Friday, 30 September 2011

Review:- David DICKINSON – “Death and the Jubilee ”

Year Published: - 2003
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - 1-84119-584-7
Pages: - 344pp
Genre: - Historical Fiction
Location:- Victorian England – 1896/7
How I came across it: - Bought it so as to read all the series
Rating: - ***** ***

One sentence summary:- The second of the Lord Francis Powerscourt novels and a rattling good cosy historical crime.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- London is preparing for Victoria’s Jubilee but the Germans are and Irish are planning surprises. When a headless corpse is discovered in the Thames Lord Francis Powerscourt is called in to investigate in this second novel of the series.

General comments:- A fairly standard and slightly predictable Powerscourt mystery but it would probably have been better if I had read the series in order.

Quotations:- There is a lovely line which laughs at modern government policy – bearing in mind it was written in 2003 or earlier, before the government rescue of RBS etc. – it is the PM speaking:
“It is not and cannot be the business of government to bail out financial concerns whose imprudence or wickedness has left them unable to meet their obligations. I do not need to tell you, Rosebery, the outcry that would erupt in the House of Commons if members felt that taxpayers’ money was being used for these purposes.’

AUTHOR Notes:- David Dickinson was born in Dublin. After receiving a first class honours degree in Classics from Cambridge he joined the BBC where he became editor of Newsnight and Panorama as well as being series editor on Monarchy, a three part programme on the current state and future prospects of the British royal family. David now lives in Barnes, South West London, Somerset or France according to which source you read!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Review:- Hilary MANTEL – “Wolf Hall ”

Year Published: - 2009 (Man Booker Prize Winner 2009)
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - 978-0-00-723020-4
Pages: - 650pp
Genre: - Historical Fiction
Location:- England – Henry VII
I’s reign
How I came across it: -  I decided to read some of the Booker Prize winners
Rating: - ***** ***
One sentence summary:- When The Times called it ‘The most gripping story you’ll ever read’  they lied but it is a passable historical novel.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- The story of the rise of Thomas Cromwell from a low-born boy to the most influential man in Henry VIII’s England. 

General comments:- Wolf Hall is by no means the best historical novel I have read and the reason for its Booker Prize I have yet to fathom out.  

 In particular I really dislike Hilary Mantel’s use of the word ‘He’.  I was taught that ‘he’ referred to the last male mentioned.  Sometimes Hilary obeys that rule but equally frequently she uses it to refer to Cromwell even if he wasn’t the last person mentioned.  It’s so confusing and whilst it may be a clever style it’s so difficult to follow at times that one has to re-read a paragraph to understand who the ‘He’ is.  That may seem like a petty thing but when it goes from start to finish it’s very off-putting.  Here’s an example –

Walter wipes his mouth. ‘How long?’
Madoc says, ‘God knows. Those fuckers can fly.’
He straightens up.  Into his hand has floated a four-pound hammer.

Has the hammer been picked up by Madoc or Thomas Cromwell.  (Only later when there is reference back to this moment do we learn it was Cromwell.)

A page earlier we have Behind Henry’s back, Gardiner makes a Gargoyle face at him.  Is ‘him’ Henry or Cromwell. 

There are two ‘he’s in this paragraph – the first relates to Francis Bryan (the man most recently mentioned) and the second to Cromwell;-
‘Why not go back?’ Risking dangerous slippage, he throws his hands out. ‘Which of the city wives is waiting for you? Do you have one for each of the twelve days of Christmas?’ He almost laughs, till Bryan adds, ‘Don’t you sectaries hold your women in common?’

 The storyline is well researched and I learned a lot about Henry and his relationship with Katherine and Anne Boleyn – which is far as the story goes.  That is another quibble I have with it – it doesn’t really finish in my view.

All in all I preferred 'Flud' though this gets an extra star for its research and historical interest.

Quotations:-  The hunting season – or at least, the season when the king hunts every day – will soon be over. Whatever is happening elsewhere, whatever deceits and frustrations, you can forget them in the field.  The hunter is among the most innocent of men; living in the moment makes him feel pure.  When he returns in the evening, his body aches, his mind is full of pictures of leaves and sky; he does not want to read documents.  His miseries, his perplexities have receded, and they will stay away, provided – after food and wine, laughter and exchange of stories – he gets up at dawn to do it all over again.

She turns her head away, but through the thin film of her veil he can see her skin glow.  Because women will coax: tell me, just tell me something, tell me your thoughts; and this he has done.

My husband used to say, lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning, and when you come back that night he’ll be sitting on a plush cushion eating larks’ tongues, and all the gaolers will owe him money.

Hilary Mantel CBE (born Hilary Thompson) was born in Hadfield, Derbyshire, in 1952 and spent her early years at the same village school as her mother and grandmother. She then went to a Cheshire convent school (which obviously gave her much material for ‘Fludd’), the LSE and Sheffield University. She lived in Africa and the Middle East for ten years and published her first novel ‘Every Day is Mother’s Day’ in 1985.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Review:- Khaled HOSSEINI – “A Thousand Splendid Suns ”

Year Published: - 2007
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - 978 0 7475 8589 3
Pages: - 418pp
Genre: - General Fiction
Location:- Afghanistan
How I came across it: - So impressed by The Kite Runner I wanted more Hosseini
Rating: - ***** *****
(but only because I haven’t got an 11* category)

One sentence summary:- The four comments on the cover of my copy say it all – “A suspenseful epic”; Unforgettable”; “Heartbreaking”; and “ “A masterful story”.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- Mariam is only fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry the middle-aged Rasheed. Her future and that of a local academic’s daughter, Laila, are bound together over the next two decades as the rule of Afghanistan changes, each successive change being harder and harder upon the womenfolk.

General comments:- I defy anyone with a heart to read this tale without having tears in their eyes. Even finer than The Kite Runner, this is Hoseini’s tribute to the women of Afghanistan. Powerful, gripping, and all the other words one can use about a first class story apply here. This is not only the best book I have read this year but for some years past. It should be essential reading for those who want to know how a story is crafted and for anyone who has even the vaguest of interest in world affairs or the role of women in society.

Quotations:- Strangely for a book of such importance and enjoyment and significance I made a note of no quotations – perhaps I was too engrossed in the story to make notes!

AUTHOR Notes:- Khaled HOSSEINI was born in Khabul, Afghanistan, in 1965 and his family received political asylum in the USA in 1980. He is a doctor and lives in California. The Kite Runner was his first novel.