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Category Archives: Fiction

A Dance to the Music of Time: Autumn – Anthony Powell

Continuing the chronicles of life experience via narrator Nicholas Jenkins, this spoiler free review focuses on books seven to nine of the series: The Valley of Bones, The Soldier’s Art, and The Military Philosophers.

Obligatory warning to those people who feel it necessary to pick up a series at the half way point for reasons only known to them: whilst not spoiling anything of these or previous books, if you do like what you read, start with the Spring books as the Autumn omnibus will be pretty impenetrable at this point to newcomers, who will lack the sense of nuance created in previous volumes.

This third mini trilogy in greater narrative is another 720 page tome which is a joy to spend time with.  By now its obvious that I love this masterwork otherwise I wouldn’t still be endeavouring to carry on but the more I engage with the characters, the richer the books become.  As with the previous books the reader is in for a treat, discovering and rediscovering characters full of wit, eccentricity and intricacy.

Another phase of life begins anew for Jenkins et al. and the effects of the war lead to some unexpected changes in familiar personalities, whilst exploring the impact of some exiting characters.  The impact of the second world war is far-reaching not just in geographical and emotional ways but also to the shaking up of social class structure.  This book is one of acute change on all sides.

In this modern world of ours where everybody wants to talk (or shout) about themselves, it is refreshing to find a narrator who reveals little of himself throughout the books and focuses on what is going on around him. Whilst he retains the same detachedness that has seen him through school to this point there is now, more than ever, a justifiable sense of experienced world-weariness.  The books he name checks – most noticeably Proust and to a lesser extent Balzac – give a tantalising hint to the man behind the narrative voice and the author himself.

There are the usual slew of new characters introduced and getting to know them counteracts the very real boredom of the war as seen from the backwaters and offices of the UK.  This dullness of duty is offset by Powell’s wonderful prose, it is rich in both depth and message and gives the right amount of balance to delivering bright spots in what is a very downbeat (to say the least) time in history.  Few authors would be able to be as precise and delicate in this depiction. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 02/06/2017 in Fiction, Modern Classics

 

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Next Year in Jerusalem – John Kolchak

A brutal re-imagining of the Gospel story, Next Year in Jerusalem follows the footsteps of Yeshua Bar-Yosif–an illiterate, epileptic, bastard son of a Roman soldier on his ill-fated life journey through a land racked by terror.

As first century Judea bleeds from the oppression of Roman rule and the violent uprisings against it, Yeshua, tormented by familial guilt for abandoning his mother, eventually forms his own family of travelers who preach for peace and compassion in the face of internecine savagery. Their wanderings lead to encounters with false prophets, assassins, and a rapidly growing movement of extremist rebels whose leader Bar-Abbas’ mission is to expel the Romans and establish an ethnocentric theocracy. Chance sends both Yeshua and Bar-Abbas to the court of Pontius Pilate–the dipsomaniac Governor obsessed with leaving a name for himself in the scrolls of history–and the outcome of that meeting seals the fate of the world for the next two millennia.

With urgent parallels to contemporary issues of religious war, this book is both a lament and a warning. It is also a story about the passage of time, the nature of memory, and of mankind’s inherent yearning for life everlasting.

When a HBO researcher gets in touch and asks if you want to review his book, it’s a no brainer so this week I have been spending my time back in Biblical days, enjoying an interesting alternative and to some controversial version of the Gospels which has plenty of interesting theories about those accounts and will certainly inspire plenty of debate.

There is much to intrigue the reader about this book, including plenty of subversion to the original biblical stories as well as a solid depiction of the brutal world of the time, a land torn with rival beliefs which will resonate with readers today as we still see the effects of those ripples all around us.

The main characters of Yeshua and Pilate get plenty of backstory, their memories, philosophies and motivations are established quickly and explored in-depth.  Yeshua is seen as vulnerable, conflicted and frequently unsure of himself and his beliefs, whilst Pilate – the more intriguing of the two character for me – is lost,all alone in his own existential nightmare. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 07/04/2017 in Fiction, Philosophy

 

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The Holiday – Stevie Smith

Celia works at the Ministry in the post-war England of 1949 and lives in a London suburb with her beloved Aunt. Witty, fragile, quixotic, Celia is preoccupied with love — for her friends, her colleagues, her relations, and especially for her adored cousin Casmilus, with whom she goes on holiday to visit Uncle Heber, the vicar. Here they talk endlessly, argue, eat, tell stories, love and hate — moments of wild humour alternating with waves of melancholy as Celia ponders obsessively on the inevitable pain of love.

Alarm bells were ringing fairly early on with this one, it was all to do with the dreadful, disjointed, uninteresting conversation at a dinner party. A lack of speech marks didn’t help the book’s case either.

Getting over that hurdle early on, the book opened out into an assorted collection of meditations on the experiences of love and politics and the past, before becoming mildly irritating towards the end.  This is a book that will probably polarise opinions of all who read it.

There is little to add to the above blurb in terms of storyline, you are getting precisely what you read there.  It all rests on the quality of said writing and that is where this reader would have preferred more balance, what Smith says is much more interesting than the way She has written down.  Whilst the whimsical structure and thought processes of Celia and co. work well enough, it is the writing itself that troubled me.

There is plenty of repetition of certain words, whether in the same sentence or throughout a conversation, it’s distracting to be told four times within a page that the same character is saying something maliciously, for example.  Whether this writing is an intentional choice or through lack of a decent editor, I don’t know but it soon becomes tiresome.  There is a richness to our language and often I was mentally inserting my own words to avoid the repetitiveness.

It all feels very English, the countryside setting in summer is delightful and I enjoyed being there.  The novel possess a dreamy melancholia for the past (relationships and ways of life); as well as the uncertain future – to the backdrop of the Indian independence, and the waning of the British Empire – for the characters as well as the country. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 18/03/2017 in Fiction

 

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Women Everywhere!

As you probably know it’s International Women’s Day today. which is a handy time to show my appreciation to all my lady friends and readers who are always writing inspiring reviews of wonderful books, especially those of women.  Thank you and big shouts outs go to Letizia, Claire, Lynn, Ali, Lucy and Sarah amongst others for championing such books and in particular the Virago series.

Reflecting on this blog as I often do, there is a disparity of the sexes, mainly because I pick up whatever I fancy rather than focussing on gender but thanks to numerous bloggers out there.  Still over the last eight or so months I’ve been keeping my eye out for a more diverse range of books to add to the collective.

Special thanks to Lynn for telling me about the Green spines and the apple thereon of Virago which allowed me to skim quickly over the shelves and not be tempted by many other books as I wandered around the charity shops in search of fresh books.  Over the rest of the year, I am hoping to give more balance to what I read and hopefully get more of an understanding of a wider range of literature which is always an exciting prospect. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 08/03/2017 in Blogging, Fiction

 

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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

I spotted The Rime on my shelf the other day but really don’t have enough time at the moment to review it so instead of that review, or indeed any other, here is Iron Maiden’s epic thirteen minute, dramatic rendition.

Rime Of The Ancient Mariner
(Lyrics from AZlyrics.com)

Hear the rime of the Ancient Mariner
See his eye as he stops one of three
Mesmerises one of the wedding guests
Stay here and listen to the nightmares
of the SeaAnd the music plays on, as the bride passes by
Caught by his spell and
the Mariner tells his tale.

Driven south to the land of the snow and ice
To a place where nobody’s been
Through the snow fog flies on the albatross
Hailed in God’s name,
hoping good luck it brings.

And the ship sails on, back to the North
Through the fog and ice and
the albatross follows on

The mariner kills the bird of good omen
His shipmates cry against what he’s done
But when the fog clears, they justify him
And make themselves a part of the crime.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 27/02/2017 in Fiction, Music

 

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The Sacrifice – Indrajit Garai

sacrificeIn this collection meet:  Guillame, who gives up everything to protect his child; Mathew, who stakes his life to save his home; and, François, who makes the biggest sacrifice to rescue his grandson.

Having previously had to decline  this offering due to a mountain of other books needing their reviews done for their respective deadlines, I am appreciative of Estelle for offering me another opportunity to read and talk about these short stories, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Each of the three stories contained in volume 1 have plenty of themes both on the human and natural side.  The reader will see the price of ‘progress’ and the loss it entails with the destruction of nature – which is neatly countered with the positive effects it has on the characters actions – and the uncertain legacy of what will be left of it for the next generation.

The human consequences on nature run in tandem with the heartache of families struggling; parents aren’t there, money is tight and life grinds away at the soul but there is always hope in each other and what they do have.

It is precisely this humanity that kept me reading, seeing these people going through life, trying to do the right thing.  That’s not to say that the book is preachy in any way, it isn’t, it allows the characters and their circumstances to unfold in an organic way and clearly shows us their thoughts and feelings in a given situation.

Each of the participants are just ordinary folk and that is the beauty of the storytelling,  the reader can instantly connect with them and just go with the story – regardless of setting and circumstance – what they do and who they are doesn’t matter because they are in existing in all their flawed glory.  The titular sacrifice therefore feels more powerful because it is something truly costly to the individual which the reader can appreciate and in terms of seismic impact.  The book excels at showing the ripples made by decisions, whether large or of a more subtle variety. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 30/01/2017 in Fiction

 

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A Dance to the Music of Time: Summer – Anthony Powell

hammertimeAnthony Powell’s brilliant twelve-novel sequence chronicles the lives of over three hundred characters, and is a unique evocation of life in twentieth-century England. It is unrivalled for its scope, its humour and the enormous pleasure it has given to generations.

Volume 2 contains the second three novels in the sequence: At Lady Molly’s; Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant; The Kindly Ones

Having no other blurb would usually be inadequate for the eager reader but in this instance I’m glad of it.  It would take a talented writer to not only quantify the story of all these collected lives but to tease out a discernible thread within the whirl of time and meeting, both chance and planned.

Sometimes a story is not about the end goal but about the experience, the furthering of this particular encounter is a pleasurable one.  I loved the first omnibus and books four to six better it in a lot of ways but I still prefer the overall consistency of the ‘Spring’ books.

A couple of months since reading the last omnibus, which I loved, I was slightly worried I would lose the thread of some of the characters and their convoluted histories but Powell always allows for that and made it easy to recall them through the narrative.  It may have helped that I read the Spring omnibus straight though, rather than taking my time but with a writer such as Powell, it is doubtful the reader will wish to leave long between novels.

Along the walls frescoes tinted in pastel shades, executed with infinite feebleness of design, appealed to heaven knows what nadir of aesthetic degradation.

It was easy to slip back into that world of gossip and dinner parties framed with plenty of references, to art, literature, and music.  This time it felt more world-weary as Narrator Nick Jenkins takes us into further through all these lives and most notably opens up gradually about more himself, rather than being the detached observer he was in the previous volume. There is a sense of time catching up and of a growing maturity. the zest of the young lessening and life taking its toll in myriad ways. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 23/01/2017 in Fiction, Modern Classics

 

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