Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Temporary Kings - post I

The penultimate book starts in Venice with Jenkins among new acquaintances. The writers conference he is attending, organised by long running character Mark Members, provides a chance to update the reader with a refresher on some of the more recent loose ends.

Trapnel the writer has died spending one last night in the pub buying drinks all round before heading off to hospital and his death bed. Widmerpool has become a life peer and his wife Pamela carries on creating scandal.

I have to confess that the Pamela character doesn’t quite do anything for me. The idea of a frigid beautiful woman who gets off on teasing men is not something that is something I would have dwelt on for quite as long as a couple of books.

But at the heart of this book, already discernable, is the same Jenkins, who is slightly older and still happy to play the role of observer.

More tomorrow…

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Gutenberg Elegies - post III

As Birkerts starts to get back into his argument he uses chapter three to talk about the decline in the big narratives as communities stretched and technology made it possible for people, and a wider bunch at that, to get access to literature.

The point he seems to be making is that reading in its history was not just about words on the page but because of its universality had the ability set the collective debate and as people grew up it was the shared narratives that they inherited.

The point is made that in the past news took much longer to stretch round the globe and when it did arrive there tended to be one definitive account. Reading in a historical sense was therefore something that underlined community and helped shape the horizons of those that were either able to read or have the contents of books told as oral histories.

More soon...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

bookmark of the week

Not sure if I posted this but this is a bookmark from the Swiss capital Bern. The cathedral in the old town has a very tall munster and so the bookmark in the shop reflects that point about the church. Mind you I never made it up the top of the tower but the rest of the inside was worth a look anyway.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Imagining a Facebooked Dance to the Music

Having spent a bit of tonight browsing Facebook, something I have mixed feelings about, it struck me after I stumbled across an old school friend who seems to have kept in touch with everyone to wonder hoe it would have worked for Jenkins.

In Dance to the Music of Time there is a certain amount of mystery about what people are doing in between their turns on the metaphorical dance floor with Jenkins. Had he got Facebook then of course he would not only have been able to keep track of Widmerpool and the others but also be able to see what their individual thoughts are and just how many other people they are networking with.

Hate to sound old fashioned but I prefer not to know and to have the wonder of the meetings that Jenkins describes in Dance to the Music of Time.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Books do Furnish a Room - post IV

Even when Widmerpool is partly begging his wife to come home you don’t feel too sympathetic towards him and even when he is clearly waiting on her as she has a fling he is still not a sympathy inducing character.

The reason is that all of those in the books so far he is the one that so clearly wanted power and so determinedly got it. To some extents though it is a hollow victory because he managed to get somewhere but lose other things on the way. Widmerpool doesn’t seem to value friendships and love in the way other people do.

Meanwhile the world of Fission comes tumbling down and in a few pages Jenkins summarises two years worth of history with it concluding that the magazine is no more and most of the characters involved have moved on or gone underground.

After the war this is still a London suffering from bombed out plots and the sings of austerity are most noticeable in the lack of taxis and the heavy descriptions of Trapnel borrowing money from people.

But on the flips side this is also a City out of uniform and as a result the war seems to have faded almost completely by the time the book ends.

A review will follow soon…

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Books do Furnish a Room - post III

If there is a change that has resulted from the war it is probably in the way that Jenkins makes friendships and the way in which he describes the people he meets.

Before the war he was immersed in a world where the same characters came round following the rhythm of the dance. But now some of those friends are dead and age has changed the way in which Jenkins makes friendships. Things now are much more about settling into middle age rather than the optimism and ambitions of the past.

As a result there is a detachment that creeps in to the description of the breakdown of Widmerpool’s marriage and the inner workings of Fission magazine. Jenkins is still in the thick of it but now seems to be recalling better days and to some degree better friends as he mingles with the writer Trapnel and the editor Bagshaw.

The other development is the starting of the Cold War that puts a lot of the pro-communist sympathisers in a difficult position forcing some, like Quiggin, to grow up a bit and face reality.

But from the point of view of the book’s impact on the today it is much more than the other works because this is more of a London that is touchable close to the distant past.

More tomorrow…

Books do Furnish a Room - post II

Having buried his brother in law Jenkins is dragged into the publishing world set up by Craggs and his old acquaintance Quiggin. Given a job as a reviewer he starts to mingle with a host of characters that enjoy a drink, a good argument about Marxist politics and sponging money of wealthy friends.

Amongst all of this is Widmerpool who has dressed himself up as a Labour MP and is involved with the magazine venture produced by the left-wing publishers. He not only writes for the magazine they produce – Fission – but also helps manage the financial side of affairs.

Meanwhile Widmerpool is constantly upstaged by his wife Pamela Flitton who reaches new levels of rudeness being sick in vases and showing utter contempt for most of the people she meets.

Have to confess that I don’t like Widmerpool and he has gone from being a slightly clownish character to something clearly a slot more sinister as he is motivated purely by power.

There is a great passage that describes the social upheaval caused by the war, which ultimately saw the demise of the aristocratic world that Jenkins moved in at the start of the Dance novels – I will dig it out and update this post with it tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Gutenberg Elegies - post II

Having used chapter one to kick off the debate the pace is changed and there is a moment for a bit of an autobiographical sketch of Sven’s development as a reader, a failed novelist and a bookseller before settling on his current vocation as an essayist.

In some respects he is establishing not just a love for the written word as a reader but an understanding of the commercial nature of the publishing business with his spell working for the Borders brothers and second-hand bookshops in various locations.

This makes him a more likeable character and in some cases you end up nodding your head as he describes the wonder of reading and the enjoyment that a new book or a special discovery can provoke.

He also reveals his first moments of ‘deep reading’ when he was in isolation on the Maine coast just with a book for company. There is a theme already here that reading is a more meaningful experience when the conditions are free of technological distraction and the reader is alone with the book.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Books do Furnish a Room - post I

With the months passing by ands one of the main ambitions being this year to read all of the Dance to the Music of Time it is straight onto book ten.

The title attracts anyone with a passion for books and the moment the phrase is explained, as uttered by someone as a bookshelf falls on him or alternatively something said as a lover walks through the library to his mistress, it becomes even more memorable.

Having finished one book with a service marking the mass dead a more limited funeral is held for Lord Warminster the left wing leaning Erridge.

As a relation through marriage Jenkins is invited to the funeral and watches on the sidelines as the left wing cronies arrive to try and retrieve some of the money the Lord was handing out to run various publications.

This is a post-war world where nothing is yet defined, including importantly the future for Jenkins himself.

More tomorrow…

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Miltary Philosophers - post IV

As the book comes to the end there is a sense in which a period of history is closing. In a very well crafted scene at the thanksgiving service in the presence of the King and royal household the service acts as a remembrance for all that the war has meant to Jenkins.

He recalls those that have died and the changes that it has led to in his own life. Surrounded by memories of the past he walks straight out into another one meeting Jean Duport, his old flame, but that coincidence is something to be expected in Powell’s world.

What you remember from this book is not just the way that Widmerpool raises through the ranks and settles on marrying the most unsuitable Pamela Flitton, but also how the war took away friends and family quite indiscriminately.

Of the three war books this is the most enjoyable and because it is primarily set in London, except for the interesting excursion to meet Monty in France, somehow more of a wider view. The other two books helped explain how Jenkins got to this point but it is in the war focused streets of Whitehall that the conflict finally seems to come alive.

A review will be posted soon…

So that's the secret

The oddest thing. It seems the less I post the more traffic I get. Had I known this all along I probably would have just kicked this thing off and let it stand idle for a couple of years.

But I’m going to spoil it all now by posting up some more thoughts about books. Apologies in advance…

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Writing made easy

Those keen not just to read but also to write will have noticed the Guardian yesterday running a supplement all about writing fiction. The series, which included How to write poetry in today's Observer, is running all week.

Should be interesting to see if a new breed of authors will be launched on the basis of a thin guide.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Gutenberg Elegies - post I

The book is set up in an introduction that explains that although things might have seemed a lot more reactionary when it first appeared in 1996 and even Birkert’s has to admit he uses technology and cannot be a complete luddite the fears remain.

Key among those fears is that something that he views as being key to not only our development but also the very nature of our souls could be removed by technology. The printed world and the way it is consumed is something that is almost holy for Birkerts.

The problem in his argument starts to appear already in the first chapter. He describes watching an old film and then using the backdrop of Jude the Obscure as a way of trying to recapture a past that is gone.

The issue here is whether or not those people in the past were better off. They may have been able to lead a more simple existence with far fewer material objects cluttering up their ability to read and think. But they embraced advances like the steam train and we are all human and you suspect that they would have also embraced the technology that we have now, it just wasn’t on offer then.

But you have to be careful here that you don’t get too opposed from the start. The points about finding the space to breathe, read and think are valid ones. But working patterns, a global economy as much as digital text have changed the way we read.

Chapter two next…

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Military Philosophers - post III

You wonder just who the enemy is sometimes with nearly everyone obsessed with their own military careers rather than some sense of defeating an enemy. Widmerpool manages to go higher and higher but as he does so he seems to leave behind anyone that could have possibly liked him.

The other factor that starts reducing those that might have had a willingness to work with Widmerpool, regardless of his personality traits, is death. Templer appears to have snuffed it and quite a few of the other marginal characters are killed off. At this rate it should be a select and pruned cast that go into the final trio of books.

Jenkins sits at the centre describing some of the momentous events of history in reference to what is happening is his department rather than how it impacted the wider world. That is quite a genuine way of presenting it and Powell does not over do it when Jenkins manages to get a trip to the liberated parts of the French coast. Proust looms large again reminding you of the social structure that pervades the army, rather like that of Proust’s aristocratic world.

Last chunk early next week…

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Unfree French - post IV

If there is one theme that summaries what it must have been like for the French under German occupation it is ‘confusing’. That might sound flippant but it is not meant to be because some of the consequences of that confusion could be deadly with lives lost or saved as a result.

The confusion, that stemmed from the top, also allowed those wished to a chance to exploit the situation. So there were collaborators that slipped through the net, neighbours that settled old scores and Generals who used their Machiavellian abilities to return not just as conquering heroes but also heads of state.

What is clear is that for the vast majority of people there were problems. If you were Jewish you were in trouble; a soldier then you wasted years as a prisoner of war; if you were a young man then you got sent to work in Germany; and finally if you were a woman you risked being denounced and having your hair shaved for showing affection to personnel from the occupying forces.

The other word that might be used is complicated with no one quite sure who was good or bad in some cases after the liberation with French communists finding the Russians not quite what they expected and returning prisoners finding a country that had in some cases forgotten them.

An interesting read and a very interesting choice to be sold in the shop on a cost channel ferry to France.

A review will be posted soon...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Military Philosophers - post II

There is a moment when Jenkins’s mentions that in his boarding house he is reading Proust and you wonder if what immediately follows with mentions of lesbianism and sexual affairs is somehow a nod to the French author’s own particular themes.

Central to those issues is the character of Pamela Flitton, the niece of Jenkins’s school friend Charles Stringham. She has affairs with almost all of the cast all with the effect of traumatising the men who get involved with her. One of them includes Templer who is made to feel old and rejected at the end of the short affair and leaves his desk job to head off somewhere to prove he still has a bit of youth left.

As Jenkins moves from liaising with the Poles to dealing with the Czechs and Belgium he notices that Fitton has notched up various dignitaries on her bed post across the allied nations.

Meanwhile the book threatens to get immersed in the past as some old characters, Ted Jeavons in particular reappear, and through conversation reintroduce names from earlier volumes. There is nothing wrong with that but it reminds you of how static Jenkins life was before the war and you want to encourage him to look to the future.

More tomorrow…

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

book review - The President's Last Love

If there is one thing you remember about this book it is the idea of love and the heart after all it echoes right through from the start to the finish. Andrey Kurkov is a satirical writer that weaves you through Eastern European politics with the often heartless corruption rubbing shoulders with the other human emotions of love and happiness.

In this story you follow the president of the Ukraine and understand through various stages of his life flashing backwards and forwards over the last 40 years that he is essentially a straightforward bloke looking for love and something to love.

The four main story lines running alongside each other obviously give the chance to jump around and have various twists and plots going on but after a while you do wish it would settle down and just concentrate on the 2015 storyline of Bunin in the future.

But it doesn’t take long to get to grips with things. The story starts with the president having gone through a heart transplant and there is a metaphor for lost loves there as he relates his story and his great love that left him after his twin children died. He has known loss before with his first wife leaving him after his child was stillborn.

He has also known what it is like to be close to tragedy with his brother an inmate a mental institution after effectively opting out of life. Ironically it is his brother who finds happiness in marriage and fatherhood only to throw his life away when threatened with his existence in a Swiss clinic being taken away from him.

Back in the political world it seems that the Ukraine exists in the shadow of a mighty Russia and it is an odd relationship between them that allows the president just enough power to believe he is independent of his neighbour. The fight between the president and the oligarchs carries on as the central character Bunin wonders where the ottoman from his presidential office has gone after being stolen and why he is being challenged by forces both inside and out of the party.

Ultimately Bunin is just a vehicle to paint a picture of the past and the future and you have to come to the conclusion that not necessarily the right people get to the top and those that do are far from happy when they reach the summit.

In a final scene Bunin has just won another few years in power and wanders over to some old men living in a basement room opposite the Presidential offices. They fail to recognise him and moan about their way of life being threatened. Perhaps it is that simplicity that is something that is not only envied by those in positions that prevent them from feeling, making friendships and loving but also something we should all consider before becoming consumed by ambition.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Miltary Philosophers - post I

One of the ambitions for this year is to finish the 12 novels that comprise Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time. Having reached book 9 this is the third and final novel covering the war years of the Second World War.

So far to be honest the other two volumes, A Soldier’s Art and Valley of Bones have not really hit the mark being dominated by wartime politics and the increasingly dislikeable character of Widmerpool.

Things start differently here with Jenkins working in a department that works with the allies that have been invaded. He works with the Poles and appears to be safely away from the figures of his past.

But they are always lurking and before long Widmerpool, who has worked his way into the Cabinet Office, reappears and along with him Templer and Fairbrother. Bit by bit the figures of the past reappear with Jenkins discovering that his driver is related to his other great school friend Stringham.

For the first half of the opening chapter there is a distance that Jenkins has which finally starts to break down as the memories start coming back and he discovers the Poles are using the old hotel in Bayswater that his Uncle Giles used to stay in. With the old names and locations coming this starts to settle back into the rhythm of old.

More tomorrow…

Sunday, September 14, 2008

bookmark of the week

My children took part in the library reading challenge this summer and for their efforts - reading six books - were a few goodies including this bookmark that has a bendy man face that sticks up out of the book when you bend it. A great idea that will hopefully encourage my sons to read thicker books that benefit from a bookmark.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Midnight's Children - post VIII

Having go to the end of what has been a real marathon I’m not sure how I feel. It is going to take a bit of time I think for the impact of this novel to sink in.

Some of that is because of the length and ambition of this story and the fact that some of the themes only become clear towards the very end with the spittoon and the chutney key links to both the past and the present.

The years of emergency rule are also ones that end the role of the midnight children as they are rounded up and stripped of their powers. But that comes after a war between Pakistan and India that sees Saleem retrieve his memory after bumping into one of the other midnight children.

The movement towards the climax is also a movement towards the death of the dream of an India that could really change after independence. That is the message I am going to take away from this, that the dreams and the waves of optimism led to war, semi-dictatorship with the emergency years and for those in the slums and the poor sides of the track nothing but roughly the same as there was before. A country of two worlds, rich and poor, continues to the end.

A review will follow soon…

Friday, September 12, 2008

book review - The Consolations of Philosophy

For some readers the idea of willingly delving into a book about philosophy and some of the big ideas would not be a pleasurable experience. So perhaps it is in response to that Alain de Botton chooses to use a vast number of illustrations not only to illustrate who and what he is referring to in the text but also to make it a much more appealing read.

There is also something about his confidence in describing some of the greatest names in his field with a familiarity that clearly comes from his knowledge but also helps provide more personality to what could otherwise be overpowering philosophical brands.

So for instance Schopenhauer is described as a goth type character always looking on the dark side or life, Nietzsche someone so determined to prove that suffering leads to greatness he was still arguing that case as his life fell apart. Plus of course the famous Greeks who literally died for their beliefs finding that sharing your views and then standing by them was not universally popular.

The way the book is structured it is almost like a self help guide to using the great thoughts of others to boost your own outlook on life. So for instance Socrates will teach you that being unpopular might not be such a bad thing, particularly if you are right; Epicurus will reveal that friendship and self-sufficiency is real wealth because it creates the freedom to think; and Schopenhauer is happy to point out why love rarely runs smoothly.

One of the big surprises though was the chapter on Nietzsche who was clearly saying a great deal more that religion was nonsense and a super race will control the earth. Although it takes a bit of time the diagram and pictures help get the message through that there is a philosophy around the idea of the benefits of suffering. Rather than give up an accept that life has played you a cruel hand it is possible to learn from the pain of failure and become a better person.

This is the real take-away from the book for me because it sums up a positive philosophy that could genuinely have some impact in your day to day life.

In terms of whether or not this book succeeds in its aims it works well enough. Some critics at the time of publication said philosophy was the new rock and roll but if you stand back objectively from it the need for numerous images hints at the inaccessibility that most people continue to surround this subject with.

Putting it down you have to summarise that you have certainly learnt something but that there is also a great deal left to work out in yourself. Facing the big questions is never a comfortable idea and this is made more comfortable than you might have expected but whether or not it really lingers on in the imagination is harder to predict.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Unfree French - post III

As this book moves on to cover what it was like for those sent to work in Germany as 'volunteers' it shows how polarised things were around the question of prisoners.

Those that spent in some cases four years in captivity were initially made out to be heroes while those that stayed at home faced being dragged off to Germany to work for their work effort or being hounded out by locals and family that were ashamed of their attempts to stay at home.

But as with most things in life if you were well off and had connections then usually you avoided being dragged off to germany and were supported through the war.

With presumably the resistance as the last major area for this book to cover you already have a picture of a country divided not just between German occupied and Vichy rules zones but a country divided along class lines.

The final parts of the story are to come...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Midnight's Children - post VII

It might sound like an odd thing to say but there is a moment when you cannot help thinking of Anthony Powell and his Dance to the Music of Time. The echoes are the idea of bombs falling and with deadly accuracy wiping out some characters from the cast.

In this case the Indo-Pakistan war is the conflict and the bombs kill Saleem’s parents, aunt and via a silver spittoon that literally brains him changes his life.

Things need to be changed as he father has a stoke, mother starts to see things rather than cope with the reality of being pregnant again and after making a sexual advance to his sister Saleem is isolated even more.

Having been dragged to the doctor’s to have his sinuses unblocked he loses the telepathic ability he has cherished but instead gets a hyper sensitive sense of smell that in its own way has a power. The question is whether or not he intends spending long using that power as a human sniffer dog sniffing out insurgents on the border.

The story, now in book three, changes and goes through stages and with the action moving from India to Pakistan there is definitely an increased military feel to the atmosphere with generals and coups part of the political landscape. But there is also an unreality to it and Rushdie describes the confusion of war with the propaganda of both sides making it almost impossible to know what battles have been fought and won and lost.

More tomorrow…

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The President's Last Love - post IV

After having completed the book I am still not sure what I feel about it. Love seems to be something that the main character President Bunin is constantly searching for and what un folds in the 40 years the story spans is that he has often loved no one or worst given everything to the state.

As the end draws near you expect some sort of dramatic climax and there are a few twists that you didn’t see coming but ultimately you are left with a sense of the air going out of a tyre rather than anything else.

Part of the reason for that is the lack of a conclusion. The sort of life where he is always at the brink of death or disappointment is set to continue as he signs up for a few more years as president.

This is a bitter look at life at the top of a former part of the Soviet Union and although the money and the aides are all well and good the sacrifices you make to stay there and the hollowness in your life that means you live without a heart are plain to see.

Mind you it feels great to actually finish a book for the first time in a couple of weeks. A review will follow soon…

Monday, September 08, 2008

Juggling more than a single book

Years ago at a 40th birthday party (not mine I might add) I drifted into conversation with a fellow unwilling invitee. We got talking about books and he said that he was currently reading 12 books. I asked him how and he did it and why and he said he wanted variety and as long as he picked them up pretty regularly he could remember what each book was about.

Well I have to confess that juggling three books has not been a pleasurable experience. Perhaps it is because Midnight’s Children and The President’s Last Love are long but you never get to actually finish anything.

So today I sat on the train and focused on finishing something. Sadly I am still thirty pages shy, which is why I am shortly decamping to bed with a strong light and the last chunk. But for a change and for the first time in the last couple of weeks I am hopefully going to be turning the light out with a bit if satisfaction.

I’ll post about it tomorrow…

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Midnight's Children - post VI

If you think about the challenge of using a single person to act as a metaphor for a country keeping them in one place is going to lose some of the power that moving them around would have.

So the movement into exile in Pakistan comes when Sinai’s family breaks apart after it is revealed that he is in fact not their son but was swapped by the nurse Mary. She disappears into her own exile having destroyed her relationships with her employers and the relationship between everyone becomes strained.

The upshot is that amongst the mourning for Sinai’s failed director uncle, who commits suicide, there is a breakdown between relationships between Sinai’s mother and father with the former being dragged to Pakistan with her mother and the later staying behind surrounded by nothing but failure and the rubble of the bulldozed estate.

The crossing of the border is not only physical but also something more powerful and prevents Sinai from communicating with other Midnight Children and enjoying his gift of telepathy.

He still suspects his mother of infidelity and by encouraging a naval officer to confront his adulterous wife Sinai believes he has taught her a lesson. The only lesson he does seem, to pick up is that children need to be beware of dabbling in adult lives and chain reactions can lead to death, murder and family breakdown.

More tomorrow…

Saturday, September 06, 2008

book review -The Laughing Policeman

A friend recently asked me if I read anything that could be described as relaxing and fun. I nodded vigorously and mentioned a couple of names he had never heard of before, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. The title of their fourth book, The Laughing Policeman, also elicited no response but you can guarantee it would have done from anyone who had read this book.

The reason for the success of what could easily sound dull as a police procedural thriller is the pace and the plot. The pace moves up and down the gears and as a result has the ability to catch you when you are not expecting it with marginal characters making breakthroughs in the case and then what looks like a strong lead hitting a brick wall.

But it is the ability of the husband and wife team to deliver a plot with a cast of characters that are actually made out to be human beings rather than just physical representations of certain job types that is clever. 20 pages in and you are given a twist that jolts you out of autopilot and reminds you that this is going to be something different.

Other thrillers start with a dead body and then keep piling them up until the detective manages to crack the case. Here it is different. You get the crime, in this case eight shot dead in a bus, but then you get very little else until the killer is caught.

Because the killer goes back into the shadows the reader has no idea who they are and has to sit on the shoulder of detective Martin Beck and his team to try and watch how he or she is caught.

Things are never straightforward because this is real life. It is also a book prepared to make statements about the politics of the time with some anti-Vietnam war material in her. It pains a mixed picture of Sweden making it feel much more real than a picture postcard ever could.

But ultimately what makes this fun is the gripping nature of the plot and the perfect timing of the development of the story until it reaches its conclusion. I took this on holiday expecting to spend a few days on it and stayed up late until I had finished it in one sitting. The reason was simply that although I could put it down I simply did not want to.

If you get a chance to pick up one of the thrillers in the ten book series this one after the first Roseanna would b e my recommendation. Beck’s marriage has fallen slightly more apart compared to Roseanna but he is still the cold ridden snow hating detective who never knows when to switch off and the crimes he tries to solve are gripping thanks to the imagination of Maj and Per.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Unfree French - post II

Having painted a picture of confusion as the Germans advanced and invaded the country the situation gets worse. Those surrounding the Petain government in Vichy seem confused and divided not just about what they stand for but what they are actually able to do. Then for the vast majority of people there is a failure to understand the danger that the Nazi party poses.

part of the problem appears to be the incosistency that is linked to where you lived and who you came into contact with. But for those that were jews or deemed to be against the system the results were often imprisonment, deportation and death. The levels of jews that were deported to the gas chambers of the camps is sadly staggering.

meanwhile of course women starved olf male companionshop seemed only too happy to start relationships with officers and soldiers of the occupying army.

More soon...

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The President's Last Love - Post III

Despite the various stories running at various stages of the President’s life the picture starts to become clearer that despite the mass of corruption around him Bunin is a relatively trustworthy sort.

He clearly has loved in the past and it is getting close to the moment when you discover if his second wife did give birth to twins. There is a nagging doubt that she doesn’t and that ends tragically. But he has also been a loyal friend to those he has met during his youth.

Meanwhile as president he is plagued by dreams that seem to have a meaning connected with the possibility of a coup. A Hammer Jeep features in some of his dreams along with his arch rival an oligarch responsible for power and energy.

The dreams are vivid and cause him concern but for now they are just indications of things to come.

More tomorrow….

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Midnight's Children - post V

I've been listening to a Guardian podcast of Salman Rushdie talking about Midnight’s Children. Although it has helped a little bit put his motivation in context I’m starting to understand that perhaps when people say they don’t like his books they actually mean they don’t like him. Perhaps in the context of discussing your own work it is always going to make you sound slightly arrogant but there was a side to his personality that I didn’t find particularly endearing.

Still back in the world of his writing this book is starting to progress and at the half way stage there are plenty of indications that dramatic events are waiting to unfold. The first is the moment when Sinai loses a finger and the fact does not have the blood group of his mother and father is revealed leading his parents to argue over that conundrum.

The second development is the communion with the midnight children that Sinai conducts every night at the witching hour and the different talents that are revealed from those that were born in the magic first hour of independence.

Finally there is a suggestion that through his dream Sinai has the ability to kill those he dreams have died. The first to go is a classmate with a weak heart but he sets his sights on the studio boss who has used and then abused his aunt.

More tomorrow…

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Unfree French: Life under the Occupation - post I

One of the odd things about catching a P&O Ferry is the odd assortment of books that are offered in the shop. Among a smattering of the Richard & Judy summer reads there are various historical books that all seem to be ramming home the war theme.

I was always brought up to keep the subject of the war to myself when going over to the continent but it seems that those on the ferry can’t get enough of it. One thing has always puzzled me about the Second World War – the attitude of the French to occupation. Bearing in mind their attitude to Bermuda shorts in the campsite swimming pool and the insistence I had to wonder how they behaved when told what to do by Petain and his German backers.

Some of the answers are unfolding while reading this account. Establishing that following the collapse of the resistance against the German attack the confusion spread through both army and civilian population. The result was an exodus away from Paris and the North to the South.

But the confusion lasted longer than just the first few months and throughout the Vichy government there seemed to be confusion about not only what Petain was trying to do but what those around him actually stood for.

Of course the resistance movement is well documented in films and fiction but two chapters in and you wonder as much what Hitler thought about it all with the French squabbling between themselves in Vichy and drifting away from reality.

More to come…

Monday, September 01, 2008

The President's Last Love - post II

Not sure the constant jumping backwards and forwards over 40 years is a great style. There are several key datelines running with 1985, 2004 and 21015 all being jumped between.

The question of how a drifter with no real views on politics or any personal ambition became president is lurking somewhere in the story and there are also some failed love affairs and possibly a final successful one as well somewhere to be discovered?

It is enjoyable and there are some moments that make you smile but so far Bunin is not yet a character you totally root for because you can only partially see him. The pieces of the historical jigsaw are being pout down at a fairly quick rate but there is a fair way to go yet.

More tomorrow…

Midnight's Children - post IV

Suddenly the book changes from a colourful history and personal childhood biography to something more fanciful. Sinai informs his parents that he can hear voices, he seems to think are angles, and is rewarded with a box round the ears for his trouble.

But he really can hear voices and discovers the ability to get into the thoughts of peple ranging from farmers to prime ministers and sitting at the top of the clock tower he spends his time surfing the inner thoughts of thousands.

But it takes a bike crash caused by Sinai’s attempts to get the attraction of an American girl to get the pieces to click together and he realises he can communicate with the other midnight children born in the country in the hour of independence.

This is where the bravery of Rushdie comes in because presumably he had a choice to keep it a history of India told through the eyes of one boy/man or he could take a fantastic turn and as a result of course do something that only literature can help you achieve. It reminds you of a cartoon where the impossible becomes possible and surely that is what a great imagination should be able to do.

More tomorrow…