About Me

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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

"The hundred year old man who climbed out of a window and disappeared" by Jones Jonasson

100 year old Allan runs away from his nursing home. Theft and murder ensue. He meets new friends. Parallel to this picaresque adventure we are told the equally picaresque story of Allan's life, involving world travel, Truman, Churchill, Stalin, Mao and de Gaulle and explaining Allan's pivotal if unacknowledged role in many of the major events of the twentieth century.

The century (and Allan's life) start in 1905. I don't think it is coincidence that this is when Albert Einstein published his Special Theory of Relativity. Indeed, Einstein's dim half-brother and the atom bomb are both central to Allan's tale.

So in some ways this novel is a satirical view of the events of the twentieth century. In other ways it seems to be an ironic version of Voltaire's Candide. Whilst Candide features violent (apparent) death and resurrection,   The hundred year old man features violent death and (apparent) resurrection. Where Lisbon is destroyed in Candide, Vladivostok is destroyed in The hundred year old man. Both describe near-impossible events in mundane, matter-of-fact prose. In Candide the motto of Dr Pangloss is 'All is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds'; this is Voltaire's most sarcastic irony as he piles disaster on disaster. Allan's motto is 'Things are what they are, and whatever will be will be' which enables Allan to endure castration, repeated incarceration and several death penalties with Panglossian sang froid.

But although this book is equally entertaining it does not have the philosophical depth which makes Candide great literature.


Friday, 21 September 2012

"1000 things to do in London for under £10" by Time Out Guides

Not just the obvious things: museums and the cheaper types of entertainment such as poetry reading. This guide also has the eclectic from walking across the bridges to playing chess in Holland Park to posing nude as a life model to riding the buses to watching non-league football to playing fives to eating ice cream to ringing church bells....
Imaginative and inspirational. September 2012; 309 pages.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

"The making of modern Britain" by Andrew Marr

Brilliant. Andrew Marr charts the influences that have made us what we are by recounting weird and bizarre incidents.

He starts by explaining that in pre-WW1 Britain it was so easy to buy guns that when in the Tottenham Outrage of 1904 the unarmed police were chasing armed anarchists they borrowed guns from passers by. In the 1930s Oswald Mosley seeks funding for his fascists from the Jewish owners of Marks and Spencer. When his Blackshirts get political uniforms banned the Greenshirts (the political wing of the folk-dancing tendency) march carrying their green shirts aloft on coat hangers. Sculptor Eric Gill (famed for Ariel at the BBC and Gill Sans) enjoyed all sorts of sex including homosexuality, incest and bestiality. Earl Marshall Haig's 1928 funeral was attended by more people than Princess Diana's.

At every turn Marr amuses and then upends your prejudices about this fascinating era. Brilliant. September 2012; 429 pages.

"The child in time" by Ian McEwan

The typical McEwan tale begins with some earth-shattering event; the novel is then devoted to chronicling the  consequences that ripple out from this. In the same way, the hero's daughter (writer of children's fiction Stephen Lewis) is stolen from a supermarket. McEwan charts the bereavement of the young parents as it destroys their relationship and their lives.

But for once McEwan has sub-plots. Why has successful Charles Darke, Stephen's publisher and best friend, suddenly left a promising ministerial career? What is the point of the subcommittee of the Official Commission on Childcare on which Stephen sits?And how did Stephen see into the past when he looked through a pub window to see his parents thirty years ago?

The book, set in a dystopian near future, attempts to portray childhood from a number of perspectives and plays with the perception of time. An adult acting like a schoolboy climbs a tree. School is an exercise in pointless regimentation. The Official Commission hears crackpot views about learning to read. Stephen buys toys for his missing child's birthday. Thelma, wife and maybe mother figure to Charles Darke, tries to explain to Stephen a modern Physics perspective on time.

I struggled to find a unifying sense to all this. Was it a retelling of the Faust legend, seen from outside the bedevilled doctor? Charles Darke (is there a clue in his name?) acquires riches, then power, then seemingly everlasting youth. Or is there a theme of everything sliding from organisation into chaos (the entropic direction for the arrow of time)? The loss of his daughter drives Stephen from a stable life to a whisky soaked squalor. There are licensed beggars on the streets. The weather is becoming worse, floods succeeding droughts. Stephen drives from gridlocked London to a forested countryside; gates are hidden by tangles of jungle. On one journey a lorry crashes. But just when things seem to have utterly disintegrated, order slowly returns. The spat at the Olympics nearly develops into nuclear war but doesn't and the Olympics continue. The lorry driver emerges from his wrecked vehicle more or less unhurt. Stephen begins to study classical Arabic and tennis as his life gets back on track.Is this another theme? Although entropy seems to increase there are localised areas in which order prevails? And death is followed by birth.

I was confused by the plot but the prose is luscious. September 2012; 220 pages

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

"The good soldier" by Ford Madox Ford

A rich, leisured American couple meet a rich English couple at a German spa. Very Henry James. I meandered through the first few chapters feeling that this was a gentle Victorian novel.

Then, in a sentence, you becomes aware of hideous tensions between the couples. Two of them are having an affair. And the facades of respectability are repeatedly stripped away.

With that sentence the novel lurches into the twentieth century. The rambling narration shifts up and down through time and makes little mistakes and claims unlikely innocence. Those who seem weakest turn out to be deceitful, those who are wronged turn out to be manipulative. Adultery, violent death and madness lurk just beneath the surface.

The book grips you till the end. At the end I wanted to start again.

Possibly the best book I have read this year.


Or you can get it free on Kindle.

 August 2012; 179 pages

Saturday, 1 September 2012

"Outrage" by Arnaldur Indridason

Elinborg is a typical Reykjavik lady detective. With one failed marriage behind her she lives with her partner, Teddi, and their three children (eldest, a boy, is on the internet all the time and suffering teenage angst, youngest, a girl, is very gifted) whom she hardly ever sees because she works too hard. She has written a cook book.

 Every detail of her life is told to us in the stark prose of this latest exponent of Scandinavian noire.

In fact Indridason doesn't believe in the 'show, don't tell' principle of fiction. His prose is simple, flat and sterile. I have no idea what Elinborg looked like because the author doesn't really do description. The victim dresses in "black jeans, white shirt and a comfortable jacket"; neither description nor character are allowed to get in the way of the plot.

Compared to this book, Agatha Christie's characters are living, breathing and multi-dimensional.

It is a pleasant enough yarn. It rattles on. There is not the sense of clues being carefully dropped into the prose, each revelation is expected as it comes.

I was most interested in this book because I have been to both Reykjavik and Akranes but I think I might write with more local flavour having known Iceland for a whole five days.

Potboiler. September 2012; 386 pages