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

Thursday, 27 December 2018

"Sins of the fathers" by James Pope-Hennessey

A history of the slave trade with rather more vivid description than most.

If the title were not clear enough, the first chapter makes the author's position plain, describing slavery as "that vast complex of international crime by which, in four centuries, a total of fifteen million men, women and children of African blood were delivered into transatlantic slavery, under conditions so hideous that another nine million are estimated to have died during crossing.” (C 1) This is not academic history. This is the position of the prosecution. Swiftly he dismisses the economic argument: that the British transatlantic slave trade came into being because of the labour requirements of the agriculture being developed in the New World and ended because the sugar islands were no longer so important to the British economy. He also denounces the position that the slave trade was a marginal activity: "a trade in which so many Europeans and Africans indulged for centuries cannot have been run exclusively by money-maniacs and pocket sadists." (C 1) In essence the purpose of this book is to know who to blame.

But I found the moral analysis of the blame too narrow and naive. I propose that slavery is wrong and that the transatlantic slave-trade was a particularly nasty form of slavery involving other great moral wrongs such as kidnapping, false imprisonment, torture, mutilation and murder. But from this I would go on to say that, with the exception of the slaves who were victims, all the participants in the slave trade bear some moral guilt. Pope-Hennesey seems to disagree. He excuses the Africans who kidnapped the slaves in the first place and then sold them to the slave-trade captains. He quotes an ex-slave as saying ‘If there were no buyers there would be no sellers’ and comments "that is the crux of the matter, and the final word that can be said on African ‘guilt’.”(C 10.1) Such a point of view is also used to excuse prostitutes, redefining them as 'sex workers' and instead to attach moral blame to their clients. But if this is then extended to the drug industry we are presumably blaming the addicts and excusing the dealers. It seems to me that the African slavers may be less guilty than the slave captains and the plantation owners but they cannot be entirely excused.

Similarly, Pope-Hennesey acknowledges the existence of slavery among the Anglo-Saxons (abolished in England by the Normans although the serfdom with which it was replaced was not much better) and endemic in some African societies but seems to consider these as innocent variants. Whilst I agree that the transatlantic slave-trade offered extreme horrors and extreme immoralities I don't think one can consider any form of slavery as morally acceptable. Furthermore, Pope-Hennesey does not mention the slave trade that existed during the middle ages in the Indian Ocean, possibly involving up to twenty-two million slaves, and the more than one million Europeans captured by Barbary pirates between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. If we start believing that slavery was a one-off moral horror it may make us complacent when we need to be morally alert to any erosion of the freedom of individuals.

This aside, Pope-Hennessey has provided some wonderful descriptions of horrors and many fascinating facts:
Just as the colour black was, for most Europeans, connected with night, witches and the Powers of Darkness, so, to many Africans, white was often of the colour of devils, and the semaring of the face with white clay was calculated to inspire terror.” (C 3.4)
Many of the plants associated with Africa (eg maize, yams, and coconut palms) were in fact plants from the New World or the Indian Ocean imported during this period. This was partly because the slave traders built gardens around their forts: “To have strange and inadequate, often repulsive, food added to the other health hazards of a lethal climate was asking too much." (C 4.1)
The reason it took so long for the Europeans to find West Africa was that “mariners would not venture beyond Cape Bojador, for fear that they and their ships would plunge over the edge of the world-platform into oblivion.” (C 4.2) I’m not sure this is true. The accepted view was that the world was round (and sailors were always prepared to sail beyond the horizon) but that the temperatures as you progressed south became too hot for wooden ships and humans to bear.
The word ‘fetish’ derives from the Portuguese ‘fetiços’, images; the word ‘ju-ju’ is from the French word ‘joux’, toys (C 5.2)
You might buy a parcel of youths and girls in the market at Bridgetown, Barbados, or Charleston, Carolina, but you could never really be sure what exact quantity of hatred, hostility and magic you were carting back to the slave-barracks of your comfortable Palladian home.” (C 5.2)
The Oba of Benin was “so heavily sheathed in polished gold that when he rose to his feet he had to be propped up by two slaves, who likewise operated his arms for him when he wished to gesticulate.” (C 5.3)
Portugal retained their fort at Whydah until it was annexed by Dahomey in 1961. “The Portuguese representative at Whydahr burned his motor-car in front of the fort as a protest, whereupon Dahomey issued a celebration postage-stamp showing the charred wreckage of the Citroen.” (C 5.3 fn)
Slaves were branded by their owners: SPG denoted slaves of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (C 6.1)
To work on ships which often were merely floating coffins - the ships taking slaves to Rio de Janeiro were in fact called tumbeiros from the Portuguese for tomb - was at once brutalizing and nauseous.” (C 7.1)
The primitive, rickety basis of gracious living in the West Indian Islands required a cohort of house-slaves” (C8.3)
The first line of defence for any vanquished or occupied nation, as for any camp of war-prisoners, is calculated cunning and deceit.” (C 8.4)
The African concept of style was influenced by the slave-trading ships:
the upper floor of any two-storied Efik house is still called a ‘dek’.” (C 12.2)
King Pepple would sometimes sport a pair of scarlet leather boots which seemed too small for him and which caused him to topple over when he was drunk.” (C 13.3)
Negro proverbs” include “‘If you knock de nose de eye cry’ ... ‘as de ole crow fly, so de young one do too’.” (C 13.1)
Slave girls were inevitably raped. Some slave traders “were thought to have literally worn themselves away copulating in the night dews on the coast.” (C 13.3)

December 2018; 280 pages

Saturday, 22 December 2018

"The Merry Wives of Windsor" by William Shakespeare

Not so much a comedy as a farce with a couple of interlocking plots.

Sir John Falstaff wishes to seduce either Mistress (Mrs) Page or Mistress Ford but they compare the love letters they have been sent and decide to trick him. Each time he meets Mistress Ford her husband happens to turn up and the cowardly Sir John has to escape in some humiliating way.

Slender, and Doctor Caius, and Fenton all want to marry Anne Page. Page, Anne's father, wants her to marry Slender, and Mistress Page favours the Doctor.

I saw an RSC production of this play at the Barbican Theatre on 22nd December 2018 (matinee). It starred David Troughton as Sir John Falstaff; he was excellent in the part. I saw him last year as an excellent Gloucester in King Lear. He was joined by a host of wonderful talents. Charlotte Josephine had a lovely cameo as Bardolph; I saw her last month as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. Katy Brittain made a hilarious Hostess of the Garter Inn although most of her comedy was physcial as I found it sometimes difficult to follow her quick-fire delivery. Josh Finan was a brilliant Nym (he had also been great as Benvolio in R&J). Mistresses Ford and Page were played as a couple of Essex girls (Merry Wives of Dagenham perhaps?) and were brilliant in their roles; Rebecca Lacey as Mistress Page was a dead ringer for Sybil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers. Nima Taleghani was a great Robin. This was an adaptation that ditched some of Shakespeare's untranslatable word play in favour of some wonderful physical comedy and some great updates: in particular the laundry basket became a wheelie bin. I had gone to the theatre expecting little from a play that is not one of Shakespeare's best and was bowled over by the adaptation. It extended to all the little business and small parts being brought to life. For example, when Ford disguised himself as Brook (Vince Leigh was great) he became a Russian, complete with an 'I love Putin' suitcase sticker and a theme song whenever he arrived. The Welshman got the audience to sing a line from Bread of Heaven. And the lads who were assigned to dispose of the wheelie bin discussed the job in an Eastern European language before agreeing to do it. Oh my goodness, this was an exceptional day at the theatre.

The play itself isn't so easy. There are too many characters. It was difficult to see why one needs Justice Shallow or Dr Hugh Evans or why Slender needs a servant. The first thing that Falstaff does is to get rid of Bardolph, Pistol and Nym but that could have been done (if needed) in a speech rather than having yet more actors on the stage. The plots are more or less done one by one: thus, the mix-up over where the duel is to be held happens first and then there is the main business with the three humiliations of Falstaff and then the matter of Anne Page's marriage is tacked on to the end. In the RSC production it was noticeable that the character of Fenton is kept almost completely separate from the other characters.

Shakespeare also throws in a scene in which the schoolteacher/ parson quizzes one of his pupils (sensibly cut by the RSC) and a reference to counterfeit Germans and a Duke which I don't really understand.

But hey, it is Shakespeare. There are some great lines:
  • If I be drunk, I'll be drunk with those that have the fear of God, and not with drunken knaves.
  • I will marry her, sir, at your request; but if there be no great love in the beginning, yet heaven may decrease it upon better acquaintance, when we are married and have more occasion to know one another; I hope upon familiarity will grow more contempt.”
  • I do mean to make love to Ford's wife; I spy entertainment in her; she discourses, she carves, she gives the leer of invitation
  • She did so course o'er my exteriors with such a greedy intention that the appetite of her eye did seem to scorch me up like a burning-glass.
  • O, what a world of vile ill-favor'd faults
  • Looks handsome in three hundred pounds a-year!”
  • You may know by my size that I have a kind of alacrity in sinking ... my belly's as cold as if I had swallowed snowballs
  • Mistress Ford! I have had ford enough; I was thrown into the ford; I have my belly full of ford.
  • O powerful love! that, in some respects, makes a beast a man, in some other, a man a beast. ... When gods have hot backs, what shall poor men do?
December 2018;

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

Thursday, 20 December 2018

"The Sunday Philosophy Club" by Alexander McCall Smith

Set in the same genteel and refined Edinburgh as the 44 Scotland Street stories (including Espresso tales and The world according to Bertie), Isabel Dalhousie is a gentlewoman with her own house and a housekeeper. Following a failed marriage and childless, she edits a philosophical review; otherwise she is a lady of leisure. At a night out listening to the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra she witnesses a young man fall from the Gods to his death in the Stalls. Or was he pushed? The stage is set for a gentle exploration of applied ethics, in particular whether and when one should tell a lie.

There is just enough plot to keep the pages turning but the main delight of this book lies in the intriguing insights of Ms Dalhousie. Here are just some of them:
  • She always felt inhibited from any act suggesting a lack of concentration or, worse still, of seriousness.” (C 1)
  • Something terrible happened and people began to shake. It was the reminder that frightened them; the reminder of just how close to the edge we are in life, always, at every moment.” (C 1)
  • You loved another, and this made you so vulnerable; just an inch or so too close to the edge and your world would change.” (C 2)
  • You had to be aware of human weakness, of course, because it simply was, but to revel in it seems to her to be voyeurism.” (C 2)
  • Do past wrongs seem less wrong to us simply because they are less vivid?” (C 3)
  • Why, she wondered, should anyone actually want a hunk, when nonhunks were so much more interesting?” (C 4)
  • Only the very immature and the very stupid are impressed by the depraved.” (C 5)
  • Respectability was such an effort though, and there were bars and clubs where people might go and behave as they really wanted to behave, but did not dare so publicly.” (C 5)
  • How arid it must be to be a man; how constrained; what a whole world of emotion, and sympathy, they must lack; like living in a desert.” (C 7)
  • I have bags of failings. Same as anybody else. Bags.” (C 13)
  • Good manners depended on paying moral attention to others; it required one to treat them with complete seriousness, to understand their feelings and their needs. Some people, the selfish, had no inclination to do this ... They were impatient with those who they thought did not count: the old, the inarticulate, the disadvantaged.” (C 14)
  • She was turned into a different station from most people and the tuning dial was broken.” (C 14)
  • Camus was right: the ultimate philosophical question was suicide. If there was no truth, then there was no meaning, and our life was Sisyphean. And if life was Sisyphean, thenn what point in continuing with it?” (C 17)
  • The gulls were considered a pest in the neighbourhood - large, mewing birds that swooped down on those who came too close to their nesting places - but we humans built too, and left cement and stones and litter, and were as aggressively territorial.” (C 21)
  • Why was it wrong to drop litter? Was it purely an aesthetic objection, based on the notion that the superficial pollution of the environment was unattractive? Or was the aesthetic impact linked to some notion of the distress which others felt in the face of litter? If that was the case, then we might even have a duty to look attractive to others, in order to minimise their distress.” (C 21)
  • In a world of need, it was wrong to be anything other than thin. Until everybody was in a position to consume a surfeit of calories, then nobody should carry extra weight. The fat with therefore not entitled to be what they were .” (C 21)
  • People give themselves away every five seconds. Watch the movement of eyes. It says absolutely everything you need to know.” (C 23)
Some challenging ideas!

I also very much enjoyed the next book in this series: Friends, Lovers, Chocolate.

December 2018; 281 pages

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

"Two middle-aged ladies in Andalusia" by Penelope Chetwode

Nowadays a tale of someone's holiday might be broadcast if the someone was a celebrity and TV schedules needed filling. In 1961 it seems that John Betjeman's wife counted as a celebrity and that therefore she could have her travelogue published.

She is one of the middle-aged ladies, the other being her horse. She embarks on a riding tour in the rugged mountains of Andalusia north of Granada. Her passions are the countryside, which must be beautiful, and the Catholic church: she attends at least one Mass every day. Almost every page was filled with her approval of Catholicism. She hates the Spanish communists because they gutted churches and she approvingly quotes a Franco fan (because Franco allegedly "never took a big decision without spending the night in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament" (Nov 27). She believes that the poor Spanish children she sees are happier and will be happier than the mass-educated relatively less poor English children back home: "Will our girls make such efficient and therefore contented wives and mothers as their Spanish counterparts who to-day can not only read and write ... but have a good knowledge of Christian doctrine and can sew and wash and iron quite beautifully?" (Dec 1). The modern world, in her eyes, is bad and the old ways almost inevitably better and decidedly more beautiful. All in all this book suggests a tremendous sense of complacent entitlement; she is almost the epitome of the benevolent (in their own minds) and patronising feudal lord.

The book is chiefly interesting for its depiction of rural life in Franco's Spain:

  • "He was a day labourer: yesterday no man had hired him but to-day somebody had." (Nov 6)
  • "When you are still in the elementary stages of learning a language your only hope is to talk yourself, to prevent people talking to you, as they are sure to introduce tenses with which you are not yet familiar." (Nov 8)
  • "Two huge pigs ... nosed me so lovingly, so trustingly, and soon their great intestines would be lying in heaps in the kitchen waiting to be filled with pudding mixture" (Nov 20)
  • "An oddly assorted mixed grill with little bits of tough steak, lumps of pork fat, three fired fresh sardines, a grilled thrush and some chips, all on the same plate." (Nov 20)

December 2018; 153 pages

Other great travel books in this blog:
Travelling in Britain:
And others:

Sunday, 16 December 2018

"Love and Mr Lewisham" by H G Wells

We first encounter Mr Lewisham as a teacher in a second-rate school. He has plans. He will learn and pass his degree and then he will become rich and famous. But he falls in love and this disrupts his ambitions. The passages after his marriage in which he and his new wife struggle to make ends meet, resulting in bitterness and marital rows, and the blighting of his dreams, are beautifully written. The culmination of their discord is a chapter which is as exciting as anything written nowadays. And the reflections on life, bitter and tender, were spot-on.

In chapter twenty-three, about two-thirds of the way through, some of HG's socialist theories are voiced ... but cleverly HG puts them into the mouth of a rogue and a bounder. HG is particularly good at interspersing the theory with half-comments and actions from the listener. Equally he is brilliant at noticing the hesitations and indecisions which signal a dilemma when a character is approaching a decision. He is capable of describing great emotions without resorting to melodrama simply be using the observation of little details to underline the essential everyday ordinariness of his hero. Great writing!

H G Wells is famous for his science fiction novels but this novel demonstrates how good he was at writing about life.

Some great quotes:
  • An unusual sense of the greyness of a teacher's life, of the greyness indeed of the life of all studious souls came, and went in his mind ... He heard the familiar mingled noises of the playground drifting in on him through the open schoolroom door.” (C 1)
  • There are no such things as spirits, mediums were humbugs, and he was here to prove that sole remaining Gospel.” (C 11) 
  • Honesty is essentially an anarchistic and disintegrating force in society ...Lies are the mortar that bind the savage individual man into the social masonry.” (C 23) 
  • There's truths you have to grow into.” (C 23)
  • What is clothing? The concealment of essential facts.” (C 23)
  • On the earth somewhere poor devils are toiling to get in meat and corn and wine. He is clothed in the lives of bent and thwarted weavers, his way is lit by phossy jaw, he eats from lead glazed crockery - all his ways are paved with the lives of men.” (C 23)
  • What a mess we have made of things! was his new motif. What a mess!” (C 27)
  • It is almost as if Life had played me a trick - promised so much - given so little!” (C 32)
  • Two pieces fell outside the basket. He stooped, picked them up, and put them carefully with their fellows.” (C 32; last lines)
Wells also wrote:

There is a biography of HG Wells reviewed here.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

"The Essex Serpent" by Sarah Perry

As recently widowed Cora Seaborne and her strange son Francis travel to Essex, strange things begin to happen around the Blackwater and so many loves are destined to be unfulfilled. A sort of Gothic novel set in Victorian times.

Some great lines

  • "He wants to feel the wind's edge strop itself sharp on his skin" (New Year's Eve)
  • "Time was ... lost by those who wished the past was present and loathed by those who wished the present past." (January#1)
  • "On Charing Cross Road time exchanged its chariot for buses and cabs in urgent fleets, and in the wards of Barts and of the Royal Borough pain made hours of minutes." (January#1)
  • "Memory unfurled like smoke from a blown candle" (January#1)
  • "Sometimes I think we must be walking on shoals of bodies without realising it and all the earth's a graveyard." (March #1)
  • "He took his Sunday duties as seriously as if he'd taken instruction at the burning bush." (March#2)
  • "A diamond which broke the light and threw it against the wall." (March#2)
  • "Is a dreadful liar bad at lying or good at it?" (May#4)
  • "She'll grow out of hope, as everyone eventually does" (September#1)
  • "The fear of the crowd came then to Will, with the taste of a copper penny placed on his tongue" (September#3) (the same metaphor is used later)
  • "It was simply an animal, as they all were; and was dead, as they all would be." (September#3)
  • "To live at all is to be bruised." (September#3)
  • "If you want to insist on your faith  you ought at least to concede it's a strange business and very little to do with well-ironed cassocks and the order of service." (September#5)
  • "If love were an archer someone had put out its eyes, and it went stumbling about, blindly letting loose its arrows, never meeting its mark." (September#6)
  • "There's enthusiasm in Parliament, but what counts for enthusiasm in the Commons would look very like laziness elsewhere." (September#10)

December 2018; 417 pages

Monday, 10 December 2018

"The Unspeakable Skipton" by Pamela Hansford Johnson

Hansford Johnson was a prolific novelist who wrote 27 novels between 1935 and 1981 as well as collaborating on two detective novels, writing eight plays and a book of poetry, translating Anouilh, and writing a memoir, a work of sociology and several critical works. She was a friend of Dylan Thomas and her second husband was C P Snow.

The Unspeakable Skipton is about a dirt-poor novelist living in Bruges. He relies on an allowance from a cousin and from the occasional cheque from his publisher. He resents both of these and writes vitriolic letters of abuse which causes them, unsurprisingly, to cut him off. Otherwise he makes a living by ripping off tourists. He is a pimp and a fraud.

This is a great story and a wonderful character study of the artist as an obsessive and it has some woderful characters. But what really excited me were the magnificent descriptions:
  • The sun has begun to set ... in a moment the quay would shine like a square opal in all the marvellous colours known to man and, better yet, with marvelous colours to which no man had yet fitted a name.” (C 1)
  • A miraculous evening. The sky broke like an egg into full sunset and the water caught fire.” (C 1)
  • "The swans glimmered in the rustic dust like washing left out all night.” (C 2)
  • She went into her usual jelly-dance of silent laughter” (C 2)
  • It was Sunday morning and all the bells were rocking the bright sky about, boxing its ears with their glorious hands.” (C 4)
  • Tantrums of rain burst across the Grand’ Place, wild winds, stiffened by the sea, scolded the café blinds and slapped the skirts of the women over their legs.” (C 5)
  • The trees had been lichened with frost.” (C 7)
  • A side street looking like a crack in the wall between two tattered hotels.” (C 10)
  • He subsided into his own bulk as a pig does when it sits down.” (C 11)
With writing as good as this, one wonders why Hansford Johnson never because as well known as some of her contemporaries.

  • Other great lines:
  • “It was disgusting to have the naked toes rubbing together, the sweat rolling between into grey crumbs.” (C 1)
  • There was nothing except smell to indicate the various income levels through which he passed, since the whole staircase was shabby; but the first floor smelled of dust and biscuits, the second of stewing steak and cheese and the first of ether and flowers.” (C 2)
  • Unlike his fat friend, he looked not made for pleasure, but for disillusionments of an amusing nature.” (C 3)
  • He walked slowly across the square, feeling their eyes, like four pairs of prongs, upon his retreating form.” (C 3)
  • His thoughts running round like mice on a treadmill.” (C 4)
  • To work on this book was perhaps the greatest pleasure Daniel had ever known. When he did so he was not a man but a god, improving not only upon a beautiful earthly creation, but upon a creation already divine.” (C 4)
  • He was joyful, knowing genius in himself, burning tall and steady as a candle flame on a windless night.” (C 4)
  • The Flemish masters introduce, behind the figure of the Madonna, perhaps through a small window, little scenes of domestic life.” (C 6)
  • Doubt stirred like a centipede, one foot and then another: slowly.” (C 8)
  • You can't accuse Duncan of not respecting women ... he has respected at least four since we came here.” (C 19)
  • If my friend Flavio had any sense he would relax and let himself go to seed; because really there is nothing so young as seed.” (C 22)
  • In the old days, before God had settled upon a policy of temperateness and detachment, lightning would have wriggled from His hand to strike the blasphemer down.” (C 23)
  • Not that I am accusing you ... of being dirty minded. Where no mind exists, it Is impossible for there to be either dirt or cleanliness.”(C 24)
  • He despised Dante, a little, for his lack of enterprise in leaving so many of the less-advertised sins unaccounted for.” (C 27)

December 2018'196 pages

Saturday, 8 December 2018

"The Camden Town Murder Mystery" by David Barrat

An exhaustive account of the murder of a prostitute, Emily Dimmock, in Camden Town in 1906. It seems unlikely that the author has left an stone unturned. Nevertheless, he cannot conclusively name the culprit. The most likely suspect seems to have been Robert Wood, a young man who had been seen consorting with Emily and whose postcard arranging a rendezvous with Emily on the night she was killed was found in her flat. Wood's subsequent behaviour was to lie repeatedly and to attempt to manufacture an alibi. However, amid much public celebration, Wood was acquitted at his trial. No one else was ever charged.

This book is an incredibly full account of every detail surrounding the murder, including that Camden Town was named a former Attorney General who lived at Camden Place in Chislehurst, that Emily once worked as a chamber maid at the Swan Hotel in Bedford, that one of the witnesses at the trial was an extraordinarily dodgy character who specialised in arson insurance claims when living in New Zealand and who dies in Australia as the result of an explosion whilst setting up another arson-based insurance fraud. Lots of really interesting stuff. Unfortunately the author's habit of chasing down every alley and revealing every detail left me reeling. It was difficult enough given that Emily associated with many dodgy men (she worked as a prostitute) and so there was a plethora of suspects but I found it very difficult to see any sort of Wood for the multiplicity of trees.

December 2018; 313 pages (of small print)

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

"Torch" by Cheryl Strayed

In the first chapter a woman is told that she has incurable cancer; she will be dead within the year. The next two chapters in which she attempts to tell her kids, who are reacting like kids react to their mother, the teenage adolescent boy with surly anger and the college student girl with the expectation that all this will just be her mother manipulating her, are truly hard to read because you know how awful these utterly normal kids will feel when they realise that their mum is not for ever. Brilliantly realistic.

And then she dies and it continues, chapter after chapter, as these three bereaved people, husband/ step-father, daughter and son, muddle through mistake after mistake on their tragic journey through grief to acceptance. Life needs to be lived and if they haven't forgotten her they have to move on, mostly by fucking other people in a instinctive if primitive response to replace death with birth.

Chapter after chapter was so hard to read. Everything was so mundane, so everyday, so utterly in your face brutally real, and I had to go on, like Bruce and Claire and Joshua, because you have to go on to find out what they next day brings, even though you dread what it might reveal. Even though you are shouting at the character 'don't do that' you know they will and they are the better person for it.

Here is a moment in which reality intrudes into authorness. Joshua is being asked by a counsellor how he feels: “He felt sleepy and hungry and he yearned for a cigarette, but he thought it unwise to mention any of those things.” (C 15) This book so ups reality!

Unbelievably good.

A few, a sparse selection, of the wonderful moments:

  • She ached. As if her spine were a zipper and someone had come up behind her and unzipped it and pushed his hands into her organs and squeezed, as if they were butter or dough, or grapes to be smashed for wine.” (C 1)
  • junk mail, addressed to him in computer-generated cursive handwriting, a trick disguised as something real.” (C 4)
  • The three of them had the same hair. Not blond, not brown, but something in between: the faded yellow of grass where an animal had slept.” (C 5)
  • she had to weed the garden that she’d planted.” (C 5)
  • Slowly, stingily, she forgave them without their knowing about it.” (C 5)
  • It was the exact size of the hole in the solar eclipse paper plate, a pin of light through which the entire sun could radiate, so bright it would blind you if you looked.” (C 5)
  • She saw her parents in their most distilled form, being precisely who they’d always been. The people who sent her garbage in the mail. The people who made her cry each Sunday. The people who would gladly give their lives to save hers.” (C 5)
  • She felt numb and stuffed and fuzzy, weightless and yet weighted. As if her veins had been filled with wet feathers.” (C 5)
  • He’d been bullied, throughout his childhood and adolescence, to tell her whether she was fat, whether she should get highlights in her hair, whether her butt seemed hideously large, or her thighs too squat. Whatever he said, she never believed him or took his advice; she simply presented the same questions to him all over again the next time.” (C 6)
  • ‘It isn’t that I am against faith,’ she said warily. ‘I’m against the thinking that says that humans are shameful and bad’.” (C 7)
  • He wondered if it were possible to add up all the people he’d thanked over the course of his entire life, whether that sum would be equal to the number of people he thanked on the one day that his wife’s body was to be sealed in a wooden box, shoved into an incinerator, and burned, at an extremely high temperature, to ashes.” (C 8)
  • He thought of his mother, of parts of her he had never thought about before, of her lungs and her brain, her heart and her hands.” (C 10)
  • She couldn’t see David anymore in the light that she’d seen him before, and she didn’t know whether this new way of seeing him had been distorted by her grief or unveiled by it. Whether her life with him was fraudulent or the best thing she had."
  • "She came to see that her grief did not have an end, or if it did, she would not be delivered there. Grief was not a road or a river or a sea but a world, and she would have to live there now.” (C 11)
  • Claire wondered about her youth. This was it, she supposed, and it seemed that it would go on and on and on. It wasn’t a pleasant thought. It was like walking across a desert without a hat.” (C 11)
  • he would stop loving her. Of course he would. How easy it was not to love her.” (C 11)
  • He’d heard it already, all around town, without actually having to hear the words. So soon, so soon, like an inane bird swooping over his head, calling to him everywhere he went.” (C 15)
  • He wanted to promise her something, to say that things would go back to the way they were, or that they would be different than they had become, but he loved her too much to lie and needed her too little to make it true.” (C 15)
  • each night he would allow himself to cry, but only for thirty seconds.” (C 16)
  • She was suddenly giddy with the foreignness of being here, which collided with an almost surreal familiarity.” (C 17)
December 2018;

Saturday, 1 December 2018

"Don't let go" by Harlan Coben

Written in the present tense, this thriller has a no-holds-barred cop-investigator solving a crime that seems to link to the death of his twin brother fifteen years earlier. The tension builds up to the half-way point when the whodunnit element starts to give way to thriller writing. There's plenty of raw violence involved. And of course, there are always several twists at the end.

But Coben is the king of the one-liners:

  • "Daisy wore a clingy black dress with a neckline so deep it could tutor philosophy." First line of the book! Great start.
  • "She could feel the eyes of the male patrons crawling down her bare legs like earthworms." Still on the first page.
  • "The mark peered into the class of whiskey in front of him as though he were a gypsy with a crystal ball." We're on the second page now. The image is easily available.
  • "Money can't buy you happiness ... but if you handle it right, money buys you freedom and time, and those are a lot more tangible than happiness." (C 7) Not sure you can describe either freedom or time as tangible but you get the idea
  • "The food is 'farm to table', though when you order eggs, I'm not sure what other route they'd go." (C 7)
  • "This is one of the moments when words would be like an appendix - superfluous or harmful." (C 9)
  • "I can't unring that bell." (C 14)
December 2018; 347 pages

Other Coben books reviewed in this blog: