Wednesday, October 19, 2016

october 2016 books...

More book stuff:
5 Days In May (Andrew Adonis): An absolutely fascinating book (published in 2013) about the UK 2010 general election and coalition negotiations – as seen from the perspective of a Labour insider (and based on his notes of the time). It frequently felt like an episode from “West Wing”! Fascinating to read the contrasting comments of some Labour MPs at the time about the prospect of a Lab-Lib coalition: “If we don’t seize it (the opportunity of a coalition), the Tories could lock us out of power for a generation”… and ”We lost the election. By getting out now, we can regroup and we will back soon. This lot (the prospect of a Con-Lib coalition) won’t last five years, no chance…”. Inevitably, the book contains a number of interesting insights/reminders, such as Nick Clegg declaring (the day after the election) that he felt the chance to form a government should go to the largest party (when his Party’s instincts would surely have been to join with Labour?)… and the unpopularity of Gordon Brown and his apparent lack of team-playing skills (certainly compared with David Cameron’s gift of the gab and his ability to schmooze!). What I also found quite surprising (perhaps I should have known?) were the political instincts and backgrounds of Clegg and David Laws (key member of the Lib Dem negotiating team): Clegg has a privileged Home Counties, public school-educated background in the same mould as Cameron+Osborne; he worked with Tory Leon Brittan in Brussels (one Lib Dem MEP reckoned: “if the Conservative Party had been how it used to be under Edward Heath, Nick would be a Tory, albeit a natural liberal, pro-Europe Tory like Chris Patten and Ken Clarke”). Laws is from a similar background. Adonis sums up the key issue thus: “Why did Clegg turn Right? Because, on the big economic questions, he is on the Right, not the Left; and so too is David Laws, his chief strategist”. Interesting also is Adonis’s assertion that,  ultimately, the Lib Dems allowed themselves to be steam-rollered by the Tories. I’ll endeavour to read ‘alternative’ accounts of this time in due course (eg. Clegg’s book “Politics: Between the Extremes” and Laws’s book “22 Days in May”).   
Lazy Thoughts Of A Lazy Girl (Jenny Wren): This is a short book of comic essays (Jenny Wren is a pseudonym), first published over a hundred years ago in 1891 (and republished by Hesperus in 2010) “offering a woman’s take on life’s preoccupations”… as the jacket of my copy of the book aptly describes it. It really is rather wonderful – imagine it being written by a female Jerome K Jerome and you’ve got it! Essay subjects include love, politics, afternoon tea, children+dogs and watering places! A lovely ‘find’ in Bristol’s “The Last Bookshop” for £2-50.
The Iceberg (Marion Coutts): Another bargain from “The Last Bookshop”. This remarkable, extraordinary book (published in 2014) is an account of Tom Lubbock’s three year battle with a brain tumour – located in the area controlling speech and language (he died in 2010, aged 53). It’s written by his wife (Coutts is a lecturer in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, London). Lubbock was an artist, illustrator and chief art critic of The Independent. When Lubbock’s illness was first diagnosed in 2008, their son was 18 months old. I found the book completely compelling… and powerful, poignant, honest, blunt, sensitive, funny, enlightening and defiant. It’s beautifully written – it has a quiet eloquence, together with a poetic elegance. Her sentences are quite short, but to the point. The book charts the deterioration of Tom’s speech (somewhat ironically coinciding, of course, with their son’s developing language skills), but it also narrates how the three of them tried to cope with Tom’s inevitable death. It’s a wonderful book – probably my book of the year thus far (ie. of those I’ve read this year). I read it within two days, but I think it will live with me for a long, long time.
The Girl On The Train (Paula Hawkins): No, I haven’t seen the film (but, from what I hear, it’s a big disappointment compared to the book)! Hawkins’s book is a psychological thriller told through the eyes of three women. One of them, Rachel (who happens to be an alcoholic) catches the same commuter train every morning; she knows the journey by heart – including the fact the train will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. But, one day, she sees something that distresses her… and that’s when things get a bit dramatic! I certainly found the book compulsive reading – full of interesting, flawed characters and a clever storyline. If I have a criticism, I thought the ending was a little weak and somewhat tame compared with the rest of the novel - despite its various twists and turns. Nevertheless, a very good book – which I simply couldn’t put down.
Tarantula (Bob Dylan): I bought this Dylan short book a few months ago (his only fictional book incidentally, written in 1965/66 but first published in 1971). I have to admit that, at that time, I read the first few pages and gave up… it felt as if he’d written it when out of his head on drugs (or maybe I’d just drunk too much red wine?). Anyway, following his recent Nobel Prize for Literature (which I completely endorse), I thought I’d give it another try… Well, as much as I love Dylan’s music, I’m afraid this “experimental prose poetry collection” (as I’ve seen it described) wasn’t for me and I haven’t changed my initial assessment. Actually, I DID enjoy some of the ‘letters’… and his verbal playfulness (at times, he’s very clever!). The following is just a very brief sample, taken completely at random, to give you a flavour: “juicy roses to coughing hands assembling k pluck national anthems! all hail! the football field ablaze with doves k alleyways where hitchhikers wandering k setting fire to their pockets resounding with the nuns k tramps k discarding the weedy Syrians, surfs of half-reason, the jack k jills k wax Michael from the church acre, who cry in their prime k gag of their twins…”. Largely unintelligible to me.

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