Sunday, October 02, 2016

september 2016 books…

More book stuff:
Coffin Road (Peter May): I didn’t think an “eco-thriller” (as described in the book’s cover blurb) would be my cup of tea, but I was very, very wrong! This is a very clever mystery novel, set on the Hebridean Isle of Harris (maybe the Scottish Highland connection had something to do with my passion for it!?) involving a man who finds himself bewildered and sodden on a deserted beach. He cannot remember who he is… and his only clue to his identity is a folded map of a path named the Coffin Road. I won’t tell you anymore, but I found it an absolutely riveting read… and will be definitely on the look-out for more of May’s work (eg. The Lewis Trilogy – including The Blackhouse). A brilliant book.
Postcapitalism (Paul Mason): I’ve long been an admirer of Mason’s journalism (he was Channel4 News’s former Economics Editor), but this is the first opportunity to read his extended thoughts in book form. This ambitious and challenging book analyses the capitalist world we live in and suggests that we’re about to enter a whole new world… of postcapitalism – in which the technical/information revolution is about to reshape our notions of work and value. It’s a brilliant book - complex, articulate and compelling (I’ve also written a separate, extended blog post about the book).
Troubles (J G Farrell): This is our Book Group’s latest book (first published in 1970). Set in 1919, a relatively-wealthy, English Major travels to Ireland to the Majestic Hotel and to the fiancée he “acquired” on a rash afternoon’s leave three years before. The engagement is short-lived, but he finds it difficult to leave the “alluring discomforts” of the crumbling hotel. It’s a strange and haunting (and frequently funny and ridiculous) story which mixes the emotions of a world emerging from the Great War, the upheaval and the politics of the Irish War of Independence and a harking back to life before the troubles. It’s also fascinating that this book, written at the time of the on-going Irish troubles of its day (eg. Londonderry civil rights march 1968 onwards), acts as a firm reminder of the guerrilla war fought in that country from 1919 to 1921. But it would be wrong if I gave the impression that this is simply a book about war/conflict… it’s almost entirely set within the walls/grounds of the shabby hotel “surrounded by gently decaying old ladies and proliferating cats”… it contains some intriguing characters and is a compelling, original story. I very much enjoyed it. Footnote: my one gripe would be that the entire book (some 450 pages long) is written without chapters or breaks (the best it can provide is the VERY occasional one line gap between paragraphs or, if you’re really lucky, a random isolated asterisk) and this chapter-less format definitely limiting my enjoyment… aargh!
Revelations of Divine Love (Julian of Norwich): This is the first time I’ve attempted to read the full account of the sixteen visions (or ‘shewings’) which appeared to Mother Julian (1342-1416)… and I have to admit that I found it pretty tough going (despite the excellent introduction and translation by Clifton Wolters). At the age of thirty, in May 1373, Julian was struck with a serious illness and, as she prayed and prepared for death, she received a series of sixteen visions on the Passion of Christ and the Virgin Mary. Saved from the brink of death, Julian of Norwich dedicated her life to solitary prayer and the contemplation of the visions she had received (“Julian” was the saint’s name of the church she was attached to - as an ‘anchoress’, she was walled up in a cell built on to the church, with food and drink brought to her). She wrote a short account of her visions probably soon after the event (and about 20/30 years later, she recorded down her understanding of them). She wrote in a straightforward ‘Middle English’ (she describes herself as “a simple creature unlettered”) and maintained that the visions provide us with the words of Christ, not hers. Whilst the book increased my awareness of Julian, I’m one of those people who find it difficult to accept that God reveals himself to us in this way. Nevertheless, it is a remarkable, thought-provoking text. I found the book somewhat repetitive (and I have to admit that I didn’t devote adequate time to reflect on the 86 chapters of Julian’s reflections!), although it did offer a mystical and philosophical insight into the medieval mind - whether you are a Christian or not.   
The Love Object and Other Stories (Edna O’Brien): Having recently read Edna O’Brien’s autobiography, I vowed that it was about time I read one of her novels… well, in the end, I opted for a book of short stories instead (eight in all, first published in 1970). Each of the stories has a ‘heroine’ and the synopsis on the book’s back cover sums things up perfectly in my view: with each of the heroines, in their different ways, swinging “between susceptibility and scepticism, between euphoria and agonising disappointment”. O’Brien has an impressive directness in the way she writes… and one senses that many of her characters are taken directly from her own life experiences. As you might imagine, the book (now nearly 50 years old) feels somewhat dated at times… but an enjoyable read nevertheless.

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