Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hangover Square - post IV

There is a sadness about the ending of the book that comes from the clever switch from triumph to failure.

Click. Bone’s problem in his head makes it difficult for him to remember anything even when it has been good and as a result he goes back to some sort of basic programme even when circumstances have changed.

The skill in Hamilton’s writing is not only making you care about a character that to all intents and purposes is a loser but for you to keep caring right until the end. There is also a light touch at work here that allows you to discover just how brutal Netta is without laying it on too thick.

But the other dimension of the book I won’t forget is the picture it paints of a country literally on the eve of war. There is a denial about international events that is not just limited to those boozing in the pub. When war is declared you sense the great wheels of fear and excitement turning across London and that is a thrilling backdrop to the last few pages.

A review will follow soon…

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hangover Square - post III

The introduction of a friend provides a chance for Bone to concoct a trip to Brighton with Netta just as a couple. So it is with real disappointment when he goes to meet her at the station she is accompanied by two men and is blind drunk.

The tragedy here is that when left on his own Bone goes off and plays golf and is able to dream of a normal post Netta and alcohol life. But when he meets Netta he crumbles. She takes his money, blatantly asking for £15, and then slaps him in the face when she turns up drunk and she then causes embarrassment in the hotel.

Bone is left by them in Brighton and his thoughts about killing Netta have now expanded to killing her lover Peter. But he dumb moods, when his mind clicks, are getting worse as he wanders along the south coast and the chances are that even if he doesn’t kill Netta he wouldn’t be able to remember.That along with his tendency to say whatever is required to please is a dangerous combination.

He keeps making plans and then putting them off but this time he might actually do something armed with his golf club he paid for in Brighton.

More tomorrow…

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hangover Square - post II

You have to feel a bit for George Bone as he struggles to get the attention of the beautiful but cruel Netta. Armed with the money from his aunt he decides to take her out but she takes him for granted, abuses his generosity and reveals accidentally later on that she is sleeping with another member of the gang.

Poor old Bone keeps getting the click in his head and then is unable to remember where he is and what he is doing. The only thing he can recall is that he is meant to be planning to kill Netta and then escape to Maidenhead.

Hamilton is building it up cleverly with Bone as the clear victim. It must be annoying having someone hanging around declaring their love for you but he is harmless. Netta is determined to get things from people but without giving back anything. She knows she is beautiful and there is a cynicism about that which is incredibly unattractive.

More tomorrow…

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Spire - post III

Tormented by his failure to understand the damage caused by his determination to build the spire Jocelin is facing the clerical version of being struck off. He fails to understand just how much he has lost the support of the local community, the builders and his own colleagues.

Even when he is faced with a few home truths he fails to understand his capacity for causing insult and damage and if he wasn't dying you suspect he would have had a much harder time of it.

In the end it almost become irrelevant if the spire stands or falls because it has destroyed several lives. Jocelin's back problems are a metaphor for the destruction of the body of his church as well as himself. He gives everything to make his vision come to life but completely misunderstands the danger of becoming enclosed 'in a tent' of his own vision.

Although the symbolism, with swirling devils and angels, blossom and kingfishers, becomes slightly too much it does add to the pace and the conclusion. Even at the very end he remains totally misunderstood.

A review will come soon...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

bookmark of the week

Been a little while since I posted one of these. Apologies but the scanner has been down. This leather bookmark was kindkly given to me by my nephew who is just back from a trip to Iceland. Clearly proud of the puffins the bookmark is in english which is a surprise. it makes a fine addition to the collection.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Spire - post II

At times with the symbolism swirling round the dean's head with his angel versus demon battle and visions of those he has let down it is hard to make out quite what is going on.

As the Spire starts to reach its final stages of being built Dean Jocelin loses all sense of perspective and just hangs out with the builders at the top of the ladders above the church, which most of the time lies idle.

But as the winds come and the autumn rains mount a challenge to the spire that it is certain to fail the world below in the literal sense of on the ground catches up with Jocelin. He loses the abiliuty to parley and get through to the master builder. He loses the ability to save Pagnall's wife and marriage and he starts to lose the ability to keep the church functioning.

The net result is that as he becomes fixated on the final days of building he is a very small step from being a mad man.

if and when the spire comes down quite what it will do for the dean, who has pinned everything on it's construction is hard to guess.

Final chunk Monday...

Friday, April 24, 2009

American Tabloid - post VI

I am not going to lie and say that this was a page turner. It is a big book and at moments it really felt like it. What made life difficult is the patches when the pace seemed to dip.

Set against the true historical events of the Bay of Pigs and the lead up to Kennedy’s assassination the last part does finally get you going as the moment when the fatal shots are fired draws closer.

The characters of the smooth FBI man Boyd, psycho killer Pete and loser Ward are reversed as each suffers a change in fortunes and heart. At the end the only constants are the hatred that Hoover has for anyone threatening his position, the ability of the mob to protect their own and take revenge and the leadership of Castro in Cuba.

Jack Kennedy is portrayed as the best way of hurting Bobby Kennedy and reminding old Joe Kennedy where his loyalties should have been lying.

In a cast that involves walk ons for Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford and Jack Kennedy this is an America of glamour.

But with the race riots, KKK and the Cuban exiles it is also a divided country ill at ease with itself.

The fact Ellroy gives you that sort of picture as a background to a thriller shows you the ambition with the social observation and the research he has done about this period in history.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

book review - 1980

The Yorkshire ripper is still going strong and the failure of the Yorkshire police to catch him is a cause for concern. But of course David Peace is offering much more than that simple synopsis in the dark and poetical world inhabited by corrupt cops and killers.

To sort out the problems of corruption Peter Hunter is sent in from the Manchester force to set up a squad looking into the way that the Ripper enquiry has been handled. His secret brief is to try and discover if the Yorkshire force has been guilty of corruption to the extent that it has compromised its own ability to solve the crime.

Hunter is seen as a trouble shooter unafraid of unpopularity and already aware, from a previous brush with a Post Office raid condoning inspector, about the problems that are waiting for him on the other side of the moors.

But added to the story of foiling corruption that is so long established and so interlinked that it is almost impossible for an outsider to crack the importance of relationships, juxtaposed events and the significance of certain geographies. Hunter does his best but is also haunted by his own failure to have children and his dependent wife.

He finds that he is caught out in a classic suggestive compromise linked to a dodgy businessman and when he starts to get close to a secret, which is not yet fully understood by the reader, he is rewarded with having his home burnt down.

Just as with 1974 certain crimes and places act as a magnet and out of the past comes the character of BJ. Former informer for Dunford and well connected the tortured figure attempts to reach out to Hunter and inform him about the past. He fails not because he comes across as a madman but also because Hunter is simply unable to put it all together and see things for what they really are.

The climax sees Hunter clinging on like so many others not just to his sanity but his life. He has been to hell and back suffering nightmares and visions.

The fact they capture the Ripper is down to a stroke of luck but even then the most contientious crimes are denied leaving them back in doubt. Who really killed them is something that Hunter gets close to but because he doesn’t understand the motive he misses. Likewise those that could spill the beans are haunted by the past and in too deep to reveal the truth.

But what is truth in a world where night brings nightmares and visions that overlap with the horrific events of the day? What is truth in a world where your friend and neighbour can also be a killer and the policeman you trust someone who is worse than a criminal?

It is with those questions buzzing round your head that you step onwards to the conclusion and 1984.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

book review - 1977

Where 1974 had a story that you could get to grips with 1977 is more difficult to define. Probably for that reason it was the only one of the books left out of the recent TV adaptation of David Peace's Red Riding books.

If it could be summed up with a theme it would be angels and devils. At the heart of it are two characters that were on the fringes in 1974. The senior crime correspondent who was so hated by Eddie Dunford Jack Whitehead is in one corner and in the other is the priest come exorcist Martin Laws.

Whitehead has suffered watching his wife having a nail hammered into her skull as some sort of primitive attempt to exorcise her of her demons and despite that is drawn to having the same treatment.

Against the background of the beginning of the Yorkshire Ripper’s reign of terror Laws is working on a different plane trying to cajole and manipulate Whitehead among others into taking steps that might not only be fatal but you start to suspect are part of a bigger game. Laws simply keeps turning up having a relationship with too many people.

With a drink problem, a growing cynicism of his colleagues and the police after the Dunford experience Whitehead is drawn back to reporting on the Ripper reluctantly.

He coins the term Ripper and is the one who is visited nightly by ghosts of his ex wife but warnings of the actions of the ripper. As he becomes more detached from reality you get that same sense that existed with 1974 that Leeds is not just a world of the seen but also frighteningly is being driven by forces that few can understand.

Whitehead at least appreciates the forces at work but when he tries to master them he finds himself unable to get anywhere.

Meanwhile a third character Bob Fraser, a connection with Dunford in the first book, comes into his own. As his prostitute lover is threatened by the ripper he starts to lose the battle to balance family and mistress. He then falls on the wrong side of his work colleagues as he starts to find out that his girlfriend is part of a bigger issue.

That collapse of faith in the force and those around him ends with his death but for the reader is provides more pieces of the jigsaw to carry forward to the next book.

The same names, locations and visions keep being repeated like a chant throughout the book. Although it might be difficult to work out what is happening at various points it is possible to feel the mood through immersing yourself in the experience.

That last word ‘experience’ is something that could be applied to the quartet in general because Peace is challenging you to participate. To try and solve the crimes, to work out who is corrupt and corruptible and to try and work out how it has happened and what it means about the state of Britain in the 1970s and the state of Yorkshire.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

American Tabloid - post V

As the story starts to focus on the Bay of Pigs invasion of nCuba in 1961 it gathers its own momentum. But oddly the invasion is seen at arms length with none of the main characters directly involved.

It gives the reader a reminder that the Cuban story is not necessarily the main focus here and the characters are going to live beyond those events.

Where it does leave things is in a mess as the invasion fails. Drugs have not only become the occupation for Kemper and Pete but in the former’s case under the influence of Kennedy have become a habit.

That means that Cuba is increasingly sidelined and drugs, profits and self preservation become the order of the day.

The weaving of fact and fiction is enjoyable and with so many extreme characters hanging around from Howard Hughes down to Jimmy Hoffa it is an explosive time waiting to end in Kennedy’s assassination.

More tomorrow…

Monday, April 20, 2009

book review - 1974

There are several levels with which you can engage with David Peace. On one it is almost poetic with images and words being repeated and manipulated to support the grim Yorkshire landscape.

On another it is a more traditional narrative charting a journalist’s desperation to make his name and get through the corruption to the truth. He fails to understand at the start just how deep the corruption has spread and just how and why little girls have gone missing and occasionally turned up dead.

The year 1974 is reinforced through references to news events, cars, music and fashions. In that sense it reminds you of Life on Mars but that is where any resemblance ends.

Because this is a story that is written in a gripping adrenaline pumped way it is hard to stop yourself getting dragged into the experience that Peace creates for the reader. This is much more than just a straightforward story about events unwinding against a historical background but is a test of a reader’s ability to grasp geography, character relationships and the significance of events.

As it is the first in a series of four this is also an introduction to the world of Leeds and the surrounding environment where the lines between friend and foe are far from black and white. This Northern world, where rain and the darkness of night play a crucial role, is not the sort of world that has a corner for the innocent to escape into. If you get caught up then you get caught up regardless of your innocence.

At the heart of the story is Eddie Dunford a crime reporter trying to make a name for himself who discovers that not only is he fighting criminals he can’t see but coming up against barriers from the police, his colleagues and his own boss.

By the end he is so far removed from the normal world he inhabited before he became aware of the depth of the problems in West Yorkshire that he resorts to tactics that at first would have seemed out of character but by the end feel almost natural.

Peace has created a dark world of corrupt coppers, smooth talking criminals and complicit journalists in which explodes the kidnapping and murder of little girls. The way that those crimes are solved reveals the true loyalties that exist in the Yorkshire community. They also reveal the cancerous effect that evil can have not just on those directly involved but the community around them.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

American Tabloid - post IV

At the risk of annoying Ellroy fans I have to confess that I'd hoped to be getting through this a little bit quicker. Maybe it's me and not the book but this is a lot slower going than I'd hoped.

Maybe some of the problem is the use of real history. As a result things are constrained in a way a completely fictional setting might not have suffered from. Mind you it's against the backdrop of an incredible few years that makes this work. So I can only conclude it's my problem. With things developing between the main two characters Boyd and Pete the clock is ticking down towards the bay of pigs invasion and with both characters banking on a victory you sense the failure there is going to have am impact on plot and pace.

Planning to get through it in the week ahead...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Spire - post I

When you are finding reading difficult and your pace is not quite where you would like it to be then a quick book can do wonders. What I mean by that is not necessarily a novella but a book that is accessible and quick to get through.

The Spire is fitting the bill, although I could not have predicted that before starting it. The story of a Dean determined to build a spire on a cathedral that doesn't have the foundations is a tragedy waiting to happen. For the Dean it is a question of faith but others, including his colleagues, see it as folly.

Written in the Golding style - which calls on the reader to work hard filling in blanks and putting half stories together - this Is building into not just a question of faith but also about the arrogance of a single man. The idea that the deal breaker, the foundations holding, is beneath and largely unseen reminds you if Fire Down Below. those worried in that book about the fire destroying the ship were proved right. The doubters just might be right again this time..

Friday, April 17, 2009

Hangover Square -post I

This book is always included on those promotions that bookshops including Waterstones always like to run highlighting books about London.

With the setting in Earls Court, although it starts in Hunstanton, this is a 'London' book. But the location so far is not really that important as you start to follow George Bone through the agonies of unrequited love with Netta. What keeps them together with the addition of some other hangers on is booze.

They cling to the pins despite having the intelligence to know that it is destroying them. Bone prays for war, it's 1939 so he's going to get that wish granted. But he also plans to kill Netta. As he suffers from periods of MIT remembering what he has thought or done he has had plenty of times when he has thought of killing Netta of at least assumed he has been thinking of that.

Yet one show of mild interest and he is at her beck and call. Will he kill her and get out of his self destructive cycle? The war might help. Plus answers might come from further reading...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

book review - 2666

It is with some trepidation that the task of pulling together some coherent thoughts about Roberto Bolano’s 2666 is begun.

What you remember throughout the book are the words of the forward with the explanation of how the original vision had been to publish the five books that make up 2666 separately. After his death Bolano’s family decided that for practical reasons putting them all together made more sense. But the fact they went against the author’s wishes lingers in your mind as you set out on the journey.

The first part concerns itself with three critics, a Spaniard, Italian and German, who have dedicated their academic lives to studying an obscure German author Archimboldi who has never received widespread critical acclaim. As they share a love for his work they also get involved with each other and the introduction of a British female academic who takes two of them as lovers spices it up a bit.

But this is also about the hunt for the lost author and the attempt to pull him out of obscurity not just academically but also literally. The hunt takes them to the last known citing in an industrial town in Mexico. Leaving the aging Italian at home the others head off and find a landscape of dreams, murder and drug trade fuelled madness. They almost lose themselves, particularly mentally, in the hunt for Archimboldi.

Having left the critics the second section turns to one of the Mexican professors they met at the local University. He displays signs of madness and in many respects apart from his connection with the critics from book one he doesn’t appear to be taking the story forward.

But then it starts to become slightly clearer that this is as much about Mexico and the killings of numerous women in Santa Teresa as it is about the reclusive author. The awareness that the priority is shifting to focus on the hundreds of murders in Mexico creeps up on you and rather disappoints because having invested a chunk of time in the critics in part one they clearly have served their purpose and have exited stage left.

Although the question is whether or not they really had. Because of the way the story ends unfinished there are many questions that you circulate round the mind and one of them is whether or not the critics would have reappeared.

Part three concerns an American journalist who is sent to Saint Teresa to cover a boxing match and starts to become interested in writing about the murders. He overlaps with the Mexican professor ion part two by running away with his daughter. But there seems to be little about Archimboldi, nothing about the critics and all about Mexico and murder.

That sets things up for part four where the novel becomes a catalogue of murder descriptions which provide the reader with an insight into the extent of the problem but none of the answers about who is responsible. The potential suspect, who winds up in prison, is a German born computer salesman who happened to have a brief acquaintance with one of the victims. He denies it and importantly the killings continue.

Things go back in time to tell the story of Archimboldi and his emergence as a literary talent. Against a backdrop of the Second World War and his experience on the Eastern front the young German uses the war and his experiences to relaunch himself. He maintains a relationship with his publisher but his constant movement across the globe makes him appear reclusive.

Many times you ask yourself as you plough on through the 900 plus pages where this is going. The problem is that after a while you stop caring about whether or not Archimboldi comes out into the light and if he is able to stop his nephew from going to prison for the murders in Mexico.

If anything this book is about mystery. The mystery of the Mexican landscape and the impact on a town by the drugs trade. The mystery of academic ambition and the reclusive writer. But also the mystery of writing with the story something that you never quite capture like a heat haze on one of the highways on the outskirts of the Saint Teresa that Bolano describes so well.

By the end you feel frustrated, puzzled and tired. But there are ideas and images that you take away that make the investment of time worth while. The problem is waiting for the puzzlement to go away and the more positive thoughts to collate. That can take almost as much time as reading the book.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

American Tabloid - post III

There are some of the scenes in Oliver Stone’s JFK where the back story about the mob and Cuba is pieced together that reminds you of the territory that Ellroy is heading into in American Tabloid.

There are numerous characters that are on the extreme end of the spectrum and maybe it was the inability to suppress all of their different demands that meant something dramatic in the 1960s was inevitable.

Those of us not living in the US often think of the 1960s as Kennedy, Johnson, the great society and Vietnam. We tend to forget Cuba and the impact that Castro had. But for those involved with crime Castro was bad news and for politicians talking tough about the Red threat having one on the doorstep was also difficult to swallow.

So although this is heading into a Bay of Pigs history lesson this is a part of the Kennedy story that most people would be least familiar with and that makes the 500 plus pages journey one that is slightly easier to go on with.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

American Tabloid - post II

In some respects the story starts to become more complicated but the overall pace and direction clearer. This might on one level be about the Teamsters and Hoffa and corruption. But on another it is about the Kennedy brothers and their plans to shake things up.

In that relationship Bobby is the more determined to change the world with Jack happy to skip between beds of women he takes a fancy too and not too particular about talking with mobsters.

At the top of the tree the Kennedy's exist in a world with Howard Hughes and Hoover but underneath, and not too far below, there are those they rely on to kill, punish and secure favours on their behalf. It is the ability to mix in both of those strata that makes American Tabloid so gripping and so believable.

Monday, April 13, 2009

book review - The Human Factor

There is a something about Graham Greene that can best be described as a voice. Every book of his I have so far come across has the same rhythm and gives off a sense of having been written with confidence.

This book starts with you under the impression that it might well be a humorous reaction to the world of Ian Fleming and glamorous spies as it focuses on a couple of men working in an African sub-section of the Foreign Office.

But the humour evaporates as a leak is discovered in the department and the finger of suspicion points not at the older man Castle but at his younger frustrated and bored colleague Davis.

The jokes about glamour and Bond are a clever counterpoint to the bungling class based decisions that are taken to eradicate Davis and then play further games to smoke out the real leak.

But this is against a background of the cold war defections that gained headlines and embarrassed the establishment. Castle is playing for high stakes and fails to understand that principles are not honoured in this war of information. In the end he loses all that really matters to him, his wife and adopted son, and without his protection the world they live in looks bleak in the extreme.

As the wheels of government, class and espionage turn in between the cogs are the normal men and women who are victims. Some like Castle believe that there are higher principles at play here but in reality it is a rather pathetic game of trying to trump the opposition.

Defectors are pawns in a game they don’t really understand and operating in a system that despite relying so much on people has no understanding or place for the human factor.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

Happy Easter one and all. Hope you have a day enjoying some reading.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

book review - The Interrogation

There is no point trying to pretend that the Nobel Prize awarded to J.M.G Le Clezio did not influence the purchase of this book. You always want to find out for yourself if the plaudits are worth it and so it was with a half open mind, you expect to be stirred by a Nobel winner, that I set out on the Interrogation.

In some respects it reminded me of The Stranger by Albert Camus because of the central figure's detached view of the world. But there is something here about the danger of solitude and the impact on the mind of someone who has time to delve deep into themselves.

As he walks around a seaside town Adam Pollo cuts n odd figure following dogs, putting himself into the mind of rats and living a life of sunbathing, thinking and begging money from his girlfriend. But nothing is ever clear. For instance did Adam desert from the army or end up being discharged because of a psychiatric problem? Then there is the relationship with his girlfriend. Did he rape/assault her or was that an exaggeration and a joke between them?

What is sure is that after deciding to stand up in the middle of the promenade and start sharing his views of the world he winds up in a mental hospital where he is dragged in front of a bunch of students for the interrogation to begin. They have made up their minds what is wrong with him but he shows them through his various opportunities to answer questions that not only is making judgements a difficult art but the power is in his own hands as to whether or not he pulls himself through.

He seems to decide that he is going to opt for a slow slide into a dream like state of embracing the institution of the hospital and those students that are questioning him for the most part seem unaware they are witnessing the moment when an individual decides to switch their mind onto a course set for a semi-vegetative state. What is disturbing is the message that the book implies about the consequences for individualism and the inability for society to cope or understand anyone different from the norm. Adam could try to make them understand but in the face of the futility of that he makes the sane choice and opts for winning the battle in his own head rather than in a room filled with medical students and doctors.

Friday, April 10, 2009

book review - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

F. Scott Fitzgerald was a very competent short story writer and this collection, which takes it's title from a the story that has inspired the recent Brad Pitt film, shows off his skill.

In one sense it is amazing that the title story, a mere 25 pages or so, can lead to a film that ;last for hours. But at the heart of the Curious case of Benjamin Button is the simple idea exploring what it is like for a man to live his life backwards.

The result is age discrimination of a completely different order. But it also shows that those with knowledge and determination can achieve a great deal and perhaps those of us growing old slowly fail to grasps the opportunities as they come believing wrongly that there will be other moments later on.

But as well as the story of a 70 year old baby there are cursed beauties in the The Cut-Glass Bowl where a woman who has been given a cut-glass bowl by a former lover because it describes her as being cold, see through and beautiful to look at starts to suffer ill fortune. The bowl is always involved and as her fortunes dip the curse seems to stretch to her family and they are maimed by the bowl and the news of their death via telegram is inevitably put in the bowl for safe keeping.

This is dark and the element of the supernatural slightly disturbing. This is a dark tale and all it needs is to add some more macabre details about the house, heavy blood red curtains etc and some howling wind and it wouldn’t sit too uncomfortably in a Poe collection.

But one of the enduring themes of Fitzgerald's work is not so much the supernatural but the sense of fate that divides rich and poor. In May Day a number of characters from both sides of the tracks are weaved together. One is almost destitute and has lost pride, employment and almost all hope, another is a wealthy young man who has avoided the same mistakes and the final element is a former girlfriend of the first. They meet and fail to help each other leaving the stricken destitute former Yale man to take the ultimate step.

What it tells you is that in the world of all night parties, champagne and hotels those without the necessary funds were finished and locked out of that world. Equally they had nothing to offer other social groups so they end up alienated and isolated.

For those looking in, in this case two soldiers, they might be invited into the ball to have a drink by a drunk but once things have sobered up they are firmly back on the other side of the class divide and reminded of it.

This reminds me in places of the Great Gatsby because the same vacuous existence is being played out here by characters that with one slip could so easily fall from their life of luxury.

In some sense these questions ask you the same question: who deserves pity? Even those who appear to have everything, from Yale men to film directors, suffer from a hollowness that is even worse because they are aware of it. Put this alongside something like Sister Carrie and you start to paint a picture of an America that might have enjoyed money but failed to have security and depth.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

book review - The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

This is one of the books that manages to cross over from teenage fiction into the adult category. Indeed it was a friend who recommended John Boyne's book as something worth reading.

In many respects it takes a reader to come to this with a knowledge of the holocaust for it to work with complete effectiveness. The story of Bruno and his family moving to a concentration camp is full of gaps that an informed reader will fill in. Not just about the reason for his father going to become commander at Auschwitz but also the affair between a young prison guard and Bruno's mother.

But where it works well is the central story about Bruno and his friendship with the boy in the striped pyjamas. Because his parents have told him almost nothing about what is going on - the view of the world with the gaps left unfilled - he makes a fatal mistake based on complete ignorance.

The ending of the book is one that has real power as does the aftermath with a hint that one of Hitler's loyal stormtroopers has become disillusioned by the realisation that what they happily did to millions might have been done to one of their own.

In many ways some of the devices used get tiresome towards the end but if the aim of this is to get a child to ask you as a parent what is happening then getting the chance to answer that question is perhaps valuable in itself. No doubt the film, which I haven't seen, is more expansive and slightly more literal in terms of spelling it out.

Just as with the only other crossover book I have read, The Curious Mark Haddon, this is sometimes too obvious for an adult reader. But it is worth getting through because if nothing else it reminds you of the horrors of history and reinforces the memory which makes it harder for something as horrific as the final solution to happen again.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The bookshelves are not elastic

It's time to face up to facts and have a bit of a book clearout. For a long time I have been fighting reality believing that the books piled up in the house were not a problem.

So understanding the true situation means that the next few weeks will involve making some tough decisions. But it is about time something was done. So here goes...

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

American Tabloid - post I

There is something about the stoccato style that works against a background of the early 1960s and an America of Hoover and the Kennedys.

With the battle between the Kennedy brothers and those not too keen on them getting into the White House there is an ex cop and an FBI agent that are caught in the middle. That makes the tension work straight off on two levels. But what really adds to it is the backdrop of America, a glamorous US.

More soon...

Monday, April 06, 2009

book review - Crabwalk

This story echoes some of the same themes of The Reader about the war and guilt but is more of a modern parable of our times. The problem with writing about the internet is that there is already a slighty dated feel to the online world Gunter Grass describes.

The big questions he is trying to answer are around the idea of guilt and responsibility. In war is the sinking of a ship carrying refugees something that can be mourned over in the same way that some of the losses on the sides of victors are commemorated? Does the wartime generation have a responsibility to the way that history is passed down and interpreted by their children?

The background against how those questions are mulled over is the story of a father who has lost the respect of his mother and son. The old woman is able to influence the son and in her tales as a survivor of the sinking if the refugee ship she creates a fledgling Nazi. Her grandson uses the Internet and modern technology to refight the battles of the past. He is fighting his battles against another teenager who picks up the mantle of the Jewish sideof the debate.

Meanwhile the father can see what is happening with the son but is unable to reach him. The ultimate battle between the two teenagers playing at representing the past in the present ends in death and imprisonment.

To a certain degree the blame is squarely on the shoulders of those that propogate the lies from the past with the grandmother, who remains unrepentant. But the father is also useless in the face of the past and unable to correct the path his son is taking.

In one way if the idea of the book was to make you think about the past then it works. But if it was also taking a swipe at the Internet and the way it can be exploited by extremists then it fails because it already feels simplistic and out of date. Still it can provoke some thoughts and that is what good literature should do.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Damned United - post V

You knew that things were always going to end one way, because let's face it the ending has not been a secret. But what you are left trying to work out is about the character of Clough the man.

The problem with this, although a post story bibliography makes it clear it is incredibly well researched, you are not quite sure whether or not the Clough presented here is the real thing. There is also a line or two about Forest but nothing really to expand on the most successful years of his career or his pivotal relationship[ with Taylor.

No one really comes out of it with honours with the players as guilty of immaturity as their manager. What seems to have defeated Clough more than the results, the players and the ghost of Don Revie is Leeds itself and that is very much in keeping with Peace's other books. Yorkshire is the real enemy and the only survivor.

A review will come soon...

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Damned United - post IV

Clough loses his job at derby and in the present it goes from bad to worse with Leeds. These twin histories provide a glimpse into someone almost unable to appreciate an opposite point if view. You might be able to get away with it when the results are going your way but not when you are losing.

Living in hotels finding hostility everywhere starts to make it almost impossible for clough to settle. He is also haunted by failure and the hated be still feels for don revie. It starts to unhonge him and you can see a collision coming with board and players even before it begins.

This is all against a background of a grim yorkshire sketched out by peace. But he could gave let the landvape talk more like he does in red riding.

More soon...

Friday, April 03, 2009

The Damned United - post III

In some respects you have to feel sorry for brian clough as he constantly teeters ok the knife edge between success and disaster. Even when derby win the title he is still plagued with doubt and happy to self destruct friendships and good working relationships.

Underneath there is amazing self belief but with a blindness to his drink problem and an unwillingness to accept the true importance of his sidekick peter taylor he is doomed to make mistakes.

One of the biggest as the history if his loathing for Leeds emerges is to happily burn his bridges to settle his own scores. Words and views that come back to haunt him later on.

More tomorrow...

Thursday, April 02, 2009

1983 - post IV

Not planning to give away the ending but it is pretty safe to say that you have to be concentrating right until the last word.

Things never really end the people involved just disappear or die and you are left wondering whether or not the corruption that gripped the police force has ever really left. Those who appeared to have won were plagued by bad dreams and memories and those who lost in a way had an early release from the hell.

The concluding chapters push your ability to remember the names and places from the first three books to the limit but it is worth it and the final pieces of the jigsaw are still slotting together in my mind.

Over the entire series there has been a palpable grimness that is created by the rain, darkness and the bleakness of most of the locations. Even the homes of the wealthy and corrupt are prisons of despair and hotel rooms and bars have all been poisoned by the fear and death from the past.

In the sense of poetically weaving a nightmare landscape where Rippers walks and angels are destroyed Peace brings that off brilliantly.

A review will follow at some point…

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

1983 - post III

No jokes today reading 1983.

As the extent and ambition of the police corruption starts to become clear you not only understand why certain things happened in the past but get a brutal insight into why Peter Hunter was never going to be able to get very far in Yorkshire.

You are still undecided as to wether or not Jobson, the Owl, is fully signed up to the corruption but as a third strand of narrative is added to the mix with BJ giving an insight into why him and Claire Strachan were hunted down its obvious that the Owl was not able to stop events.

Meanwhile Piggot is being sucked into a world of bad memories which become even worse when he understands that hand in glove with the police were some members of the legal profession.

His search for the truth, just like Hunter’s, is starting to push him to the edge of sanity. For readers trying to make the connections the idea that Jack Whitehead might have hooked up again with Eddie Dunford seems to linger with the Viva being sighted near the Redbeck but what are dreams and what is reality?