The Fires of Autumn – Irène Némirovsky

WarmAutumnParis 1918, Bernard Jacquelain returns from the trenches a changed man.

The city is a whirl of decadence and corruption and he embarks on a life of parties and shady business dealings, as well as an illicit affair.

But as another war threatens, everything around him starts to crumble and the future for him and for France suddenly looks dangerously uncertain.

Irène Némirovsky has long been a favourite author of mine and is definitely one of the best 20th century authors, sadly still criminally under recognised by readers out there.  Her ability to clearly convey human nature is incisive and dramatic but most of all beautifully accomplished.

The first chapter contains a wonderful Champs-Élysées family scene, which was perfectly executed and was made all the more poignant knowing the events that history is rushing inexorably toward.  I would have been happy to stay in that place and just wish these people well but sadly that is not life.

Perhaps they have now gone too far to step back and feel we’re on the brink of an abyss?  But what is certain is that it will be the young men who are first to fall into that abyss.

It’s a hard book to read knowing what will befall nations and tear apart of families.  The problem with Némirovsky’s characters – which goes for all her books – is that they are so well realised and penned that it becomes hard to see them suffer on their journeys.  Even the characters one dislikes demand a certain sympathy as their flaws are something we can all relate to as much as their fears and expectations. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 27/11/2015 in Fiction


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The Topography of Terror

Just behind (or in front of depending on your orientation) these particular remnants of the Berlin Wall the museum building  stands. it’s a modern cube that sits (it changed position between sentences) surrounded by wide open spaces and to the right of it are two art galleries and the home of the Berlin’s State Parliament, not too long ago the situation was very different, as this location once – as a handy plaque informed us:

housed the most important institutions of Nazi terror:  the national central headquarters of the Secret state Police (Gestapo), The Reich SS leadership, The Security Service (SD) and the Reich Security Main Office


The open and airy lay out of the gallery is a good thing as the reading material is at best challenging.  It shouldn’t be, I’ve read plenty of history books and I’m familiar with the appalling numbers of casualties, of the terrible fates suffered by innocent people, of the mass slaughter and cruelty and senselessness of it all and yet when on such a site as this I just couldn’t read about these events.

It is considerably harder to reconcile these events than usual when, where you happen to be makes it tangible, visceral, much more real.  With propaganda films and footage of executions, photos aplenty and sickening headlines in papers it was all a bit too much for me. it was plenty shocking, sickening and gruelling to the point where I had to sit down on the many handy benches to write some notes. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 24/11/2015 in History, Travel


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Checkpoints of View and Walling One’s Self Off

On our first proper day of exploring we ended up seeking out two of the most famous and popular landmarks of Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie and a stretch of the Berlin Wall which were to give us contrasting views on tastefulness.

First off was Checkpoint Charlie, which despite us hearing that it was a tourist trap ended up being fairly close to our random wanderings and so became the first proper notable bit of the city we saw.   It was a tasteless little thing that didn’t deserve a photo, so here’s the sign instead.


For those of you interested, you can see the checkpoint in front of the McDonald’s, two German guys are dressed up in army uniforms waving flags and charging money for photos.  I don’t know what I expected but I was taken aback by the tasteless commercialisation of it, there was a museum just beyond that looked really interesting but the experience would have been sullied by coming back out and being greeted once again by the tacky nature of the scene.

From reading the museums website it is definitely worth a look and something I will seek out next time I am that way on, at the time though it was so at odds with the crudeness we had seen that we had to move on and it was a good thing we did for five minutes walk around the way, we found a 200m piece of the Berlin Wall and that was really something.  This is the outdoor portion of the Topography of Terror museum (more of which in the next post). Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 21/11/2015 in History, Travel


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Pale Highway – Nicholas Conley

pale-highwayGabriel Schist is spending his remaining years at Bright New Day, a nursing home. He once won the Nobel Prize for inventing a vaccine for AIDS. But now, he has Alzheimer’s, and his mind is slowly slipping away.

When one of the residents comes down with a horrific virus, Gabriel realizes that he is the only one who can find a cure. Encouraged by Victor, an odd stranger, he convinces the administrator to allow him to study the virus. Soon, reality begins to shift, and Gabriel’s hallucinations interfere with his work.

As the death count mounts, Gabriel is in a race against the clock and his own mind. Can he find a cure before his brain deteriorates past the point of no return?

With a growing elderly population, this book serves as not only a character study on one man’s fight against his own mind and body but also to highlight the continuing need to help the older generation and try to understand before it is our turn.

The name of the nursing home where Gabriel resides is the Bright New Day Skilled Nursing Center which is one of those names that by association makes the place sound awfully bleak.  Behind the name is and let’s be fair a pretty cynical business structure in a lot of cases, staffed by worker who want to make a difference but are strung out by the lack of help and corner cutting, as the author’s own experiences in this field attest.

It is poignant and refreshing for a book to be written about those who feel forgotten by their relatives and the outside world, it’s perhaps something that should scare, the fear that our bodies could rebel against us and we would end up confused and in one of these centres.  This is captured well here, the day-to-day struggles of keeping one’s dignity and constantly finding one’s place in the world make for a sense of dislocation and reorientation something that is more of a habit than innate.

I found it a challenge to focus on the book in hand as opposed to real life as both are so intertwined, which is the book’s strongest point.  Fleshing out Gabriel’s character in particular with chapters detailing, in order some of the key moments of his life, allow a compare and contrast with the man we know and the journey he has taken.  It’s a rich life, full of vitality and experience, a reminder to us all to pay attention to who we meet and how we can effect one another. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 18/11/2015 in Fiction


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To Begin in Berlin

After booking a short break to Berlin and then leaving for said destination not more than 32 hours later, there was little time to do much except pack and leave a short note to you estimable readers.  As a consequence my vast knowledge of the German language (zwei – which it turns out is pronounced with a ‘T’ at the beginning – and danke shöen) came in very handy.  In a sense that freedom is both delightfully intimidating and extremely liberating, as who wants to have an identikit holiday to all the other tourists?


Why I love Germany! I really hope Richard Dean Anderson (of Stargate and MacGyver fame) went to that club to deliver a lecture on the subject.

Before hitting the city Tom and I found ourselves at the unmanned airport railway station that expects everybody to not only know where they are going but to handle the unfamiliar ticket machine interface at speed as the queues are massive and the commuters impatient.  Our station wasn’t anywhere to be found of course but eventually after fruitless wanderings we happened across a machine that had a relevant sticker on it telling us what to get for our area of the city.

All this wouldn’t have been so bad had the directions to the hostel not been so shockingly vague but it was worth it, I find that it’s the adversity which makes conquering obstacles that much sweeter.  Interestingly despite buying tickets nobody ever asked to see them, making me wonder if the entire rail network is paid for by gullible tourists, the trains were really good though and ridiculously frequent so we still won.


Morning view from a decent coffee house

The part of the city we called home was away for the touristy areas and had nice wide quiet streets with plenty of street art from the local talent, this was also in evidence as we left the station along with two huge wire mesh men fighting on a river like something out of Jason and the Argonauts.  The main streets on the other hand were something to get used to (and quickly) for the newcomer, there are cycle lanes on the pavements but they aren’t really signposted expect at major junctions when they also run into the road near traffic lights, so you need to stand further back from the road than usual. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 16/11/2015 in Architecture, Travel


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Here and Back Off Again

It’s been a while since I have wandered the warm wards of WordPress – for we are all inmates of writing here – as other things have been distracting me.  I am in the middle of a few of literary pursuits including the freelance (emphasis on the free) editing of a book (or maybe two), as well as catching up with some reviewing commitments.


Leaving this place for more interesting experiences…like waiting for a plane probably and getting lost.

As a consequence, I have been finding it hard to keep up with writing as well as holding down a full-time night job, although I have been managing to get some reading done here and there.  So I shall be taking a short break to finish off my endeavours and will be back shortly I expect.

If that wasn’t enough this week will also see me off on a three-day, location yet to be decided, later than last-minute deal somewhere.   So while as I take a rest in foreign climes, have fun and be rest assured next week I will be back and ready to catch up on all those blog posts as well as writing about all things bookish.  Hopefully something amusing involving eccentric provincials and misunderstood local etiquette will also be hitting your screens before too long as well.


Posted by on 08/11/2015 in Travel


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In Possible Proximity to Madness

Waiting for a bus on one’s lonesome is usually a fairly boring experience but seeing a bus pull in with the destination Halfway emblazoned on it had me amused for at least the five minutes it took for mine to show up, on time I might add as well.


The natural first thoughts of any sane person is to question the nature of reality when confronted with such a questionable vision, of which challenge I gleefully accepted.  Of course it would be foolish to concede to the obvious explanation that there is in fact a place called Halfway, for its much more interesting to indulge in some exercise of the musing muscle instead, of which I did:

  • If Halfway is a destination then surely it is indeed the whole way and so halfway is a different destination contrary to what is being advertised?
  • Halfway would be a stop en route to the real destination but how do you define where that would be with no clue to the actual distance?
  • Why is the imposter Halfway masquerading as the last stop, wouldn’t a more subtle con trick be to change the name instead?
  • Perhaps Halfway is a staging point, a hub for ultimate destinations somewhere, paradoxically being both a destination and a stopover.
  • But then the question would be what constitutes halfway in terms of the word?  Mirriam-Webster defines it in two ways, one being not total or complete, so to some extent if you will.
  • So that means that the actual Halfway, be it the ‘destination’ or the actual distance on the route to a place cannot be clearly understood without some prior knowledge.
  • Is it perhaps halfway to all places in the same distance radius as it is from where Mansfield is situated from it?
  • If you asked for halfway, would you have to pay the full fare for Halfway?
  • How could they charge you when the above definition means halfway doesn’t have to actually mean halfway
  • Is there a place called Fullway?

I could have gone on all day with such thoughts had my own wheeled demon not fortunately arrived  and I had to do battle with sleep as seems to be the way of late on a bus at mid afternoon but there you go, a little insight into the mind of Ste J and it didn’t cost you a penny.


Posted by on 27/10/2015 in Life, Travel


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