Monday, April 11, 2016

march-april 2016 books

More book stuff:
60 Degrees North (Mallachy Tallack): Tallack has spent most of his life in Shetland, which is itself on the sixtieth parallel. This is an account of the author’s journey westward, exploring the landscapes of the parallel (taking in such locations as Greenland, Alaska, Siberia and St Petersburg) before returning to Shetland. Tallack decided to make this journey not long after his father had died… and he admits that it was his “fixation” on the parallel that triggered his adventure (and hence this book). It felt a little like a pilgrimage that Tallack believed he’d been called to undertake before he felt able to accept Shetland as his “home”. It’s a very readable, frank and personal, book but one that, for me, lacked the quality and instincts of someone like Robert MacFarlane.
Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman (E W Hornung): I bought this on a whim in a charity bookshop. The Raffles character has always had a vague appeal but, I have to admit, I was distinctly under-whelmed by these eight short stories. I didn’t find either the quality of the stories or the cleverness of the plots impressive in any way. Hornung had apparently been encouraged to write a series about a public school villain by his brother-in-law Arthur Conan Doyle. I’m afraid there is absolutely no contest between Raffles+Bunny and Holmes+Watson. Very disappointing.
My Life In Houses (Margaret Forster): This is our Book Group’s next book. I have to admit that this is my first Forster book, so I read it without having acquired any ‘baggage’ from her other work (I knew she was married to Hunter Davies, but that was about it). It’s an interesting format: an autobiography (of sorts) written through her experiences of the houses she has lived in during the course of her life. Her first home was a council house in Carlisle and, until her early 20s at least, she clearly struggled to make ends meet… but I later found myself getting a little annoyed when she (and her husband) – as a life time socialist - began acquiring another home in the Algarve and then one in the Lake District, and another one near their parents’ homes in Carlisle (and ended up living six months a year in the Lake District and six months in London). I have to say, I didn’t particularly warm to her as a person. The book was published in 2014 and was written after she’d been diagnosed with cancer again – she’d had breast cancer in the 1970 (she died in February 2016) – and, for me, it comes across as just an ordinary, light (if rather charming) reflection of her life through her various homes. I felt that “I could have written that” – and I must admit that it did make me starting to list the houses I’d lived in during the course of MY life! I suspect that in many ways it was written because she simply needed to keep on her routine of writing that had become her way of life. I can certainly empathise that one’s domestic surroundings affect one’s mood and quality of life, but I would have liked “people” to have featured rather more than they did.
A Clue To The Exit (Edward St Aubyn): Ok, here’s the scenario: a successful screenwriter, ex-husband and absent father has been given six months to live… he heads for the south of France and resolves to stake half his fortune on a couple of turns of the roulette wheel and to write a novel… about consciousness. The novel is awful (about “spiralling self-awareness”) and he gives it up… As far as the roulette wheel is concerned, he comes to an agreement with a sex-obsessed, compulsive gambling, woman – he will allow her one million francs a day in exchange for passionate sex in luxury hotels. This might sound absolutely fascinating and thought-provoking… actually, I found it somewhat tedious (but, then again, maybe I wasn’t clever enough to appreciate it?). I’ve seen the book described as a “subtly disturbing comedy”… well, it didn’t do much for me, I’m afraid!
Regeneration (Pat Barker): This is the first book of the “Regeneration Trilogy”… somewhat typically, I read book two first (last December)! The book is set in the Craiglockhart War Hospital, Scotland in 1917, where army psychiatrist William Rivers is treating shell-shocked officers (soldiers from the ranks aren’t given such ‘consideration’) – with a view to making them fit(?) enough to return to the front-line in France. It weaves fact and fiction (Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and Robert Graves, in addition to Rivers, feature prominently). The books starts with Sassoon’s passionate declaration, written in July 1917 (which he described as “an act of wilful defiance of military authority”), against the prolongation of the war: “I have seen and endured the suffering of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed”. It’s a powerful, inspiring, moving book which tells the chilling (largely previously-ignored) story of the ‘silenced voices’ from World War I. A frightening evocation of our attitude towards war (and its objectives of the time)… and the men brutalised by the experience.

No comments: