessive details that you get in manuals, so are cars. I have issues as to whether the electric chair method of execution would actually work (electrodes that are "concealed" are probably also insulated which means that the current created by the 3000 volts might have been sufficient to cause a heart attack but scarcely enough to kill in the manner described; to achieve this in the real electric chair requires careful attachment of electrical contacts to a prisoner). But on the whole Fleming has done meticulous research. The trouble is that he writes it all down. I mostly skipped those pages but I guess that many readers find them the best.

Occasional moments:

  • "She [Bond's Bentley] went like a bird and a bomb and Bond loved her more than all the women at present in his life rolled, if that were feasible, together." (p 92) At least that's funny although 'bird and a bomb' doesn't work for me.
  • "Bond's stomach crawled with the ants of fear and his skin tightened at the groin." (p 237)

Much of this book seems like Fleming ranting against health farms and the outrageous prices in Nassau restaurants. June 2017; 354 pages

Friday, 16 June 2017

"Bodily Harm" by Margaret Atwood

At the beginning Rennie, a globe trotting journalist, has had surgery for a lump in her breast; her boyfriend Jake has left; someone apparently intending to assault her has broken into her flat. Which is quite a beginning.

Seeking to escape she takes an assignment to do a travel piece on an impoverished Caribbean island. This began to remind me of Graham Greene at his very best. The airport is run down and the hotel is shabby. Everyone she meets seems to have a sinister agenda. The police are corrupt and there is an impending election; one of the major industries is drug smuggling; the hurricane relief money lines the pockets of the politicians. The descriptions are brilliant, the characters perfect.

  • "Less like a background ... than a subground, something that can't be seen but is nevertheless there, full of gritty old rocks and buried stumps, worms and bones; nothing you'd want to go into." (p 18)
  • "Those who'd lately been clamouring for roots had never seen a root up close ... she'd rather be some other part of the plant." (p 18)
  • "In Griswold everyone gets what they deserve. In Griswold everyone deserves the worst." (p 18)
  • "She didn't want to die with dignity. She didn't want to die at all." (p 20)
  • "Pick a man, any man, and find the distinguishing features. They eyebrows? The nose? The body?" (p 44)
  • "The standard aimed at was not beauty but decency ... If you were a girl it was a lot safer to be decent than to be beautiful." (pp 54 - 55)
  • "You're turning me on. ... I thought you were on all the time."
  • "Being in love was like running barefoot along a street covered with broken bottles. It was foolhardy, and if you got through it without damage it was only by sheer luck. It was like taking your clothes off at lunchtime in the bank. It let people think they knew something about you that you didn't know about them, it gave them power over you. It made you visible, soft, penetrable; it made you ludicrous." (p 102)
  • "She doesn't like the sign of ravage, damage, the edge between inside and outside blurred like that." (p 85)
  • "'I'm an animal in the dark.' 'Which one ... A chipmunk?'" (p 117)
  • "I personally think it's just dandy when people can't express anger, there's enough of it in the world already." (p 165)
  • "He did make his living cutting parts off other people's bodies and patting their shoulders while they died, he used the same hands for both." (pp 196 - 197)
  • "'But up and coming' ... 'As often as possible', said Jake." (p 200)
  • "Nobody wants it [the drug trade] legalized, then you could grow it right there in your own back yard, the bottom would fall out of the market." (p 216)
  • "Love is tangled, sex is straight." (p 223)
  • "I'd like to fly like a bird but I never jumped off any roofs." (p 266)

Rennie has had surgery resulting in removal pf part of her body. Throughout the book, Rennie sees bits of body that seem to have become detached:

  • "His fingers were around her wrist. She did not see his hands but an odd growth, like a plant or something with tentacles, detachable." (p 32)
  • "My hands, she said. I've left them somewhere and now I can't find them. She was holding her hands in the air, helplessly, as if she couldn't move them.   They're right there, I said. On the ends of your arms.    No, no, she said impatiently. Not those, those are no good any more. My other hands, the ones I had before, the ones I touch things with." (p 57)
  • "She realises she's stepped over a pair of legs, trousers with bare feet at the end." (p 68)
  • "She thinks briefly of his feet, stifled in humid leather." (p 76)
  • "Without his eyes his face is expressionless, he's a faceless stranger. She's aware of his arm lying across the back of the seat." (p 98)
  • "It's her hands she's looking for, she knows she left them here somewhere, folded neatly in a drawer, like gloves." (p 116)
  • "Afterwards she could feel the shape of his hand for hours." (p 144)
  • "Fragmentation, dismemberment, this is what he sees when he looks at her." (p 258)

Wonderful. June 2017; 301 pages

Books by Margaret Atwood reviewed in this blog:

  • The Heart Goes Last: a homeless couple enter a utopian community
  • Bodily Harm: A wonderful Graham Greenesque excursion to a Caribbean island where no one is who they seem to be
  • Oryx and Crake: adventures in a world post climate change
  • Hag-Seed: a brilliant retelling of the Tempest, re enacted in a prison
  • The Handmaid's Tale: the one that everyone raves about ... but not her best.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

"The Light Between Oceans" by M L Stedman

Tom, veteran of the trenches in WW1 and his wife Izzy live on a lonely Australian island  where the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean meet, manning the lighthouse there. Just after Izzy has lost a baby a boat washes up on the island containing a dead man and a baby girl. Izzy, mad with grief, determines to adopt the baby. Tom has doubts.

The stunning first page has Izzy  tending a new grave and whispering "and lead us not into temptation".

The story takes a while to get going. It is careful to build up the rights and the wrongs and the tensions. But when things break down they cascade like a bloody avalanche.

There is a brilliant moment of high drama when, just after a vase is thrown at a policeman, we get this paragraph:
"He stood perfectly still. The curtain flapped with the breeze. A fat blowfly buzzed against the fly wire. A last fragment of glass gave a dull tinkle as it finally succumbed to gravity."
Perfect change of pace. Perfect suspension of the drama. Take the reader to the wire and then look out of the bloody window! Brilliant.
Other wonderful moments:

  • "A single fat cloud snailed across the late-April sky" (p 13)
  • "the boy you'd suckled, bathed, scolded and cried over, was - well - wasn't." (p 32)
  • "thin as a yard of pump water" (p 41)
  • "He must turn to something solid, because if he didn't, who knew where his mind or his soul could blow away to, like a balloon without ballast." (p 53)
  • "If a wife lost her husband ... she was now a widow. A husband became a widower. But if a parent lost a child, there was no special label for their grief. They were still just a mother or a father, even if they no longer had a son or a daughter." (p 171)
  • "The contract to forget is as important as any promise to remember. Children can grow up having no knowledge of any indiscretion of their father in his youth ... History is that which is agreed upon by mutual consent." (p 214)
  • "Right and wrong can be like bloody snakes: so tangled up that you can't tell which is which until you've shot 'em both, and then it's too late." (p 247)

A great read. June 2017; 461 pages

Saturday, 3 June 2017

"The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman" by Denis Theriault

Bilodo (ironically nicknamed Libido by his friend and colleague, the wonderfully dissolute Robert) is a postman whose solitary life is enlivened by steaming open letters and reading them before delivering them. Grandpre is exchanging haikus with Segolene in Guadeloupe. When Grandpre dies in front of his eyes, Bilodo is distraught; this fascinating correspondence must come to an end. Unless ...

This is a wonderful magical book. Not only does it explore the haiku and its five-lined big brother the tanka, and many other aspects of Japanese culture, but it has moments of lyricism and many laugh aloud witticisms.

  • "If at the Olympic Games there had been a stair-scaling event, Bilodo would have stood an excellent chance of qualifying, perhaps even of mounting the ultimate, glorious top step of the podium." (p 7)
  • "He wouldn't have wanted to swap places with anyone in the world. Except perhaps with another postman." (p 9)
  • "The guys at that publishing house were obviously asleep at the wheel." (p 66)
  • "He who had never hot a fly without regretting that he couldn't give it an anaesthetic first had just hit his best friend. His ex-friend that is." (p 73)
  • "The situation hadn't only overtaken him - it now had a one-lap lead." (p 76)
  • "So icy she could have sunk a dozen Titanics." (p 78)

Brilliant and wonderful. June 2017; 1208 pages